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This is a list of key terms which Changing Relations use in our day-to-day work, which we thought it would be useful to share in case people encounter certain phrases which they are uncertain or confused about. It’s important to acknowledge that many of these terms are contested and constantly being debated, so this is an evolving glossary which will be regularly updated.

The categories of ‘female’ and ‘male’ which people are divided into when we are born based on biological, reproductive features (it should be noted that some people, who are intersex, don’t fit neatly into these binary categories).

The socially constructed ideas, attributes and roles that are applied to those categories - in other words, how society defines what it means to be a woman (‘femininity’) or a man (‘masculinity’) in any given context.

Gender binary
Gender is typically constructed as a binary, in that people are expected to conform to either ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ behaviours, but in reality most people engage in a range (a ‘spectrum’) of different behaviours which are labelled as being ‘gendered’.

If someone is trans, they feel that the sex they were assigned at birth does not match with their ‘gender identity’ (i.e. their own sense of where they fit in society in relation to gender), while cisgender people do.

If someone is non-binary, they feel that they do not fit into the dichotomies of female/male or feminine/masculine altogether.

Originally a pejorative term, which has been reclaimed by people who are not heterosexual, or not cisgender, and who actively resist norms and binaries based around sexuality and/or gender.

Gender inequality
Gender is not neutral – what is seen as ‘masculine’ is generally valued more than what is seen as ‘feminine’ by society – and across the different institutions of society, men continue to have more power and resources than women.

Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination (typically against women and girls) on the basis of sex – it is the expression of gender inequality in our day-to-day behaviours.

Gender norms
The implicit and informal rules of behaviour shared by members of a group or society based around gender, that are held in place by expectations about how women and men should and will behave (and how others will respond to that), and which most people within that group abide by.

Gender constantly intersects with other systems of power and inequality in our day-to-day lives (such as those based around race, social class and able-bodiedness) which compound their effects, and mean that some men and women have more power than others. Intersectionality is a concept devised by US academic Kimberlé Crenshaw to help understand this.

Gender norms often treat heterosexuality as the norm, as preferable, as the default - which people are expected to conform to, and if they don’t, this can lead to homophobic punishments.

Some people benefit, whilst other people are disadvantaged, by the structures of power and inequality which are in place in society – this does not make them a bad person, they might not do anything to accrue that privilege, and they might experience other forms of disadvantage, but it means that certain things might be easier for them, because they don’t encounter specific forms of discrimination or prejudice (such as sexism and misogyny, or racism).

Because men and boys grow up in a society in which they typically have more power than women as a group, and many of our ideas and expectations about gender help to justify and maintain this, they may (consciously or unconsciously) feel that they have the right to certain things in ways that women and girls do not.

This glossary was compiled primarily by Dr Stephen Burrell, Assistant Professor (Research) in Durham University’s Department of Sociology .