by Judy Tzu-Chun Wu
The term “gender” has multiple meanings and intellectual usages. Gender generally refers to the socially constructed nature of sex roles. The concept of gender challenges biologically essentialist understandings of maleness and femaleness, asserting instead that normative understandings of masculinity and femininity are socially defined ideas projected onto biological differences. Because women’s studies scholars have had a vested interest in challenging naturalized and hierarchical differences between men and women, gender is sometimes used interchangeably with the category of woman. That is, studies of gender are at times primarily focused on women. However, scholars have also used gender to argue for the need to understand how masculinity and femininity are relationally defined as well as how gender hierarchies serve as a constitutive basis for power and underlie other forms of social inequalities (Scott 1986). Furthermore, the interpretation of gender as a form of performativity argues that there are no stable categories of sex differences (Butler 1990). Instead, gender is enacted through repeated and oftentimes unconscious patterns of behaviors or gender scripts that create a fiction of a cohesive and preexisting identity of manhood or womanhood. In addition, scholars of gender note that physiological differences do not necessarily divide neatly into two sexes, as some individuals are intersexed. Similarly, some societies recognize more than two genders, and some individuals are transgendered, i.e., they identify with a gender that is not normatively associated with their physical sex. Also, scholars of gender and sexuality have conceptually delineated these categories. Individuals who transgress gender norms are frequently perceived as transgressing sexual norms in their desires, behaviors, and identifications. However, gender and sexuality do not necessarily align in expected ways with one another.