Deceptive Distinctions

Sex, Gender, and the Social Order

Cynthia Fuchs Epstein

View Inside Price: $32.00


July 25, 1990
315 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
ISBN: 9780300046946
Paper

In this important book a leading feminist scholar surveys and critiques gender research in a range of disciplines, showing how distinctions between the sexes are maintained by ideology and social controls.
“A model of sociological common sense, as well as of scholarship…. Epstein addresses basic theoretical, methodological, and epistemological concerns that cut across most sociological specialties.  This book is required reading by every gender sociologist…. It should be read as well by sociologists whose specialty is not gender, and especially by theorists of all stripes…. This is truly the capstone work of a mature scholar.” –Janet Saltzman Chafetz, Social Forces
Deceptive Distinctions really has two agendas.  The first, based on a review of a wide range of scholarship, much of it quite recent, is to argue that men and women are overwhelmingly similar and that any differences between them are socially constructed.  The second is to develop a sociology of knowledge in which the intellectual roots of scholarship on women serve as a case study.  Epstein’s project is not only timely but ambitious as well.” –Naomi Gerstel, Women’s Review of Books
“In this sophisticated and incisive critique, Epstein ranges from sociobiology to linguistics and from politics to psychiatry to iterate her position that gender differences are often used to support the existing structure rather than to advance our understanding or expand our horizons.” –Carol C. Nadelson, M.D., American Journal of Psychiatry
“Epstein’s informative critique… makes clear [that] the position of women is not an isolated ‘problem’ but the inevitable result of a complex system of power, opportunity, and incentive.  Epstein shows [how] dichotomous thinking still rules our lives.... By bringing together what sociology knows to the contrary, she has helped move society toward a solution.” –Beryl Lieff Benderley, Psychology Today
Co-published with the Russell Sage Foundation.   

"A useful, readable, well-organized overview."—Judith D. Auerbach, Journal of the History of Sexuality


"A heavy-duty look at the last two decades of research on the changing roles of men and women in American society."—Connie Koenenn, Houston (TX) Chronicle

"[Epstein] builds a compelling empirical case for the ’minimalist’ position and the integrating of men’s and women’s domains as key to gender equality. . . . [Her] particular contribution lies in the articulation of a theory of how, through differentiation, gender hierarchy is maintained as a basic aspect of social life."—Gay Young, Social Science Quarterly

"In this sophisticated and incisive critique, Epstein ranges from sociobiology to linguistics and from politics to psychiatry to literature her position that gender differences are often used to support the existing structure rather than to advance our understanding or expand our horizons."—Carol C. Nadelson, M.D., American Journal of Psychiatry

"Do the beliefs of individuals actually cause gender inequality and will changing individual beliefs produce social change? In her conclusion, Epstein appears to suggest exactly that. While readers may disagree with Epstein on this or other specific issues, this is an intelligent and thoughtful book and an important contribution to the growing literature on sex and gender."—Linda D. Molm, American Journal of Sociology

"Deceptive Distinctions brings the general reader up to date on sex/gender research and raises important questions for the sociology of knowledge."—Barbara F. Reskin, Contemporary Sociology

"Cynthia Fuchs Epstein probes the controversial and highly debated question of whether gender distinctions are founded upon a biological basis or the result of social and cultural conditioning."—Terra Brockman, The Daily Yomiuru

"An intelligent overview of gender research in sociology and related fields, this book goes further, presenting Epstein’s own conviction that gender distinctions, and the resulting inequality of men and women, are not for the most part natural but are imposed by the social order. Epstein discusses biases as well as findings in studies of personality, biology, social structure, public policy, work and family over two decades. Her excellentthe guide for students and scholars provides insight into tthe intellectual history of sociology. It will also fuel vigorous discussion, both in and out of the classroom, on the timely topic of gender."--Library Journal

"A leading sociologist challenges the powerful—but deceptive—distinctions society makes between the roles of men and women."--Beryl Lieff Benderley, Psychology Today


"Deceptive Distinctions really has two agendas. The first, based on a review of a wide range of scholarship, much of it quite recent, is to argue that men and women are overwhelmingly similar and that any differences between them are socially constructed. The second is to develop a sociology of knowledge in which the intellectual roots of scholarship on women serve as a case study. Epstein’s project is not only timely but ambitious as well."—Naomi Gerstel, The Women’s Review of Books

"Epstein’s fine and critical analyses take my breath away. She takes no middle road, puts on no political persona. She is pure sociologist and argues for that position better than anyone else I have read. Furthermore, she argues in highly readable prose so that her public policy conclusions are loud and clear. What I find most fascinating is the way she takes on assumptions about gender that have invaded the research community as well as the lay public and press. She gives no quarter to analysts who want to attribute gender differences to biology. She is as good a spokesperson as we’ve got for teasing apart the nature-nurture controversy. I think this is an important book for both the public and for academia. It is that rare book that can satisfy both the professional and student and still be appealing to the interested but untrained reader. One learns about politics, family roles, the workplace and the imputation of psychological differences. The work is far-ranging and complete."—Pepper Schwartz, Professor of Sociology, University of Washington, Seattle

"In the second stage of modern feminism, I believe it is important that we explore and not deny differences between men and women. But we cannot do this naively. Cynthia Epstein’s book, Deceptive Distinctions, is a brilliant analysis of how differences between the sexes, often caused by unequal opportunity, have been exaggerated and manipulated in the past to deny equality. It is an important caution for those of us who conceive now of an equality that transcends the male model, affirming the diversity and new existential possibilities of both female and male experience."—Betty Friedan

"From its telling title to its keen conclusion, Deceptive Distinctions is a knowing analysis of how social beliefs bring about social realities and how social realities shape social beliefs. This book is bound to be a standard work inn the sociology of knowledge, focused as it is on the social and cultural structure of sex and gender."—Robert K. Merton

"This book will become a classic. It will be an important source for classroom use as well as for all scholarship to come on the topic of sex segregation."—Rose Laub Coser, professor emerita of sociology, State University of New York, Stony Brook