Key Words, Disciplinary Terms and Core Concepts in Women's / Gender Studies and Feminism
It is important that you familiarize yourself with these terms and are able to use them correctly in your writing:
Sex: the genetic (and sometimes scientific) determination of male and female. Refers to chromosomal patterns, anatomy esp. genitalia, hormones, secondary sex characteristics.
Gender: the socially defined roles expected of males and females.
Masculinity / Femininity : social construction of proper gendered behavior expected of males and females respectively
Sexual Orientation: This term refers to the gender(s) which a person is emotionally, physically, romantically and erotically attracted to. Examples of sexual orientation include homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual and asexual.
Social Constructionism: suggests that what we see as “real” is the result of human interaction. i.e. categories are socially and culturally produced rather than static biological essences. Gender roles result from societal expectations and cultural conditions rather than from biological, hard-wired differences.
Biological Determinism / Essentialism: the tenet that human behavior is “natural,” predetermined by genetic, biological, or physiological mechanisms and thus not subject to change.
Gender Identity: Gender identity refers an individual’s self-identification as a man, woman, transgender or other identity category. How a person identifies their own gender as opposed to how others identify them.
Gender Expression: The communication of gender to other people in the social realm through the use of cultural cues such as clothing, hair style, cosmetic use, gait, movement, jewelry, etc.
Gender Role: The clothing, characteristics, traits and behaviors of an individual which are culturally associated with masculinity and/or femininity.
Socialization: The process of social interaction by which people learn the way of life of their society and where they learn their specific roles in that society.
Gender Attribution: How a person is perceived according to their gender expression by other people in the social world. One “attributes” a gender to other people based on their understandings of gender roles.
Cisgender: Refers to non-transgender people
Gender Normative / Gender Normativity: People whose gender identity/expression accord to their sex, and whose versions of masculinity or femininity match hegemonic cultural imperatives
Transgender: A range of behaviors, expressions and identifications which challenge traditional notions of sex, gender and sexuality in a given culture. Trans people dis-identify, in varying level of degree, with the sex/gender role assigned to them at birth. Transgender refers to people who feel that their initial sex/gender designation is a false or incomplete description of who they are. Transgender (or just trans) is an umbrella term which includes a vast array of differing identity categories such as transsexual, drag queen, drag king, cross-dresser, transgenderist, bi-gendered and other terms.
Drag Queen / Drag King: refers to people who dress extravagantly and flamboyantly as members of the “opposite” sex usually for the stage or performance, may be part of the queer community.
Androgyny / Genderqueer : Androgyny is an older term that refers to a combination of traits considered masculine with traits considered feminine. Genderqueer is a newer term that refers to people with non-binary genders or people who purposefully mix and match masculine and feminine to create a non-traditional gender expression. Genderqueer is often a politically-inflected identity which aims to shae up the binary gender system.
Intersex: Formally termed “hermaphrodites,” Intersex people are born with the condition of having physical sex markers (genitals, hormones, gonads or chromosomes) that are neither clearly male nor female. Intersexed people are sometimes defined as having some combination of “ambiguous” genitalia. Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling estimates that 1.7% of births are to intersexed infants. The Intersex Movement seeks to halt medically unnecessary pediatric surgeries and hormone treatments which attempt to normalize infants into the dominant “male” and “female” system. Surgeons often assign the infant as a sex which does not match their gender identity. In addition, many surgeries affect the sexual functioning of intersexed adults, which may include causing the inability to receive pleasure or reach orgasm.
Sexism: the cultural, institutional, and individual set of beliefs and practices that privilege men, subordinate women, and denigrate values and practicies associated with women.
Misogyny : the hatred of women
Heterosexism: The individual, institutional and societal/cultural beliefs and practices based on the belief that heterosexuality is the only normal and acceptable sexual orientation
Compulsory Heterosexuality: the notion that all people are, and should be, heterosexual.
Heteronormativity: the ways in which heterosexuality is installed as normative, natural and universal in a given culture.
Homophobia : fear and hatred of gay and lesbian people
Transphobia : The irrational fear and hatred of all those individuals who transgress, violate or blur the dominant gender categories in a given society. Transphobic attitudes lead to massive discrimination, violence and oppression against the trans, drag, and intersex communities.
Patriarchy: a form of social organization in which men dominate women
Feminism: movement dedicated to promoting the social, economic and political equality of all people; movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression. Related to: Women’s Liberation / Women’s Rights / Gender Equality
Womanism: Black/African American Feminism, termed developed by writer Alice Walker to designate a specifically Black form of feminist theory and activism\
White-Supremacist, Capitalist Patriarchy: Term coined by bell hooks to refer to the intersecting matrix of domination which oppresses people on the bases of race, class and gender.
Intersectionality: is a sociological theory that examines how various socially and culturally constructed categories of discrimination interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to systematic social inequality. Intersectionality holds that the classical models of oppression within society, such as those based on race/ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, class, or disability do not act independently of one another; instead, these forms of oppression interrelate creating a system of oppression that reflects the "intersection" of multiple forms of discrimination.
Women’s Studies / Gender Studies : the academic arm of feminism, an interdisciplinary field of study and research that examines women’s lives and critically analyzes gender and sexuality.
Feminist Theory: Theories developed for explaining the oppression of women and for analyzing gender.
Queer Theory: A field of critical theory that emerged in the early 1990s out of the fields of LGBT studies and feminist studies. It is a kind of interpretation devoted to queer readings of texts. Heavily influenced by the work of Michel Foucault, queer theory builds both upon feminist challenges to the idea that gender is part of the essential self and upon gay/lesbian studies' close examination of the socially constructed nature of sexual acts and identities. Whereas gay/lesbian studies focused its inquiries into "natural" and "unnatural" behavior with respect to homosexual behavior, queer theory expands its focus to encompass any kind of sexual activity or identity that falls into normative and deviant categories.
Herstory : Women’s History – a challenge to HIS-Story
Privilege : A resource or state of being that is only readily available to some people because of their social group membership. Privilege, at its core, is the advantages that people benefit from based solely on their social status. It is a status that is conferred by society to certain groups, not seized by individuals, which is why it can be difficult sometimes to see one’s own privilege.
Power: Access to resources that enhance one’s chances of getting what one needs in order to lead a comfortable, productive, and safe life. Power also refers to the ability of individuals or groups to induce or influence the beliefs or actions of other persons or groups. One’s level of power or access to power is heavily dependent on one’s social status or social location, i.e. their membership in various social categorizations including race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, nation, immigrant status, ability, weight etc.
Victim-Blaming: Holding the victims of discrimination or oppression to be entirely or partially responsible for the mistreatment committed against them.
Objectification: The sexualization of women whereby they are transformed from being subjects into being objects of men’s desire
Slut-Shaming: Slut-shaming, also known as slut-bashing, is the idea of shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings. Furthermore, it’s “about the implication that if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior” (Alon Levy, Slut Shaming). It is damaging not only to the girls and women targeted, but to women in general an society as a whole. It should be noted that slut-shaming can occur even if the term “slut” itself is not used.
Sexual Double Standard: The double-standard that allows men who have lots of sex to be considered studs, players or Don Juans, while women who have a lot of sex, or are thought to be promiscuous, are called sluts, whores and dirty skanks.
The Binary Gender System: the construction of a societal system whereby the diversity of sex and gender is shoehorned into a dichotomous, bipolar model that allows only for masculine males and feminine females
Public / Private: important to feminism because the private, or domestic, sphere has been labeled as feminine while the public sector has been labeled as male or masculine. Also, the only things that matter happen in public, what happens in private is both unimportant and meant to be hidden from view, such as domestic violence.
Sexual Division of Labor : the ways in which certain jobs or tasks become gendered in a patriarchal society
Stereotypes: rigid, oversimplified, often exaggerated beliefs that are applied both to an entire category of people and to each individual in it.
Prejudice : a negative opinion about a social group based on limited information; from to “pre-judge”
Discrimination: The differential allocation of goods, resources and services, and the limitation of access to full participation in society based on individual membership in a particular social group
Oppression: a relationship of domination and subordination in which the dominant group benefits from the systematic abuse, exploitation, and injustice directed at a subordinate group
Institutions: the set of rules and relationships that govern the social activities in which we participate to meet our basic needs.
Social Justice : generally refers to the idea of creating an egalitarian society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being.
Social Transformation : Large scale social change as in cultural reforms or transformations. It requires a shift in collective consciousness of a society - local, state, national or global - so that a new model of existence is envisioned and then fought for through activism.