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Gender as a Social Construct or Essentialism View Essay Sample

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Gender as a Social Construct or Essentialism View Essay Sample


‘Although the social world of work is inordinately complex the variables of class, race and gender are significantly superordinate in the quest for explanation. Relationships at work are not constructed by the interaction of men and women, workers and bosses, blacks and whites, but by whit male bosses, and by black female workers and by all the other possible permutations of this triangular social construct’ (Grint, 1998:223). As the words, the variables such as class, race and gender can be permutated, which makes the discourses at work complex.

Discourses are something about talk, text and practices. For example, language is a kind of discourses and it is significant because it is the medium through that we communicate with the world. People take advantage of multiple discourses to build an identity, and gender is the one among these discourses. On the surface, one of the most ‘ obvious ’ distinctions in our society is that between men and women (Knights and Willmott, 2012). This essay mainly focuses on the masculinity and femininity and managing them in some ways to promote difference and sameness in a particular context so that to prove gender as a social construct according to Pullen and Simpson’s (2009) research about men’s gendered identities in two feminized occupations.

It is necessary to explain the distinction between sex and gender. Sex is usually regarded as biological nature, but of gender as a multiple interpretation of sex (Butler, 1990). Sexual difference is the biological distinction according to male and female chromosomal and hormonal difference. Gender is about the social roles, and behaviors.

This essay will discuss the difference on gender between mainstream theory and critical theory at first. On the one hand, the essentialist view of gender, which overly separate female from male, as the mainstream theory will be unfolded. On the other hand, the critical theory, which illustrates gender, is neither the causal result of sex nor as seemingly fixed as sex (Butler, 1990:8), will be written. Secondly, a comparison between the mainstream view and critical thinking with a case researched by Pullen and Simpson (2009) will be given to analysis more clearly. And the analyze will be conducted in four aspects: professionalism, gender difference, performance and organization. Thirdly, the problem that what causes gender equality will be unfolded in a particular perspective. Fourthly, providing several solutions to solve the problem of gender equality.

Essentialism on gender

Gender is a central idea, which we as humans use to identify ourselves and categorize other ones. Essentialism on gender issues is a view to diametrically divide people and their characteristics into two groups (Lee, 1995). Characteristics of female have been summarized as tender, maternal, emotional, subjective and dependent. However, those of male have been summarized as bold, aggressive, rational, objective and independent. What’s more, this view treats the characteristics as born. Essentialist sees gender based on genetic and biological difference. Otherwise, it considers that male and female are necessarily different in the form of biology and emotion. And male and female’s feeling and behaviors are affected by this difference. For example, due to female’s maternity and hormones, they breed and care for children so female are naturally tenderer. On the contrary, male are naturally more competitive, aggressive, rational and bold.

As Lee (1995) has described in the article, essentialism on the gender can be divided into three attitudes: first is of masculinity has higher values, second is about femininity has higher values and third concerns they have the equal values. Although these three concepts are totally different, and the former two are even completely opposite, they are not beyond the scope of essentialism.

The former two are locating at two sides of sexism, which believes a certain gender is superior to the other or a person must be male or female. These are arbitrary. For example, radical feminism explores that female are closer to nature by birth. However, male always treat nature as enemy and want to conquer and grab from the nature, as a result, they destroyed the nature and broke down the environment (Mary, 1997). This view believes the destruction of the nature is due to the development concept of male chauvinism, which is totally one-sided because this concept sees some characters such as peaceful, emotional and love nature as female’s characteristics and claims these are more excellent characters.

Another aspect of essentialism on gender is gender order. Traditional gender order considers people are divided into male or female according to the chromosomal and hormonal difference, male show the masculinity psychological feature and female show the femininity psychological feature, so social should maintain the order that male are on the position of dominance, then female locate the position of compliance. But the view of constructivism thinks dominant order of organizations should be partly overturned and also partly supported (Pullen and Simpson, 2009).

Gender as a social construct

‘Gendered identities are relational processes and gender itself is a social practice that both defines and is a product of social relations between men and women rather than indicative of the properties of their fixed identity positions’ (Pullen and Simpson, 2009). This view, which denies gender is equal with sex and emphasizes denaturalization and destabilization of the characteristics of gender, is exactly different from the view talked above. Pullen and Simpson (2009) pointed out that discursive structures lead to the emergence of gender. For example, the male nurses and primary school teachers who are interviewed in the research managed their status through taking advantage of masculinity and femininity in their work contexts.

It opposes the way of think that everything is binary, because what it wants to do is not transforming the binary construct from male is better to female is better, but to overturn this construct and build multiple and shifting positions that may be simultaneously taken up by the same individual (Leonard, 2003). In the other word, the identity of one person is not fixed or totally definitive but is contingent, temporal and liable to shift in the work contexts (Pullen and Simpson, 2009). For example, eloquent, hostile and dominant behaviors, which are revealed by female lawyers, show that female can also own these characteristics. Which can prove the construct of gender is not just from the biology but also from the society and a person owns masculinity or femininity is not born but acquired. In the other word, the critical thinking emphasizes the function of social condition, social power relations and personal selection.

Our experiences are subjective. For instance, the individual men in Pullen and Simpson’s (2009) interviews embraced and resisted both sameness and difference, experiencing alignment in partial and fragmented ways. The social construction treats gender characteristics as a result of how people are socialized, in the other word, the discourses between people. Before children are even born they are socialized into gender roles, by the color of sheet the parents choose for them, by the clothing they are told to wear, by which types of toys they are given and by the way they are told to behave. All of these originally social pressures are imposed by the parents affect the formation of adult identity, but not the physiology or aptitudes that we are born with. The behavior of children is affected by their accumulated knowledge about gender, which means children settle their knowledge by using existing gender category.

Social categories are dependent on humans. The nature cannot category the people into different groups; nevertheless, humans can do it. The categories such as male or female, manager or employee and doctor or nurse are divided by humans’ experience. If taking humans out of the world and these categories would not exist.

It is just a social habit to assign some certain behaviors to male or female. For male, they are considered to engage in some professions involve force, intelligence and power. For female, they are usually housewives, nurses and teachers because of their characteristics, which are imposed by humans. These characteristics have nothing to do with you are male or female, but relate to what environment you live in and what context you work in.

Comparison of the two views

In this section, mainstream view and critical view are compared and linking to the case. With a growing number of male moving into non-traditional or feminized work, the importance of making use of masculinity and femininity is surfacing. The case about interviewing male workers in the professions of nurse and primary school teacher I choose is extremely typical because these two professions are widely thought belong to women only for their emotion and care. The research reported the challenges faced by male workers in feminized work and put forward several projects to address those challenges.

In the terms of professionalism, male face challenges when they are engaged in feminized work. For example, male who work as primary teachers are often called to take on difficult courses; on the contrary, female teachers are focused on the subjective tasks, which based on their professional area. In the case of interviewing male workers, a male nurse complained that both the male and female workers in the hospital are nurses but the male nurses are expected to do heavy lifting work and to manage angry or abusive patients. Even more, the male nurses are deemed to do these works reasonably. However, the female nurses only do responsibility for their occupation and exercise their identity in the job.

As it can be concluded that male nurses are expected to do difficult work is caused by the mainstream view of gender that affected labors’ professionalism; therefore, sometimes influenced employees cannot performance their best abilities and the efficiency is totally decreased. The view of essentialism on gender thinks male who own masculinity characteristics should be different from female and do more physical work. Maybe the male nurses who are assigned to do heavy lifting work has better skills of doing general nursing care than the female nurses but due to the widely thinking of male born with strong and bold characteristics, now the male nurses are appointed to do something may not suitable to their real ability. As a result, firstly, the male nurses make a low working efficiency; secondly, the hospital dose not takes advantage of its employees efficiently.

In the terms of gender difference, male employees can do the same job with female employees and can do as good as female, which means the characteristics of male employees in the feminized work are different from the male workers in a male dominated context and also proves that masculinity and femininity can be pulled together in an individual. For example, Joe, an interviewed primary teacher, said he used to work for the public works department with the electricians and he felt so upset that doubt whether he cannot have rational communication with people or not until he worked with women. In this interview, it could be witnessed that some men used femininity to create and maintain distance from traditional masculinity (Pullen and Simpson, 2009).

The performance of Joe is that he felt physically intimidated and treated the period as the worst time of his life but got together in harmony with female. However, the male are considered that they should be rational, objective and informal. So Joe’s feeling is good evidence to against the mainstream view. Here is another example that Tony, another interviewed primary teacher, felt quite happy for being seen in a more motherly role and was very proud of it. In the aspect of caring children, masculinity of male can be well controlled and managed. Tony took advantage of feminine discourses of care to locate himself in his non-traditional role by partly depending on the doing of femininity. What’s more, he enjoyed his participation in femininity, which hit the mainstream view hard.

In the terms of performance, this case has focused on body performance of male primary teachers. Bodies and body deportment can convey meanings that can support or undermine particular identities and presentations of self (Pullen and Simpson, 2009). For instance, Sean, a primary teacher, found himself lumpish when gave football courses to junior children and what he did to show his masculinity is to wear leather jacket, smoke roll-ups and do little running.

His performance shows both mainstream view and critical view. On the one hand, in the mainstream view side, Sean worn leather jacket and smoked roll-ups on the touch line to show his masculinity, which is considered as sign of male. According to the essentialism on gender, rational and aggressive are belong to the characteristics of male and the performance of wearing leather jacket and smoking can reflect these
characteristics. On the other hand, in the critical view side, Sean was expected to do well in sports based on the mainstream view but he resisted to doing so. Because he did worse on sports, which against the traditional concept to male.

There are many aspects such as assign task to the employees and the gender constructing in the organization in the terms of organization. Take John’s, an interviewed nurse, words as an example. He thought a charge nurse could achieve more respect than the ward sister if male does charge nurse. This example potentially shows that men see themselves as having more authority and more rational than women. This attribute can be connected to stereotypical characteristics of masculinity because it presents that men is more competent than their female colleagues. Male are regarded more suitable and more competent to do a higher position according to the mainstream view. But on the other hand, it also shows that male can do as good as, even better than, female in the feminized work. Male do charge nurse well explores their skills and gifts in caring, which is usually considered as the characteristics of female.

What causes gender inequality?

Although there was a remarkable development in the concept of gender, inequality and under-representation in gender still exist. There are several different forms of gender inequality such as female should do more housework at home and male tend to monopolize positions of power and are rewarded for their difference from women in terms of higher pay and other benefits (Pullen and Simpson, 2009) even though they do the same work. Of course, the problem that what causes gender inequality is generally considered with no single reason and it also depends on which perspective you choose. In the aspect of essentialism on gender, female are femininity as a strategy within caring occupation such as nurse and primary school teacher but male are considered to do power, control and more challenging occupation. As a result, male are usually positioned in the high hierarchy and female do more foundational tasks.

Even though they do the same work, a male usually get more benefits than female, which is extremely unequal. The reason why these situations took place, in one side, is relation to the view of essentialism on gender. Essentialism as a mainstream view on gender has been discussed above, but I would prefer to repeat that it suggests that male are born to own the characteristics of masculinity and female are born to own the characteristics of femininity due to genetic, hormonal and chromosomal difference.

This kind of view deeply influences the mind and behaviors of people, subsequently leading to gender equality. For example, an interviewee called Lawrence said male nurses tend to be more understanding compared with the short-tempered female nurses. He thought that men are more placid and listening to the patient patiently (Pullen and Simpson, 2009). The interviewee deems male nurses own masculine characteristics of rationality and cool headedness, therefore, can do better in caring and lead to be superior to female nurses. It is no evidence that female are always rush around when they meet some troubles, so Lawrence’s words that female nurses are impatient is unfair to female nurses.


Here are several common solutions to solve the problem of gender inequality.

Positive discrimination is the process of giving preferential treatment, especially in employment, to minority groups of society that have been prejudiced against in the past. But this does not mean the members of minority groups will always be prior to another one, but be prior when them at a similar level. In some extent, an appropriate positive discrimination is necessary in order to protect the minority groups. For example, when a male and a female are interviewed at the same time and they are equally matched in skills go for the position of lawyer, the female, as a member of a minority group should receive the job offer.

Suggesting an equal maternity and paternity rights. This solution involves male and female have the equal rights to request flexible working and equal rights to fight for custody when a couple get a divorce. As this solution, the situation that female usually do housework at home but male go to work in buildings can be reduced.

Financial promotion of women’s education in key areas means support women’s education in the aspect of capital especially in some important area such as politics, economy, law and so on. This measure can improve female’s competition radically when they compete with male in the workplace and increase the number of female in these areas so that reducing the male’s dominant position in these areas then reaching the goal of gender equality.

A nationalized childcare seems a good solution to remit the gender inequality in some context. Children are took care by nation is a good news to female who are considered have the responsibility to look after children. However, this view of female must breed children is at the center of criticism because it is regarded as a kind of gender inequality.


This essay expounds the mainstream view and critical view about gender in the first place. The mainstream view mainly discusses essentialism on gender, which said what male and female’s characteristics are looks like are born and male have characteristics of masculinity, on the contrary, female have characteristics of femininity. Otherwise, three different attitudes: male own higher values, female own higher and they have equal values, toward the essentialism on gender are put forward. However, the critical view is totally different. For it regards gender as a social construct, which means male and female are formed by the function of social relations (Pullen and Simpson, 2009) and shifting and multiple (Leonard, 2003).

And two main conclusions, which are our experiences are subjective and social categories are dependent on humans, are spread in this part. In the second place, a comparison between the mainstream view and the critical view is written according to the case of investigating the male employees who work in feminized occupations: nurses and primary school teacher, researched by Pullen and Simpson (2009). And the comparison in this part is divided into four perspectives, which are professionalism, gender difference, performance and organization. In the third place, a question about what causes gender inequality is proposed and the reason mainly focuses on the view of essentialism on gender. In the fourth place, I come up with a series of solutions to solve the problem of gender inequality.


1.Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble. London: Routledge.
2.Grint, K. (1998). The sociology of work. Cambridge: Polity Press. 3.Leonard, P. (2003), ‘‘Playing’ doctors and nurses? Competing discourses of gender, power and identity in the British National Health Service’. The Sociological Review, 51(2): 218–237.

4.Lee, Y. (1995). About essentialism. Reader.pp.87-89.

5.Knights, D and Willmott, H. (editors) (2012), Introducing Organization Behaviour and Management, London: Thomson Learning.

6.Mary M. (1997) Feminism & Ecology, New York: Univerity Press.

7.Pullen, A. and Simpson, R. (2009) ‘Managing difference in feminized work: Men, otherness and social practice’, Human Relations 62(4): 561-87.

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