Jessie Bernard

Carrying Gender Into Sociology

Now past her ninetieth birthday, Jessie Bernard can look back on a remarkable record of achievement as a sociologist who cast a keen eye on the impact of gender. Bernard notes that past sociologists-even those critical of the status quo-have historically paid little attention to women’s lives. Karl Marx, for instance, all but ignored women in his writings. A key reason for giving short shrift to women, Bernard asserts, is that sociology (like most other disciplines) developed largely under the control of men. One of Bernard’s most important contributions lies in revealing how familiar sociological issues and concepts have a built-in male bias Consider the topic of social stratification. Sociological research on our class system has focused largely on men to the exclusion of women. We have assumed, in other words, that men earn their class position while women simply derive their social position from fathers and, subsequently, husbands. Further, in their study of prestige attached to work (look back to Table 10-2), sociologists have long ignored housework, which has been primarily a responsibility of women. By defining occupational prestige so that it almost exclusively relates to men, Bernard reasons, sociologists effectively ignore women in their research. Bernard’s research and writing show us the importance of ensuring that our work addresses the lives of both females and males. Anything less is the study of just half of society.

Sources: Based on Bernard (1981) and author’s personal communication with Bernard.

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