The Usefulness of “The Sociological Imagination” in Relation to Gender, Social Inequality and Suicide Sociological imagination is the “quality of mind” (Mills, 1959: p. 4) that enables us to look outside our everyday life and see the entire society as we were an outsider with the benefit of acknowledge of human and social behaviour. It allows us to see how society shapes and influences our life experiences. Is the ability to see the general in the particular and to “defamiliarise the familiar” (Bauman 1990: p. 15). According to C.
Wright Mills, it “enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals” (Mills, 1959: p. 5). These experiences are affected by social changes so in order to understand them we need to look beyond them. This way, sociological imagination is very useful as it allows us to relate the situations in which we live our daily lives to global societal issues that affect us. However in this essay I am only going to discuss the usefulness of sociological imagination in relation to gender, social inequality and suicide.
Seeing the world sociologically also makes us aware of the importance of gender. Gender refers to the social aspects of differences and hierarchies between male and female. Every society attaches meanings to gender, giving woman and men different kind of work, responsibilities and dress codes. We tend to think that becoming a man or becoming women is a biological destiny. But sociological imagination allows us to see it in a different way. Butler argues that “There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender … identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results” (1990: p. 5). In other words, gender is a performance; gender is not who you are but what you do. Similarly West and Zimmerman states that “A person’s gender is not simply an aspect of what one is, but, more fundamentally, it is something that one does, and does recurrently in interaction with others” (1987: p. 140). In my opinion gender is a biological destiny is what we are; masculinity and feminity, however, is what we perform and act in everyday life. There is an interesting case with a Swedish family who refused to reveal whether their child is a boy or a girl.
They based their idea on feminist philosophy that gender is a social construction. They want to grow up their child freely without forcing him/ her into a specific gender. The mother argues that it is “cruel to grow up a child with a pink or blue stamp on their forehead” and so he or she will be able to avoid preconceived notions of how people should be treated if male or female. In one way she is right we have the right to choose between alternatives and not be forced into something but I think this is just not morally right. This child will suffer in school; children will ask and point fingers.
He/ she might be even excluded from groups because kids will know that this is not normal. Kids are curious and want to know more; let’s just take my niece for example, she always comes up to me and she says “ I am a girl! ” and she gets very upset if I joke with her and say “No, you are not, you are a boy”. This made me think that it is very important for kids to know who and what they are. In think this will affect the child because he/ she will be trapped between a hard decision which shouldn’t even be a question because we are the way we born and we don’t decide who to be.
Furthermore, a case from 1967 shows how a serious issue is to play with genders. A boy called David was left without a penis after a circumcision. He was raised as a girl and dressed up as a girl. The parents never told her the truth until she was a teenager. She then rebelled against feminity and then started receiving testosterone injections and underwent another genetic reconstruction process to become David again. David felt that the experiment was a failure and so he committed suicide at the age of 38.
The results show us how sociological imagination allows us to look beyond the visible and see how personal issues can become global. Sociological imagination highlights how society places the two sexes in unequal positions of wealth, power and privilege. It is therefore very useful to look beyond the gender itself and see the global issues associated with it. There are differences regarding the type of gender in different countries, the levels of gender inequality and the amount of violence that are necessary to maintain both systems of difference and domination.
Women were always viewed as weak, sensitive, dependent and unintelligent so the society formed a view that they have to sit home, do the housework and raise the children. They were always considered less skilled, incapable of doing a hard work and even now women are more likely to be paid less than man. Women are more likely to be abused and they are less likely to have access to formal power. According to the United Nations, “At least one in five of world’s female population has been physically or sexually abused by a man at some time in their life” (UNFPA, 2000: p. 5). “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics” (Plutarch). Only few months ago we faced difficult decisions such as whether to go to study medicine, or law, politics or business or which university to attend Trinity College or UCD. While considering the most important questions of our lives it was easy to forget that there are a lot of people who haven’t got the opportunity even to think about something like this. Education is a dimension of inequality which has a huge importance on the next generation.
This means that families with a low income can’t send their children for further education. The difference between rich and poor is echoed at the other and of the educational spectrum, where student from rich families are able to enroll faster for four years further education. Similarly children born in wealthy families are more likely to enjoy health, succeed in their life’s work and live well until old age. We have to accept that we don’t have equal social status, classes and circles and we have to agree to the fact that the world is becoming more unequal.
Sociological imagination also makes us aware of suicide and demonstrates how social forces affect human behavior. Suicide is “not just a medical or psychological problem of the individual. It is more than that – it is a problem of society” (Caroline Smyth, Malcolm MacLachlan and Anthony Clare: p. 4). Durkheim, found that social influences rather than personal caused the higher rates of suicide; but there might exist inclinations that vary from country to country. In order to explain these differences, Durkheim examined social integration. He found that when social integration is elatively low, suicide rates tend to be higher. Let’s take an example of men, Protestants, wealthy people and unmarried; each have higher rate of suicide than woman, Roman Catholics, Jews, the poor and the married people. Looking at the graph of global suicide rates from 1950 we can see that suicide is currently on a high pitched slope increasing extremely. According to World Health Organizations, in 1998 suicide rate was 1. 8% and it is expected to increase to 2. 4% by 2020. Suicide is among the ten leading causes of death in most of the countries.
In some countries, it is among the top three causes of death for people aged 15-34 years. The graph also highlights the predominance of male over female suicide rate: 3. 2:1 in 1950 and 3. 6:1 in 1995. Looking at the result, we can see that men are more likely to commit suicide than woman. This is because women share their experiences with friends; they discuss their feelings, seek feedback and take advice. Men don’t like to do this they like to pretend they are strong and can cope with difficulties until all this builds up in them and leads to stress or depression.
However, women attempt suicide more often than man but they not succeed. This is because men use more harsh methods unlike women who rely on drugs and alcohol which may or may not work. Recent research (M. MacLachlan and A. Clare, 2004) suggest that in Ireland it reached up to seven male suicides to every one female. Suicide is a very fascinating topic because no other act is as individual as taking your own life. The results show that social forces help shape even the most isolated act of self destruction.
Social forces are very powerful, and we have seen how they influence and affect every part of each person’s individual life and decisions. By looking at the bigger picture, we can understand our place in society and influence the outcomes of our experiences. The social imagination can help us to analyze the views presented and find shortcomings and alternatives to the arguments presented. We have seen that sociological imagination is very useful in the way that we can step out of our little world just by looking critically around our surroundings and try to see the “general in the particular”.
References: C. W. Mills, 1959. The Sociological Imagination (40th anniversary Ed. ). Oxford University Press. Z. Bauman, 1990. Thinking Sociologically. B. Blackwell J. Butler, 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and Subversion of Identity. Routledge C. West and D. H. Zimmerman, 1987. Doing gender: Gender and Society. Vol. 1. No. 2. P. 140 Swedish family at http://www. thelocal. se/20232/20090623/ UNFPA, 2000. The State of World Population 2000: Lives Together, Worlds Apart: Men and Women in a Time of Change, p. 25. New York: UNFPA Plutarch quotes at http://www. brainyquote. com/quotes C.
Smyth, M. MacLachlan and A. Clare, 2003. Cultivating suicide? Destruction of self in a changing Ireland. Liffey Press Global suicide rates since 1950 and projected trends until 2020 graph at http://www. ncbi. nlm. nih. gov/pmc/articles/PMC1489848/figure/F1/ Suicide rates by gender, Ireland, 1950- 2009 at http://www. who. int/mental_health/media/irel. pdf M. MacLachlan and C. Smyth, 2004. Binge drinking and youth culture: alternative perspectives. Liffey Press Bibliography: J. J. Macionis and K. Plummer, 2011. Sociology (5th Ed. ). Pearson Education J. Butler, 2004. Unduing gender. Routledge