The idea of “gender” arose out of social construction theory. In GWSS gender is distinguished from sex. Sex is a category that is assigned at birth based on a doctor’s assessment of our genetalia. In modern Western society there are only two categories assigned (male and female) This is not always true in all parts of the world or at all times! GENDER is how we learn to behave based on the sex category into which we were placed. So if we were categorized as female we are gendered feminine and raised to be a woman. It is important to note that these three words (female, feminine, woman) in GWSS likewise (male, masculine, man) …
WGS 101: A CRASH COURSE
Dr. Sara Diaz
WGST 380/ENVS 397: Women, Nature, and the Environment
• Social Construction (vs Essentialism)
Social Construction Theory
• Social vs biological or “essential” differences
• Complex socialization processes/practices
• Institutional structures
• Essentialism – differences between people
reduced to an unchangeable difference.
• Often biological, sometimes religious or cultural.
• Biological Determinism – Social differences
determined by biology.
Examples of Biological Determinism
• Women are nurturing because they bear
children, therefore they should stay home and
• Women are more emotional than men and
therefore not well suited for jobs that need
rational decision making.
• EG President, example of premenstrual syndrome
• Men are better at math and science and
therefore should go into fields like engineering,
WGS 101: Sex vs Gender
• “Gender” and “sex” are not interchangeable.
• “Sex” or “assigned sex,” = biological category
• based on perceived differences between anatomy Eg. male,
• “Gender” = process of socializing males to be “men” and
females to “women”
• Gender is not something we achieve.
• It is something we actively do.
• social norms, expectations, and roles
WGS 101: Sex vs Gender
Binary Sex/Gender System
WGS 101: Definition of Gender
Gender is a social construction that establishes
our definitions of self, our relations with others,
and our life chances...Moreover, is not just an
individual attribute. Instead, it is part of the social
structure of society and thus has an institutional
--Margaret Anderson, Thinking about Women, p. 30
WGS 101: Hierarchical Binaries
Impact of Gender
• Different rules
• Behavior, dress, social/professional roles
• Hierarchy creates differential access
to social and material resources
• Power differentials between “Men”
• Justification of inequality during the
• Equality of man
• “Naturalize” social difference
• Representations, symbolic associations shape how we
understand the world.
• Controlling imagery reinforces power differentials
• Examples from Pop Culture:
• Women are manipulative
• Black people are criminals
• Gay men are flamboyant and superficial
• Where does such controlling imagery come from?
• Historical representations
• What is the connection between the
environmental and women’s
liberation movements of the midtwentieth century?
• What are the 16th and 17th century
roots of today’s connections between
the two movements?
• What are the two ways Nature was
associated with the feminine,
according to Merchant?
• What is organismic theory and how
did it position women?
• According to Merchant, how was the preModern (before the 16th century) “organic”?
Why does Merchant consider the Early
Modern period to be “mechanical”?
• What does capitalism have to do with the
shift from an organic to a mechanical world
• How did Francis Bacon’s philosophy of
science contribute to the shift to the
• What gendered imagery and language
did Bacon borrow from the organic
• How did he shift language/imagery
under his more mechanical world
• What did that mean for women and
Given that (African) slavery was still
legal in England, what does it mean
that Bacon uses slave metaphors in
relation to women and nature?
How is holistic science, like ecology,
different from the mechanical world
Reading for Tuesday
• Londa Schiebinger
• Why Mammals are Called Mammals
• Another exploration of how women and nature
were positioned during the Enlightenment and
• to naturalize inequality between men and