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Anthropological Concepts: Characteristics of Gender

Woman and a bay holding lemons

The last blog post talked about the difference between the terms “sex” and “gender” in Anthropology. Sex has to do with biology and involves chromosomes and the functioning of our bodies. In contrast, gender has to do with culture and is the culturally-based expectations placed on each sex. This blog post will focus on the 4 characteristics of gender.

There are 4 characteristics of gender: 

  1. Gender is learned 
  2. Gender is collaborative 
  3. Gender is something we do 
  4. Gender involves asymmetry 

#1: Gender is Learned 

Just like other things in life, children learn what is gender appropriate behavior from their parents and other people. For example, little boys may be told that big boys don’t cry.  

#2: Gender is Collaborative 

Gender is constructed by interactions with other people, which means gender tells people how they should interact with others. People act differently towards others based on their gender. 

For a great video showing how people act differently towards others based on their gender, check out the BBC video below. It shows an experiment where people play with boys and girls, but the boys are disguised as girls and the girls are disguised as boys.

#3: Gender is Something We Do 

People have to act a certain way to be considered a proper member of a gender. Gender involves choices in how a person dresses, acts, and speaks. Gender is “read” from a person’s posture, behavior, attitude, tone of voice, and clothing. 

#4: Gender Involves Asymmetry 

This means there is inequality among the genders, so men and women are unequal. There are value judgments connected to genders as well, and often males are valued more than females.

Scale with a figure of a woman on one side, and a male figure on the other

Want to Learn More? 

Want to learn more about Anthropology & Gender? Sign up for my class, “Exploring Gender Through Cultural Anthropology.”

Thanks for reading!