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SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF GENDER

The debate whether gender is social construction or biological phenomenon has been in vogue ever
since the birth of sociology as an independent discipline. It is because since times immemorial, sex and
gender have always been seen, viewed and understood in the larger context of a seminal process called
biological reproduction. Biological reproduction was seen as a natural consequence of mating not only
among animals but also among human beings. Broadly speaking male and female were seen as counter parts
of animal species of all kinds. Just as the process of copulation exists among all animals, male female
intercourse was also viewed in the same culmination of biological urges. This is also corroborated by the
fact that females in all cultures have the same genetalia and men in all cultures do not differ that way. Even
on economic and social planes, men in all cultures are hunters, aggressive and moving, similarly women in
all cultures are found sticking to fixed places. The determination of sex and gender, till recently depended
primarily on the birth of the child and statement of the nurse, doctor or the on lookers after having seen the
genetalia of the new born baby. And the moment declaration about the sex and gender is made, all other
social and cultural processes automatically come into operation. Right from the birth of the baby, all
religious ceremonies, naming ceremonies, dressing ceremonies, cultural ceremonies and social ceremonies
are performed according to traditional understanding of sex and gender as biological concepts.
It will be worth noting here that in all cultures and in all civilizations, gender consideration has been
based on power of aggression, power of the dominance, power of hegemonistic tendencies and power of the
muscles. In this framework, female has always been seen as weaker, non aggressive, docile and subordinate.
No doubt, with the change in civilization and culture, concepts of gender and sex have undergone changes
but those have been very negligible. The broad fact remains that woman is basically subservient to man.
According to an ancient Sanskrit fable, Twashtri (Vulcan of Hindu mythology) when Twashtri
came to the creation of woman, he found that he had exhausted his materials in the making of man
and that no solid elements were left. In this dilemma, after profound meditations, he did as
follows:
He took the rotundity of the moon and the curves of the creepers, and the
clinging of the tendrils and the trembling of the grass, and the slenderness of the
reed and the bloom of flowers, and the lightness of leaves and the tapering of the
elephant's trunk, and the glances of deer and the blustering of rows of bees, and the
joyous gayety of sunbeams and the weeping of clouds, and the fickleness of the
winds and the timidity of the hare, and the vanity of the peacock and the softness of
the parrot's bosom and the hardness of adamant and the sweetness of honey, and
the cruelty of the tiger and the warm glow of the fire, and the coldness of snow and
the chattering of jays, and the cooing of the kokila, and the hypocrisy of the crane,
and the fidelity of shakrawska, and compounding all these together he made a
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woman

and

gave

her

to

man.1

But after one week, man came to him and said: "Lord, this creature that You have given me makes
my life miserable. She chatters incessantly and teases me beyond endurance, never leaving me alone; and
she requires incessant attention, and takes all my time up, cries about nothing and is always idle, and so I
have come to give her back as I cannot live with her." So Twashtri said: "Very well," and He took her back.
Then after another week an came to Him and said: "Lord, I find that my life is very lonely since I gave You
back that creature. I remember how she used to dance and sing to me and look at me out of the corner of her
eye, and play with me and cling to me, and her laughter was music and she was beautiful to look at and soft
to touch, so give her back to me."
So Twashtri said, "Very well," and gave her back. Then after only three days man came back to Him again
and said: "Lord, I know not how it is, but after all I have come to the conclusion that she is more of a trouble
than a pleasure to me so please take her back again." But Twashtri said: "Out on you! Be off! I will have no
more of this; you must manage how you can." The man said: "I cannot live with her." And Twashtri said:
"Neither can you live without her." And He turned His back on man and went on with His work. Then man
said: "What is to be done? For I cannot live either with her or without her."
According to Christian mythology, a woman (Eve) was created out of the rib of man (Adam). In
Rigvedic period, no religious function was considered complete without the presence of the other half.
During the Mughal period, emergence of burka system further sought to establish woman as subservient to
man. Even social and economic institutions like marriage, family, and capitalism etc. were built on basis of
biological distinction. Tribal heads, patriarchal family and bourgeois class etc. derived their strength from
distinctions between genders based on natural and congenial divisions. There were only two divisions
namely male and female and there was only one fixed and stereo typed relationship established through male
female copulation for reproduction. Transsexuals, homosexuals, lesbians, transvestites were unheard of and
if at all they existed, they were considered as aberrations of nature.
It is because ever since stone age, some super natural powers were believed to be interfering in the
affairs of men and women. Childbirth was seen as a Gods blessing, male birth was seen as perpetuation of
the clan, and female hood was considered to be sanctified after pregnancy. This was also due to the fact that
parents used to know the sex of the child only after the child was born and there was absolutely no control
over whether the child born was desirable or undesirable or male or female.
But with the advancement of education, science and technology, with the emergence of
globalization, with the onslaughts of governmental interference in private affairs of men and women, the
question of gender and sex are being differently viewed, examined and illustrated.
Present day sociologists and traditional theorists about sex and gender stand poles apart from each
other. They are divided into three camps. In the first category are those who regard sex and gender as
biological identities. Such a camp adherers to biological factors like shape of the body, reproductive
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system and physical strength. This camp is supported by medical professionals who have identified
hormonal differentials, chromosomes patterns through various anatomical analyses to draw biological
distinctions.
Second camp regards sex and gender as social constructs. And the third camp takes a middle position
that it is an inter play of both biological and sociological forces.
The second camp takes into consideration a number of all-inclusive social, medical, economic,
psychological, cultural and global factors. They say that gender and sex are biological phenomena till the
time the foetus or embryo is intact in the womb of the mother. But the moment baby comes out of the womb,
socialization agencies begin to shape the child and over the passage of time, his/her gender becomes a social
construct and begins to be treated as masculine and feminine. When viewed in the framework of power
principles, the gender begins to be seen in the light of male chauvinism and radical feminism. Thus
transition is from biological to social and from social to political.
Sociologists are not concerned with anatomy of a male or a female, rather they view a human being
as a product of social processes, which are both socially adopted and monitored. They advocate that sex and
gender are social constructions because of predominant role of socialization, which begins right from the
day one. In Indian context, a daughter is seen as LUXMI or PRAYA DHAN (others property) and son as
KULVRIDHI (perpetuation of family name). Different religious ceremonies are performed, different
dresses are worn, and different names are given to babies depending upon the accepted norms of society.
Liquid names like gudia with feminine connotations are given to the females and consonant names like
kaka are given to the male child. Genitals of a female baby are preferred to be covered and there is no such
worry in case of male child. Even congratulatory messages are differ in respect of the two and celebrations
too are different.
Child rearing practices with preferential treatment for male children and neglectful treatment for
female children are also seen not only in upbringing but also property sharing. As a grown up identity, a
female was associated with honour of the family and therefore kept in the four walls of the house and each
male members of the family was duty bound to protect the honour of the female member of the family. The
moment any danger was seen, there was no hesitation to fight wars, indulge in murders, and in case of
helplessness to indulge in female infanticide as in case of Rajputs. This attitude was so deeply embedded in
social ethos that a number of social evils like Bal Vivah (Child marriages) and Sati Pratha came to be seen in
India with far reaching social implications. Female infanticide may have come to an end in awakened
families, child marriages may have decreased among educated class but new forms of social evils, taboos
and crimes have raised their ugly heads. Some times mankind gets so confused and bamboozled and divided
that never ending debates crop up in the society proving that question of concept of gender and sex has
nothing to do with biology at all. For instance, the debate over the issue of abortion, female foeticide,
production of designers babies through genetic engineering have given birth to ethical, social and
psychological debate. To begin with the debate of abortion, societies are divided into to camps namely pro3

life and pro-choice. Advocates of pro-life theory regard abortion as murder, an act of sacrilege and therefore
socially unacceptable. Advocates of pro-choice theory state that a mother has an exclusive right as an
individual to lead her life independently and according to her own choices and preferences. This option has
become open to mankind because of advances in medical technology which offers its services to view in
advance whether the would-be baby is healthy, normal or is having some genital disorder. There is a current
thinking that a baby born with genital disorder should better not be allowed to come into existence for life
long suffering due to defects or deformities. Although both the camps agree on the value of human life yet
they differ in their perception.
Regarding female foeticide, society again is indulging in patterns of social construction and social
deconstruction. It is an open secret that female infanticide owes its birth to social attitude towards women
either because they are considered weaker, inferior or fickle. But here again those against the female
infanticide are not biological experts but social thinkers who can foresee the alarming threats to mankind
due to falling number of females in society. In their opinion if the ratio between men and women is
disturbed, it will directly affect centuries old institution of marriage and family. It is because human beings
are not like animals. Rather human beings indulge in sex, transcending biological considerations. The debate
over abortion and female foeticide have given birth to further medical research in the field of genetic
engineering. According to this research, scientists are working on finding out ways and means to determine,
guide, decide and monitor the birth of their offspring. They are working on to pre-determine and pre-decide
the colour of the eyes, the height of the baby, the colour of the hair, the sex of the baby, the intelligence of
the baby and so on through genetic modifications. This is a process through which scientists intervene in the
genetic make-up of the foetus to influence its subsequent development. Society is again divided over the
concept of genetic engineering. Those who support this socialization of nature, count many benefits of
genetic engineering. It is worth mentioning here that genetic engineering is seen as socialization of
nature. Firstly they say that it will be possible to identify genetic factors that make some people vulnerable
to certain diseases. Secondly they say that genetic reprogramming will ensure that these illnesses are no
longer past from generation to generation. Thirdly, it will be possible to design babies before birth in terms
of skin, colour, height, eyes and so on. But those who are against genetic engineering say that it is unlikely
to be a cheap project. Rich people will be able to have designer babies and deprived ones will lag behind.
While already there are deep chasms among the rich and poor, high and the low, between the upper castes
and the lower castes, between the superior and the inferior race perceptions, costly genetic engineering is
going to help the rich to produce a privileged bio-social class and the poor will be left with under privileged
natural biological class.
Gone are days when infant mentality rates were high due to ignorance, lack of medical facilities and
existence of fatalistic doctrines. Science has made available a number of procreative technologies to enable
the parents to decide whether to have a baby or not to have or at what time to have the baby and so on.
Earlier, contraceptives were available for men, now contractive pills are available for women also. It
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depends on social conditioning of the parents when, where and how to have the baby. Therefore, the
question of concept of gender and sex are no more biological but socially conditioned.
Not only this, present days sociologists are of the considered view that gender is culturally learned
concept because it is a social creation which lacks fixed essence. They say that human body is subject to
social forces which shape an alter it in many ways. In their support, they say individuals can choose to
construct and reconstruct their bodies as they please ranging from exercise, dieting and piercing and
personal fashion through plastic surgery and even to sex change operations. Technology is blurring the
boundaries of physical bodies. The argument is that human body and biology are not givens but subject to
human agency and personal choice within different social context.
Furthermore, gender relations are neither fixed nor static. They are dynamic. It is because of these
advancements that western societies are undergoing gender crisis. A present day sociologist Anthony
Giddens in his book on sociology enumerates three different forms of gender crisis. First is the crisis of

institutionalization. This crisis means that institutions, which have traditionally supported mens powerthe family and states are slowly being under mined. The legitimacy of mens domination over women is
being weakened through legislation on divorce, domestic violence and rape and economic questions such as
taxation and pension. So much so, that an increasing acceptability for new type of gender relations is gaining
currency. In the year 1967, male homosexuality was legalized in United Kingdom. In 1996, South Africa
adopted its constitution and constitutionally granted rights of homosexuals. Massachusetts state (USA) in
May 2004 legalized gay marriages. Thereby joining heads with countries like Netherlands, Belgium and
large parts of Canada. Similarly in 2004, UK government passed legislation to give gay and lesbian couples
a chance to receive similar legal rights as married couples. More and more people are beginning to realize
that marriage is an emotional commitments rather than a sacrament. Secondly, there is a crisis of

sexuality. Earlier heterosexuality was the only accepted norm but now homosexuality, gay rights and
lesbianism are also finding legislative support. Therefore, hegemonic masculinity is under pressure. Thirdly,
there is crisis of interest formation. Married women rights, growth of antisexist attitude among men
and gay movements pose threat to the current order. All these crises are being exploited for eradication of
gender inequality. Moreover, in the present era of globalization, gender has already become a distinct social
concept through operations of transnational and multinational corporations, which tend to have strong
gender division of labour. There is a distinct masculine management culture even in international nongovernmental organizations such as UN agencies, which are gendered and run by men. Although roles of
men and women differ from culture to culture yet there are no known instances of society in which females
are more powerful than males. Mens roles are generally more highly valued and rewarded than womens
role. In almost every culture women bear primary responsibility for child-care and domestic work and men
have traditionally borne responsibility for providing the family livelihood. It is this prevailing division of
labour between sexes that has led to men and women assuming unequal positions in terms of power, prestige
and wealth. Herein those who believe in natural differences between men and women say that division of
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labour between men and women is biological based. They say that women and men perform those tasks for
which they are most biologically suited. They support their arguments by saying that concentration of
domestic and family responsibility is the same in all cultures. They further state that women in all cultures
perform expressive roles and men in all cultures perform instrumental roles. By expressive roles, they say
that women provide care, emotional support and security to children. If a child is separated form mother at a
young age, he becomes a victim of mother deprivation syndrome. Such a child will develop serious social
and psychological difficulties in later life and father cannot become a mother substitute. Mothering role is a
distinctly female one.
But with the advancement of economic prosperity and education, gender relations are being more
and more in the transitional face. A number of feminist movements are in existence today like liberal
feminism, socialist feminism and radical feminism. Way back in 1869, in his book, the Subjection of

women, John Stuart Mill called for legal and political equality between the sexes, including the right to
vote. In U.K., legal advances such as Equal Pay Act 1970, Sex Discrimination Act 1975 actively supported
liberal feminism. Socialist feminism sees patriarchy is the direct result of capitalistic forces. He says
capitalism-exploited men by paying low wages and women by paying no wages. And therefore radical
feminism came into lime light with the belief that men are responsible for and benefit from the exploitation
of women. In their opinion family is the primary source of womens oppression in society. They say that
men exploit women by relying on free domestic labour, which women provide at home. Therefore the
women can be emancipated only through abolition of the family. Even social and cultural norms like slim
body and objectification of women through media perpetuate womens subordination.
With advancement of information and technology, perceptions about gender, gender relations, gender
inequalities and gender aspirations are undergoing major transformation. While western industrialized
societies are marked and more vocal in their new gender perceptions, even developing agricultural societies
are also being influenced by global perceptions. Due to oppressive gender inequalities, which exist between
genders, both liberal and radical feminism has become order of the day. Feminism is no more a mere
academic exercise restricted to Western Europe or North America. In China, women are working very hard
to secure equal rights, employment and roles in production and politics. In South Africa, women played a
major role in battle against apartheid and to improve that material, conditions of oppressed majority. In Peru,
activists are working to give women a greater opportunity to participate in public life. In Russia, the protests
of women were responsible to block the legislation in Russian parliament in 1992, which encouraged
women to stay at home and perform socially necessary labour. In India too, attempts are being made to
reserve 33% seats for women in Indian parliament. Indian laws on divorce are pro-women and with the
passage of domestic violence act, an increasing awareness is coming among women about their right for a
decent living. Not only this, in the area of economy, women are being given higher tax benefits through
gender budgeting. These tax incentives for women are being used as tools of female empowerment to bridge
the gender gap, which exists very deep in India. Furthermore, on cultural front, social festivals like
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Lohri celebrations are taking place at the birth of a female child, which was unheard of till recent
pasts. There are instances of a daughter lighting the pyre of the parents, which was absolutely
unheard off. Distribution of parental property on equal basis among male and female has already
become very common and yet in the gender gap report released by world economic forum, India ranks a
pathetic 116th among the 136 countries considered. That is why government is encouraging lower tax rates
for women, special educational economic waivers for single female children. Property tax rules are being
amended to encourage ownership of assets among women win-win situations are being created for women
to get out of repressive conditions. On international level too, efforts are being made to promote the cause of
women. United nations have started holding conferences on women. While four such conferences have
already been held since 1975, the next conference is likely to be held in 2010. The last conference was held
in 1995 at Beijing, China in 1995, wherein delegates form 181 countries participated to ensure womens
equal access to economic resources including land, credit, science, technology, vocational training,
information, communication and markets. The prominent issues, which found unanimity for immediate
redress of women issues, were enumerated as under:
*

the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women.

violence against women.

the effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women.

inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision-making.

stereotyping of women.

gender inequalities in the management of natural resources.

persistent discrimination against and violation of the rights of the girl child.
That way, gender inequalities are being forcefully addressed in the present day world scenario but

seeing gender as a purely biological concept or a purely sociological concept has its own limitations. There
is no doubt that analysis of gender perceptions, consideration and aspirations is based on social perceptions
yet the fact cannot be denied that too much emphasis and focus on social considerations is decimating the
role of nature. After all nature has its own methodology to express its manifestations to variegated ways.
Had it not been so the famous archetype of FATHER SUN and MOTHER EARTH would not have found
cosmic acceptance. No doubt gender relations have undergone definite and perceptive variations with the
emergence of homosexual, lesbians, transsexual and bisexual yet the fact remains such concepts do not fit in
the larger and grand design of nature which has its permanent cycle expressed as birth, death, and rebirth.
Social forces and social agencies do play a very significant role in gender construction but these agencies
have either very little or very negligible role to play for animals who too belong to the larger scheme of
creation of God.
There is definitely interplay between natural and social forces to enrich our understanding about
gender related.
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