Gender Issues and Concerns | B.Ed. Notes

Basic Concepts in Gender Studies

Gender Issues and Concerns: Basic Concepts in Gender Studies- Gender, Sex, patriarchy, Feminism, Femininity and Masculinity, Difference between Sex and Gender, Gender Stereotype.


 The concept of ‘gender’ in feminist writings and other sociological discourses become popular in the early 1970. In simple terms, gender explains the difference between men and women in social terms as ‘men’, and as what a man can do; as ‘woman’, and as what a woman can or can not do. Therefore, gender is an analytical category that is socially constructed to differentiate the biological difference between men and women. The term ‘gender’ is also used to describe the differences in behaviour as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’.

 Some theorists suggests that the biological differences between men and women also result in their mental and physical differences. They argue that, biologically, men are physically and mentally superior to women. Other theorists suggests that the biological difference between men and women are exaggerated. The differences are socially constructed by the patriarchal system of society by which men are described as superior to women. Therefore, women become subordinate to men in the society.

Simone de Beauvoir in her book ‘The Second Sex’ says that, ‘one is not born, but rather becomes a woman’. She explains that gender differences in the society make the men superior through his role as the bread winner. It gives him a position of power in the society and family. Gender differences are set in hierarchical opposition such that men are superior and women are subordinate.

Gender Equality

2. SEX

 In a very broad way, ‘sex’ refers to the biological and physiological differences between male and female sex. The term ‘sex’ is a physical differentiation between the biological male and biological female. Thus, when an infant is born, the infant comes to be called ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ depending on their sex. The genital differences between male and female is the basis of such characterisation. However it has been argued that having been born into one sex or another, individuals are then socialised according to specific gender expectations and roles. Biological males learn to take on masculine roles. They are socialised to think and act in masculine ways. Biological females learn to take on feminine roles. They are socialised to think and behave in feminine ways. As the feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir puts it ‘one is not born a man but becomes now; one is not born a woman but becomes now’.

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 At birth, besides the basic biological differences in the genital and reproductive organs, there is not much differences between the male child and the female child. Society makes the differences between boy and girl through gender constructions. The biological differences between the sexes does to some extent explains certain psychological and socially constructed difference. This view is criticised by some feminist writers like Judith Butler.

Judith Butler argues that, sex is natural and comes first. Gender is perceived as a secondary construct which is imposed over the top of

this natural distinction. Viewed thus, Butler argues that ‘sex’
itself becomes a social category. This means that the distinction
between ‘male’ and ‘female’ is a social distinction made by
the society, i.e. it is a social construction. It is a particular way
of perceiving and dividing the differences between ‘male’ and
‘female’. Butler explains that ‘sex’ through seen as
biological, is as much a product of society as it gender. So the term
sex is also socially constructed.


 Patriarchy is an often used term in everyday conversation. In casual conversation, the term implies ‘male domination’, ‘male prejudice’ (against women), or more simply ‘male power’, Put simply, the term means ‘the absolute rule of the father or the eldest male member over his family’. Patriarchy thus the rule of the father over all women in the family and also over younger socially and economically subordinate males. Literally, patriarchy means rule by the male head of a social unit (like family, tribe). The patriarchy is typically a societal elder who has legitimate power over others in the social unit.  

 However, since the early 20th century, feminist writers have used the term ‘patriarchy’ as a concept to refer to the social system of masculine domination over women. Patriarchy has been a fundamentally important concept in gender studies. Feminist writers have developed a numbers of theories that aim to understand the bases of women’s subordinate to men.

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 The term patriarchy is not only a descriptive term that explains how different societies construct male authority and power, but also become an analytical category. This changes of the use of the term patriarchy form a descriptive to an analytical category took place in the 1970’s in a specific global historical context of feminist political and intellectual culture. In the course of time, this later led to the development of the discipline of women’s studies or gender studies, when women agitate for their rights. At the Universities, women demanded that their experience and points of view to be taken seriously that patriarchy emerged as a way of both describing and explaining the world. Since this time, patriarchy has been used critically to explain the main components of authority and power in any social system. Patriarchy automatically privileges men over women such that women have little or no claims to material, sexual or intellectual resources of the society i.e. in a patriarchal society women have to struggle to be educated, to have property or to make choices regarding marriage and other aspects of life. For men, these resources are a matter of right and can make choices that affect their lives.


 Feminism is an ideology, philosophy, an attitude of mind, a way of looking at anything. It is not one unitary concept but instead of decrease and multi-faced grouping of ideas and action. Feminism is mainly concern with women’s inferior position in a society and with discrimination encountered by women because of their sex. Hence, all feminists call for change in social, cultural, religious, political and economic fields. They work to reduce inequality and eventually to overcome it.

A simple meaning of the term ‘feminism’ is ‘looking at the world from women’s point of view’. It implies women’s point of views are relevant and effective for women, their perception and participation in social life.

4.1 Definition of Feminism

 ‘Feminism’ is an awareness of women’s oppression and exploitation in society at the place of work and with the family and the conscious action to change this situation.

‘Feminism’ is an awareness of patrician control. Exploitation and oppression of material and ideological levels of women’s labour, fertility and sexuality in the family, at the place of work, and in society in general and conscious action by women and men to transfer the present situation.

From both these definitions, it is clear that all over the world, women experience discriminable, unequal treatment in terms of food, nutritions, health care, education, employment, main stream, decision-making activities. Further, is not enough to recognise those condition or to be aware of than; this to be accompanied by action. This action can take place anywhere, for e.g. a woman may decide to educate her daughter or let her pursue, a career as a mother may stand by her daughter.


 The sex/gender differences raises the issues of male-female; masculine and feminine, male associated with masculinity and female with femininity. With each constructions the biological differences between men and women get translated into social terms and descriptions. Feminist writers argue that biological differences get heightened through social descriptions of masculinity and femininity.

 Patterns of differences by gender is seen when the character is either masculine or feminine. For example, pink and blue are gendered colours, former regarded as ‘feminine’ and later as ‘masculine’. Further, to be ‘strong’ and ‘tough’ is masculine. Being ‘weak’ and ‘soft’ are associated with feminine character. There are several other traits that are categorized as masculine and feminine. Masculinity and femininity are concepts which signify the social outcomes of being male or female. The traits and characteristics which describes men and women gives men advantage over women.

 Moira Gatens points masculinity is not valued unless performed by biological male. Hence the male body is imbued in our culture with certain traits that characterize maleness or masculinity. Hence the human norm of male supremacy. Similarly, femininity is performed by the biological female. The female body is in our culture is imbued with certain traits that characterize female or femininity.  

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 According to Judith Butler, any theorization about gender introduce the notion or idea of performance of gender in terms of masculinity and femininity. Thus performance of gender becomes involuntary as gender gets internalised through the socialization process within the dominant discourse of patriarchy. Gender is performed at different levels within the family and in the society. We socially enter into our gendered categories of masculine and feminine right from birth.

 The concept of masculinity and femininity as need in feminist discourses and writings to explain the differences between men and women. Some argues that these differences are based in their biology while others reject this argument and emphasises that the differences are socially constructed. Therefore, the construction of men and masculinity will accrue exclusively to the bodies of males. The construction of women and femininity will accrue exclusively to the bodies of females.

 In contemporary writings, there is a recognition that these social categorization of masculinity and femininity are blurring. There is a constant shift in the conceptualization of human beings as controlled by wholly biological or social forces. Women’s expectations have changed, women lives and roles have broadened. This explains just how malleable the category of femininity is.

5.1 Types of Feminism

a. Liberal Feminism

It seeks individual equality of man and woman through political and legal reforms without altering the structure of society.

b. Radical Feminism

  It considers the male controlled capitalist hierarchy as the defining feature of women’s operation and so the total uprooting and re-construction of society is necessary to free women.

c. Conservative Feminism

 It allows all women regardless of political affiliation to promote the ideals of feminism, specially equality in the workforce.

d. Ego Feminism

 It sees men’s control of land as responsible for the operation of women and destruction of the natural environment.

e. Social Feminism

It argues that women’s liberation can only be achieved by working in order to and both the economic and cultural sources of operations.

f. Marxist Feminism

 It argues that capitalism is the root cause of women’s operation and that discriminate against women in domestic life and employment is an effect of capitalist ideologist.

g. Black Feminism

It is a school of thought stating that class operation, gender identity and racism are all bound together. According to them, the experiences of being a black woman can not be understood in terms of being black or being a woman. They argue that, black women are possessed within structures of power in fundamentally different ways from white women. For them, sexism and racism are bound together and it exists because the racism that black women experience is not adequately addressed by the mainstream feminist movement, led by the white middle class women.

Gender Issues and Concerns are the basic concepts of gender studies. In this post we have studied about Gender Issues and Concerns related to Gender, Sex, Patriarchy, Feminism, Femininity and Masculinity. The next post will be on the remaining topics of Gender Issues and Concerns i.e. Difference between Sex and Gender, Gender Stereotypes etc.

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