Sex And Gender Essay, Research Paper
Sex is a word that refers to the biological differences between male and female: the visible difference in genitalia, the related difference in procreative function. ‘Gender’ however is a matter of culture: it refers to social classification into ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ (Oakley, 1972: 16)
The main reason that we need to distinguish between ’sex and gender’ is because many differences between and males and females are not biological in origin. But the need to distinguish between ’sex’ and ‘gender’ has become more apparent in today’s society, because of the increased number of people who choose to live their lives as members of the opposite sex. This has caused people to rethink some of their theories on ’sex’ and ‘gender’. It uses to be thought “That people are male or female can usually be judged by referring to biological evidence. That they are masculine or feminine cannot be judged in the same way: the criteria are cultural differing with time and place. The constancy of sex must be admitted, but so must also the variability of gender” (Oakley, 1972: 16). But now of course you can change those biological characteristics that distinguish what sex you are. So sex is no longer the constant state that it use to be, so now ’sex’ and ‘gender’ are both variables and that has to be taken into account when looking at distinguishing between the two. It is argued that you are born a certain sex, but you learn a certain gender. Although sex strongly influences gender, if you are a male you will probably act in a masculine way, and if you are a female you will probably act in a feminine way. One of the big arguments is because you are born male does that make you behave in a masculine way? Or is it the way you are treated being a male that makes you behave in a masculine way? And same goes for females and femininity. There are people who believe we can’t separate ’sex’ from ‘gender’ and that they are one in the same. In this essay I’ll look at the arguments for distinguishing between the concepts of ’sex’ and ‘gender’ as well as arguments for there to be no to be no distinctions.
The main argument for distinguishing between ’sex’ and ‘gender’ is as was stated earlier that many differences between males and females are not biological in origin. There are also psychological, social and cultural differences. Therefore distinguishing between men and women on a purely biological basis fails to take account of these differences.
The distinction between ’sex’ and ‘gender’ has been extremely useful both politically and theoretically. It allowed the development of thinking that stressed the social rather than biological determinants of a wide range of behaviours and enabled an oppositional stance to biologisms that attempted to tie women to subordinate positions on account of a largely immutable biology. The influence of the distinction has been extensive. It was frequently (and rightly) heralded as having made a profound contribution to feminist thinking and to have placed a powerful argument in the hands of a generation of women.
Feminism is strongly behind separating ’sex’ from ‘gender’ and examining them separately. Because this way they can set a side the differences in biology between men and women and concentrate on the differences in gender. The gender differences between the males and females are normally described in two ways masculine and feminine. Males are expected too show masculine characteristics e.g. fighting, playing sports and hiding emotions. While females are expected too show feminine characteristics e.g. playing with dolls, playing house and expressing emotion. While these are very stereotypic ideas, they are what are normally associated with masculinity and femininity. Feminists argue that a part from there biological differences at birth males and females are the same and that it is only through the way they are brought up that they establish there gender. So women are equal too men, there only differences are the cause of learned behaviour. ‘The distinction between sex and gender, an important step in the understanding of women’s position, is now widely used and accepted both within and beyond the feminist literature.’ (Barrett, 1980: 42)
In today’s society a lot more people are choosing not to follow the stereotypic gender rolls. More people are deciding they would rather act in a different way to what society tells them they should act. Some males feel they would rather have feminine traits than the masculine ones society says they should have. While some females are adopting masculine traits. This is why there is a need to differentiate between ’sex’ and ‘gender’ because now both seem to be changeable, and just because ones changing does not mean the other is. So with males becoming feminine, or females becoming masculine or even males or females changing their biological sex, there is now a lot of changes going on in society and too fully comprehend them we need two distinguish between ’sex’ and ‘gender’.
There are also arguments for ’sex’ and ‘gender’ to be considered together and not separated, that they are one in the same and that they don’t exist independently. It is argued by some that the sociological distinction between ’sex’ and ‘gender’ has been
paradigmatic for twenty years and is still taken for granted within the discipline. However it is a distinction that will no longer serve. Doubts about its continued usefulness surfaced as a result of a variety of influences. This argument focuses on specifically the history of sex and to recent work in genetics in order to demonstrate that sex, like gender is a discursive construction. And that the sex/gender problematic is wrong to assume biological differences are naturally given and that sex cannot operate as a natural base in a theory of difference.
The sex/gender distinction is a theory of natural difference. It states that (some of) the differences between the sexes are naturally given in the facts of human biology. Attendant upon these natural differences, in a variety of relationships to the biological facts depending on the point of view advanced, are cultural differences. The former set of differences are to be referred to as ’sex’ and the latter as ‘gender’. The foundation of this claim is that a distinction may be made between these two realms: the cultural and the biological. Which some argue is impossible and that is why they believe you can’t separate ’sex’ and ‘gender’. They also believe that the sex/gender distinction dramatically advanced understanding in an under-theorised area and, for over twenty years, it has provided a problematic which enabled a rich stream of studies to be undertaken. But it is now time to think beyond its confines. To undertake such thinking is not to ignore the importance of human bodies but it does involve some critical inquiry into the integrity of the concept of gender itself.
Looking at both the arguments for distinguishing between ’sex’ and ‘gender’ and for keeping them together, both have good ideas and make sense. But neither are conclusive so it is hard to make a conclusion.