Journalism and gender equality

02. What does the word ‘gender’ mean? /

Gender is different from sex, and appeared in the 1980s in the United States. It shows that relations between women and men are the result of a social, historical, cultural, and symbolic construction. They are not natural. They vary considerably from one society, culture, or era to another.

Gender is a sociological approach.

It allows us to understand how society, based on biological sex, assigns different roles, norms and obligations to men and women, thereby creating hierarchy and inequality.

Borrowed by sociology from psychological and medical vocabulary, the term spread to other disciplines such as history, anthropology, political science, and philosophy before becoming a tool to analyse the relationships of domination between men and women.

It is important not to confuse Gender and sex.

The word ‘gender’ has different connotations in grammar and biology. It is different from the male/female identification often found on administrative documents.

Gender in the current context is a social construction of male and female identities, defined by the role assigned to each in society. For example, we tend to think that men should be strong, and women gentle. That’s called the socialisation process.

Origins of the gender concept

Note that English usage of the word ‘gender’ was first applied in an academic discipline known as Gender Studies. Research circles sprang up in 1970s America exploring the relationship between men and women,   a concept first popularised by psychoanalyst Robert Stoller in 1968.

You will have noticed that in recent years, people no longer talk about the female status, but rather women’s rights and gender equality. This doesn’t mean, though, that women and men are becoming the same. It simply means that their rights, responsibilities, and opportunities should no longer be dependant on their sex.

Gender is not a matter of biology.

Gender shows that relationships between women and men are the result of social construction. They are not natural. So here’s the good news – the systemic differences between women and men are not the product of some incontrovertible truth related to biology.

The perception of female or male, as well as the values attached to them, are effectively social, historical, cultural, and symbolic constructions. As they are neither natural nor innate these constructions are variable and can change.  They are constructed through nurture and vary considerably from one society, culture or era to another.

Gender is not about parity or diversity.

 It is a relational process. What does that mean? It means we cannot talk about what is female without the male and vice versa

 It means that we cannot focus just on one or other group. 

Gender is a political issue because it lurks in the background, revealing a power relationship.

 We have just told you that gender is a relational process, haven’t we?

Beware: this doesn’t mean a symmetrical and balanced relationship; social relationships between sexes must be understood as a power relationship that is at the crossroads of several power plays governed by class, ethnicity, age category, political status, etc. To all this we can add factors such as education, laws and legal provisions, technological developments, economic policies, the labour market, food crises, wars, etc.

It is important to know that Gender is not only related to social affairs and healthcare.

It can be found in all sectors: governance, human rights, international negotiations, economy, infrastructure, technology, environment, research, etc.

Remember that the gender approach has a twofold effect. It is both an analytical tool and an instrument for social change. It can take into account the socially constructed nature of male/female categories and integrate power relationships.

 As an instrument of social change, the gender approach recognises the complex interaction of social, economical, political and ideological aspects, and does not treat the integration of women into the development process separately.

The definition offered by French anthropologist Nicole Claude Mathieu can help you better understand the notion of gender.

Gender adds rather than subtracts.

Remember, too, that sex is biological, while gender is cultural.

Sex is biological and refers to the physiological differences between women and men.

Gender is a sociological approach. It allows to understand how society, using biological sex, assigns men and women different roles, norms, and obligations, thereby creating a hierarchy of inequalities.

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