The Concepts of Sex and Gender

Ann Oakley defines ‘sex’ as visible biological differences between males and females. Gender however is a matter of psychological, cultural and social classifications of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. Let us consider the conception of sex as given by biologists, for them it has a dual meaning- firstly the differences between individuals and secondly the type of behavior that begins sexual reproduction. In purely genetic terms, a person with XY chromosome will be called a male and one with XX chromosome, female. Also the production of hormones lead to sexual distinction, we find a preponderance of female sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone in normal women and that of testosterone and androgens in normal men. On reaching puberty the effect of these respective hormones becomes more pronounced. Also in terms of somatype (body physique) there are certain sex differences which are visible and accepted as standard in our society. By examples of certain communities in Nigeria (malnutrition cases), American, Western and European groups we can show that there seems to be an interplay of biology with cultural contexts, of the sex-determining chromosomes on the secondary-sex characteristics.

There is another category of proven differences that is death, especially suicide which is linked either to mental illness or social situation. Elucidating on the aspect of gender, an everyday observation of society is sufficient to prove the gender-based differences. The stereotypical characteristics associated with males are aggression, fortitude and have the ability to control and manipulate the external environment. Women on the other hand are more sensitive and perceptive in their relationships, domesticated and emotionally liable. This reveals that biology alone cannot be accounted for the differences arising in the personalities of men and women. But Margaret Meed also describes certain societies that do not follow the traditional notions of masculinity and femininity. For instance the New Guinean Tribe of Arapesh has adult males showing gentle passivity, cherishing nature resembling the ‘females’ in our culture. Many anthropologists believe that there is a certain degree of coherence between the adult attitudes towards life and the techniques used in the upbringing of the particular individual. The ”social conditioning” of a child irrespective of his/her sex plays an important role in the formulation of his/her gender identity in his/her mind. A cross-cultural social survey conducted by Barry, Bacon and Child of 110 societies based on ethnographic literature, found considerable differences in the socialization of male and female children- boys were taught to be self-reliant whereas girls were trained to be subservient. More importantly, the differences of behavior between men and women inextricably link them to different ‘social roles’ and the division of labor in society. For instance the roles of the home-maker, the reader of children, the nurse are linked to women and the roles of the bread-earner, the rogue or the criminal are linked with men.

Connecting the argument to psychoanalysis, the verbal and aesthetic abilities of the two sexes also differ invariably as the intellectual and emotional quotient of males and females is not the same. The sex-gender debate has been continuing for centuries now and the aura of ‘naturalness’ that surrounds gender differentiation in modern society comes to us not as a biological necessity but simply from the beliefs people hold about it, that there are inborn differences between sexes, that differentiation increases social efficiency and that differentiation is a natural law. Because of this rationale of a society organized around sex based differences is never made clear and the idea of a society based on liberation from conventional gender roles is impossibility. Gender is a dynamic concept, it various across race, class, age, economic circumstances, culture and the like. Adjustment on the different implications. According to Robert Stoller is the ”amount of subjective maleness or femaleness of a person”. Susan Bason theorizes on the concepts of social roles and gender evaluations. The anatomical dichotomy and the societal transmissions of the yin (male) and yan (female) constitute gaps in the present day society. The sheer variability of the relations of men and women across social groups presents itself as an evidence against this crude biologically determinist view. The social constructions of gender, the idea that ‘anatomy is not destiny’ is also questioned and subverted by Simon de Beauvoir in her phenomenal work ‘the second sex’. The functionalist notions of sex roles were a precursor to the complementary relations between those from mars and those from Venus. The distinction is not treated as an ambiguous sociological concept. Judith butler argues using the linguistic notions of performativity; masculinity and femininity are established in a normative and regulative manner. These theoretical attempts help us draw a consensus between the two highly-charged critical parameters and make us realize that these regimes permeate into all aspects of society and cannot be analyzed in isolation. The stratification and classification of sex and gender inevitably intersects to form complex social configurations which cannot be exhaustibly discussed.

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