Based on sociology and gender studies, what is doing gender?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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"Doing gender" is a sociology and gender studies term coined by scientists Candace West and Don Zimmerman in their article titled "Doing Gender," published in volume 1, issue 2 of the journal Gender and Society in 1987. In the article, they use the term to argue that, in Western society, gender has become engrained as a "routine accomplishment" seen in everyday activities and interactions. The idea of behaving as a specific gender has become so engrained that people become negatively judged for acting in ways that don't align with the gender expectations. Their purpose was to analyze "sex, sex category, and gender" independently in order to develop a new understanding of gender and of "doing gender."

In the article, they start off by noting that in the 1960s and 70s, the terms sex and gender were taught as separate concepts. Sex related to anything biological, such as "anatomy, hormones, and physiology"; gender, on the other hand, was taught to be "an achieved status ... through psychological, cultural, and social means" (p. 125). In other words, having one sex did not guarantee that one would act according to that gender, and those who did not act according to the specific gender were seen as social anomalies, such as hermaphrodites and what were called in the 60s "strange and exotic tribes" (p. 125). They continue to define the differences between the terms sex, sex category, and gender and show that all three interact in relation to each other and should not be viewed separately in order to redefine "doing gender." According to their new definition, doing gender is based on the interaction of sex, sex category and gender but also based on social relationships. However, if doing gender is associated with all three terms--sex, sex category, and gender--then, as they ask, "can we ever not do gender?" (p. 137) And their answer is no--"Doing gender is unavoidable"--and if we look at it as being unavoidable, then we eradicate negative stigmas associated with being one sex and not acting according to the gender social norms, because regardless of social norms, we are always "doing gender" (p. 137).

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