Essentialism is the belief that things have “true” or “real” essences, which define and distinguish them. Objects, humans, and social groups are believed to have core characteristics or properties that are crucial and intrinsic. Assumptions about “essence” can structure the way people perceive, make meaning of, and use language to represent the world. Essence is often posited as the underlying cause and explanation for differences that are observable in human social life. For example, differences between women and men, from an essentialist perspective, are derived from characteristics inherent within the two social groups that both define and distinguish them. The source of “essences,” as well as the degree to which core properties are viewed as unchanging and inalterable, varies across treatments.

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