Dictionaries currently define “sex” as a biological category–connected to “reproductive organs and structures”–and “gender” as the “behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex” in a specific context (Miriam-Webster). Thus what gender means varies by culture and is subject to change. However, these definitions and distinctions can be contested from a variety of perspectives, including feminist ones.

Gender is relevant to civic life in at least three ways:

  • Some groups and movements seek to change (or to preserve) gender roles or to address what they define as injustices or other problems related to gender.
  • Civic roles have traditionally been associated with genders. For instance, political leaders have been overwhelmingly men, but providing voluntary service has often been seen as appropriate work for women. To this day, just 24% members of the US Senate are women. Traditional distinctions between the private and the public realm have often implied or explicitly stated that the public realm is for men.
  • Gender dynamics can be problematic within groups. For instance, Karpowitz & Mendelberg (2014) find that people who identify as men are disproportionately influential in small-group discussions, although groups can choose processes that mitigate that inequality.
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