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3.2: Talking about gender

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    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Think about the health or social care service you know best, as either a worker, carer or service user. Think of times in the recent past when gender came up as a topic or a factor, in talk or in writing. Your example might be drawn from casual conversation with other service users or colleagues, or from more formal discussion in meetings, or from written reports, guidelines or policies.


    Here are some examples provided by course testers.

    • When I was expecting, I recall talking with another woman on the ward about why I felt uncomfortable being examined by a male midwife.
    • I thought of a meeting chaired by a male manager which he handled in a very ‘male’ way, not allowing any room for women's voices to be heard.
    • There was a heated discussion in the team about whether we should allocate a man as a key worker to a particular client, as he seemed to respond badly to female staff.
    • The family centre where I work has been trying to attract dads to some of the sessions, but they don't seem to be interested in sharing their feelings in a group, so we're going to try a more indirect approach, perhaps starting with something a bit more active and sporty.

    Were your examples similar to any of these, or did you think of different ways in which gender was introduced as a factor? From our testers’ responses, and perhaps from your own, you can see that gender is certainly an important factor in the ways people talk and think about interpersonal relationships in care services. Next we analyse in more detail some of the different ways in which gender is present as a factor in everyday discourse in the context of care.

    From the examples above, gender appears to be a factor in two distinct, although linked, ways. One set of issues revolves around gender and power, which means the ways in which inequalities of power between men and women are evident, and either reinforced or challenged, in everyday interactions. The example of the male manager who did not allow space in a meeting for women's voices shows one way in which gendered power can be a factor in communication. However, the course tester who gave this example also referred to the ‘male’ way she thought the manager handled the meeting, which introduces a second set of issues. In this example, and in the others given by our testers, there was evidence of gendered differences being discussed as a key factor in interactions and relationships. For example, in the experience of the family centre worker, there was an assumption that men might be more reluctant to share their feelings in a group than women. The examples of the male midwife and the man who wanted a male key worker both suggest that male and female service users, and male and female staff, might have different styles of communicating, and different communication needs. This recalls the discussion in Section 2 of claims that different ethnic groups have distinctive communication behaviour and needs.

    Earlier you were presented with competing perspectives on ‘difference’. Before moving on to explore in more detail the ways in which issues of gender, power and difference operate in everyday interactions, it is worth pausing to reflect on the nature and origin of gender differences. What is the nature of gender, and what are its roots or origins? At this point, we should make clear the distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. Whereas ‘sex’ refers to basic biological and physiological differences between people designated as male and female, ‘gender’ refers to the meanings, associations and identities that are connected with these basic sexual differences.

    The next activity involves thinking about your own gender identity and what it means to you.

    This page titled 3.2: Talking about gender is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by OpenLearn Diversity & Difference in Communication.

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