Sunday, May 29, 2011

What is Gender?

What is Gender?

(In part inspired by:

So, this isn’t exactly an original topic. I know so little about this; I’ve only researched it a bit, and haven’t studied it at all. However, I think it’s a very interesting topic. Someone recently told me of the theory that sex (the noun, not the verb) is biological and gender is socially constructed. This had never occurred to me, but it immediately made sense.

Now, many girls are encouraged to wear blue and boys are given Barbies. Sure, the “traditional” gender roles still stick, but many parents of today don’t want their children to feel limited and inhibited by arbitrary societal constraints. Although many (most) fight for equality and equal opportunity of the sexes, there are myriad credible studies that find extreme trends with the sex of participants, and other psychological studies showing strong preferences and feelings associated with one of the sexes. I know that it’s not just stereotype.

Still, if one really goes back into thinking about girls and boys, when they are born, the only real difference between them is their body parts. That is sex of a person, the biological aspects of one’s body that typically identifies he/she as male or female.

The reason that men are often seen as more powerful than women is, in my opinion, often due to the antiquated views of the serious way back when, times that the woman was the nurturer and gatherer, and the husband was the hunter. He was given this job because it’s likely that he was more physically inclined to do so, as well as that the woman, as the one who birthed the children, was expected to care for them. In most developed countries, though, physical strength plays a minimal role in daily life. Yet, why is it that most boys feel drawn to pretending to hunt with Nerf guns whereas the girls pretend to mother Bitty Babies? How much of it is intrinsic? Could it be a social construct from thousands of years ago? Essentially, could nurture have become nature over time?

This might be so silly, and so invalid, but, as a child, most grouping has to do with gender/sex. When walking down the hallway, the kids are in two lines, male and female. But if sex is the only real concept present here, then why don’t they just get in two lines by hair color? Could our society progress that much? It seems so unsettling from the way things are now, but it could be remarkable. Imagine just being a person. Imagine just liking people, and we wouldn’t need to have the labels of sexual orientation we do now because people would just like people. It seems so pleasant, and it seems so right. We don’t need gender anymore for its practical reasons; our society is technologically developed beyond that. Sex in terms of biology will always be present, but doesn’t have to be prominent.


  1. Ah, yes. This subject is what makes a lot of feminists convert to the dark side. "I was a feminist in the 60s, but when gender studies said that gender is just a social construct, I SHOUTED ITS BIOLOGY. Feminists are stupid." Yes, sex is definitely biological (girls got her vajayjay, boys the weiner) but the term gender is misleading. I love that you can seperate them though cause of course what we consider what is "feminine" and what is "masculine" is usually deemed by society. Like Carl Jung, the psychologist said, we are all born with feminine and masculine personas, regardless of sex. I do believe that "gender", meaning the label of what a woman and a man should be, is a social construct. If you think about it, does wearing jeans or liking videogames mean you are a man? Or that wearing a skirt and liking pink means you are a girl? No.
    I found this interview VERY disturbing, especially since this crazy woman has no idea what feminism is and is putting words in the movements mouth. I had to rewind and replay the part where she said "ITS BIOLOGY!" at poor Michael Moore cause it was too hilarious.

  2. I totally agree with your last sentence, that is exactly one of the main problems when it comes to society and they're confusion between Sex and Gender. And I guess, it is not going to really change anytime soon, which is sad.

    Great post!

  3. You should read Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein. I think you'd really like it! You're like right on the edge of what Queer Theory is all about, which is breaking down barriers that say that sex and gender and sexuality are fixed... and they are not. It doesn't mean they aren't relevant, because people do experience them, but they're so highly constructed that once you start thinking about them it's very interesting. Even sex is socially constructed, like when doctors decide when a penis is too small to be a "normal" male or when a clitoris is too large to be a "normal" female and perform surgery on babies to make them have different genitalia. That's constructing sex!

  4. >Essentially, could nurture have become nature over time?<

    Wow--this is a fascinating concept. I do give more credence than many feminists to the concept of gender essentialism (I'm just careful whom I say this around, because in the wrong hands it quickly becomes "back to the kitchen, woman"), but had never considered this particular angle of it. We've evolved immensely quickly, after all, and this idea opens up interesting possibilities.

  5. @Cherokee- thanks! It might not change soon (enough), but I think it IS starting to change, which is super.

    @Liz- that's an interesting point. Thanks! I'll look into that book. I haven't read about queer theory very much, but am interested in it.

    @Autumn- I have no idea if that quote that I said and you restated is true... but it makes sense to me, and I'm glad you found it intriguing as well.