Participant Observation: A Study in Gender Roles
Have you ever thought about how much of everyday life is organized by gender? When you stop to think about it, much of what most people do during the routine of a normal day is categorized as either masculine or feminine. From the soap you use for that morning shower to the restroom you use when are work, much of what we do is influenced — even dictated — by what society says is appropriate because of our biological sex.
To explore this concept of a gendered society in more depth, you will use the Participant Observation Checklist to organize and conduct your research to identify and explain two examples of how society is segmented by gender at any single location in your community. You might choose a park, a grocery store, your favorite pub or fast food restaurant, a department store, or the local hardware store. Remember that you should be acting in both the participant and observer roles. Look around to see if there are obvious signs that gender determines some aspect of how people act in that location. Then, use the structural-functional theory to explain how separating events, actions, or even merchandize by gender works to keep the overall society stable.
For example, if you chose to observe as a casual shopper in department store, one obvious sign that gender is important in how the store is organized is that there are likely two different departments for women’s and men’s clothing. That same department store would likely have restrooms designated for ladies and gentlemen, too. The structural-functional perspective would suggest that separating the clothing by gender makes it more convenient for shoppers to find what they want, and separate restrooms for men and women are thought to be necessary for reasons of modesty that are part of stable cultural patterns of behavior within this society.
Complete the Participant Observation checklist to assist you with organizing your research and to take notes during your observation. Then, using your observation notes, write a paper that has these elements:
- An introduction that explains the research conducted and the purpose of the paper
- Detailed descriptions of the two observed instances in which gender influenced the actions of people in the real world. Be sure to address these questions: Who? What? Where? When?
- An explanation that incorporates the structural-functional theory to explain how gender was at work to keep society orderly in the social setting that you chose.
- A summary that restates the main points of the paper and suggests one lesson learned from the observation that is applicable to your own life in a gendered world.