Gender as a Political and Analytical Category
In German, the English term “gender” has commonly come to refer to a person’s “social gender” as opposed to their “biological gender,“ or sex. The German term for “gender relations” (Geschlechterverhältnisse) is often used as a synonym for gender.
Social gender roles are socially constructed, affected by culture and history, and thus susceptible of change. Gender describes social relations between and among men and women. Gender roles are revealed in a wide variety of life experiences, particularly those affected by origins, beliefs, age, sexual orientation, disabilities, and social class.
Gender becomes visible in five key dimensions:
- Circumstances: The everyday lives of men and women differ because of differences in socialization, living conditions, and domains of activity, thus leading to divergent positions in society. Example: It is predominantly women who experience sexual violence or who look after family members.
- Participation: Within different spheres of society the representation of women and men varies greatly. Examples: There are far fewer women than men in key military, economic, and political positions. Men are underrepresented in service and care-giving professions.
- Resources: Access to social, material, and non-material resources is contingent on gender roles. Examples: Working women often have to look after children and do household chores. Consequently they have less free time, money, and mobility. In many regions their access to education is hampered or even denied.
- Norms and values: Gender roles are socially attributed and handed down from one generation to the next. In the interaction between ascribed and (self)-constructed gender roles, identities of masculinity and femininity are constructed. Examples: men are responsible for earning the family income, women for reproductive duties. Men are considered militant, women peace-loving.
- Rights: In many regions of the world, women and men have unequal rights – despite the universal declaration of human rights. Even in places where equal rights have become law the reality is usually different. Examples: In most countries, including the Federal Republic of Germany, compulsory military service applies to men only; in Saudi Arabia, women are denied the right to vote; in the EU, women earn an average of 15 % less than men.