One’s biological sex is determined at birth, but one’s gender is constructed and modified throughout the life cycle. If biology is destiny, then, gender presents the chance to re-write one’s fate. A sociological approach to gender focuses on more than what gender identity means to the individual. Sociology examines the ways in which gender influences, and is influenced by, the social institutions of the family, education, the economy, the media, politics, and religion. These interlocking systems generate inequalities compounded by race, ethnicity, and social class.
It is important to recognize the spatial context in which gender identities are collectively displayed. Public declarations of gender identity, such as Gay Pride parades, solidify membership in a subculture that promotes alternatives to straight identities. There is also a relationship between space and gender inequality: women’s status is lower in countries that separate women and men in homes, schools, and workplaces than in societies that integrate those spaces. In fundamentalist Islamic cultures, for example, women are relegated to the home and denied access to the public realm of schools and the workplace.
Students will read sociological theories of gender stratification and cross-cultural research on gender issues in the classroom; in port cities they will critically observe gendered behaviors, deviations from gendered expectations, and the consequences of “proper” and “improper” gendered behaviors for women and men. To the extent possible, students will be asked to analyze media portrayals of gender in the host countries. Cochin, Cape Town, and Casablanca will provide the opportunity to highlight various themes in the course: violence against women in India, apartheid and domestic service in South Africa, and Muslim practices in Morocco.
Field WorkCountry: Vietnam
Day: 1 - Wednesday, 11 February
Mekong Quilts was founded in 2001 as an income generation project under the umbrella of parent NGO, Mekong Plus. Mekong Quilts employs women in communities northeast of Ho Chi Minh City (Duc Linh, Tanh Linh and Ham Thuan Nam in Binh Thuan Province) and Long My in the Mekong Delta. Quilting is perfect as an employment activity, as it requires a small investment to begin with and is labor intensive. Thanh Truong, a Vietnamese dentist in HCMC recognized these qualities and through her passion for quilts, began the program with just 35 women.The first quilts were sold in the homes of friends. There are now seven shops and over 340 women in full time employment. The quilters receive training, a fair wage and other benefits and work in a safe and comfortable environment. Many of the women who work for the project have doubled their income, which ensures their children remain in school. Academic Objectives: 1. Understand how women balance employment and family responsibilities in a developing economy 2. Learn about the power of collective action to improve women’s status 3. Gain an appreciation for the traditional culture of Viet Nam