Gender stratification refers to the ways that inequality based on sex and gender shapes and organizes a society. Sex and gender are closely related concepts that are often confused. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they are not in fact synonyms. Sex is based on biological, anatomical, and genetic traits. Gender is a socially constructed concept that is based on social and cultural norms related to masculinity and femininity. Gender is learned through socialization, the process through which people learn the beliefs and expectations of their society. Gender identity—the sense of being male, female, both, or neither—is an internal, personal aspect of people's understanding of themselves. Gender expression is the outward manifestation of an individual's gender identity. Social expectations and beliefs about gender, gender identity, and gender expression impact both the lived experience of individuals and larger patterns of social behavior.
One concept closely linked to gender stratification is patriarchy, a hierarchical power structure that supports male dominance in a society. Patriarchy impacts social norms and institutions in ways that oppress girls and women. This creates structural social inequalities based on gender. Patriarchal systems favor men and men's perspectives, shaping most areas of society including work, school, family, and the home. Feminism is a response to patriarchy. Feminism has developed in waves and continues to evolve. Earlier waves of feminism focused primarily on expanding women's rights and opportunities. The achievements of the first waves of feminism brought major changes to many societies over the course of the 20th century. However, earlier waves of feminism did not always address the concerns and perspectives of all women, especially women of color and poor women. Later waves expanded the focus and priorities of feminism and continue to develop in this direction.
At A Glance
- The term sex refers to biological characteristics of the body, whereas gender concerns the socially constructed differences between males and females.
- Social construction of gender refers to the way gender roles are learned through socialization and interaction with others.
- Gender socialization refers to the ways individuals learn gender roles from agents of socialization, such as family, school, and the media.
- Gender identity is an individual's self-definition or sense of gender; it does not necessarily match gender expression.
- Patriarchy affects social institutions, often with disadvantageous consequences for women.
- Male biases—norms based on male perspectives—have shaped society and social institutions, affecting the lived experience of women in many areas including work, school, and the home.
- Feminism and the women's movement have developed in multiple phases and continue to change and diversify.
- First-wave feminism began in the 19th century; in the United States it was linked to the antislavery movement but eventually split over which cause to put first.
- Second-wave feminism emerged during the 1960s; it was linked to the civil rights movement but criticized for a focus on the concerns of white women.
- Third- and fourth-wave feminism include a greater focus on the diverse concerns of many subgroups of women, taking into account issues of race, class, sexual orientation, and other factors of identity.