If you have ever sat the IELTS exam before, there is a good chance that you have had to use the word “gender” or talk about issues relating to men and women. This may come up in the reading or listening test, but it’s more likely that it will occur in speaking or writing.

In this article, I’m going to tell you all about IELTS and gender so that you can be totally prepared for any questions that come your way during the test. Some of the things that I will cover in this lesson are:

  1. What to expect from the test
  2. Vocabulary about gender
  3. Some examples of gender questions
  4. Some sample answers to questions

Alright, then. Let’s begin!

What does gender mean?

This is actually an increasingly complicated and controversial topic, but I will keep it simple and basic for now.

Pink Salmon Gender Icons Gender Equality Poster 212x300 - IELTS and Gender – What You Need to Know

The dictionary says that gender means:

either of the two sexes (male and female), especially when considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones. The term is also used more broadly to denote a range of identities that do not correspond to established ideas of male and female.

Basically, it is the issue of men and women (or boys and girls). As you can see, it is a topic that is truly worldwide and so it is something that anyone can talk about. Therefore, it could (and does) appear in the IELTS test regularly.

(Note: Gender studies is an area of academia that people think about more and more. There are lots of complex issues relating to biology, society, etc., but for IELTS you are not expected to know all of this. You just need to be aware of some basic things that I will explain to you.)

How would gender appear in IELTS?

As it is a common life issue that every human knows about, the topic of gender may appear in IELTS. It is a little abstract and requires some thought, so you would not often find it in easy parts of the test. It is more likely to occur in:

  • Speaking part 3
  • Writing task 1
  • Writing task 2

It may appear in the reading or listening tests, but it’s such a big and complicated topic that I don’t think you would be expected to know that much. Therefore, in this article I will focus on the speaking and writing test.

IELTS speaking test and the topic of gender

In the IELTS speaking test, there are three parts. The first is a short, easy interview sections with basic and often quite personal questions. The second is when you must talk for two minutes about a subject, and the third part is for more abstract, difficult questions.

To be honest, it is unlikely that you will be asked questions about gender for part one or two. If you did encounter a question about gender for part one, it would probably say something like:

Are there more male or female teachers in your country? Why?

This would be part of a series of questions about teachers (or education) and gender would just be one aspect. You might answer it like this:

Oh, there are definitely more female teachers nowadays. I think that fifty or a hundred years ago, there were more men, but now women have come to dominate the profession.

You see, there really isn’t that much to be said here. Even if you wanted to, you don’t need to go on at length. That is something you can save until part three.

IELTS speaking part 3 – questions about gender/sex

It is much more common that you would encounter these questions in part 3 of the test because these are abstract questions about issues such as:

  • Age
  • Ethics
  • Society
  • Gender
  • Changes over time
  • The best way to do something
  • Environment
  • Complex issues

In IELTS, questions are often picked from a set of topics. Common IELTS speaking topics include:

ielts writing topics 212x300 - IELTS and Gender – What You Need to Know
  • Art
  • Computers/technology
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Food/cooking
  • Health
  • Nature
  • Space
  • and many more

Let’s say we picked one of those topics: education. Then there may be questions that twist the topic of education according to some abstract ideas: education and gender, education and age, education and environment, education and society, etc.

Example questions

Here are a few sample IELTS speaking part 3 questions about gender:

Q: Do you think that women should be able to do the same sorts of jobs that men do?

A: I think that people should have equal opportunities regardless of gender. There are some things that maybe men are better at or women are better at, but ultimately everyone should be given the chance to prove whether or not they can do something, and this should not be limited by gender, race, religion, or any other such factor.

Q: Should more women be encouraged to work in male-dominated fields such as science and technology?

A: Yes, I think it’s important to let young girls know that they can pursue their interests and goals, then make sure that these pathways are open to them. I am against any sort of mandatory quotas for hiring people, but companies should be blind to gender when choosing employees because it is not a good way to predict whether or not someone will be competent or not.

Final note on gender and IELTS speaking

Remember that gender could actually be incorporated into the answer for almost any question. You could be asked about hobbies and then end up talking about gender roles and preferences. This is fine, as long as you are actually answering the question and not going off topic.

Gender in the IELTS writing test

For the writing test, the issue is largely the same. You will be asked a question that relates to an IELTS writing topic and then you will need to write an essay that answers it.

For this, you should be able to use some basic language relating to gender. You do not have to be an expert, but you should be able to master everyday language about men and women. You can find that in the next section (at the bottom of the page).

Here, however, I am going to show you three sample band 9 answers from task 2 of the IELTS writing test. I hope that you can read these in order to figure out some useful ideas and language. I wrote these essays for the students on my writing correction programme. Check it out if you are in need of assistance.

Sample Answer #1

Question

Some people think that men and women have different qualities. Therefore, some certain jobs are suitable for men and some jobs are suitable for women.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Answer

The subject of gender difference is highly controversial nowadays, particularly in regards abilities that would make a person suitable for different kinds of jobs. However, it seems clear that there are quite notable differences and that people may be more inclined to take different jobs due to their gender. This essay will argue that although equality is important, some people will naturally be more suitable for certain jobs.

Firstly, it is important to establish that men and women should be treated equally in terms of opportunities. Traditionally male jobs, such as fire fighter and doctor, should be open to qualified women, while traditionally female jobs, such as teacher and nurse, should be open to qualified men. It is undeniable that in almost any profession the most talented people can belong to either gender.

However, while a particularly strong woman could make an excellent fire fighter or a particularly sensitive man could be a wonderful kindergarten teacher, in general innate gender differences do mean that there will be more male fire fighters and more female kindergarten teachers. There are some qualities that are far more common in men and some that are far more common in women. These account for the reasons why certain genders prefer certain jobs or are better suited to them.

In conclusion, it is important that all jobs are open to both genders, but it seems hard to deny that there are certain jobs that are better suited to men or to women. It is important that equal opportunities are provided, but an imbalance will continue because of innate gender differences.

Sample Answer #2

Question

Nowadays, as women and men have to work full time, household duties should be equally divided.

Do you agree or disagree?

Answer

In the modern era, men and women have similar responsibilities and so it is only reasonable that household chores should also be divided equitably. This essay will argue in favour of equal responsibilities in the home.

In the past, gender roles were very different due to the innate abilities possessed by men and women. Men, who were stronger and faster gender, went out to hunt and work while the women typically stayed at home. After countless technological innovations, humans have developed to the point where strength, speed, and dexterity are no longer pre-requisites for entering the workforce; hence, women can do the same jobs that men can do. With this development, it is only reasonable that men take on some of the work that was previously assigned only to women.

It would be unfair if men were not made to make this change because the equitable division of labour is important. If a man and woman both work for ten hours, then it would be totally unreasonable to expect only one of them to come home and do several more hours of work in the house, so couples should find a way to ensure that they split their chores. If one person works more than the other, then they should agree to compensate for this at home. It is a basic sense of fairness and decency that makes such an arrangement the only logical way to cope with the situation.

In conclusion, men and women should share housework duties so that both people in a relationship are doing an approximately equal amount of work overall.

Sample Answer #3

Question

Universities should accept equal numbers of male and female students in every subject.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Answer

These days, the issue of gender equality attracts a lot of attention and people argue over how to deal with perceived inequalities in employment and education. Some think that universities should be required to accept equal numbers of male and female students in each subject, but this is a profoundly ignorant stance.

To begin with, for equality to flourish, people should always be chosen based upon their abilities rather than their identity. In education, as in sports or business, people with talent should be given opportunities. It is extremely unfair that someone is chosen because of their race or gender, despite having lower abilities than someone else. If universities were required to split their classes according to gender, there would almost certainly be a few talented people who were not able to attend because some less talented person of the opposite gender was picked instead. This is unfair for the students and detrimental for society.

The fact is that the two genders do have somewhat different preferences and abilities in terms of academic subjects, and while equality of opportunity should exist, it cannot be forced upon people or else it will come at the expense of some others. In teaching, for example, university classes are usually about eighty percent female. If a university was forced to have fifty percent from each gender, there would be a large number of eager young women who could not attend their desired course. This is true in the STEM courses, too, but the opposite way around. If you forced a university to accept more women, then talented men would be declined.

In conclusion, the idea of forcing educational institutions to accept equal numbers of students from either gender is patently absurd. It may sound fair, but it is actually very unfair on the students, and would have negative ramifications for society as a whole.

Other language practice

I said earlier that it is less likely that gender will be an issue in the listening or reading tests. Well, it still might arise, so you should be prepared. You should also make time to study these issues so that you have the right language to use in speaking and writing.

Here is an interesting TED talk about gender.

Here is an excerpt from 04:50:

Now there’s something else that we’ve discovered about social media that’s actually quite surprising. It turns out that women are really driving the social media revolution. If you look at the statistics — these are worldwide statistics — in every single age category, women actually outnumber men in their use of social networking technologies. And then if you look at the amount of time that they spend on these sites, they truly dominate the social media space, which is a space that’s having a huge impact on old media. The question is: what sort of impact is this going to have on our culture, and what’s it going to mean for women? If the case is that social media is dominating old media and women are dominating social media, then does that mean that women are going to take over global media? Are we suddenly going to see a lot more female characters in cartoons and in games and on TV shows? Will the next big-budget blockbuster movies actually be chick flicks? Could this be possible, that suddenly our media landscape will become a feminist landscape?

She raises some interesting ideas and questions, and you should listen to her talk in order to pick up some of the language that she uses, which may be helpful in your IELTS preparation.

Gender/Sex Vocabulary for IELTS

Finally, let’s look at some language. In that passage above, you can see references to “women” and “female,” which are terms you absolutely must know. However, we are going to go a little further than that here.

Let’s look into some gender-related words and phrases that might help you prepare for IELTS:

WordMeaningExample
glass ceilingan unacknowledged barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities.“Her career was a tremendous success; she smashed through the glass ceiling.”
patriarchy/patriarchala system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is reckoned through the male line.“She felt that every woman had a due to fight against patriarchal values.”
gender fluidnot having a defined gender (ie not being male or female)“These days, many young people identify as gender fluid.”
equal opportunitiesthe right to be treated without discrimination, especially on the grounds of one’s sex, race, or age“The sign of a developed country is having comprehensive equal opportunities enshrined in law.”

Don’t forget, also, that in English we have some words that change according to gender, like these ones:

MaleNeutralFemale
BusinessmanBusinesspersonBusinesswoman
SpokesmanSpokespersonSpokesman
Waiter Waitress
Actor Actress
KingMonarchQueen
BoyChildGirl
FiancéProspective spouseFiancée
HusbandSpouseWife
BoyfriendPartnerGirlfriend

If you are talking about people in general, try to use the neutral term, like “sportsperson,” “firefighter,” and so on. There are many instances where language is gendered for animals (think “bull” vs “cow”; “rooster” vs “chicken” etc) but this is not at all important for IELTS.

Finally, the difference between “gender” and “sex.” These words are often used interchangeably, but they do have a subtle difference that some people like to talk about a lot, but which is probably not important for the majority of people.

The word “sex” can also refer to sexual intercourse, but contextually you can tell the difference. Also, in IELTS they would never ask you about sex in that sense. They are culturally sensitive in that respect.

Sex and English Grammar

Gender refers to whether someone is a man or a woman, but it relates more to the social/cultural constructs than actual biology. On the other hand, sex means whether someone is biologically man or woman. A doctor might ask a pregnant mother, “Do you want to know the sex of the baby?” but they cannot ask “Do you want to know the gender of the baby?”

You may have noticed one thing there. I said “doctor” and then “they.”

Is this right or wrong?

It’s right! We can use “they” for the third-person singular form when we do not know or do not want to say whether someone is male or female. For example, in that sentence, I said “a doctor” but I did not tell you whether this doctor was male or female. It is sexist to assume that they are one or the other. Therefore, I said “they” as a replacement for he/she.

This is becoming more common in English and some people dislike it, but it’s been around for a long time. If you want to speak correct, modern English, then you should pay attention to this sort of change.