Sociological research will study such things as social stratification between genders, the socialization of gender, influences of sexism on educational performance, gender and mass media, inequality in the workplace, gender roles and social norms , and other gender-related topics and social phenomena. Sociological theories serve to guide the research process and offer a means for interpreting research data and explaining social phenomena. For example, a sociologist interested in gender stratification in education may study why middle-school girls are more likely than their male counterparts to fall behind grade-level expectations in math and science. Another scholar might investigate why women are underrepresented in political office, while another might examine how congresswomen are treated by their male counterparts in meetings.
Social research will often focus on the influence of gender roles in the workplace, at home, and in other aspects of society. In this image, a woman is seen working in a traditionally masculine setting, challenging gender roles of the time. (Turret lathe operator machining parts for transport planes at the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation plant, Fort Worth, Texas, USA.)
A core research area within sociology is the way human behavior operates on itself; in other words, how the behavior of one group or individual influences the behavior of other groups or individuals. Starting in the late 20th century, the feminist movement has contributed extensive study of gender and theories about it, notably within sociology but not restricted to it. Social theorists have sought to determine the specific nature of gender in relation to biological sex and sexuality.
Theories that have contributed to gender research and the realm of gender studies include structural functionism (the theory that gender roles were originally functional; for example, women took care of the domestic responsibilities in or around the home because they were often limited by the physical restraints of pregnancy and nursing and unable to leave the home for long periods of time); conflict theory (seeing society as a struggle for dominance among social groups, such as women versus men, that compete for scarce resources); feminist theories (which use the conflict approach to examine the maintenance of gender roles and inequalities); and symbolic interactionism (which aims to understand human behavior by analyzing the critical role of symbols in human interaction).
Early gender identity research hypothesized a single bipolar dimension of masculinity-femininity—that is masculinity and femininity were opposites on one continuum. As societal stereotypes changed, however, assumptions of the unidimensional model were challenged. This led to the development of a two-dimensional gender identity model, in which masculinity and femininity were conceptualized as two separate, orthogonal dimensions, coexisting in varying degrees within an individual. Other conceptions of gender influenced by queer theory see gender as multidimensional, fluid and shifting; something that cannot be plotted linearly at all.
In this image, the line segments AB and CD are orthogonal to each other.
Two instruments incorporating the multidimensional aspects of masculinity and femininity have dominated gender identity research: the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) and the Personal Attributes Questionnaire (PAQ). Both instruments categorize individuals as either being sex typed (males report themselves as identifying primarily with masculine traits, females report themselves as identifying primarily with feminine traits), cross sex-typed (males report themselves as identifying primarily with feminine traits, females report themselves as identifying primarily with masculine traits), androgynous (either males or females who report themselves as high on both masculine and feminine traits) or undifferentiated (either males or females who report themselves as low on both masculine and feminine traits). Twenge (1997) noted that, although men are generally more masculine than women and women generally more feminine than men, the association between biological sex and masculinity/femininity is waning.
It is important to note that, though sex and gender are terms often used interchangeably, they are actually very different (though sometimes related) concepts. Sex and gender research, therefore, focus on different areas of study. Sex refers to physical or physiological differences between males and females, including both primary and secondary sex characteristics; sexuality refers to a person's sexual and erotic attractions, desires and behaviors. Gender refers to social or cultural distinctions associated with being male or female (Diamond 2002). While gender research focuses on many of the concepts listed above, sex research (influenced by the likes of Sigmund Freud, Alfred Kinsey, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, William Masters and Virginia Eshelman) looks at such things as human sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual orientations.