What does that mean?

Gender portal

The gender concept

For some time now, the term “gender” has been heard and read more and more outside of the universities. But what does that mean? How does the English term “gender” differ from the German “gender”?

While in German “gender” is a very comprehensive term and includes a. can relate to the biological, the social or even the aristocratic sex, the English "gender" designates precisely the societal, i.e. the social dimension of gender. This refers to the culture-specific and historically variable roles, expectations, values ​​and orders that are linked to the gender assigned at birth. How this social dimension takes shape depends on the respective culture (how gender is filled with life, how many genders there are) and historical development (e.g. masculinity today compared to the Middle Ages). Our western model of oppositely complementary "bisexuality" also has a history and is to be located in a specific context. As early as 1949, the French philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir put it in a nutshell: "You are not born a woman, you become one". The famous sentence can be expanded to include all genders. Because although there are ideal ideas of female and male, the gray areas in between and beyond are the reality. Sexual attributions are therefore constantly in flux.

The understanding of “gender” as a social gender was taken up in women's studies at the beginning of the 1970s, especially by the British sociologist and author Ann Oakley. Oakley was largely referring to an understanding of gender that was developed in medicine. In the mid-1950s, the medical psychologist John Money coined the term “gender role” and later expanded it to “gender-identity / role”. He worked with other physicians and sexologists at the Johns-Hopkins Hospital on diagnoses and therapies for intersex people. In his research, Money observed that intersex * persons who can be morphologically classified as female or male would not perceive this accordingly. According to Money, the gender body does not determine the perceived gender affiliation. The subjective knowledge, initially referred to as “gender role”, of being a certain gender, which is also perceived as such by others, determines the social gender role or gender identity.
Contrary to the results of his study, Money pleaded for a clear fit between identity and body: For a successful development of gender identity, the perception of a clear physicality is essential. Therefore, Money recommended so-called gender reassignment surgeries in children up to the age of 3 years with gender deviating from male or female characteristics.

Money therefore rated the social gender role higher than gender identity or gender body. The findings of Money and his team and the treatment model based on them are standard in many Western countries to this day. However, especially since the 1980s, intersex people have been strongly criticizing this model and the practice of early childhood operations, as these are mostly cosmetic interventions with lifelong and sometimes serious medical and psychological consequences.
As a counterpart to the term “gender”, “sex” is often mentioned, the latter referring to the physical gender assigned at birth. Historical studies, on the other hand, show how the perception of bodies and also of gender has changed throughout history. Even “sex” cannot simply be viewed as something “given” by biology, but must be understood as a category that is given gendered meanings. Our view of the body is by no means objective because it cannot be free from social ideas. Where culture begins and nature ends, according to the current state of knowledge, it is still not possible to clearly distinguish, but research is being carried out in the comparatively young biomedical field of epigenetics.

Beyond sex and gender, the American sociologists Candace West and Don H. Zimmerman developed the concept of doing gender in 1987, which focuses on gendered assignments and representation in everyday interaction.

Read more