4.4 Where does gender come from?
In Activity 14 you described your gender identity. But where does this identity come from? Think for a few minutes about your sense of yourself as a man or a woman, and reflect on the following.
To what extent is your gender identity something you were born with, and to what extent has it developed overtime? (Think about the qualities, attributes, abilities and interests that you associate with your gender.)
If you believe your gender identity has developed overtime to some extent, can you think of any factors that have contributed to its development?
You may have thought your gender identity is something you were born with, which has remained the same throughout your life. If, on the other hand, you thought your sense of yourself as a man or a woman has changed during your life, you might have identified particular experiences, events or relationships that helped to define it. This was quite a difficult activity, but a useful one in helping to reflect on some taken-for-granted assumptions. Given that the view of gender as an inner, unchanging essence or a personal possession is deeply rooted in the ‘common sense’ of society, your own view will probably reflect this. However, reflecting on your gender identity more critically may lead you to challenge aspects of this, and to see your own ‘gender’ as something rather less fixed and stable, possibly more mutable and fluid, and liable to vary to some extent depending on who you are with, what you are doing, and differing social attitudes and expectations.
Viewing gender as something dynamic, rather than fixed or ‘given’, has important consequences for any discussion of the role of gender in interactions in care settings. Rather than seeing gender as something people bring to their encounters with each other, we shall focus instead on the ways in which relationships of gender are produced or constructed in the course of encounters and relationships. We shall see interactions in care settings as one of the many sites in society where gender is ‘made’, where it emerges or comes into being. This means a different way of analysing encounters, looking for the ways in which gender and gendered relationships are produced and reproduced, as well as possibly challenged or undermined. The following analysis concerns the reproduction, firstly, of relationships of power in health and social care, and then relationships of difference.
Gender is an important factor in the way people think and talk about interpersonal communication in health and social care services. Discussions tend to focus around linked issues of power and difference.
Essentialist views of gender see it as something innate within individuals and conditioned by either biology or upbringing.
A social constructionist perspective proposes that gender is produced in specific social contexts and is as much something people ‘do’ as something they ‘are’.
In a social constructionist view, everyday interactions are one of the sites where gender relationships are produced and reproduced.