In their 1987 article "Doing Gender" sociologists Candace West and Don H.Zimmermann first introduced their notion of gender not as a trait, a social role or a societal representation, but rather as an accomplishment- the product of daily social practices and behaviors which codify and manifest femininity of masculinity. This product is the result of social structures and it in itself serves to reinforce them. The "doing" of gender legitimizes social structures and therefore establishes the male/female dichotomy as natural.
Traditional gender perceptions view man and woman as natural and unequivocal categories. These allegedly principal differences between sexes are supported by the division of labor and are characterized by female and male behaviors, which have deep psychological and social implications.
In "doing gender" West and Zimmerman refute the classic distinction between the social constructed "gender" as opposed to the biological "sex". Instead they argue for a more complex relations between social and physical features.
West and Zimmerman's definition of gender is a sociological one which relies on codes and conventions that are at the foundation of everyday activities. "doing gender" means to perform complex societal activities of perception, interaction and of micropolitics which define certain activities and pursuits and either masculine or feminine.
West and Zimmerman argue that gender is a series of traits nor a "role", but rather something which is performed, something which is "done" (hence "doing gender") in a continuing and context-related manner. Gender is established by mean of interaction and is displayed through it, and while appearing as "natural" it is in fact something which is created by an organized social performance.
In viewing gender as an accomplishment, its essence is diverted for intrinsic traits and features to something which is dependent on social interactions and contexts. Gender is also a result of institutionalized functions of society – indeed individuals are the one that are "doing gender", but they do it in the real or imagined presence of others.
In "doing gender" west and Zimmerman replace that traditional sex/gender distinction with a triadic division of 3 concepts:
Sex: a determination which is founded on conventional biological criterions for distinguishing male from female.
Sex category: a categorization which is founded on socially required identificatory displays that assert one's masculinity of femininity. Sex categories suppose sex but are not necessarily determined by it.
Gender: a reaction and result of an action in certain situations, as determined by conventional and normative expectations regarding one's assignment of sex category.
Doing gender in this sense is acting in a manner which promotes assignment to one of the sex categories, under the supervision of others. Doing gender is a socially required practice, and therefore we cannot "not do gender", our assigned sex category is imposed on us and is perceived as essential, we can comply with is or rebel against it, but in either case we are always, West and Zimmerman argue, "doing gender".