Ridgeway, C. and L. Smith-Lovin. 1999. “The Gender System and Interaction.”

Ridgeway, Cecilia L. and Lynn Smith-Lovin. 1999. “The Gender System and Interaction.” Annual Review of Sociology 25: 191-216.

Gender as different from other forms of inequality, due to the frequent nature of cross-gender interaction; society defines processes as definitional of males and females as different. How does interaction create experiences that continue unequal relations, or could be potentially used to dismantle inequality? Operates on assumptions that (1) people perceive gender as pervasion through interaction, (2) peers with equal power demonstrate few gender differences in behavior, and (3) most cross-gender interactions take place in structural or personal relationships that are already unequal.  Beliefs about inequality combine with these interactional platforms to sustain unequal gender system, thus interactions that are egalitarian, or promote women’s status/power over men work to undermine current gender system.  “Gender is distinctive, however, in that its constitutive cultural beliefs and confirmatory experiences must be sustained in the context of constant interaction, often on familiar terms, between those advantaged and disadvantaged by the system” (192) (kx ^ versus race-ethnicity, which has long-standing interactional segregation).  Sex category as socially constructed, based upon appearance and behaviors that are presumed to represent physical sex differences (Kessler and McKenna 1978; West and Zimmerman 1987). “[…] the interactional conduct of gender is always enmeshed in other identities and activities. It cannot be observed in a pure, unentangled form. Gender is a background identity that modifies other identities that are often more salient in the setting than it is” (193). Repeating interactional contexts create associations between prestige and sex category, promoting shared understandings about men and women, regarding power due, and how it is allocated. Also works to reinforce gender as basic and fundamental personal identity, offering structure and meaning for individuals. Gender homophily begins in play stages (Block 1979, Lever 1978, Eder and Hallinan 1978), where sex is learned as a characteristic. Changes in interaction structure around time of adult family development, reducing cross-sex interactions even further (Wellman 1985). Men as connected through weak ties; women more likely tied through dense intranetwork connections.  Men drawing on education and professional contexts to build networks, promoting men’s likelihood to be advanced (Burt 1992; Granovetter 1973). Close powerful ties for women come from wide-ranging networks, often offered through access of men.  It is not the positions themselves that create the interactions and gendered power associated with them, but gendered assumptions (re)produced through interactions that are situated within these positions – depending on how gender status beliefs organize the situation and how these beliefs relate to other statuses that may/not be more relevant at the time of interaction.  Use of gaze, gestures, deferential/ supportive speech, interruptions to convey power. “Gender status beliefs support the assignment and enactment of unequal formal roles between men and women.  Unequal roles, in turn, create interactional experiences that sustain status beliefs.   Status beliefs themselves import inequality into interactions between men and women who are formal peers” (204-205).

Differentiating between “doing gender” and structural symbolic interactionism (as applied to gender):

Compared- both look at gender’s cultural meanings in institutional contexts, situations, relationships; how gender matters for powered interactions

DG: ethnomethodological, gender as a continual, situated accomplishment – cultural norms based off of sexual dimorphism (two sexes) that are offered inherent natures that work to justify male privilege. “Gender […] is the local management of conduct in relation to normative conceptions of appropriate behavior and attitudes for one’s sex category” (205) – gender as an adverb, not a noun – a modifier of behavior instead of personal characteristic.

SSI: meanings  (including gendered ones) as learned through several ways, including interactions, material culture, reactions, etc. (Heise 1979) – gives point of reference for interpreting events and guiding future behaviors. Gendered identities offer dis/power. Gender identities are managed and played upon situationally. Interactional guidelines and status beliefs are shared from actor to actor by interaction, treating people according to belief (Ridgeway and Glasgow 1996). “The salience of gender identity is likely to vary depending on factors such as personal history, organizational context, exposure to social movement activities, parents’ ideologies, and other factors”  (210).


Block, J.H. 1979. “Socialization Influences on Personality Development in Males and Females. In APA Master Lecture Series on Issues of Sex and Gender in Psychology, edited by M.M. Parks. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Burt, R.S. 1992. Structural Holes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Eder, D. and M.A. Hallinan. 1978. “Sex Differences in Children’s Friendships.” American Sociological Review 43: 237-250.

Granovetter, M.S.  1973. Getting a Job: A Study of Contacts and Careers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Heise, D.R. 1979. Understanding Events: Affect and the Construction of Social Action. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kessler, S. and W. McKenna. 1978. Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach. New York: Wiley.

Lever, J.  1978. “Sex Differences in the Complexity of Children’s Play and Games.” American Sociological Review 43: 471-483.

Wellman, B. 1985. “Domestic Work, Paid Work and Net Work.” In Understanding Personal Relationships, edited by S. Duck, D. Perlman. Pp. 159-191. London: Sage.

West, C. and D. Zimmerman. 1987. “Doing Gender.” Gender and Society 1:125-151.


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