Gender as Analytic, Political and Interdisciplinary Concept [chapter]

Harriet Bjerrum Nielsen
Concepts in Action  
Gender is an ambiguous and also an ambitious term. Sometimes it refers to a categorical distinction between women and men (either/or). Sometimes it designates a distributive difference between groups of women and groups of men (more or less of something, for instance, some capacity, attitude, behaviour -or the salary they get). And finally it may refer to the cultural discourses of gender, which work as mostly unacknowledged frames of interpretation in our perception of the world. These three
more » ... alytic meanings of gender -as distinction, distribution and discourse -may lead to much confusion about what we are really talking about when we refer to gender and gender differences. It is not unusual -neither in everyday life conversations nor in research -that distributive gender differences are interpreted through the lenses of common gender discourses and taken as distinctions. Gender has many facets and may be studied from a number of different theoretical perspectives and academic disciplines. Gender is central to divisions of labour and to the structuring of institutions such as the family, schools, workplaces, markets, and states. It is also a profound cultural system of meaning, norms, conventions, symbols and myths. It is a dimension of bodies and physical reproduction, individual identities and personal experience, social relations and everyday interaction. The impact and meaning of gender are complex, contextual, and changing over time. Moreover, the different dimensions of gender are deeply entangled with other lines of difference and inequality, such as age, sexuality, social class, nationality, race and ethnicity. These entanglements, or articulations, contribute to shaping the organisation, salience, and meanings of gender in different spheres of life. What we today refer to as gender studies emerged together with the feminist movement in the 1970s and this implies that the perspective has a built-in critical edge: it both interrogates how gender is produced, legitimised, maintained and changed, and considers this academic knowledge a contribution to the struggle against
doi:10.1163/9789004314207_016 fatcat:l6g2fdrge5fv5hlbsg5jcpzm34