Gender regimes

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According to the seminal work of Raewyn Connell (1987), a ‘gender regime’ refers to several distinct but interrelated dimensions of gender relations in a given sociohistorical context. It provides the normative context for particular events, aspirations, relationships and practices to unfold. According to Connell (2006), a ‘gender regime’ is composed of:

1) The sexual division of labour: the way in which production and consumption are arranged along gender lines, including the gendering of occupations and the spatial and symbolic division between paid work, caring and domestic labour, and the distribution of economic rewards and resources.

2) The distribution of power: the way in which control, authority and force are exercised along gender lines, including organizational hierarchies, access to political power, and collective and individual forms of violence.

3) Interpersonal interactions and emotions: the way in which attachment and antagonism between people and groups are organized along gender lines, including feelings of solidarity, prejudice and disdain, sexual attraction and repulsion.

4) Cultural and symbolic representations: the way in which gender identities are defined in culture, the language and symbols of gender difference, and the prevailing beliefs and attitudes about gender. Such gender regimes play out simultaneously at the macro, meso and micro-levels of society; each level relating to specific social processes: the historical construction of women's and men's relationship to the labour market and to the family in various societal contexts (the macro-level ‘gender order’ or ‘gender contract’, see Crompton & Le Feuvre 1996; Le Feuvre, 2010); the institutionalisation of the different dimensions of the ‘gender regime’ in specific organisational / occupational settings (the meso-level ‘gender arrangement’ or ‘gender script’, see Boni-Le Goff & Le Feuvre, 2017; Boni-Le Goff et al., 2019) and the daily management of normative environments by individuals (the micro-level ‘gender practices’ or the corporeal manifestation of ‘gender identities’, see Zinn & Le Feuvre, 2013).

However, Connell and those who have been inspired by her work are sensitive to the potential tensions, or even contradictions, that can exist between the historically constructed societal pattern of gender relations (e.g. the ‘male breadwinner / female carer’ model of the sexual division of labour that has been enshrined in many social protection policies) at the meso-level, and the more localised configurations, that may conform to or depart from the wider gender order. Using the notion of ‘gender regime’ implies paying as much analytical attention to inconsistencies and to the forces for social change as to structural constraints and the mechanisms of social reproduction (see Walby, 2020).

Because of its acknowledgment of the meso-level, the concept of gender regimes may help life course researchers to better understand stress and stressors generated in individuals by current gendered arrangements.

Author: Nicky Le Feuvre

Selected references

Boni-Le Goff, I. & Le Feuvre, N. (2017). Professions from a Gendered Perspective. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Business and Management, Oxford: Oxford University Press doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780190224851.013.8
Boni-Le Goff, I., Le Feuvre, N., Lépinard, E., Mallard, G. (2019). Do Gender Regimes Matter? Converging and Diverging Career Prospects among Young French and Swiss Lawyers. M. Choroszewicz & T. L. Adams (eds.), Gender, Age and Inequality in the Professions, London: Routledge, Coll. Gender and Organization: 114-134.
Connell, R. W. (1987). Gender and Power: Society, the Person & Sexual Politics. Chichester: Wiley.
Connell, R. W. (2006). Glass ceilings or gendered institutions? Mapping the gender regimes of public sector worksites. Public Administration Review, 66(6), 837-849.
Crompton, R. & Le Feuvre, N. (1996). Paid Employment and the Changing System of Gender Relations: A Cross-National Comparison. Sociology, 30(3): 427-445.
Le Feuvre, N. (2010). Feminising professions in Britain and France: How countries differ. Jacqueline Scott, Rosemary Crompton & Clare Lyonette (eds.), Gender Inequalities in the 21st Century: New Barriers and Continuing Constraints, London: Edward Elgar, 126-149.
Walby, S. (2020). Varieties of Gender Regimes, Social Politics: International Studies in Gender. State & Society, 27(3): 414-431, doi:10.1093/sp/jxaa018
Zinn, I. & Le Feuvre, N. (2013). Ambivalent Gender Accountability: Male Florists in the Swiss Context. Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques, Special issue “Transgressing Gender at Work: Men in ‘Feminine’ Jobs”, 44(2): 21-45 doi.10.4000/rsa.1027
City University of London. (2020). Varieties of Gender Regimes[Webinar Workshop].

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