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) …
Dr. Sara Diaz
WGST 303: The *isms: Race, Class, and Gender
• Social Construction (vs Essentialism)
Social Construction Theory
• Differences between people are the result of
complex socialization processes rather than
inherent, biological or “essential” differences.
• Essentialism – the idea that differences between
people can be reduced to some essential
(unchangeable and inherent) difference (often
biological, sometimes religious).
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, architecture, physics.
WGS 101: Sex vs Gender
• In WGST we do not use “gender” and “sex” interchangeably.
• “Sex,” sometimes called “assigned sex,” is the biological
category we assign people do based on perceived differences
between anatomy (specifically genitalia). Eg. male, female.
• “Gender” is the process of socializing males to be “men” and
females to “women.”
• Gender is not something we achieve.
• It is something we actively do or perform in order to conform to
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
• Power differentials between “Men” and
“Women” had to be justified during the
Enlightenment period when the first
discourse about “equality” of human kind
• One way this was achieved was to
“naturalize” the social differences
between “Men” and “Women.”
WGS 101: Hierarchical Binaries
Impact of Gender
• There are different rules for the behavior
of males and female in all aspects of our
• Because we live in a society that places
higher value on men (among other social
categories) these rules result in differential
access to power and resources.
The social positioning of one group over
another group that leads to unearned,
systematic advantage for those who are
privileged and unwarranted systematic
disadvantage for those who are
• We all occupy multiple social locations.
• Our identities cannot be reduced to a single
location (only female, only heterosexual, only
• We all occupy a mix of privileged and subjugated
position (though the mixes are different).
• Oppressions based on socially defined identities
do not simply “add.” (a black woman is not
simply twice as oppressed as a white woman).
• Instead oppressions are interlocking, intersectional or
• Sexism is reinforced by racism. Classism is reinforced by
heterosexism. Etc. All the “isms” work together to
create a system of domination.
• That system of domination creates a hierarchy of
• Not all privileges and oppressions are equivalent to
• Because the system of domination uses interlocking
oppressions, we cannot work towards liberation along a
single line of oppression.
• Break into six groups.
• Each group will take a do and don’t from the list.
• Discuss your do and don’t and decide what you think it is all
• Assign someone to report back to the class.