Home > Frequently Asked Questions > Gender
Acknowledgement: Dr.Evert Ketting (International Consultant, Reproductive Health Specialist, Member, Technical Advisory Committee, SACHET)
What does GENDER mean?
"Gender refers to how we expect girls and boys, women and men to behave in different ways, because we believe this is natural."
Is GENDER the same as SEX?
"No, it is not. Sex is a biological characteristic of every human being: you are either male or female. Gender, on the other hand, has to do with how our culture, our society teaches us to be a real man or a real woman. These "social expectations" of what it is like to be a woman or to be a man are very different from one society to another. They can even be different within one society.
Are GENDER ISSUES just WOMEN'S ISSUES?
No! But it is understandable that many people think so. This is because in most societies women are subordinated to men. And they are thought to be inferior to men. Many women do not accept this, and therefore they challenge the way their culture and society ascribes them an inferior position and an inferior role. That means, it often tends to be women who raise the issue of gender. But gender refers just as much to the position and role of men in society.
Why are men far less interested in GENDER ISSUES than women are?
Well, the answer is that men are generally not aware of how much they can personally gain from more equity in gender relationships. They tend to think that by putting their usually dominant role to discussion they will only loose power and authority. What they don't usually know is that they can gain a lot from increased equity, in terms of love, respect, and mutual understanding. The problem is often that men feel they will only loose by increasing equity, whereas in fact this can greatly enhance their satisfaction in life.
Are men not by nature better able to be to perform leadership roles, because they are stronger, more dominant and are more competitive?
This might have been true in primitive societies, because physical strength and dominance were needed for the survival of cultures and societies. But in our present societies, that are primarily dependent on education, science, technology, and on negotiation skills to reach compromises (instead of just using force) women are just equally competent to be leaders.
Are women, by their very nature better fit for caring jobs like nurse, social worker, or teacher?
Well, definitely not by their nature. Girls are usually raised in ways that make them develop an interest in caring for others, particularly their husband, children, family members. That is why we often see them in "caring jobs".
By the way, it is significant that such "caring jobs" usually have a lower status, and are paid worse than typical "male jobs". This indicates a vicious circle of female subordination or even suppression. Because such "caring jobs" are done by women they have a lower status, and because of that they are paid worse, and because of that men don't want these jobs, and so women have them.
But why are jobs, that are traditionally dominated by women, almost always lower paid than male jobs?
This is because men, who are the ones who are in power, determine to a large extent the value of such work. It is not because this kind of work is in itself of lower value. The underlying male idea is that women are inferior, and therefore, the work they do is inferior as well, and thus lower valued and lower paid.
It is very interesting to see that if, for some reason, men start to enter traditionally female jobs, the status of that job tends to become higher. Cooking is a good example. Women are very often supposed to cook for the family, and this work is very often under-valued. But if you go to a good restaurant, the cook is very often a man, and in that case his work is highly valued.
Conversely, if women enter "male professions" in large numbers, the value of that work tends to decrease. The position of medical doctors in the (former) Soviet Union is a good example. Most doctors there are women, and as a result, the medical profession there has a much lower status than in most other countries, and the incomes of doctors are comparatively speaking also much lower.
Is it "natural" that women take care of the household, and raise the children, and that men provide for the family income?
This is definitely not true. In many cultures, women have always played important income generating roles, working in the fields, selling products in the market, and working in small home industries. Nowadays, there is even less reason to suggest that women should mainly, or only take care of the family. This is because nowadays couples want far less children than they did in the past, and so the number of years needed to raise the children is less. Often now, a woman is only 40 or 45 when the last child becomes independent, and then it is very natural that she wants to do something else that is useful.
But more importantly, children also need a caring father!
Why do women usually want to have less children than their husbands want?
This is easy. It is women who carry most of the burden of getting and raising children, physically, socially, and emotionally. They know how heavy this burden is. Men, on the other hand, get most of the gains, particularly a high status in society for having many children. If men would share more of the duties of day to day care for children, they certainly would want fewer children as well.
Is polygamy (men having more than one wife) a manifestation of male dominance and male egoism?
Originally, this has most likely not been the case. It was, at least partly, also a way to provide security for women, in societies where many men died at young ages, particularly during wars. Widows, and women who could not find a husband, because there were not enough men, could be protected in this way through becoming the second, third or fourth wife of a man. They could get a protected position in society in this way.
Nowadays, this positive reason hardly exists anymore. In almost all societies the number of men and women is about equal, and that means that if some men have more than one wife, other men cannot marry at all because there are not enough women.
If men have more power than women, does this mean that men can only loose if the power of women is increased? In that case men would never agree, would they?
This is a very common misunderstanding, but it really is a fallacy. The truth is men also have a lot to gain from more equality between women and men. In particular, they would win more mutual respect, more mutual appreciation, and fewer conflicts in marriage. This would greatly improve the quality and satisfaction of marital relationships. The problem is, men too often listen only to other men, instead of to women as well. That's why this fallacy perpetuates so often.