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Essay: Gender is a social construct

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  • Subject area(s): Science essays Sociology essays
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  • Published: June 16, 2021*
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  • Gender is a social construct
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The concept of gender is as old as humans. George Orwell once stated “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” (Eriksen, 2015). The act of gendering is exertion of power, instilling your dominance or submission onto another. Anthropology is the scientific study of humanity, while the study of gender examines the social and cultural norms about human sexuality and the impact to society. Both have a key overlapping fact and that is that each is studying the concept of power, which is critical because key debates occurring in the field of gender anthropology is are focused on the relation of gender to colonialism, and the role of gender during times of war and peace. Through the analysis of various academic sources it will prove that gender relation to colonialism and gender roles during war and peace are key in understanding the power mentality of societies today.

The anthropology of gender could be considered the new kid on the block when considering the other focuses of anthropology, although the science of anthropology is a relatively new science as a whole. On the other end of the spectrum is the concept of gender, which has evolving right alongside society. Gender is a cultural construct that can change and evolve from era to era and from one culture to another. It is socially assigned roles that everyone performs based on their perceived sexual identity. An important clarification is the difference between sex and gender; sex refers to biological characteristics a fetus is born with, while once again gender is created by society. However gender can refer to the biological sex at times, but it will not always match up. The understanding of gender and how cultures utilize it, is the basis to understanding the evolution of the modern hierarchy and the location of the concentration of power. It was not till the 1970s that women began to blatantly question the masculinist orthodoxies in anthropology, criticizing traditions in both literature and in the field(Okely, 2019). During this time the difference between sex being biological and gender being a social construct first appear started to appear in the literature. In spite of the fact that the study of gender in anthropology was still uncharted waters women anthropologist have made impressive progress in examining gender and traditional anthropological theory.

One of these pioneering females was María Lugones who developed the concept of Coloniality of Gender. Lugones’s theory expanded and developed the concept Coloniality of Power. She defined the Coloniality of Gender as the “the analysis of racialized, capitalist, gender oppression” (Manning, 2019). This concept was critical for the field because for the first time the power structures and cultural norms of colonized civilizations before the settling by white European powers were being acknowledged and documented. Specifically observing the indigenous groups in the Americas. The concept of binary gender was introduced to the indigenous groups by the European colonizers in an effort to organize production. The indigenous population found this perplexing due to the cultural belief in “two-spirit” or what can be considered a third gender (Morgensen. 2012). With the colonization of the indigenous population Europeans were able to instill their beliefs about gender and sex, eventually this became a tool in their quest for dominance (Manning, 2019). Additionally it can be suggested that it created the foundation of a hierarchical system in the Americas and the Caribbean society knows toady. In short the institution of gender was the beginnings of colonial power around the world. With the concept of hierarchy forced on the indigenous colonizers were able to justify gendered violence, because of the man over woman ideal.

Gendered violence played an important role in the shaping of colonial societies and establishing power and it continued to be a tool of retaining power during post-colonisation and modern day conflict. It is clear that even in modern day society there is a large amount of inequality throughout the world in terms of men’s and women’s opportunities, and unfortunately the inequalities can become amplified during times of conflict. During World War 1 80% of casualties were soldiers, during the Vietnam War 80% of casualties were civilians mostly women and children (Fagan,1999). This is an example of an extremely concerning trend and that is that women and children have become tools and pawns in conflicts to gain or retain power on both international and national levels. As instability in security increases the risk of sexual violence also increases all across the board for men, women, and children. The use of sexual violence is used a psychological tactic to control and weaken communities through loss of social cohesion. Colonization and war both contributed to the objectification and demoralization use of sexual violence to carry out the task at hand. We see this with early colonizers who were quick to brutalize native women and exploit their newly taken power. A more modern examples would be the conflicts in Rwanda, Uganda, and Bosnia–Herzegovina, which saw sexual violence used as a systemic tool of war; but also can be used to control populations in times of peace (Close, 2011). The use of sexual violence reinforces gender stereotypes in societies both developed and developing, especially the idea that conflict is a male dominated.

Through the analysis of various resources and the utilization of real world examples this paper was able to establish a timeline of the hieratical system from colonization to modern day warfare. It is clear that the colonization of the Americas dramatically altered the ideals and beliefs of gender and the role they play within society. The European ideal of a binary gender system has been spread through colonization and has been exploited to retain and gain control over people by asserting dominance physically and mentally through sexual violence. Through the institutionalization of gender and its use of it in a violence form further cemetes the role of power and hierarchy within societies It is unclear if we will ever fully be able to educate our society in terms of gender norms and beliefs but academics and NGOs are trying to correct the damage that has been done and the important first step of documenting colonized peoples pre colonization is already underway.

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