Gender Role and Its Impact upon the Society


Prachi Agrawal

Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur (C.G.)



Why are gender and sexuality important for policymakers, practitioners and activists? Sexuality and gender can combine to make a huge difference in people’s lives – between well-being and ill-being, and sometimes between life and death.                   

Because sexuality is influenced by gender norms:

In the WHO definition of sexuality, social influences around sexuality affect us all. Gender is one of these influences, i.e. expectations about how women and men, boys and girls, will behave differently from each other (as well as expectations that everyone will be either male or female, and not transgender.


This article deals with the role played by gender in a society and its impact upon the same as well as on the development of an individual. The article explains the social, cultural and psychological aspects of gender roles. It also includes the approaches adopted by various scholars to throw light upon gender inequality and its impact upon the society.


Because ideologies around sexuality are used to control women:

In recognizing women’s sexual and reproductive autonomy rather than protecting women’s sexual purity, one can tackle the roots of gender-based violence. An attempt has also been made to explain the concept of sexuality and the change in its notion along with changing times.    




Mankind is comprised of the male and the female. The difference between male and female is so intrinsic, so omnipresent that knowingly and unknowingly it affects all walks of life for human beings. The very structure of the entire world’s societies, religions, economies are shaped to accommodate this difference and also to be shaped by this difference. All the living beings known to be existent are categorized into two categories i.e., either male or female. Now, this leads us to the need of developing an understanding about ‘Gender and Sexuality’. Speaking about gender and sexuality it is necessary to start from the distinction between these terms. The main difference is the following: gender is the biological term, and sexuality is a social one. Through the following pages, we will learn the underlying differences between gender and sexuality, various issues pertaining to each of these two terms and the social take on issues like prostitution, sex work, homosexuality etc.



Gender study is a field of interdisciplinary study which analyzes the phenomenon of gender. Gender studies are sometimes related to studies of class, race, ethnicity, sexuality and location.


The philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said: “One is not born a woman, one becomes one.” In gender studies, the term "gender" is used to refer to the social and cultural constructions of masculinities and femininities, not to the state of being male or female in its entirety.



The field emerged from a number of different areas: the sociology of the 1950s and later (see Sociology of gender); the theories of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan; and the work of feminists such as Judith Butler.


Gender concerns the psychological, social and cultural differences between males and females. Gender is linked to socially constructed notions of masculinity and feminity; it is not necessarily a direct product of an individual’s biological sex. Some people, for example, feel that they have been born into the wrong bodies and seek to ‘put things right’ by switching gender part way through life, or following the lifestyles or dress of the other sex. The distinction between sex and gender is a fundamental one since many differences between males and females are not biological in origin. Contrasting approaches have been taken to explain the formation of those identities. The debate is really one about how much learning there is; some scholars allow more prominence than others to social influences in analyzing gender differences.



Theories of gender socialization have been favored by functionalists who see boys and girls as learning ‘sex roles’ and the male and female identities- masculinity and femininity- which accompany them. They are guided in this process by positive and negative sanctions, socially applied forces which reward or restrain behavior. For example, a small boy could be positively sanctioned in his behavior (‘what a brave boy you are!’), or be the recipient of negative sanction (‘Boys don’t play with dolls’). These positive and negative reinforcement’s aid boys and girls in learning and conforming to expected sex roles. Studies of parent-child interactions, for example, have shown distinct differences in the treatment of boys and girls even when the parents believe their reactions to both are the same. The toys, picture books and television programs experienced by young children all tend to emphasize differences between male and female attributes. 



Gender is a critical factor in structuring the types of opportunities and life chances faced by individuals and groups, and strongly influences the roles they play within social institutions from the household to the state. Following are a few approaches:


Functionalist Approach: This approach states that gender differences seek to contribute to social stability and integration. Writers who are from natural differences school of thought say that work was divided biologically. Men do work which are suited for them and women do work which are suited according to their biological structure. A perspective on child rearing states that if a child gets separated from his mother at an early age, then he runs at a high risk of being inadequately socialized.


Feminist Approach: Feminist theories in relation to gender equality contrast with the functional approach. Feminists criticize the functionalist by claiming that biological structure is not the basis for division of labour. Women are not prevented from pursuing any field or occupation on the basis of their biological features, rather humans do what they are culturally expected to do.


Liberal Feminism: The liberal draws attention to many separate factors which contribute to inequalities between men and women. In recent decades liberal feminists have campaigned against sexism and discrimination against women in workplace, institutions and the media. They try to focus on protecting equal opportunities for women through legislation and other democratic means.


Radical Feminism: Radical feminist have the belief that men are responsible for and benefit from the exploitation of women. An early radical feminist Shulamith firestone said that men control women’s roles in reproduction and childrearing. Radical feminists do not see any strong evidence that women can be liberated from sexual oppression through reforms or gradual change.



A major theme in contemporary reflections on identity, feminism, and queer theory, the term is related to but distinct from “sex” (used to refer both to the physical distinction between men and women and sexual intercourse) and “gender” (the social and cultural distinctions between men and women). Sexuality is used rather; say Jackson and Scott, to refer to “erotic desires, practices and identities” or “aspects of personal and social life which have erotic significance.”


“Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitude, values, behavior, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.”  –WHO 2004


The Stratification of Sex

As time has taken its course, the theories and concepts regarding sexuality has changed:


Sexual orientation means the direction of one’s sexual attraction. Sexual orientation in all cultures results from a complex mixture of biological and social factors which are not yet fully understood. The most commonly found sexual orientation is heterosexuality; it means attraction for the opposite sex. The other term is Homosexuality which means romantic attraction for person of one’s own sex.



Today the word gay is used for male homosexuals, lesbian for females and bi as shorthand for bisexuals. Orientation of sexual activities or feelings towards others of the same sex exists in all cultures. Some people identify with this idea very strongly. They may believe that their sexual desires are natural, that evolution or genetics causes them to be attracted to certain people. Others may believe that they choose a sexual orientation, often for political reasons. Still others may not be concerned with the cause of their desires, but identify strongly as straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual. Some people identify with this idea less strongly or perhaps not at all. They may feel that the three categories of sexual orientation do not do a good job of describing their sexual desires. They may choose other labels, like queer[1], dyke[2] or pervert[3]. Or they may choose to avoid the use of labels for various reasons. In the western world sexuality is linked to individual identity. The notion of homosexual came in eighteenth century. The term homosexuality was coined in 1860s, and from then on homosexuals were easily regarded as being a separate type of people. Homosexuality became part of a medicalized discourse; it was spoken of in clinical terms as a psychiatric disorder rather than a religious ‘sin’. Understanding sexual orientation is an important part of understanding the society we live in. Attitudes about what it means to be a man or a woman are often based around expectations of heterosexuality.



The term homosexuality has acquired multiple meanings. In the original sense, it refers to a sexual orientation characterized by aesthetic attraction, romantic love, and sexual desire exclusively for members of the same sex or gender identity. Homosexuality as a way of life refers to individuals who have come out and have made associations with others of similar sexual tastes a key part of their lives.


It can also refer to the manifestation of that orientation in the identity of an individual, which may or may not be at odds with that person's sexual behavior. Personalized Homosexuality refers to individuals who have a preference for homosexuals activities but who are isolated from groups in which this is easily accepted. Punishment and discrimination against homosexuals is often defended as necessary to prevent homosexuals from seducing young people into homosexuality.                               



Prostitution is one of the form of sex work. Sex work can be defined as sexual services in a financial exchange. Sex workers like prostitutes are mostly female, and sex work includes at least all of the following like actors in pornography films, nude modeling, strip tease and lap dancers, live sex show workers, massage parlour, phone sex workers and webcam sex. Provided that sexual services were exchanged between freely consenting adults, it was argued that such work and prostitution, in particular should be decriminalized.



A prostitute is a person, "who allows her body to be used for lewd purposes in return for payment". Prostitution is the sale of sexual services for money. Prostitution the word itself speaks about the plight of a women. Historically, Prostitution has been ever present in all parts of world in different civilizations. It was a part of daily life in ancient Greece . In the ancient city of Heliopolis in Syria, there was a law that stated that every maiden should prostitute herself to strangers at the temple of Astarte.


In Armenia the noblest families dedicated their daughters to the service of the goddess Anaitis in her temple at Acilisena. In ancient India prostitutes have been referred as to devdasis.  Around the 6th Century, the practice of "dedicating" girls to Hindu gods became prevalent in a practice that developed into ritualized prostitution. According to the 1934 Devadasi Security Act, this practice is banned in India. In some countries prostitution is illegal while other countries prohibit certain things like street soliciting and child prostitution. In October 1999 the Dutch parliament tuned prostitution into an official profession for the estimated 30000 women who work in the sex industry.



The world today has changed in many aspects of gender related life style. Yet there is an area of improvement in the focus of gender: based on labour and the patriarchial working woman. The class society has a great impact on the behaviour women carry out. The different theories and definitions help to explain the relationship of the construction of the gender. Feminism has a great impact on the gender role in our society. Feminists have been fighting for a long time for power and control in this man’s world. Our family structure creates a great impact on women’s behaviour in society, family life and the labour force. All these titles focus on the relationship of gender. Gender is best described the construction of what is culturally assumed as “femininity”as well as “masculinity”. Lesbian and gay male theory of a feminist is beyond the logic of masculine/femine. It is also referred to the social and cultural categories of the biological fact of human sex differentiation.




·        Anthony Giddens, Sociology 6th edition, Wille India Pvt. Ltd.

·        Paul B. Horton Chester L. Hunt, Sociology, 6th edition, Tata Mc.Graw- Hill(2004)











Received on 26.09.2011

Revised on   26.09.2011

Accepted on 20.10.2011

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