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Interdisciplinary Conversations: Gender Categorizing: The making of (in)equality

Date: October 26th 2017

Time: 13:00 - 17:00 (including drinks)

Location: Brasserie A.00.09

Please register


During this research seminar we aim to share our perspectives related to processes of gendered categorizing. Categorizing is the process of making differences between people, between identities, functions and activities, competences and behaviours. Categories are always created, even when treated as if they were neutral, natural or universal. Such categorizations for people refer to gender, and to other existing (historically rooted) social groups (based on age, religion, ethnicity, nationality/migrant status, class, sexual orientation, marital/family status, and/or disability).uring this seminar we aim to share different disciplinary perspectives on research of forms of categorizing in society that are gendered (linked to the distinctions between men and women, masculinity and femininity), in all their intersectional forms. We will discuss how gendered categories come about, how they gather or loose definitional power, and what the impact of these processes is on gender (in)equality. Questions we will address are:

  • Which concepts do you use to study processes of categorization?
  • What are the main questions in your field in relation to gendered categorizing?
  • What are the methodologies to study the process of categorizing in your field?


Short presentations (15 minutes) of faculty members from different disciplines will be held. Confirmed speakers are: Prof.dr. Geertje Mak (history), Prof.dr. Yvonne Benschop (business administration), dr. Laura Dobusch (sociology/gender & diversity), Prof.dr. Sabine Oertelt-Prigione (medical sciences).

Geertje Mak

Sex Neutrality? A historical reflection on doubtful, intermediate, third and neutral sexes.

Transgenders have become increasingly visible in Dutch media over the recent decade. One of the issues is gender-categorization. Some trans* people have started to resist the gender binary and ask for, for example, gender neutral toilets or the removal of gender-registration in passports. The recent heated response to the Dutch retailer Hema’s decision to un-gender children clothes shows the deep impact of such initiatives in Dutch society. This contribution will take a long-term perspective on different kinds of earlier gender categories beyond male and female to argue that ‘third’ categories of gender may not function as critical of the gender binary as they seem to be at first sight.

Marijke Sniekers

Constructing young mothers as vulnerable

Young mothers are often under scrutiny of social workers, government workers and policy makers, because young motherhood is considered problematic and morally wrong. Categories in constructions of young mothers as vulnerable are usually age, class, family status, occupation and ethnicity. My ethnographic study among young mothers explores emic perceptions of young motherhood as well as social work practices that challenge and reinforce norms and structures related to being young, mothering and economic independence.

Yvonne Benschop

How diversity networks confirm and reaffirm categories and therefore cannot deal with differences that go beyond or over fixed categories.

Laura Dobusch

Disability related categorization is persistently linked to binary and naturalized key assumptions and can result in particularly stigmatizing effects. However, by applying a disability studies lens the presentation shows that categorizing as disabled or non-disabled does not only change over time and depending on context, but also that disability is a very fragile and versatile category as such. By looking at the relationship between disability and impairment, analogies with the sex/gender difference shall be discussed.

Sabine Oertelt-Prigione

The challenge of operationalizing gender in medicine

Medicine is binary in its concepts and work practices. As physicians we are trained to divide our work decisions into do’s and don’ts. We rely on flowcharts that go one way are the other. We either offer medication or surgery, we either chose a certain type of medication or not, you either obtain a certain type of care or not. Our decision parameters are mostly based on cut-offs obtained from standardized populations.

In a world where binary workflows are the standard a concept like “sex”, as in the biological XX / XY distinction, fits well but a “fluid” concept like gender is challenging to present, implement and analyze. Some initial attempts have been made to operationalize “gender” for medicine, but these are neither exhaustive nor final. An interdisciplinary discussion is warranted to come up with transferrable concepts.