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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Workshop material: definitions and explanations

Information’s from: GenderCompetenceCenter (Berlin)

What is “Gender”?
The term Gender comes from Anglo-American and is now established as a technical term in German as well. The English term has been adopted because there is only the one word, “Geschlecht”, in German, meaning both ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, which most people associate only with biological sex. The use of the German word has therefore been linked with the risk of losing sight of gender as a social and cultural set of conditions that changes over time. Modern research starts with the assumption that “Geschlecht” always includes social, cultural, political and biological components, which can change over time (Becker-Schmidt / Knapp, 2000). This is why in German-language contexts the term ‘gender’ is preferred. The term “Geschlecht” (in the meaning of biological sex) can also be used, however, in the same way as the term ‘sex’ is used in English-language contexts, if clarity is required as to the meaning involved or the particular dimension of gender that is being discussed.Gender was for a long time a category that was discussed mainly in academic women’s and gender studies research. There are a great many universities worldwide which scientifically study and teach the development of gender relations in Gender Studies courses. The Humboldt University in Berlin was the first university in Germany to offer such a course, setting up its transdisciplinary Gender Studies major in 1997. Since then, a great many more Gender Studies courses have been set up. In the course of implementing the strategy Gender Mainstreaming, the term gender has been freed from purely academic contexts and can be found today in many political and everyday discussions. There are four dimensions to the practical and political characteristics and impacts of Gender, to which the European Commission refers with reference to the OECD:
representation in political and social spheres (e.g. participation in decision-making and public and private division of labour between the sexes)
living conditions (e.g. affluence, poverty, being victim to violence and exclusion)
resources (e.g. distribution of time, money, mobility or information) and
norms and values (e.g. stereotypes, role assignment, images, language).
Political measures have a direct or indirect impact on women and men in their diverse life situations. Policy must therefore take the diversity of ways of life into account in planning and implementing measures and laws, otherwise it will miss its “target groups”. It can use various means to achieve this. Existing discrimination must be corrected by using compensatory measures, for instance (e.g. promotion of women). There must also be incentives for those who want to free themselves from restrictive role models (e.g. using parental leave models). At the same time, causes and effects of the present gender relations must be analyzed, in order to change them (e.g. using a gender analysis). The ways of dealing with gender must therefore be as diverse as gender itself.

Definition of "Gender"
While German only has one word, “Geschlecht”, meaning both “sex” and “gender”, English distinguishes between biological sex and social gender. “Gender” is therefore meant not biologically, but in all the wide diversity of its social contexts. Consequently, Gender is also affected by origin, faith, age, physical capacity or disability, sexual orientation and other structural factors. Gender roles and gender identity are thus socially learned and culturally constructed. Gender also describes men and women in their social relationships with each other and among themselves. It thus involves hierarchies and discrimination. Gender is subject to historical and cultural change. It is therefore open for change and shaping. Women and men are traditionally assigned to different and unequal social positions because of their sex assignment. They are stereotyped as typical “women” and “men” and perceived accordingly. The actual diversity found in the real world stands in direct opposition to this. Gender equality therefore means breaking the restraints imposed by traditionally assigned positions and giving both women and men opportunities for giving their lives individual shape.A few aspects of “Gender”
Human beings are born with biological characteristics which are situated along a spectrum of characteristics between male and female. Human beings are assigned to two categories at birth on the basis of these characteristics, either as “boys” or as “girls”. This determination of biological sex, to a certain extent arbitrary, is also, in most societies, the basis for social behavior. Gender-specific socialization follows on from biological definition. The human being is “made” into a girl / woman or a boy / man in a complex process of rearing involving social norms and stereotypes, self-identification, images and traditions, and by means of practices and institutions. Gender is thus “socially constructed”. So the term “Gender” emphasizes the fact that sex and gender are not so much a natural as a social phenomenon. This also means that our ideas of “masculinity” and “femininity” are constantly shifting. The sex-and-gender system has traditionally been associated with a hierarchical (or “patriarchal”) idea of the superiority of the man. Today, however, the idea is increasingly coming to the fore that such ideas of dominance are no longer tenable. In order to respect changes, including those involving people’s life decisions, it is necessary to allow human beings to lead the lives they wish, as freely as possible from the assignment as girls or boys. This means departing from the notion that there are “natural roles” for men or for women. It also means ensuring at social and legal levels that the sex of a human being does not have a decisive effect on her or his life.
Gender focuses on the fact that being a Woman and being a Man are not equal categories standing side by side and of equal value. Sex is not only an individual characteristic, but is also at the same time a structural category integrated into hierarchical and discriminatory social and structural gender relations. This means that the removal of discrimination and the demolition of gender stereotypes must be undertaken on many levels and with various means. Existing discrimination must be corrected in part using compensatory measures (e.g. by the promotion of women). In addition, causes of the present gender relations must be analyzed so that they can be changed (e.g. thinking through the impact on gender relations as part of planning processes). There must also be incentives for those who wish to extricate themselves from problematical role models (e.g. by means of parenting leave models). Dealing with Gender must be as diverse as Gender itself.
Gender relations are closely interwoven with categories of social diversity such as age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, class and individual ability or disability, and are determined in part by them. Gender therefore means the sex-and-gender system in all the diversity of these social characteristics. It is necessary to observe concrete situations precisely and to think in terms of complexity.

Gender as a “socially constructed category”
Our conception of what women and men are and what they are supposed to be is produced by the society in which we live. Thus many people say that gender is “socially constructed”. The day-to-day, continuous production of gender has been called doing gender (West/Zimmermann, 1987), meaning that gender is “made” by us in everyday lives in our interactions with others. Processes of doing gender are not only carried on in our society by individuals, but also through socially-standardizing practices such as legislation or the institutions of the family and marriage. “Doing gender” thrives on continually establishing a dual order of two sexes. At the latest after birth, and often even before, people are divided into two sex categories – boy or girl. From these categories, gender characteristics are derived, like blue and pink....... In the course of her or his life, the human being is then “made” into a girl or woman or a boy or man in a complex process of rearing and education, social norms and values, stereotypes, identification, images and traditions.What is noticeable is that conceptions of women and men are subject to change over time. What is supposed to be feminine or masculine is historically defined. What is more important, however, that the one same difference is put forward time and again, and for this reason alone becomes important. The differentiation into two sexes is politically relevant, because evaluations are linked with it, which assign different modes of action to the genders.On the other hand, it is often the case that it is not the one difference between the sexes which is most decisive, but that other social differences are far more important. It can be assumed today that women and men are not homogeneous groups, but that differences within the groups of women and of men can often become relevant. For instance, the social status or ethnic origin or skin colour can be a deciding factor for people who then also differentiate according to gender. On the other hand, clear-cut inequalities between women and men are hardly effective any more. In other words, it is not a matter of two colours, but of the entire colour spectrum.Modern medical definitions of gender are also multidimensional. Gender is defined in the standard (German) medical work in five dimensions; chromosomal, genital, mental and social. It is pointed out that there is a broad area of overlap in behavioural tendencies between the genders. Deviations from the two-gender norm, such as “transsexuality” or “intersexuality” are medically classified, however, according to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD 10) as gender identity disorders. People affected by these conditions, however, experience the unambiguous classification into woman or man as social compulsion and discrimination. Intersexuals, previously called hermaphrodites, possess both male and female physical attributes. In one out of every two thousand births, the sex of a new-born baby cannot be unambiguously determined. Since the 1950s gender assignment operations have been carried out on infants and children in which ambiguous genitals are changed surgically to fit in with traditional conceptions of female or male genitalia. Transsexuals have unambiguous physical attributes, but do not feel that they belong to the gender represented by their bodies.“Transidentities” are scientifically discussed and researched in Queer Studies. Queer Theory sets itself the task of analyzing and questioning social discourses of normality concerning sex, gender and sexuality. The beginnings of Queer Theory are closely connected with movements in social politics which have the aim of de-pathologizing people with a transgender identity and are fighting for diversity in gender lifestyles.

Gender as a “structural category”
Gender relations are today an important part of the social order. Therefore, gender is also described as a structural category, because it influences structures. What this is emphasising is the fact that gender is not just an individual characteristic describing individual people, but that ideas about gender are inscribed in organizations, social relations and legislative systems. So one hears “gender orders” or “gender relations” being talked about.Traditionally, gender relations are associated with a hierarchical notion of the superiority of the man (patriarchy) and a male norm (androcentricity). Patriarchy describes a social order in which a patriarch has the power to make decisions; this is closely linked with the idea of “paternalism”, in which a father (pater familias) makes decisions for the family, albeit well-meaning, but nonetheless alone.Androcentricity defines the way in which thinking, feeling and acting are not gender neutral but, in our culture, relate primarily to men and take absolutely no account of the life situations and experiences of women. In other words, the male subject is the paradigm for the human race, which is enshrined in language in the term “mankind”. Along with this, values and norms in thinking and acting in society, politics and culture are implicitly encumbered with gender specific values. The family is thus the feminine place, while politics is masculine. Emotions are feminine and thinking is masculine. Caring is feminine, aggression in masculine. Et cetera. These are not just personal opinions, which mostly do injustice to individuals, but are stereotypes, which guide actions and are deeply rooted in our cultures.

Gender as an “analytical category”
Gender is not just a structural element of society, but gender is also an analytical tool with the aid of which social relations can be studied. This is why we often find the term “analytical category”. If gender is used as an analytical category, supposedly gender neutral areas can be investigated as to the manner in which gender is constructed and what impact this has on the life situations of women and of men. Various dimensions of gender – representation, living conditions, resources and norms and values – can be rendered visible. Gender knowledge gained in this way serves as a basis for gender equality policy work. In practice, suggestions have been developed as to how specialist work or a policy field may be meaningfully analyzed. These include, for example, impact assessments in legislation which are oriented to gender equality, or other forms of gender analysis.

Gender – always relevant?
Not least with the implementation of Gender Mainstreaming, the question is raised as to whether gender plays a role everywhere. This is also a matter of some contention from today’s point of view in Gender Studies. In reply to the question as to what relevance gender still has today as a category of social order, either on the one hand reference is made to tendencies to persist, or, on the other hand, it is claimed that everything here is in a state of flux. Either gender is seen as the most effective structural category in society, as a “social mechanism for showing people their places” (Brückner, 2004) or else its “loss of meaning” is criticized (Knapp, 2001).The first of these positions assumes a pluralism of both life situations of women and men and of social discourses about gender. In spite of the continued existence of structural inequalities (such as in working life, or in gender-hierarchical division of labor), a shift in gender relations can be observed at the level of social structure. A different position is taken with the hypothesis of “non-simultaneity” in the development of social life situations and discourses about gender. While changes have taken place in discourses, such as flexibilization and decentralization of the category gender, it still continues to have meaning in the context of social inequality.As this debate within Gender Studies shows, a distinction must be drawn when asking about the relevance of gender as to whether it involves describing social conditions (such as are shown in data and statistics regarding gender relations) or normative views as to how it should be (i.e. interpretations derived from the data material in relation to gender equality).In view of the undisputed fact that gender mostly plays a problematic role because it is used to reduce people to certain clichés, some people now take the view that it is more a matter of “undoing gender” instead of “doing gender” (Lorber, 2004). “Undoing gender” does not mean making gender superfluous, or again that gender neutrality should be introduced. To “undo gender” aims in the first instance at becoming aware of the construction of gender difference and the concomitant stereotyping evaluations. As a second step, it involves removing categorizations and evaluations that create gender hierarchies and changing society to create an orientation to gender equality.

Gender competence
Gender competence is the ability of people to recognize gender perspectives in their work and policy fields and concentrate on them towards the goal of gender equality.Gender competence is a prerequisite for successful Gender Mainstreaming. At the same time, new gender competence is produced through the implementation of Gender Mainstreaming.Like other competences, gender competence consists of the elements of intention, knowledge and ability.
1. Intention:
The motivation is there to work towards the goal of gender equality and make a contribution to the implementation of Gender Mainstreaming. This requires sensitivity to gender relations and (potential) discrimination structures.
2. Knowledge:
“Gender” is understood in all its complexity and fundamental findings of Women’s Studies, Men’s Studies and Gender Studies are known. Specific specialist knowledge and information on gender perspectives in the subject area or policy field in question are in place, or data gaps are identified and plugged.
3. Ability:
Gender Mainstreaming is identified as a strategy and is applied in your own work context. Gender perspectives are integrated into policy fields and related to subject areas with the aid of Gender Mainstreaming tools with the goal of implementing gender equality.

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