THEORETICAL / PHILOSOPHICAL PAPER
Gender (In)Difference in Gender (Un)Equal Couples.
Intimate Dyads Between Gender Nostalgia and Post
Published online: 13 June 2017
Ó Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017
Abstract This essay revisits Erving Goffman’s question regarding the connection
between couple relationships and gender construction, expanding upon it by
examining the ambivalent relationship of couples towards gender (in)difference, in
which the latter is constitutive of their formation. On the one hand, couples exploit
the (in)equality of their gender composition, while, on the other, they systematically
ignore it in order to establish individualized personal relationships. The article
culminates in a sociological diagnosis of this ambivalence, with statistical
inequalities between men and women emerging as an aggregate effect of millions of
small dyadic entities, each searching for their own relational meaning. How might
they reconstruct their sexual inequality in view of the fact that gender is losing its
relevance? Meanwhile, what used to be thought of as homosexual and heterosexual
relations are losing their meaning as gender relations.
Keywords Gender Á Microsociology Á Social theory Á Couple relationships
In sociology, it is generally agreed upon that gender difference is socially
constructed (Butler 1990; Lorber 1995; Badinter 2006). However, an issue which
remains quite controversial is the question of how signiﬁcant gender categorization
is for modern societies. One of the two classic extreme positions in this matter has
its roots in the sociological tradition of differentiation theory.
This theory suggests
that a meritocratic society, strongly determined by organizations, predominantly
& Stefan Hirschauer
Institute for Sociology, University of Mainz, Georg Forster Geba
ude, 55099 Mainz, Germany
This tradition began in the works of Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Georg Simmel. It observes a
devaluation of collective memberships (such as gender, ethnicity, and class) in societies marked by
advanced division of labour and individualism.
Hum Stud (2017) 40:309–330