Comparing Gender and Communication

Authored by: Gertrude J. Robinson , Patrice M. Buzzanell

Handbook of Comparative Communication Research

Print publication date:  April  2012
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415802710
eBook ISBN: 9780203149102
Adobe ISBN: 9781136514241


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Gender concerns in North America surfaced first in the late 1960s during the birth of the second wave of the women’s movement and thus preceded European initiatives by about two decades (Anderson, 1991). It is difficult to disentangle gender theories from cultural theories of communication because these two designations cover such a large variety of different approaches yet have been historically closely aligned. Gender studies, though diversified, share three common elements. Among these are the fact that gender is viewed as a primary category of social organization rather than a secondary add-on to such social categories as class, education, ethnicity, and religion. This implies that gender researchers systematically focus on the complex relationships between women and men in everyday life (van Zoonen, 1994). The gender approach thus acknowledges that gender and identity are socially constructed rather than merely biologically determined; they make female experience a central focus of attention and create new categories for codifying this experience, such as the recognition of emotions and subjectivity, as well as the reciprocity between researcher and subject (Bem, 1993; Melin-Higgins, 2002). As such, attention to gender approaches has prompted communication scholars to reconsider practices in diverse contexts. The topics investigated are cyberspace performance and policy (Kramarae, 1997), ironies in work–life management strategies and policies in social welfare states, and social constructionist assessments of health campaigns in the world’s remote regions (Sypher, McKinley, Ventsam, & Valdeavellano, 2002). These initiatives have led to reconsiderations of theories and practical implications in areas such as leadership succession, comforting, and bounded rationality/emotionality (Dow & Wood, 2006; Mumby & Putnam, 1992). Finally, gender approaches are concerned with women as social actors as well as how their asymmetrical power situations to men have come about and how these affect their social existence (Robinson, 2005). These asymmetrical relations cut across societal institutions from personal relationships and families to transnational organizations and global women’s movements (Mohanty, 2003). As such gender analyses have an activist agenda, namely promoting equity and social change as well as encouraging self-actualization for all members of society (Buzzanell, Meisenbach, Remke, Sterk, & Turner, 2009; Djerf-Pierre, 2007).

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