What do gender theorists mean when they claim that gender is a 'social construct'?

Essay by cherrycoolCollege, UndergraduateB+, May 2010

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What do gender theorists mean when they say that gender is socially constructed?

To say that, "masculinity and femininity are socially ... constructed dimensions that inform all the forms of our thinking, emotional experience and behaviour"�, is to say that gender itself is socially constructed, rather than a biological trait, which is similar to the long standing 'nature versus nurture' debate. One's 'sex' is a biological fact; male and female genitalia. One's 'gender' is essentially the behaviour that is expected from males and females, as dictated by society. Traditionally, men will take on the role of the breadwinner, going out to work each day in order to provide for his family, while the woman will remain at home to take care of the house and raise their children. The home itself reproduces society's gender roles through parental reinforcement; from birth to death we are constructed to act according to society's gender moulds.

Much of this behaviour is learnt at a young age, when boys climb trees and wrestle one other, while girls engage with their dolls, or even from the simple actions of dressing newborn girls in pink and boys in blue. We can see that even though our genetic make-up defines our sex, society plays a significant part in defining the term 'gender'. Although these roles still exist in today's society, we have advanced somewhat in comparison to the 1950s, particularly in the Western world; it is certainly not uncommon for a woman to return to work after having a child, nor is it uncommon for the male to stay at home. In this essay, I will endeavour to explain what is meant by socially constructed gender.

Definitions of the 'male' and the 'female' come from what we learn, not what is part of our biological make-up. John Locke,