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Gender and Sexuality Workshop

Wednesday, March 25, 2015
4:00 AM
4147 LSA

DETAILS: Hosted by the Gender & Sexuality Workshop. Wednesday, March 25th from 12-1:30pm in the Sociology Library (4147 LSA). For a copy of the paper, please email Jamie Budnick (

BIO: Laurel Westbrook is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Grand Valley State University. Her research focuses on the inner workings of the sex/gender/sexuality system. She utilizes a range of research methods, including interviews, statistical analysis, and textual analysis to examine how this system shapes and is shaped by understandings of violence, the practices of social movements, and the construction of sociological knowledge. Her interests have given rise to four research projects. The first examines violence against transgender people and social movement efforts to prevent such violence. The second theorizes everyday ways in which the sex/gender/sexuality system is reproduced and changed. The third explores the social scientific construction of ideas of sex, gender, race, and sexuality. Finally, her second book project looks at how the sex/gender/sexuality system harms men.

PAPER TITLE: "New Categories are not Enough: Rethinking the Measurement of Sex and Gender in Social Surveys" (with Alicia Saperstein, forthcoming in Gender & Society)

PAPER ABSTRACT: Recently, scholars and activists have turned their attention towards improving the measurement of sex and gender in survey research. The focus of this effort has been on including answer options beyond “male” and “female” to questions about the respondent’s gender. This is an important step towards both reflecting the diversity of gendered lives and better aligning survey measurement practice with contemporary gender theory. However, our systematic examination of questionnaires, manuals, and other technical materials from four of the largest and longest- running surveys in the United States indicates that there are a number of other issues with how gender is conceptualized and measured in social surveys that also deserve attention, including essentialist practices that treat sex and gender as synonymous, easily determined by others, obvious, and unchanging over the life course. We find that these understandings extend well beyond direct questions about the respondent’s gender, permeating the surveys. A hyper- gendered world of “males” and “females,” “brothers” and “sisters,” and “husbands” and “wives” shapes what we can see in survey data. If not altered, surveys will continue to reproduce statistical representations that erase important dimensions of variation and likely limit understanding of the processes that perpetuate social inequality.

Professor Laurel Westbrook, Grand Valley