Conclusion: So what is gender?
Having read the whole of this book, you are no doubt hoping that I have written a conclusion which will provide a nice neat answer to the question: what is gender? I can promise no such tidy tying up of final loose ends into a pretty bow. Gender is a complex phenomenon. The first task in establishing the complexity of gender was to challenge the biological determinism common in everyday thinking about differences between women and men. Once it was established that those differences are more social than ‘natural’, a much more sociologically useful map of theories of gender could be outlined. This set out the major thesis of the book: that there has been a traceable shift in approaches to gender, from a focus on the material to one on meaning. That cultural turn has seen explanations of gender as an effect of material, meaning economic conditions give way to analyses of gender as a product of symbolic processes. What the book illustrates is that this shift has not meant wholesale rejection of the importance of the material in the social construction of gender. However, the notion of materiality now tends to include more than economic processes; most importantly it has been a way of reassessing the significance of bodies in thinking about gender. Nevertheless, a concern with inequalities has continued to be central in the politics of gender, while there have been attempts to think in more detail about how gender relates to other inequalities around class and ethnicity. I provide a brief summary of the key points made in relation to these issues and suggest possible future directions.