Discuss Ideas and Beliefs about Gender


Where do beliefs and ideas about gender come from?

Societies, communities, and individuals define gender, including gender identity, roles, relationships, and stereotypes. Beliefs and ideas about gender are certainly related to biological difference between males and females, particularly the different functions their bodies perform in reproduction.  The idea that women are natural caregivers, for instance, is rooted in the fact that the female body nurtures and nourishes the young. Similarly, beliefs that men are more sexual or more promiscuous than women is tied to the role that males fulfill in propagating the species.

But beliefs and ideas about gender are also created and maintained through social institutions, such as religion, education, law and family.  For example, when Canada became a nation in the 19th century, women were not considered, legally, to be persons and so were denied the right to vote.  This decision had nothing to do with biological differences between males and females — though arguments were frequently made that women should not vote because they were irrational, emotional, or gullible. These kinds of arguments about female inferiority served to maintain a particular social order dominated by men.

Because gender is constructed, it can and does change over time.  As we saw earlier, beliefs about women working shifted substantially during the 20th century. Similarly, the ideal of female beauty in the European tradition has changed from the small-breasted, full-figured woman of the 17th century to that of the lean full-breasted body of a 20th century model or celebrity.

Gender may also be different from one person or place to another. For example, acceptance of women working outside the home or men looking after children is far from universal today.

In other words, ideas about gender are specific to each context.

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