Unpacking the Gender System: A Theoretical Perspective on Cultural Beliefs in Social Relations

Gender & Society

According to the perspective developed in this article, widely shared, hegemonic cultural beliefs about gender and their impact in what the authors call 'social relational' contexts are among the core components that maintain and change the gender system. When gender is salient in these ubiquitous contexts, cultural beliefs about gender function as part of the rules of the game, biasing the behaviors, performances, and evaluations of otherwise similar men and women in systematic ways that the authors specify. While the biasing impact of gender beliefs may be small in any one instance, the consequences cumulate over individuals' lives and result in substantially different outcomes for men and women. After describing this perspective, the authors show how it sheds new light on some defining features of the gender system and illustrate its implications for research into specific questions about gender inequality.