Class, Race, and Sexuality
Gender identity is not based totally on society’s view of one’s
sex. Class, sexuality and race can affect it in myriad ways, and
one of the most important factors is race. For example, Yen Le
Espiritu in "All Men Are Not Created Equal: Asian Men in U.S.
History" tells of the unique experience of Asian American males.
The author writes that "…historically they have been depicted as
either asexual or hypersexual; today, they are constructed to be
less successful, assimilated, attractive, and desirable than their
The black man was and is characterized very differently,
according to Manning Marable in "The Black Male: Searching
Beyond Stereotypes." In the days of slavery, black men were
considered barely above animals and were thus suited for
physical labor; represented a threat to the white-controlled
political system; and "symbolized a lusty sexual potency that
threatened white women." Sadly, these fears and thoughts form
an undercurrent today.
So do stereotypes of Chicano males. With Chicanos, the image
of asserting male dominance through machismo stands in stark
contrast to the Asian male stereotype. Maxine Baca Zinn in
"Chicano Men and Masculinity" said even social scientists have
their view of Chicano males rooted in three propositions:
Chicanos have "a rigid cult of masculinity," that this cult creates
family and socialization patterns, and that it ill equips Chicanos to
adapt to the modern world.
Race plays a similar role in the gender identity of women. These
identities are largely counterparts of the male roles. In these
stereotyped, socially-created views, the Chicana serves and has
to be protected by the macho Chicano, while the black woman
has to be prepared to take over the family while the sexually
aggressive black man is seducing white women.
The identity of Asian women is currently in transition. As Le
Espiritu points out, they are increasingly more likely to be news
anchors than their male counterparts, and more often seen in
other prominent roles. But there is a strange dicotomy, as in the
portrayals of Japanese school girls in film, photos and anime.
They may be shown as naieve, sweet, innocent and vulnerable on
the one hand, or as sophisticated, fast-talking, world-wise martial
arts masters on the other. And sometimes this dichotomy is
found in the same character.
Class also plays a role in gender identity. Studies show that in
America, when the wife’s income is equal or greater than that of
her husband’s, he tends to do a larger percentage of the
housework. Those with greater incomes can hire someone else
to do much of the household chores, potentially freeing the
women to do other things. Higher education, which is much
more likely among those in the middle or upper class, also tends
to bring gender roles of men and women into greater similarity.
One of the most significant factors affecting gender identity is
sexuality. The stereotyped image of the macho male and of the
recessive female not only vanish but can be reversed when the
person is described as being homosexual. Now the stereotype for
the man is limp-wristed, passive, effeminate and high voiced,
whereas for the woman it is tough, aggressive, masculine and
powerfully voiced. The stereotypes virtually reverse.
However, the situation with Chicanos can be very different.
Whereas in mainstream American culture (i.e. Caucasian) a single
sexual encounter with another man is grounds for questioning
one’s sexuality, in Mexico it’s not the act but a question of who's
doing the insertion. In Spanish, "to give" is to be masculine and
"to receive" is to be feminine. Puta, for example, refers to a
female prostitute, but puto refers not a male prostitute, but to a
"passive" homosexual, according to Tomás Almaguer in "Chicano
Men: A Cartography of Homosexual Identity and Behavior" The
puto is not only put in a separate sexual category, but in a lower
class. So in the case of the Chicano as in other groups, gender
identity can be affected by a mixture of class, race and sexuality.