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sexism

This term is used to describe those social processes

and social structures that demonstrate a prejudice

towards the interests of one sex rather than

another. The term is most generally used to

describe the ways in which women have been

semiotics sexism

546


depicted in derogatory and demeaning ways by a

particular culture, the mass media (see mass

media and communications), or particular social

institutions. The term acquired a general resonance

in the West in the 1970s when feminists campaigned

against the use of highly sexualized

images of women in advertising and the media;

similarly general campaigns at the same time

targeted those visual images of women which

were either deliberately pornographic or part of

the more subtle male “gaze.” At the same time as

numerous targets throughout the media were

found to be “sexist,” the public awareness of the

term – and the issues related to it – enhanced a

more general social understanding of the ways in

which language, all forms of communication, and

cultural assumptions can contain ideas which prioritize

the interests of men rather than women.

The campaigns of the 1970s about the unthinking

acceptance of the male as the definitive human

form have now given way to a more complex

understanding of the way in which individual

behavior is shaped by conventional expectations

of gender. The majority of western societies have

now accepted the existence of sexism as an unacceptable

part of social behavior and have attempted

to put in place “gender-blind” practices

and language for public institutional contexts.

These practices have, in certain contexts, been

reinforced by legislation that effectively criminalizes

any explicit bias towards one sex, or sexual

identity, rather than another. MARY EVANS

sexual abuse

The concept of sexual abuse covers a wide range of

behaviors from rape to indecent molestation; it

also covers physical acts which may be lifethreatening,

as well as forms of verbal harassment

which may be psychologically and emotionally

damaging rather than physically harmful. The

current social concern with sexual abuse dates

back to the 1970s in the United Kingdom and the

United States, although it should not be forgotten

that throughout the twentieth century there were

recurrent concerns about such things as stranger

abuse, the sexual predator, and what used to be

referred to as “interference” with children. The

scientific study of what is now called sexual abuse

began in the 1880s with the work of Krafft Ebing,

who in Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) created a taxonomy

of sexual deviations. His taxonomy listed

behaviors which would now be defined as abusive

alongside practices which would now be seen as

harmless or simply unusual. In this way he set the

tone for later research which treated harmful

behavior such as father/daughter incest as a sexual

perversion rather than as an abuse of power and

trust. Treating sexual abuse as if it was a sexual

deviation had the effect of eliminating the “victim”

from social concern; indeed the victim was

often just seen as a partner in immoral behavior.

This means that a person who, in the twenty-first

century, might be understood to be a victim of a

crime, was in the nineteenth century more likely

to be seen as immoral and culpable. Social and

cultural definitions of sexual behavior are therefore

central to the sociological analysis of sexual

abuse, because it is not only the behavior per se

that is of concern or interest, but also the ways in

which certain forms of behavior come to be defined

or redefined as harmful or problematic.

In contemporary sociological research sexual

abuse is defined predominantly in terms of the

concept of harm (both physical and emotional). It

is understood as an inappropriate exercise of

power, and feminist contributions have argued

that this power is also gendered. Thus, it is argued

that men typically abuse women, not simply because

they are physically stronger but because

masculinity is culturally constructed as sexually

aggressive and predatory. Moreover, it is argued

that men are more usually in positions of economic

or situational power over women in places

of employment, the public sphere, and even the

domestic arena. Some feminists such as Susan

Brownmiller, in Against our Will (1977), have

argued that all men are potential rapists because

of their physiology and their biologically driven

sex drive. This argument is no longer widely held,

however, because of its overly deterministic orientation

which robs men of the capacity to make

conscious decisions about their behavior.

Sociological studies of subjects like rape and

sexual assault have tended to avoid the question

of why men rape in order to focus more on issues

of how such offences are dealt with (especially in

the legal system) and on how victims are treated.

Sociological enquiry therefore tends to ask why

so few official complaints of rape are made, or

why there are so few successful convictions of

men charged with sexual offenses (compared

with men charged with property offenses for

example). The answers to these questions have

revealed the extent to which juries are still reluctant

to convict men of sexual offenses because

criminal trials hinge on whether the victim’s account

can be believed beyond all reasonable doubt

in a context where it is usually her word against

his (Sue Lees, “Judicial Rape,” 1993 Women’s Studies

International Forum). It is also in this area that it

sexual abuse sexual abuse

547

becomes apparent that many women (and also



male victims) are reluctant to admit to having

been sexually abused because it still carries shameful

connotations and because there is still a tendency

to blame the victim. Sexual assaults and

rape are therefore crimes which are unlikely to

be reported and which, if reported, are unlikely to

lead to convictions.

Following the growing interest in research on

the sexual abuse of adults came the “rediscovery”

of a yet more controversial issue, namely the sexual

abuse of children. Florence Rush, in The Bestkept

Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children (1980), is often

credited with drawing attention to this form of

abuse in the context of second-wave feminism.

Following the popularization of Freudian psychoanalytic

theories, there had grown up a dogma in

the 1950s and 1960s which insisted that children’s

claims to have been sexually abused (and adults’

recollections of abuse in childhood) were statements

of fantasy and wish-fulfillment rather

than statements of truth. The victims of this abuse

were therefore pathologized and even punished,

while the perpetrators remained virtually invincible.

Sociological research has drawn attention to

the extent to which children are the focus of adult

sexual attention and has shown that there is a

continuing international sexual trade in children

(Judith Ennew, The Sexual Exploitation of Children,

1986). As evidence has grown that child sexual

abuse is a widespread problem (from the priesthood

in the Catholic Church to residential social

workers in children’s homes, as well as in the

family) so the victims of this abuse are redefining

their experiences into a collective sense of harm.

Increasingly, adults who were abused as children

are taking legal measures to gain compensation

and to achieve a symbolic reversal of the power

imbalance they suffered as children.

More recently, attention has turned to the way

in which the internet has increased the availability

of visual images of child abuse, and the rise in

prosecutions for downloading child pornography

has demonstrated the extent to which this is a

global phenomenon. The expansion of sex tourism,

particularly from the West to poorer countries

where children are more vulnerable to sexual

exploitation, also indicates that this sexploitation

is a huge industry and that child sexual abuse,

rather than being a rare perversion as once

thought, is now part of the global economy.

CAROL SMART

sexual citizenship

– see citizenship.

sexual discrimination

– see prejudice.

sexual division of labor

– see labor.

sexualities

The study of different types of sexual identity has

emerged in contemporary sociology, because

social constructionism has argued that the binary

division between male and female is too restrictive

to capture the great array of human sexual

expression. The sociology of “sexualities” in the

plural recognizes the biological differentiation of

male and female, but goes on to emphasize the

variety of gender roles that express the complexity

of human sexual orientation in society and culture.

Sociological categorization of sexual preference

takes note of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and

transsexual identities. This complexity in human

sexual expressivity is indicated by the variety of

interdisciplinary areas that undertake research on

gender, namely gay studies, gender studies, lesbian

studies, and women’s studies. These different

areas of study have in common the notion that the

binary division between male and female is an oppressive,

hegemonic system of classification that

is based on essentialism and biologism. It is not

just that this rigid binary system is oppressive to

women through patriarchy, but that it is also oppressive

to men. For example masculinity is itself

not a uniform expression of male identity. In

Gender and Power (1987) R. W. Connell has critically

examined the hegemonic nature of masculinity

and femininity as normalized gender roles that

function as an ideology.

The emergence of the idea of sexuality as a

concept distinct from sex and gender was influenced

by Simone de Beauvoir who claimed that

women are made not born. Understanding the

complexity of sexuality in human development

was further developed by Sigmund Freud in his

contribution to psychoanalysis. Further contributions

were made to modern social theory and the

analysis of sexuality by Jacques Lacan and Michel

Foucault. Sexuality is now seen to be a dimension

of our knowledge about the social world, and

hence sexuality is inextricably linked to the emergence

of the self through the acquisition of language.

These themes of knowledge, language, and

power have been embraced by queer theory and

postmodernism in gay studies, in which sexualities

are free-floating and forever-changing discourses

that frame a variety of positions in social

identities. The role of language in constructing

sexual citizenship sexualities

548


gendered identities has been emphasized by

Judith Butler in Gender Trouble (1990) and Bodies

that Matter (1993). Butler argues that when, shortly

after birth, we exclaim “It’s a girl” we set in place

a social process of naming which allocates and

confirms a sexual identity and sexuality that has

the effect of “girling” (or making into a girl) the

subject. Sexualities are thus ultimately determined

by a process first described by Louis Althusser

as “interpellation.”

In sociology, there are classic illustrations of

research on homosexuality, such as Laud Humphrey’s

Tearoom Trade (1975). Anthony Giddens

has written creatively about the nature of intimate

interpersonal relationships in The Transformation

of Intimacy (1992). Eva Illouz has studied the

impact of consumerism on love in her Consuming

the Romantic Utopia (1997), and Ken Plummer has

explored narratives in Telling Sexual Stories (1995).

There is also now a journal devoted to the field,

namely Sexualities (1998). Sociologists have studied

some of the subcultures that provide a social

vehicle for the exploration of sexual desire outside

the conventional distinction between male and

female sexualities. For example, Lillian Faderman

in Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers (1991) examined the

transformation of the lesbian movement to include

a variety of lesbian groups such as “lipstick

lesbians,” “punk lesbians,” and “s&m lesbians.”

Despite these developments in sociological

theory, mainstream empirical sociology has somewhat

neglected the study of human sexuality.

However, a range of sociological, psychological,

and anthropological literature has been edited

by Christine Williams and Arlene Stein in Sexuality

and Gender (2002). BRYAN S. TURNER

shame

Variously defined both as an emotional state and



as a form or mechanism of social control, shame

may be defined by a self-awareness of the deviant,

inappropriate, or morally problematic nature of

one’s conduct. The sociological study of emotions,

including shame, emerged as a subfield of sociology

in the 1970s. Thomas Scheff has argued

that “shame is the primary social emotion.” and

examines the life of shame (and associated rage) in

social interaction in his Microsociology: Discourse,

Emotion and Social Structure (1990). Scholars often

draw a distinction between the social emotion

of shame and the “private” or “inner” emotion of

guilt.

Social scientists have noted that shame is a



highly effective means of social control, and may

guide the self-regulated behavior of members of

society. Ruth Benedict in The Chrysanthemum and

the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture (1989) argues

that, around the world, different cultures regulate

the social conduct of their members through

drawing primarily on either shame- or guilt-based

approaches. Thus, for example, European and

North American cultures are considered “guiltbased”

cultures, that rely on the internalization

of the aversive experience of engaging in morally

problematic conduct. By contrast, some Asian cultures,

such as the Japanese and Chinese, are based

instead on the aversive experience of “shame” – or

the social consequences, rather than the inner

individual experience – of morally problematic

conduct. SUSAN HANSEN AND MARK RAPLEY

shame cultures

– see shame.

Shils, Edward A. (1910–1995)

An influential figure in research on the role of

intellectuals in the formation of public policy

and the exercise of power in The Intellectuals and

the Power (1972), The Calling of Sociology (1980), and

The Academic Ethic (1983), Shils was associated with

the University of Chicago for over fifty years, but

he also held a fellowship at Peterhouse College

Cambridge. He defended the traditional research

university throughout his career. In 1962, he

founded and edited the journal Minerva. During

the course of his career, he received many awards

and honors, including the Balzan Prize in 1983 for

his contribution to a “truly universal, general sociology.”

Shils was renowned for his wide-ranging

sociological analysis and was a prolific writer,

editor, and researcher. His main substantive interest

was the formation of “personal, primordial,

sacred and civil ties,” that is, social solidarity;

these themes appeared in Center and Periphery.

Essays in Macrosociology (1975) and Tradition (1981).

He also collaborated with Talcott Parsons in

Toward a General Theory of Action (1951). Through

his translations and editions, he made many contributions

to the development of methodology

and theory, for example in his publication of collections

of Max Weber’s sociology, such as The

Methodology of the Social Sciences (1949, with Henry

Finch) and Max Weber on Law in Economy and Society

(1954, with Max Rheinstein).

Shils wrote on higher education in The Calling of

Higher Education. The Academic Ethic and Other Essays

on Higher Education (1997) and Max Weber on Universities.

The Power of the State and the Dignity of the

Academic Calling in Imperial America (1973). He opposed

the student activism of the 1960s, rejected

shame Shils, Edward A. (1910–1995)

549

the argument that universities should become directly



involved in politics, and promoted the ideal

of the university as an independent, autonomous

research institution. From the 1970s onwards,

Shils continued to defend the “calling of higher

education” in a climate where government policies,

media coverage, and public opinion continued

to undermine his defense of the university.

BRYAN S. TURNER

siblings

The focus of the sociology of the family has been

predominantly on relationships between parents,

and between parents and their children. Relationships

that matter therefore tend to be seen as

those between adults and/or those between the

generations. Horizontal relationships between

children in families have not evoked much interest.

This is quite possibly because children per se

have not been seen as sociologically significant

until recently, and it may also be related to the

fact that the quality and nature of siblings’ relationships

with each other is not identified as

having socially significant consequences. Juliet

Mitchell in Siblings: Sex and Violence (2003) has,

from a psychoanalytic perspective, argued the opposite

case and suggests that how we relate to our

siblings is extremely formative, since it is with our

brothers and sisters that we often have our most

intense, early emotional relationships. Although

her work is essentially a critique of Sigmund Freud

and his insistence on the primacy of the parent/

child dyad (Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality,

1905 [trans. 1910]), the recognition that siblings

may be important also disrupts the traditional

sociological view that it is parents who socialize

their children and who control children’s emotional

environment. It introduces the idea that

socialization may be just as much influenced by

brothers and sisters as by parents, which disrupts

the classic presumption that parents are the more

powerful members of a family grouping. Where

sociological work has turned its attention to siblings

(including step- and half-siblings) has tended

to be in the context of divorce or some other kind

of family “breakdown.” This suggests that siblings

are understood to be important to one another

only at times of stress or in the absence of parents.

Sibling relationships have therefore become sociologically

visible only in the context of a perceived

problem. CAROL SMART

sick role

This concept was first developed by L. J. Henderson

in “Physician and Patient as a Social System”

(1935) in the New England Journal of Medicine and

further elaborated by Talcott Parsons in his The

Social System (1951). It has four components. The

first aspect is that the role legitimates social withdrawal

from social obligations, such as those relating

to work and family duties. The second

feature is that a sick person is exempted from

responsibility for their medical condition. The

third component is that the person has a social

obligation to improve and get better; the legitimation

of sickness as a basis for social withdrawal

from roles is conditional on the patient’s full acceptance

of an obligation to get better by co-operating

with the professional recommendations of a

competent doctor. The fourth element is therefore

an expectation that the person will seek out competent

health care from a trained physician. As a

consequence, the sick role describes patient compliance

and the role-set of the doctor–patient relationship

which is structured in terms of the

pattern variables which Parsons had outlined in

his analysis of the professions.

The concept of the sick role was elaborated by

Parsons against a background in which the American

medical profession was beginning to take

some notice of the idea of psychosomatic illness

and to realize that the emotional connection between

the doctor and the patient was an important

aspect of both the diagnostic and therapeutic

processes. Parsons had become aware of the relevance

of psychoanalysis for the study of sickness,

especially Sigmund Freud’s notion of transference.

There was a significant issue of motivation in the

process of becoming sick and getting better. Given

the concept of the action frame of reference with

its voluntaristic premises in Parsonian sociology,

there was an important sense in which the individual

decides to adopt the sick role. Voluntarism

was important because sickness could not be considered

merely as an objective condition of the

organism without some discussion of the motivation

of the individual in relation to the social

system. To be sick required certain norms such

as exemptions from social obligation and a motivation

to accept a therapeutic regime. Parsons classified

sickness as a form of deviant behavior which

required legitimation and social control. While

the sick role legitimizes social deviance, it also

requires an acceptance of a medical regime. The

sick role was therefore an important vehicle for

social control, since the aim of the medical regime

was to return the sick person to conventional

social roles.

In terms of Parsons’s pattern variables, the

doctor–patient relationship is characterized by

siblings sick role

550

its affective neutrality, universalism, functional



specificity, and orientation to collective norms.

The point of this description is to show how the

doctor and patient are committed to terminating

their relationship rather than forming a social

connection as a result of psychological transference.

The sick role is intended to be a temporary

role and it is important that the patient does




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