There is no widely accepted framework for understanding the facts set out in chapter 1. There are several conflicting ways of looking at them. The aim of the next three chapters is to come to grips with these approaches and derive from them a systematic basis for understanding gender.

The first step is to ask where they came from and how they gained their present shape. The outline in this chapter is far from being a complete history of ideas. That would be a massive undertaking in its own right. Yet we need some kind of historical framework, on the principle that social theory never occurs in a vacuum. It must always be understood, and evaluated, as itself a practice with a context.