"Gender," as an idea or concept "defines the feminist critical project." It is in the spirit of this project that Barbara Marshall undertakes a critical examination of gender as a constitutive category, not only in feminist social theory but also in recent political debates.
This brief book focuses on how the idea of gender has developed both in scholarship and in the public mind, for the notion of gender has, as the author notes, "taken up residence in the public consciousness, and become one of the lenses through which we seek to understand ourselves and our everyday lives, as well as to comprehend the public issues of the day." Gender has become a critical social fact but a fact (like all such facts) constantly reconstituted as those who fight the social issues through which it travels, adopt it for their own purpose.
Feminists have defined critiques of patriarchal society according to their understanding of gender divisions. In so doing, they have also critiqued more traditional liberal and Marxist theories for their blind spots with respect to gender. In turn, Western feminists have been challenged by a new and diverse range of voices that have entered the conversation more recently. Others have deployed the idea of gender to undermine feminist politics, rendering gender a pejorative term for those in dissident feminist, anti-feminist, or conservative circles.
Marshall also sets the politicization of gender in a larger context, examining the ways in which gender is continually reconstructed in global processes of economic and political change. She concludes with an attempt to reassess the status of gender as a key concept for both feminist and sociological analysis and suggests strategies for reconfiguring our understanding of gender in a more contextualized and pragmatic way.