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Microblog: How Can Social Constructionism Promote Equality?

CW: Sensitive topics around sexuality.

The social constructionist view came into popular discourse during second-wave feminism; the approach believes in the socialisation of gender norms as a way of conforming to the gender we have been assigned at birth. This means that individuals are neither innately masculine or feminine but rather, the individual experiences a social process in order to be one or the other, on the basis of their ascribed sex at birth. We are conditioned to act in a certain way to fit into the dominant norms and values of society. This approach has been highly criticised by the theory of essentialism. Essentialism contradicts social constructionism by viewing gender as an innate part of our biology; any differences in traits and characteristics between gender are a direct result of our biological differences, rather than through socialisation.

Discrimination through essentialism

Social constructionist perspectives often critique the theory of essentialism as discourses from this theory often promote stigma, inequality, and discrimination towards individuals in the LGBT+ community.

Individuals in the LGBT+ community are much less inclined to follow the gender norms of society; seldom abiding to their ascribed biological nature. The essentialist perspective, therefore, contradicts many LGBT+ identities, as well as the notion of which an individual must abide to their biological sex and gender. This is primarily through the belief of gender norms and roles which can contribute to inequality and homophobic discourses in a myriad of ways. Gender roles reinforce the way men and women are expected to behave, as well as their ideologies and attitudes. The essentialist view of masculinity can often cause homophobia as the essence of essentialist masculinity is to be hostile towards homosexuality, femininity and characteristics that do not align with the heterosexual male. Studies show that heterosexual male participants experienced a greater hostility and discomfort towards effeminate homosexual men as a response to a threat in masculinity. These attitudes can cause damage to the identities of LGBT+ individuals and reinforce the belief that it is wrong to be a member of this community.

The essentialist perspective also erases the notion that there are more than two genders, as well as the belief that individuals are not inherently heteronormative. Interviews conducted on eleven transgender participants found that their concept of gender identity was socially constructed and was more fluid than the binary essentialist definitions. Essentialism ignores the subjective nature of gender by applying universal sex roles to each individual. The essentialist view can, therefore, often be used as a justification for bigotry and discrimination which makes social constructionist critiques of essentialism vital in protecting individuals that do not conform to their ascribed gender.

Changing attitudes

Although the early 2000s are still recent, there have been significant advances in the liberation of LGBT+ identities.

I recall being in school and facing a lot of resistance from those around me when I began displaying behaviours that did not align with my biological sex. This resistance not only came from other pupils, it also came from teachers, family and sometimes friends. Many people were ignorant to the way I was perceived and encouraged me to compose myself differently, to adopt different hobbies and interests. These attitudes began shaping the way I perceived myself and built-up feelings of marginalisation. Social constructionist views on the other hand, would have encouraged my interests and hobbies.

The growing education of identities that are not heteronormative has promoted the rights of this community and shows the significance of adopting a more fluid approach to perceiving gender roles and norms.


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