What is gender research?

Gender researchers study the impact of gender differences on resource distribution, power and opportunities, and how ideas about gender are shaped and manifested in culture and society.
Taking gender and gender differences into account is becoming increasingly important in the research sphere. (Photo: Clappstar/Flickr) (Foto: Clappstar/Flickr)

Gender research is a cross-disciplinary field that has developed mainly within the humanities and social sciences. Gender research is found both as a perspective within most academic disciplines and as a distinct discipline and subject area.

The roots of gender research

Gender research has its roots in women’s studies, which emerged in the 1970s.

Women’s studies as a research field developed alongside, and as a part of, the new international women’s movement, and sought to acquire knowledge about women’s history, living conditions and experiences.

A growing research field

Since then, the field’s focus, concepts and perspectives have evolved.

The research has gone from being a field with close ties to the women’s movement to a distinct and professionalised research area with its own theories, traditions and scientific debates.

Key questions within gender research

Gender research has a long tradition of questioning, exploring and exposing gendered stereotypes and norms that govern understandings of gender – in the medical sciences, social sciences and the humanities.  

The field also has a strong tradition in studies of how women and men have been interpreted historically in literature and culture – including in subjects such as biology and medicine. Herein lies an immanent criticism of science as such. Gender researchers generally use gender as their starting point for analysis, and focus on how gender, as well as the body and biology, are manifested in culture and society. Gender researchers often combine this with critical analysis of various power structures in culture and society.

Traditionally, gender researchers study societies, lives and experiences that are marginalised and have received little scholarly attention.

The field encompasses research on women and men, the feminine and the masculine, and the significance of sexuality. Multiple research fields come under the umbrella of gender research: traditional women’s studies research, men’s studies and masculinity research, and queer and sexuality research. 

Norway has a strong tradition in gender equality research. Research in this field often focus on power dynamics and gender balance in work life and politics. Moreover, work distribution within the family and the private sphere has been an important part of the research on gender equality. In recent years, scholars have also contributed to the development of gendered statistics for instance in the private business sector.

Current gender research is often positioned at the interface between gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and class. This is often referred to as research on intersectionality.

See also: The history of Norwegian equality

Research communities

There are separate gender research centres at most Norwegian universities and at a growing number of university colleges and research institutes.

Many universities and university colleges also offer courses in gender research.

There are a number of international scientific journals that focus primarily on gender research.

The Norwegian Journal of Gender Research (Tidsskrift for kjønnsforskning) is owned by Kilden genderresearch.no and published in cooperation with the publishing house Universitetsforlaget.

Research with gender perspectives

Many researchers incorporate gender as an important perspective in their research, although they do not necessarily call themselves gender researchers.

Research with gender perspectives is found in nearly all academic disciplines, including in natural sciences such as genetics, medicine and zoology.

In 2001, Norway introduced guidelines on the inclusion of women as subjects in medical research.

Both the EU’s research programme Horizon Europe and the Research Council of Norway’s policy on gender balance and gender perspectives in research and innovation require that all research projects should have a gender perspective when relevant. The requirement for gender perspectives in Horizon Europe has been strengthened since the previous EU research programme Horizon 2020.

In other words, taking gender into account is becoming increasingly important in the research sphere.

Read more about how to integrate the gender dimension in our book What is the gender dimension in research? Case studies in interdisciplinary research.

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This article was updated February 12, 2021. 

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