The complex matter of Gender

Image available at: (Accessed 9 October 2016)

Gender. Not too long ago, all over the world, the answer to “What is gender?” would without a doubt be ‘Male and Female’. To this day, for many people, the terms ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ are used interchangeably, and thus incorrectly. As we have come to learn, the issue goes way beyond these two boxes. So what is it, really? In my opinion, the closest to a realistic definition we could get, would be saying it is a scale; a spectrum.

I was fairly disappointed when google gave me this result:


Image available at: (Accessed: 10 October)

The distinction between sex and gender is fundamental, since many differences between males and females have no biological basis. As Giddens (2013) explains, gender differences are not biologically determined but culturally produced. On this view, gender inequalities are reproduced because men and women are socialized into different roles. It can, for instance, mean, that in societies where men dominate women in both public and private life, ‘men may feel freer than women to make eye contact with strangers.’ Generally, if a woman stares at a man, it is perceived as being seductive and research shows that for that reason, females are more likely to look away first. Another example can be that ‘men make physical contact with women during conversation far more often than the other way around and women are generally expected to view this situation as normal.’ [1] Such gender roles are learnt form a very early age (MullenLowe Group suggests between age 5 and 7) and therefore, it is the harder to overcome.

Although understanding the terms sex and gender is essential, the matter goes further than that. In our society, there undoubtedly exists a so called Gender Gap which is statistically proven by an index. The Global Gender Gap Index intends to map and measure gender equality. The UK reached score 0.758 in 2015 out of the maximum 1 possible. [2] That number is nowhere near the worst of the world-wide ranking but we can, I assume, all agree that until we have achieved 1 (which means equality of both genders) it is vital to keep working on a major improvement as society.

In order to put in a few examples of how Gender Inequality presents itself, I have looked up some statistics:

  • Male characters generally outnumber females in most children’s books, magazines, television programmes and films, and they tend to play more active, adventurous roles, while females are portrayed as passive, expectant and domestically oriented. [1]
  • Prevalence of violence against women in the UK > Almost 1 in 3 girls have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school. [3]
  • The full time gender pay gap is 10%, and the average part-time pay gap is 34.5%. [3]
  • Women are outnumbered 5 to1 by men in the cabinet only 16% of senior ministerial posts are held by women. [3]
  • Just 23% of reporters on national daily newspapers in the UK are women with only 1 female editor of a national daily. [3]

Now, what are the effects of those stereotypes?

Above all, I will point out self-confidence. No matter what your identity is, if you are being told by the outer world that you are not ‘as worthy as someone else’ it will affect your confidence severely.
Apart from that, it can’t be argued that opportunities available to us are not equal. Gender stereotyping assumes that there is inequality in the talents of both genders, and thus stereotypes often affect the types of jobs men and women can get.
For the rest, I will just make a list without detailed explanation as it could get undesirably long.
Prejudice, Safety, Expectations, Representation, Religion, Media… and so on.

I read and article on gender stereotypes which pointed out an exercise in the children’s book: “It was titled ‘A famous scientist/inventor’ and asked children to research any scientist or inventor of their choice. The subtitles asked questions like “Who was he?” and “Where did he come from?” [4] The mum ended up approaching the school and received a very positive response. If you are interested, you can have a further read here.

Moreover, I found this PDF, and in particular the handout, extremely helpful as guidance to understanding the complex matter of gender in a simplified way.

Image available at: (Accessed 9 October 2016)

Lastly, as we have been touching on the topic of gender roles and feminism in class for a few weeks now, it reminded me of a situation from my personal life that took place a good while ago.

I was having a conversation with my father in which I quite clearly and openly presented the advocate of equal pay. We were talking about it in relation to sports, as we always do, and I rather passionately explained how excited equal financial reward for the finalists in both the female and male part of the draw in Wimbledon would make me. He, as usual, disagreed, but this time put in an argument that I, to this day, can’t seem to dispel properly.
‘How is the equal prize fair, when the performance is not?‘ What he meant was the fact that men must tackle 3 sets, whilst women are done after just 2. My mother opposed, saying that the fairness is in the fact that women are predisposed differently and, therefore, the expectations must be adjusted to that. Now, having started my university studies, it would resonate with our first Values workshop where the main differences between equity and equality were highlighted.

I am left quite undecided on how I feel about this dispute. The reason why I say that, is because what feminism often presents to me, is showing and proving that women are capable of just as much as men. Thanks to our body physique (note the distinction between terms gender and sex), however, in some cases, like sports especially, it cannot apply and then the thought behind this ideology is reaching equity instead.

I will make sure to do further reading on this topic than just what has been covered in our lectures, as I fully recognize its importance, but do not feel informed sufficiently – After all, we must learn to admit that we might not always know everything 🙂


[1] Giddens, A. and Sutton, P.W. (2013) Sociology. 7th edn. Cambridge: Polity.

[2] ‘Global Gender Gap Report’ (2015) Wikipedia. Available at: (Accessed: 10 October 2016)

[3] UKFeminista (no date) Facts and statistics on gender inequality. Available at: (Accessed: 10 October 2016)

[4] Let Toys Be Toys (2015) Raising the issue of stereotypes in school – case study. Available at: (Accessed: 25 September 2016).

MullenLowe Group (2016) Inspiring the future – Redraw the balance. Available at: (Accessed: 9 October 2016)

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