A gender perspective – what does it mean?

The issue of what a gender perspective entails is subject to continuous discussion. Society and the fields of gender research and gender studies are constantly evolving, and so are the meaning of concepts and other features of the language we use.

To understand our world from different perspectives, we must actively analyse and ponder over questions such as ‘what is being told and what is not?’, ‘who is talking and who is not?’ and ‘why is this being told and nothing else?’ A critical, problematising and reflective approach is central to the application of a gender perspective, something that also pertains to one’s role as a researcher. What notions of gender are disseminated consciously or unconsciously through the texts, pictures and opinions we are exposed to? Facts, too, need to be understood from a gender perspective. The word facts instinctively refers to the truth about something. Asking questions such as ‘truth according to who?’ and ‘who and what are excluded from this statement of truth?’ helps us realise that also facts can be rooted in a certain perspective.

A gender perspective can be applied on everything we come across in life: TV shows, policy campaigns, preschools, pictures in the public space, research and dissemination of knowledge. By asking questions, we can increase our understanding of how sex and gender continuously are created and re-created in society. By asking ourselves questions, we can increase our own understanding of how we contribute to re-create gender. A gender perspective can unveil what we take for granted and challenge normative conceptions of gender. One such conception is heteronormativity, according to which persons of opposite sex are expected to always be sexually attracted to each other.

Other norms become visible

Gender perspectives often make other types of norms and preconceptions appear more clearly, for example concerning race, skin colour, ethnicity, sexuality, functional variations and class. A person’s gender affiliation is always determined (and is always ‘made’) in relation to other affiliations and the specific context. So, is it possible to apply a gender perspective that excludes all variables except the construction of gender, or, vice versa, can a gender perspective include constructions of other power relations as well?

The application of a gender perspective also opens up for seeing how norms and perceptions can be questioned, challenged and changed. What can we discover by looking at how people are usually expected to belong to one of two possible genders? Boys tend to be portrayed as more active than girls in children’s books – what does this do to us? What mechanisms make women with heart problems receive lower quality care than men with similar symptoms, and what are the consequences of this? Why is it important to draw attention to how notions of what is masculine and feminine change over time and with the context? It is when we struggle with these types of questions that something happens to our understanding of the world we live in.

Author Swedish secretariat for gender research. Published 31st of March 2016