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Module 1: Foundations of A Psychology of Gender

3rd edition as of August 2023


Module Overview                                              

In our first module, gender is differentiated from concepts of sex and sexual orientation, and health is differentiated from wellness, laying the foundation for the subsequent modules. The dimensions of gender and the importance of gender congruence are outlined, and terms related to gender are defined. Finally, movements specific to women (i.e., feminism) and men are discussed, as well as some of the professional societies and journals committed to studying gender issues.


Module Outline


Module Learning Outcomes

  • Contrast gender with sex and sexual orientation and describe the key components of gender.
  • Describe movements geared to women and men.
  • Identify professional societies and journals committed to the study of gender issues.

1.1. Defining Terms

Section Learning Objectives

  • Define psychology.
  • Contrast health and wellness.
  • Differentiate sex and gender.
  • List the dimensions of gender.
  • Clarify the importance of gender congruence.
  • Differentiate gender and sexual orientation.
  • Define key terms in relation to the language of gender.


1.1.1. What is Psychology?

Welcome to your course on the psychology of gender which this book supports. Of course, you may be expecting a definition of gender in this module, and one will certainly be provided. However, since some students taking this class are not psychology majors or minors, and most of you had your introductory class some time ago, we want to ensure you have a solid foundation to build on. To begin, we need to understand what psychology is.

Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. While this may be surprising to some, psychology utilizes the same scientific process and methods practiced by other scientific disciplines, such as biology and chemistry. We will discuss this in more detail in Module 2 so please just keep this in the back of your mind for now. Second, psychology is the study of behavior and mental processes. Psychology seeks not only to understand the reasons people engage in the behavior they do, but also how. What is the mechanism by which our movements are controlled when we extend a hand to reach for a cup of tea and lift it? What affects the words we choose while madly in love? How do we distinguish between benign or threatening events when a loud sound is heard? What makes an individual view another group as less favorable than their own? Such prejudicial or discriminatory behavior could be directed at a person due to their gender or sexual orientation. These are just a few of the questions that we ask as psychologists and our focus in this book is on the psychology of gender.


1.1.2. What is Health and Wellness?

As we discuss the psychology of gender, we will cover numerous topics related to the health and wellness of individuals. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines wellness as “being in good physical and mental health.” They add, “Remember that wellness is not the absence of illness or stress. You can still strive for wellness even if you are experiencing these challenges in your life.” Most people see wellness as just focused on the physical or mental. These are only part of the picture.

SAMHSA proposes eight dimensions of wellness as follows (this information is directly from their website):

  • Physical – Recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and sleep
  • Emotional – Coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships
  • Environmental—Good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being
  • Financial—Satisfaction with current and future financial situations
  • Intellectual—Recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills
  • Occupational—Personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work
  • Social— Developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system
  • Spiritual— Expanding a sense of purpose and meaning in life

As we tackle the content of the remaining modules, consider the various dimensions of wellness that are affected by topics related to gender, such as stereotypes, identity formation, aggression, relationships, health, sexuality, development, mental disorders, and physiology. As you will see, all eight are involved at different times.


Source: https://www.samhsa.gov/wellness-initiative/eight-dimensions-wellness


1.1.3. What is a Psychology of Gender?

Before we can define gender, we must understand the meaning of sex. Though sex and gender are sometimes used interchangeably in everyday language, they have distinct meanings in the scientific contexts of collecting data and conducting research. Sex refers to the biological, anatomical aspects of an individual. This includes the individual’s hormones, chromosomes, body parts, such as the sexual organs, and how they all interact. When we use the term sex, we are describing the assignment of an individual as male or female at birth, based on these aspects.

In contrast, gender is socially constructed and enforced, presumed after a sex is assigned, and leads to labels such as masculinity or femininity and their related behaviors. Gender constructions change over time and differ across cultures. For instance, in the past, the accepted norm was to give pink to boys and blue to girls (Cohen, 2013). Because there is such variety and overlap in evolving gender contructions, people might declare themselves to be a man or woman, as having no gender, or falling on a continuum. How so? According to genderspectrum.org, gender results from the complex interrelationship of three dimensions – body, identity, and social.

First, body, concerns our physical body, how we experience it, how society genders bodies, and the way in which others interact with us based on our body. The website states, “Bodies themselves are also gendered in the context of cultural expectations. Masculinity and femininity are equated with certain physical attributes, labeling us as more or less a man/woman based on the degree to which those attributes are present. This gendering of our bodies affects how we feel about ourselves and how others perceive and interact with us.”

Gender identity is our internal perception and expression of who we are. This includes naming our gender, though this gender category may not match the sex we are assigned at birth. Gender identities can take on several forms from the traditional binary man-woman, to non-binary such as genderqueer or genderfluid, and ungendered or agender (i.e. genderless). Though an understanding of our gender occurs by age four, naming it is complex and can evolve over time. As genderspectrum.org says, “Because we are provided with limited language for gender, it may take a person quite some time to discover, or create, the language that best communicates their internal experience. Likewise, as language evolves, a person’s name for their gender may also evolve. This does not mean their gender has changed, but rather that the words for it are shifting.”

Finally, we have a social gender or the manner in which we present our gender in the world, but also how other people, society, and culture affect our concept of gender. In terms of presentation, we communicate our gender through our clothes, hairstyles, and behavior called gender expression. In terms of the way culture affects gender concepts, children are socialized into gender roles though a process beginning before they are born and through toys, colors, and clothes. This socialization can come from parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, media, religious figures, friends, and the community. Generally, the binary male-female view of gender is communicated, for which there are specific gender expectations and roles. According to genderspectrum.org, “Kids who don’t express themselves along binary gender lines are often rendered invisible or steered into a more binary gender presentation. Pressures to conform at home, mistreatment by peers in school, and condemnation by the broader society are just some of the struggles facing a child whose expression does not fall in line with the binary gender system.” The good news is that acceptance for more complex expressions of gender is increasing (Parker et al., 2022).


1.1.4. Gender Congruence

When we feel a sense of harmony in our gender, we are said to have gender congruence. In gender congruence, the gender of the individual is named such that it matches the internal sense of who they are. This congruence is expressed through their clothing and activities, and being seen consistently by others as they see themselves. Congruence does not happen overnight, but occurs throughout life as we explore, grow, and gain insight into ourselves. It is a simple process for some, and complex for others, though all of us have a fundamental need to obtain gender congruence.

When a person moves from the traditional binary view of gender to transgender, agender, or non-binary, they are said to “transition” and find congruence in their gender.  Genderspectrum.org adds, “What people see as a “transition” is actually an alignment in one or more dimensions of the individual’s gender as they seek congruence across those dimensions. A transition is taking place, but it is often other people (parents and other family members, support professionals, employers, etc.) who are transitioning in how they see the individual’s gender, and not the person themselves. For the individual, these changes are often less of a transition and more of an evolution.” Harmony is sought in various ways to include:

  • Social – Changing one’s clothes, hairstyle, and name and/or pronouns
  • Hormonal – Using hormone blockers or hormone therapy to bring about physical, mental, and/or emotional alignment
  • Surgical – When gender-related physical traits are added, removed, or modified
  • Legal – Changing one’s birth certificate or driver’s license

The website states that the transition experience is often a significant event in the person’s life. “A public declaration of some kind where an individual communicates to others that aspects of themselves are different than others have assumed, and that they are now living consistently with who they know themselves to be, can be an empowering and liberating experience (and moving to those who get to share that moment with them).”


1.1.5. Gender and Sexual Orientation

Gender must also be distinguished from sexual orientation, which refers to who we are physically, emotionally, and/or romantically attracted to. Hence, sexual orientation is interpersonal while gender is personal. We would be mistaken to assume that a boy who plays princess is gay, or that a girl who has short hair is lesbian.  The root of such errors comes from confusing gender with sexual orientation. The way someone dresses or acts concerns gender expression, and it is not possible to determine their sexual orientation based on these behaviors.


1.1.6. The Language of Gender

Before we move on in this module and into the rest of the book, it is critical to have a working knowledge of terms related to the study of gender. Consider the following:

  • Agender – When someone does not identify with a gender
  • Cisgender – When a person’s gender identity matches their assigned sex at birth
  • FtM – When a person is assigned a female sex at birth but whose gender identity is boy/man
  • Gender dysphoria – When a person is unhappy or dissatisfied with their gender and can occur in relation to any dimension of gender. The person may experience mild discomfort to unbearable distress
  • Genderfluid – When a person’s gender changes over time; they view gender as dynamic and changing
  • Gender role – All the activities, functions, and behaviors that are expected of males and females by society
  • Genderqueer – Anyone who does not identify with conventional gender identities, roles, expectations, or expression.
  • MtF – When a person is assigned a male sex at birth but whose gender identity is girl/woman
  • Nonbinary – When a gender identity is not exclusively masculine or feminine
  • Transgender – When a person’s gender identity differs from their assigned sex

To learn more about gender, we encourage you to explore the https://www.genderspectrum.org/ website.

The World Health Organization also identifies two more key concepts in relation to gender. Gender equality is “the absence of discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex in opportunities, the allocation of resources and benefits, or access to services” while gender equity refers to “the fairness and justice in the distribution of benefits and responsibilities between women and men.” We will encounter these two concepts throughout the book.

Source: http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-determinants/gender/gender-definitions


Two other terms are worth mentioning. According to https://www.genderspectrum.org, gender expansive is, “An umbrella term used for individuals who broaden their own culture’s commonly held definitions of gender, including expectations for its expression, identities, roles, and/or other perceived gender norms.” Additionally, gender literacy is, “the ability to participate knowledgeably in discussions of gender and gender-related topics.” It involves having a stance of openness to the complexity of gender and the idea that each person determines for themselves their own identity.


Additional Resources:

1.2. Movements Linked to Gender


Section Learning Objectives

  • Define feminism.
  • Outline the three waves of feminism.
  • List and describe the types of feminism.
  • Describe and exemplify types of movements related to men.


1.2.1. Feminism

Feminism is a belief which advocates that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities socially, economically, and politically. According to Ropers-Huilman (2002) feminist theory is grounded in three main principles. One of which is that women have something of value to contribute to every aspect of the world. Second, due to oppression, women have not been able to achieve their full potential or gain full participation in society. Third, feminist research should go beyond just critiquing to include social transformation.

Feminism has developed over three waves. The first, occurring during the late 19th to early 20th centuries, was linked to the women’s suffragist movement and obtaining the right for women to vote, as well as abolitionism. Key figures included Elizabeth Cady Stanton who convened the Seneca Falls Convention in July 1848, saying “all men and women are created equal.” There, it was proposed in the “Declaration of Sentiments” that women be given the right to vote. During this time, Susan B. Anthony, who was arrested for attempting to vote, started the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) with Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Matilda Joslyn Gage. Because of the work of feminists in the first wave, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed the right to vote for women, was passed and ratified.

The second wave of feminism spanned the 1960s to the 1990s and unfolded during the antiwar and civil rights movements, including women of color as well as women from developing nations. Books by feminists such as The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan, The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir, and Sexual Politics, by Kate Millet fueled a revolution of sexuality and freedom from a life confined within the home, centered around a husband and children. Friedan also started the National Organization for Women (NOW) to fight for equality and raise awareness, with the concept of choice for women being the priority of these efforts. On January 22, 1973 the Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal with the Supreme Court, asserting that a woman’s right to an abortion was implicit in the right to privacy, protected in the 14th amendment. Also during this wave, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and the National Organization for the Women was started.

In the 1990s and beyond, feminists of the third wave, having inherited professional and economic power gained by those in the second, have sought to redefine divisions of labor in their households, workplaces, and further economic, racial, and social justice. During this wave, focus shifted from fighting for equality of individuals to celebrating differences, emphasizing sexual exploration and empowerment within diversity of class, race, ethnicity, and gender.

Feminism takes several forms. First, liberal feminism was rooted in the first wave and seeks to level the playing field for women to gain the same opportunities for pursuits as men and dispel the myth that women are not as capable or intelligent. Liberal feminism states that the cause of the oppression of women is rooted in the legal system. Radical feminism, however, states that these problems are rooted in patriarchal gender relations. Radical feminists maintain that the liberal counterpart is not sufficient to address centuries of patriarchal oppression and domination of women on the individual, institutional, and systemic levels. This form of feminism seeks to place higher societal value on feminine qualities, which they believe would lessen gender oppression.

Multicultural feminism suggests that women in a country such as the United States have different interconnected identities, and eco feminism links the destruction of the planet with the exploitation of women worldwide by the patriarchy, investigating racism, socioeconomic privilege, and speciesism. Finally, cultural feminism states that fundamental differences exist between men and women and those special qualities of women should be celebrated.


1.2.2. Men’s Movements

There are several forms of men’s movements (Fox, 2004). Pro-feminist men’s movements emerged in the 1970’s alongside second wave feminism, during which men questioned the traditional views of masculinity and campaigned in partnership with women for rights and opportunities. Pro-feminist men’s movements “exist in many countries and many feminist men’s groups focus on involving men in anti-violence work” (Jordan, 2019). A prominent pro-feminist men’s organization in the United States is the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS). Their Statement of Principles says they advovate “a perspective that is pro-feminist, gay affirmative, anti-racist, dedicated to enhancing men’s lives, and committed to justice on a broad range of social issues including class, age, religion, and physical abilities. Men can live as happier and more fulfilled human beings by challenging the old-fashioned rules of masculinity that embody the assumption of male superiority. Traditional masculinity includes many positive characteristics in which we take pride and find strength, but it also contains qualities that have limited and harmed us.” They encourage men to spend more time with their children, have intimacy and trust with other men, display emotional expressiveness, build their identity around more than just a career, rethink a man’s obsession with winning, unlearn aggressiveness, and to not fear femininity. For more on the group, please visit: http://nomas.org/.

Other forms of men’s movements include the mythopoetic men’s movement, a New Age movement which emerged in the 1980s. This movement is based on spirituality and psychoanalysis derived from Carl Jung, as well as a book by Robert Bly called Iron John: A Book About Men, in which Bly states that society and the feminist movement depleted male energy. Mythopoets believe society “trapped men into straightjackets of rationality, thus blunting the powerful emotional communion and collective spiritual transcendence that they believe men in tribal societies typically enjoyed” (Messner, 1997).  Proponents of this movement use self-help approaches to attain “deep masculinity.” Mythopoetic men’s groups include the ManKind Project and Promise Keepers. The ManKind Project has a flagship, three-phase training program called the New Warrior Training Adventure which they describe as a modern male initiation and self-examination, as well as a “hero’s journey” of classical literature and myth (ManKind Project Chicago, 2022). For more on the ManKind Project, please visit: https://mankindproject.org/.

The Promise Keepers, a Christian men’s group, states that masculinity is in crisis and the soul of men is at stake due to society rejecting biblical definitions of manhood. They write, “Men are seeking authentic relationships and real connections. They long to be men of influence within the workplace, among their friends, and within their own households. But these connections, these relationships, these identities are difficult to establish and maintain successfully.” They cite 7 promises – honor, brotherhood, virtue, commitment, changemaking, unity, and obedience. For more on the Promise Keepers, please visit: https://promisekeepers.org/.

Some men’s movements are geared toward the rights of men, focusing on legislative, political, and cultural change. One such group is the National Coalition for Men (NCFM) which states, “Perhaps you are a victim of paternity fraud, lost your children in family court, were falsely accused of a gender targeted crime, were denied health services or protection by a domestic violence shelter… the list of possible discrimination’s against males is seemingly endless. Here, you may quickly realize that you are not alone…you are among friends.” To learn more about NCFM, please visit: https://ncfm.org/. Additionally, the website, www.avoiceformen.com states its mission is, “… to provide education and encouragement to men and boys; to lift them above the din of misandry, to reject the unhealthy demands of gynocentrism in all its forms, and to promote their mental, physical and financial well-being without compromise or apology.”

1.3. Connecting with Other Psychologists of Gender


Section Learning Objectives

  • Clarify what it means to communicate findings.
  • Identify professional societies related to the study of gender and related issues.
  • Identify publications related to the study of gender and related issues.


One of the functions of science is to communicate findings. Testing hypotheses, developing sound methodology, accurately analyzing data, and drawing cogent conclusions are important, and equally important is disseminating those findings. This is accomplished through joining professional societies and submitting articles to peer reviewed journals. Below are some of the societies and journals important to the study of gender and related issues.


1.3.1. Professional Societies

  • APA Division 35 – Society for the Psychology of Women
    • Website – https://www.apa.org/about/division/div35
    • Mission Statement – “Division 35: Society for the Psychology of Women provides an organizational base for all feminists, women and men of all national origins, who are interested in teaching, research, or practice in the psychology of women. The division recognizes a diversity of women’s experiences which result from a variety of factors, including ethnicity, culture, language, socioeconomic status, age and sexual orientation. The division promotes feminist research, theories, education, and practice toward understanding and improving the lives of girls and women in all their diversities; encourages scholarship on the social construction of gender relations across multicultural contexts; applies its scholarship to transforming the knowledge base of psychology; advocates action toward public policies that advance equality and social justice; and seeks to empower women in community, national and global leadership.”
    • Publication – Psychology of Women Quarterly (journal) and Feminist Psychologist (quarterly newsletter)
    • Other Information – The division has 5 special sections for the psychology of black women; concerns of Hispanics women/Latinas; lesbian, bisexual, and transgender concerns; psychology of Asian Pacific American women; and Alaska Native/American Indian/Indigenous women.


  • APA Division 44 – Society for the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity
    • Website – https://www.apadivisions.org/division-44
    • Mission Statement – “Div. 44 (SPSOGD) is committed to advancing social justice in all its activities. The Society celebrates the diversity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender nonconforming and queer people and recognizes the importance of multiple, intersectional dimensions of diversity including but not limited to: race, ethnicity, ability, age, citizenship, health status, language, nationality, religion and social class.”
    • Publication – Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity (journal) and Division 44 Newsletter


  • APA Division 51 – Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinities
    • Website – https://www.apa.org/about/division/div51
    • Mission Statement – “Division 51: Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinities (SPSMM) advances knowledge in the new psychology of men through research, education, training, public policy and improved clinical services for men. SPSMM provides a forum for members to discuss the critical issues facing men of all races, classes, ethnicities, sexual orientations and nationalities.”
    • Publication – Psychology of Men and Masculinities (journal)
    • Other Information – The division has five special interest groups focused on applied and professional practice, racial ethnic minorities, sexual and gender minorities, students, and violence and trauma.


1.3.2. Publications

  • Psychology of Women Quarterly
    • Website: https://www.apadivisions.org/division-35/publications/journal/index
    • Published by: APA Division 35
    • Description: “The Psychology of Women Quarterly (PWQ) is a feminist, scientific, peer-reviewed journal that publishes empirical research, critical reviews and theoretical articles that advance a field of inquiry, teaching briefs and invited book reviews related to the psychology of women and gender.” Topics include violence against women, sexism, lifespan development and change, therapeutic interventions, sexuality, and social activism.”


  • Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity
    • Website: https://www.apadivisions.org/division-44/publications/journal
    • Published by: Division 44 of APA
    • Description: “A quarterly scholarly journal dedicated to the dissemination of information in the field of sexual orientation and gender diversity, PSOGD is envisioned as the primary outlet for research particularly as it impacts practice, education, public policy, and social action.”


  • Psychology of Men & Masculinities
    • Website: https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/men
    • Published by: Division 51 of APA
    • Description: “Psychology of Men & Masculinities is devoted to the dissemination of research, theory, and clinical scholarship that advances the psychology of men and masculinity. This discipline is defined broadly as the study of how boys’ and men’s psychology is influenced and shaped by both gender and sex, and encompasses the study of the social construction of gender, sex differences and similarities, and biological processes.”


  • Journal of Gender Studies
    • Website: https://tandfonline.com/toc/cjgs20/current
    • Published by: Taylor and Francis
    • Description: “The Journal of Gender Studies is an interdisciplinary journal which publishes articles relating to gender and sex from a feminist perspective covering a wide range of subject areas including the Social, Natural and Health Sciences, the Arts, Humanities, Literature and Popular Culture. We seek articles from around the world that examine gender and the social construction of relationships among genders.”


  • International Journal of Gender and Women’s Studies
    • Website: http://ijgws.com/
    • Description: “International Journal of Gender and Women’s Studies is an interdisciplinary international journal which publishes articles relating to gender and sex from a feminist perspective covering a wide range of subject areas including the social and natural sciences, the arts, the humanities and popular culture. The journal seeks articles from around the world that examine gender and the social construction of relationships among genders.”


  • Journal of Research in Gender Studies
    • Website: https://addletonacademicpublishers.com/journal-of-research-in-gender-studies
    • Published by: Addleton Academic Publishers
    • Description: “The Journal of Research in Gender Studiespublishes mainly original empirical research and review articles focusing on hot emerging topics, e.g. same-sex parenting, civil partnership, LGBTQ+ rights, mobile dating applications, digital feminist activism, sexting behavior, robot sex, commercial sex online, etc.”


Module Recap

If you asked a friend or family member what the difference between sex and gender was, they might state that they are synonyms for one another and can be used interchangeably. After reading this module, you know that this is incorrect, and that sex is a biological concept while gender is socially constructed. Gender is further complicated by the fact that it consists of the three dimensions of body, identity, and social. As humans, we have a psychological need to have gender congruence or a sense of harmony in our gender, though at times to get there we have to transition. We also contrasted gender and sexual orientation, and outlined some of the language of gender you will encounter throughout this book. Movements linked to gender include feminism and men’s movements. Finally, we featured three divisions of the American Psychological Association which study gender and several journals that publish research on it, all in an effort to communicate findings and connect with other psychologists studying gender.

In our next module, we will discuss how psychology as a discipline is scientific and demonstrate the ways in which the psychology of gender is studied. This discussion will conclude Part I: Setting the Stage of this book.

3rd edition


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