Yvonne Hirdman, professor in history, introduced the concepts of gender and gender systems in Sweden (SOU 1990: 4). According to Hirdman, each society creates and maintains a system where women and men are assigned different tasks, roles and positions.
Gender systems are based on two principles: the separation of genders and male superiority.
The separation implies that men and women, and masculine and feminine traits, are separated and viewed as opposite. It also implies that women and men act in separate arenas in society, both horizontally and vertically. The separation of the genders in the labour market is one example of this, where women and men are found in different sectors – caring professions vs. high-tech fields – and in different positions – male doctor vs. female nurse.
The male superiority and hierarchy are expressed in many forms including the fact that typical masculine activities are considered more valuable. Additionally, men earn more money, have more power and are considered as the norm while women are seen as exceptions and deviations.
These gender patterns are created and reinforced at personal and structural level by both women and men.
The gender equality work aims to break this pattern, and when this has been accomplished, we will have a gender equal society.
By analysing the system, it is possible to unveil the hidden mechanisms underlying inequality. For example, how seemingly gender neutral acts could have biased consequences.