the keyword search
by Jason Lee
Keywords: gender-based health, gender binary, biological determinism, social reductionism, neoliberalism, health disparities, masculinity, femininity, structural inequalities
Over the past several decades, gender-based health has gained more attention among academics concerned with how dominant medical discourses have excluded women as well as gender/sexual minorities. Women’s health, in particular, emerged as a field to examine how biological, sex-based differences have contributed to health disparities that women experience. More recently, a growing body of clinical research has also gone beyond reproductive health and breast health to analyze how women and men have differential health outcomes even for “gender-neutral” parts of the body (Annandale and Hammarström 2011).
Expanding the scope of gender-based health, scholars also have focused on how men could also be subject to health disadvantages. Specifically, research in men’s health has underscored how gender-based health differences are not just biologically derived but also socially embedded in terms of masculinity. This shift aligns with how gender theory in Western countries has evolved to examine the social and relational dimensions of gender (Bottorff et al. 2011).
Although the integration of sex and gender into medical research is important in addressing how health inequities have risen due to gender-based inequalities, conflating sex and gender as well as focusing strictly on the gender binary reinforces biological determinism. Additionally, while recognizing the effects of masculinity and femininity on health-related behaviors is important in characterizing gender as a “social determinant of health,” assumptions made about such behaviors could also be a form of social reductionism (Annandale and Hammarström 2011).
In light of these shortcomings, this paper aims to critique neoliberal ideas that have centered on individualistic and deterministic views of gender and health while obscuring the effects of structural inequalities. Although recent studies have moved away from the gender binary to explore a wider range of gender and sexual identities (Restar et al. 2021, Reczek and Umberson 2012), there is also a need to also look beyond Euro-American discourses of gendered differences (Patil, 2013). Using a transnational framework, this paper will highlight how recognizing and understanding non-Western theorizations of gender and sexuality is key to further elucidate the relationship between gender and health from a decolonial perspective.
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