A central issue in the study of gender is whether women and men are fundamentally different or essentially the same. "Difference theorists" contend that women are, or tend to be, more nurturing, caring, and cooperative, as opposed to men, who are more independent, detached, and hierarchical. Inquiring whether women surgeons differ from their male colleagues, however, produced ambiguous and confusing data. More successful was an approach that examined process and interaction, rather than seeking binary oppositions and hypothesizing about deep structure. Concentrating on the processes of "doing" or "negotiating" gender made sense of otherwise confusing findings. In a profession where men (surgeons) traditionally "do dominance" while women (nurses) "do deference," female surgeons are sanctioned for displaying the dominant and agonistic behavior exhibited by their male colleagues.

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