A Crash Course: Theories of Gender

Are you proud to be a feminist? We hope so! But how well do you know the theories and ideas behind the movement? What's your stance on gender, what does it mean, and should it even exist?

Taking this Crash Course Sociology clip as our reference, we have rounded up some definitions and theories surrounding gender to get your teeth into. You may be well-versed in theories of gender already, but if you're maybe not quite so clued up, we won't judge you, and we hope you might find the video as insightful as we did. 

Structural Functionalism


Structural Functionalism is understanding human behaviour as part of a system that helps keep society organised and functioning. This idea views gender as a means of organising society, and has influenced the binary opposition of the feminine and the masculine, female vs. male. Supported by the work of Talcott Parsons, institutionalised gender qualities throughout history have often been encouraged. Parson's theories underpin the idea that girls and boys were to become socialised to take on traits that are complimentary to each other in order to maintain and sustain family units. In this way, boys in theory would take on instrumental qualities, in tandem with their stronger physical strength, while girls would be taught expressive qualities, to tap into their emotions, all of which encourages gender conformity. Based on a specific western perspective, focusing on one segment of middle class white America in the 1940s and 1950s this idea is undoubtedly very limiting and ignores any sense of spectrum, diversity and point of difference.  

Symbolic Interactionism

The ideas behind Symbolic Interactionism suggest that gender is something a person does. This proposes that gender is not imposed by institution, and looks at gender as something an individual telegraphs. It suggests that human beings act towards things on the basis of the meanings that they ascribe to those things. In other words, people's selves are social products, but as selves we can be purposive and interpretative, and act a certain way towards things based on the meaning those things already have. Society may impose gender roles - how a society defines how women and men should think and behave. However, thinking about symbolic interactionism can throw into question how typically "masculine" traits and "feminine" traits are assigned to specific genders. As individuals we can construct meaning for ourselves via how we communicate these traits.  

Gender Conflict Theory 

Gender Conflict Theory sees gender as a structural system that distributes power and privilege to some and disadvantage to others. 


Intersectionality refers to the analysis of the interplay of race, class, gender, sexual orientation and other identities, which often results in multiple dimensions of disadvantage. Depending on these factors, disadvantages can stack on top of one another and place damaging restrictions and further barriers upon people. It's important to keep this in mind, in order to keep an open mind about the varying intensities of persecutions and inequalities that exist in the many different societies across the world.  


Feminism can be defined as the support of social equality for all genders, in opposition to patriarchy and sexism.... Broadly speaking, feminism advocates the elimination of gender stratification, expanding the choices that women and other genders are allowed to make, ending gender based violence, and promoting sexual freedom. 

Liberal Feminism

Liberal Feminism is rooted with an aim to expand the rights and opportunities of women by removing cultural and legal barriers to women's equality, such as implementing policies that prevent discrimination in the workforce or improving reproductive freedom.

Socialist Feminism

Socialist Feminism views Capitalism as the foundation of the patriarchy and advocates for full economic equality in the socialist tradition.

Radical Feminism

Arguably the most extreme branch of feminism, this approach to feminism argues that in order to reach gender equality, society must actually eliminate gender as we know it. It questions whether the transgender movement actually perpetuates patriarchal gender norms, and looks to get rid of the idea of gender in its entirety.