Understanding gender- review

Title of the book: Understanding Gender 

Author: Kamla Bhasin 

Publisher:  Women Unlimited

Year of Publication: 2003 

Kamla Bhasin was born in 1946 and grew up in Rajasthan, India. She received a BA at Maharani’s College in Jaipur and an MA in Economics at Rajasthan University. In addition, she studied Sociology of Development for four semesters at Muenster University in West Germany. Bhasin’s work focuses on gender, education, human development, media, human rights, and peace. In particular, Bhasin acts as a tireless advocate for Indian and South Asian women and their right to equality.

The author, Kamla Bashin in his book Understanding gender talk about the concept of gender in feminism discourse deals with such difficult questions as the relationship between gender and women; the difference between ‘women and development’ and ‘gender and development; gender and patriarchy; and how religion, caste, and class affect gender. Bashin tries to bring light on the aspect which many people are not aware of and tries to serve reality to them. 

Gender and sex are misunderstood, as the same thing but the concept of gender us to share that sex is one thing, but gender is quite another. Everyone is born male or female and our sex can be determined by our genitalia, but the social and cultural packaging that is done for girls and boys from birth onwards is gendering. As in our society discrimination starts right away from the birth of a child if a baby boy is born then there will be decorated with blue balloons in room and many celebrations conducted on the other hand for baby girl pink balloon is preferred And there is no celebration and rituals necessarily conducted. As we can see that how gender is associated with even colors.

The author tries to readers to understand that there is nothing they do that men cannot do or that men can do and women cannot. Sex is universal but gender keeps changing according to the time and place For example middle-class girl may be limited to home or school while a tribal girl may roam around in the jungles freely. 

Every society prescribed different roles for both the gender as dresses in some societies. Women are made to cover their body from top to toe including their faces, while men are allowed to wear according to their comfort. Attributes in most society’s women are accepted to be soft, caring, and obedient while men are accepted to be strong. Another one is roles and responsibilities’ men are considered the head of the family all the decisions are controlled by him while women are trained to do household chores and look after the children. This shows the lack of education, employment.

Issues like language also gendered have been highlighted by the author. Language is patriarchal and reflects gender biases and inequalities as men can use the words they want but women are always advised to use soft words. For example words of abuse with sexual connotation mostly used by men but if women do the same then it is not considered good. Another example the words like a nurse, secretary, nursery teacher always assumed to be women whereas boss, pilot, manager, politician, etc refers to men.  It shows that public spaces and jobs continue to be dominated by men.

Bashin tries to cover patriarchy as an issue as its means male domination. Patriarchy is not the same everywhere it is different in every situation. For example, patriarchy was not the same in our grandmother’s time; it is different for tribal women and upper-caste Hindu women, for the women in the USA and women in India.  Women’s work never considers as worth because their work doesn’t count in the economic growth of the country so society mention it is worthless and it strengthens the modes of production and economic system in which women play very little roles. Therefore in reality it is women’s relationship to work and property which determines their status.

She points out that separation between private and public challenges the inequality and conflict within the household. The divide between the domestic and public sphere also creates a problem for women who take up jobs outside the home. Words like gender oppression and gender subordination. She explains that gender oppression does not mean women’s oppression; although because women are generally the ones who are subordinate, it is assumed that gender oppression and gender subordination refers to them. 

 The author tries to highlight the Developmental program leading to marginalization of women mostly major credit of agriculture field were given to males and little income activities like papad and pickle making, sewing allotted to female this is nothing but myths about masculine and feminine.

Male control over women’s reproduction and sexuality made for the world-historic defeat of the mother right. Further, the position of the middle-class women is much worse than that of working class women because middle-class women themselves are property; they are merely the carrier and producers of babies.

How “women and development” change into “gender and development” she discussed many factors under it like the difference between men and women’s achievement and participation are as a result of socially constructed gender role rather than of biological difference

A large number of women and men all over the world have made a different kind effort at different levels to change patriarchal thinking, attitude, structure, and organization some examples: – School curriculum has been analyzed and made more gender-sensitive, many laws are made, NGOs for help, etc.

 The author concludes the book by saying that gender equality requires each one of us, man and woman to look into ourselves and overcome our negative male and female qualities.

This book according to me is a good read for everyone; it is a perfect combination of reality and humor. The author has dealt with various sensitive issues like gender, patriarchy, to make understand people by giving examples and situations which can be relatable for many. Bashin leaves no stone unturned in making people understand the sensitivity of the issue and the most touching thing of this book which I feel it also talks about the pressure faced by men in our society. One thing which I felt was lacking is including the third gender (transgender) their problems and difficulties also can be talked about. This book tries to give a real picture of what happens in society.


Bashin, K. (2003). Understanding gender. New Delhi: Women Unlimited

Categories: Book Review