This chapter tests the major frameworks for the social analysis of gender that have emerged from the history just discussed. The focus is on the general logic of different kinds of theories rather than on particular applications or particular concepts.

I take this rather formal approach as it seems the best way to get a grip on the possibilities for theoretical growth, to define both the potentials and the inherent limits of existing frameworks. This leads to a rather unusual classification of theories. Commonly recognized ‘schools’ of thought turn out to contain logically disparate theories. Socialist feminism for instance contains several of the types of theories discussed below. The concept of‘patriarchy’, approached in this way, does not stand for a particular school at all. It appears in several logically different forms of theory and takes on different meanings according to its context.

Three distinctions are basic to what follows: (a) between extrinsic and intrinsic accounts of the determinants of sex inequality; (b) within intrinsic theories, between those that focus on custom and those that focus on power; (c) within power theories, between those that see categories as prior to practice and those that see categories as emerging from practice. I start with extrinsic theories, not because they are less sophisticated but because they do seem the least promising for the general project of a theory of gender.