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Sex as a Social Construct


 As elaborated yesterday:
 Sex refers to biological attributes of being male or female &
 Gender refers to the socially constructed attributes of being male or female.
 Women and men are treated unequally on the basis of the fact their sex.
 Sex differences or the differences between males and females are often cited as
the basis for unequal treatment.
 Gender differences between men and women represent socially constructed
norms regarding the division of labor, and the distribution of power,
responsibilities and rights between men and women
 The basis for differentiation continues to be traced back to biological difference.

 Biological differences between men and women are

minimal and insignificant when compared with the
 Biological difference becomes magnified or exaggerated
to represent an ideology of sex difference, which is then
referred to as the social construct of (ideology of) gender.
 It is used to justify unequal treatment of women and men.
The power of the ideology of gender lies in the way it
encompasses fundamental cultural and social values
relating to the relations between men and women, as well
as the force of history underlying its evolution.

 The ideology of gender determines:

 What is expected of us
 What is allowed of us
 What is valued in us.

 The ideology of gender also determines the nature and extent

 Disadvantage
 Disparity
 Discrimination

 The manifestation of gender difference can be

found in the construction of:
 Roles
 Relations &
 Identity

 The ideology of sex difference/ gender, thus

contains norms and rules regarding appropriate
behavior and determines attributes; it also
reproduces a range of beliefs and customs to
support these norms and social rules.
 Norms and rules have material consequences for
issues of women and men's relative access to
and claims over different categories of resources.

The normative underpinnings of sex difference lead to

differences in the way:
 responsibilities are allocated,
 resources are distributed, and
 rights are granted.
Asymmetries or inequalities thus grow to represent "conflicts"
of interest, so that challenges to the way social rules are
constructed represent challenges to the entire organization
of society.

 How women negotiate these changes will vary

depending on the ability or capacity of a woman to
risk changes to the way her life has been lived.
 Coping strategies that women commonly engage in
 Acceptance
 Adaptation (involving negotiation and bargaining)
 Resistance
Institutional Discrimination

 An analysis of the ideology of sex difference uncovers the

understanding that the social construction of differences
between men and women is the basis on which rules/
resources/ responsibilities/power and rights are distributed or
allocated between women and men in society resulting in
 Discrimination is socially constructed and is based on social
rules or norms.
 These rules are patterns that become routine over a period
of time.

 These patterns are so socially legitimized that they become

reproduced with economy, because of the intricate ways in which
identity and roles are intertwined.
 Four main institutions in society combine their practice and reinforce
the ideology of the social construction of gender.
 These institutions are
 The Family or household
 The Market
 The community and
 The state.

 Denial of chances to the woman for education by the family leads

to fewer options in the work place or the fact that women are solely
responsible for childcare in the family leads to disapproval of
working women and women who seek market place substitutes for
child care.
 The women are unprepared to be competitive in the market which
exploits them as cheap labor as they are not seen as needing the
same wages as men. They are also then denied participation in
community decisions, and in turn have limited rights in household
decisions as they are seen as not having enough exposure or on the
grounds that it is not their role

 Their lack of decision-making in the public sphere also means that

they are denied valuable economic and political rights by the state.
Because of the disadvantages they face women in turn are unable to
influence the state as critical political constituencies. In this manner a
cycle of discrimination is established and justified on the basis of the
expectations of society with regard to women and men.
 The denial of equality and rights for women is based on biological
difference as well as a notion of equivalent rights: men have a right to
education to earn a living, women are economically provided for, or
that change is costly. Gendered structures are so entrenched that it
is uneconomical to do things differently.

The whole debate around equality and rights for women is

countered by a number of disagreements raised, which range
from citing biological difference to equivalence to the cost of
social change. In order to establish what the nature of the
equality or rights is that we are demanding, we need to
remember that
1. women's relationships to rights are not unilinear or simple.
2. They are not just about de jure rights but also about de facto equality
which will mean assessing the process required to move towards greater

 The model of social organization used in law and policy is often based on the
separation of these different institutions.
 This has led to the constant demarcation of spheres of activity into the public and
the private. The private sphere is seen to be the domain of women, while the public
sphere that of men.
 Gendered distinctions of this kind point to the power of the ideology of sex
difference. The construction of gender roles within each of these institutions
becomes extended to the organization of women's activities, eg. the fact that
women's reproductive functions are carried out within the sanction or legitimacy of
the household is further extended to include all functions relating to child rearing to
the same institution.

The biology of the mother thus becomes extended to the

dominance of "motherhood" within the household.
It becomes socially "unruly" to consider market-place
substitutes for the rearing of children: where this does
happen, it is at a great emotional or social cost to women
whose identity as a "mother" is thus brought into question.

 “Autonomy” in gender studies means that:

A woman should be independent to lead her life as per her choice.
 Self-directive modes and self-governing approach are the core
ideological crux of autonomy.
 The feminists who float the idea build their narrative that violence
against women can be traced to her subordination before her male
 She remains dependent economically, morally and culturally on her
partner that paves the way of man superiority by compromising on
women rights.

 Thus, if she will be independent and follow her own self-

directive modes, gender-based issues can be reduced.
 Many feminists oppose the stance by terming it
“noxious concept” like Sarah Hoagland.
 John Christman terms the concept as metaphysical and

 “Integration” means that male and female cannot live separately.

They have been created for each other and there must be an
understanding and compromising attitudes from both sides to stamp
out their differences and issues which disturb male, female relation
because of violence and male dominance.
 All types of resources must be distributed equally among both sexes,
and legal provision must be given to their fundamental rights without
any discriminatory and biased policy.

 Protagonists of the school of thought -integration- further

build their narrative that issues relating to women mobility,
control over earning, family planning decision and sharing
gender roles must be dealt by the couple through mutual
understanding to lead a happy life.

 There are certain types of concepts of autonomy as:-

 moral autonomy,
 individual autonomy and
 moral psychology.
 Moral autonomy was presented by Immanuel Kant whose
philosophy is based on “intrinsic value of human life”. The value is
possessed by all and sundry naturally. So, nobody has right to
disrespect and discriminate others on the basis of gender, sex and
cultural practices.

 While, ideological foundation of moral psychology is to deal all

genders through legal provisions for security of their rights. Nobody
must be given the right to violate others’ rights.
 Individual autonomy refers to self-dedicated and self-directive
modes to lead a life independently. These ideologies specially,
Kantian philosophy provided sound footings to “autonomy in
gender studies” to deal with androcentric mentality and women
issues with special reference to their male relations.

 Feminists and activists termed “autonomy” as problem creator and metaphysical

rather than problem solver. Jessica Benjamin and Gillian reject “autonomy” and
project “integration” by stating that men and women should develop their
relation on mutual understanding, and consciously mental changes are required
to root out or reduce the gender-based violation.
 Special attention must be given to mental chemistry and formation of both sexes’
mental mechanism by altering it following the exponential changes. Furthermore,
Kimrele presents the concept of “intersectionality” by building the narrative in
favor of “integration” that male and female are factual realities, and are created
to live together.

 Condition of gender disparity has been declining with the passage of time
in Pakistan. Even teen aged girls are not safe from rapists. Women
population increased 2% of the total population of the country according
to the recent census but their role and opportunities are limited in all
arenas. World Economic Forum also expressed its grievances on poor
gender disparity in the country. Unfortunately, parents, teachers and
religious scholars have specified their role on the name of cultural
relativistic norms and values of our society. There is a dire need to
empower women in all sectors not like the West but according to our
religious teachings and human rights preserving cultural norms.
Government and public ought to call to halt all sorts of gender based
violation in the country by empowering women, initiating awareness
programs and self-accountable methods.
Gender Studies VS Women Studies

 Gender Studies is an interdisciplinary field that concentrates on the new scholarship in

women and men studies.
 Women Studies was an offshoot of second wave feminism. Gender Studies though is noted
to reflect on a shift to the third wave and the acknowledgement that disempowerment and
gender were more fluid concepts than it was previously thought.
 Though the name "Women Studies" is older than the term "Gender Studies" The impact of
gender on all levels of experience may be addressed from every liberal arts discipline.
 On one hand gender studies addresses the struggle for gender equality in politics,
education, the family, the labor force, in literature and the media are key topics; and, in
many courses, this involves cross-cultural studies of gender relations.
 On the other Women's Studies addresses not only the need for a fuller understanding of
women in society but also for new criteria and methods of assessing the status of women.