The term gender (genus) was introduced in Sweden in the 1980s in response to the growing understanding that femininities and masculinities are ‘made’. In simple terms, gender is often described as a person’s social and cultural sex, in contrast to the same person’s assigned biological sex. The making of masculinities and femininities is closely related to masculinity and femininity. The concepts of masculinity and femininity enable an understanding of the term gender that reaches beyond people’s biological bodies. For example, a biologically male-coded body can move and be dressed in a female-coded way.

The distinction between socially and culturally constructed gender and biological sex is increasingly questioned by both gender scholars and activists based on the argument that also the assignment of biological and legal sex is affected by social and cultural factors. One example of this is that the Swedish legal system allows for only two genders, male and female, effectively eliminating any other potential alternative. If the legal system were to begin accepting additional genders, we would also begin to see greater variety in the assignment of biological sex, as people’s outer and inner genitals tend to exhibit much more diversity than the binary gender model permits (see also intersex).

The term gender can also be useful when explaining the structures that serve to maintain the strict categorisation of males and females, and when analysing power relations between them. But gender can also be used when analysing structures and power relations within the categories women and men since gender is made and emerges in interaction with other social categories such as sexuality, class and skincolor (see also intersectionality).

In the context of gender equality policy, the term gender can be understood as taking the men vs. women issue into account when making decisions, and as bringing attention to the fact that men, women and people with other gender identities may face partly different needs and conditions. In some academic contexts, gender implies that researchers include women in their material, whereas in other academic environments it refers to a boundary-crossing and intersectional analysis of power relations.

Related material
About sex and gender

The concept of gender is often used to distinguish between what is socially and culturally constructed and a person’s biological sex. Read our indepth text about sex and gender here.