4.1 Thinking about gender
So far in this course you have considered some general issues concerning difference, diversity and communication in care services, and how these issues relate specifically to ‘race’ and ethnicity. In this section we move on to another area that has been the focus of debate and of initiatives in policy and practice. As with ethnicity, the roots of much current thinking about gender in health and social care are the campaigns of activists in the 1970s and 1980s. However, it is also important to repeat the point that, although (as Burke and Harrison argued) there are commonalities between ‘differences’ and between intersecting processes of differentiation and discrimination, there are factors that are specific, for example, to gender.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature in discussions of gender issues, compared with debates about ‘race’, is the greater emphasis on the biological roots of gendered behaviour. Whereas biological arguments about ‘racial’ difference are now largely discredited, theories of gender that appeal to innate, biological differences between women and men are still respectable, and indeed are enjoying a revival at the time of writing. A second distinctive feature is that gender is widely acknowledged to affect everyone and to be a structuring factor in everyday experience. In the case of ethnicity, you saw that those in the ‘majority’ – in the case of the UK, white people – can disown their own ethnicity and use the word ‘ethnic’ only for people who are constructed as ‘others’ or ‘minorities’. Although in some circumstances masculinity is represented as the norm, there is perhaps a greater acceptance that gender affects the experience of both men and women.
In what sense is gender an issue in interpersonal communication in health and social care? In the first activity in this section you will think about the ways in which gender is talked about in the care setting you are most familiar with.