Key words are highlighted throughout the text in bold.
The sociology of gender and related knowledge sometimes uses language that may be unfamiliar or have different meanings to those used in everyday life. Terminology and jargon are the same thing depending on whether you understand them or not. Having specific terms with specific meanings is useful as a shorthand way of dealing with ideas that can otherwise take some time to explain. Defining the most crucial terms can serve as a way to introduce the kinds of things with which this book is concerned. The first thing to deal with is the distinction sociologists have made since the 1970s between sex (biological differences between males and females) and gender (socially produced differences between being feminine and being masculine). Later the book will return to the question of how distinct gender is from sex. However, it is generally agreed that gender differences are to be understood as a central feature of patriarchy, a social system in which men have come to be dominant in relation to women. There are, as we shall see, questions around to what extent gender is imposed on individuals as a result of the material conditions and social structures in which they live. Within sociology, ‘material’ has meant various things. Karl Marx, whose thought forms a good deal of the foundations of sociology, was
particularly concerned with how societies were organized, or structured, around meeting material needs, such as the need for food and shelter. He argues that people’s lives were determined by how a society organized the production of the things needed to survive. This was an emphasis on the economic, meaning the producing, managing and distributing of resources within society. Marx argued that industrialization instituted a new economic system called capitalism based on employers exploiting workers’ labour (only paying a wage not a share of the profits) and accumulating for themselves the wealth resulting from selling things. However, material is a term that has taken on broader meanings in more recent years, especially with regard to gender. Now it is maintained that the material may include a wider range of things, not just the things we need to survive but our bodies as things (Rahman and Witz, 2003).Yet widening what is meant by material has been only part of the story of developing understandings of gender. For sociologists the key has been to see gender as a social construction (something created by the social environment).An appreciation of how material conditions produce gender will be discussed but this book also looks at the importance of discourses (systematized ways of talking and thinking) in how gender operates. Medical and scientific discourses, for example, have been important in constructing gender. It is important to understand the part that ideas and meanings play in the social construction of femininity and masculinity. There are of course sociological discourses on gender and our discussion begins with a history of these ideas.