Many people think that the difference between gender and sexuality reflect innate differences between men and women. I believed however, that these two concepts are more a creation of society than biology. To begin, I shall discuss the key concepts of sexuality and gender. The failure to define basic terms precisely has created much of the confusion over the concepts of gender and sexuality. Hence, we must establish a clear meaning for each term.
From birth until death, human feelings, thoughts, and actions reflect social definitions of the sexes. Children quickly learn that their society defines females and males as different kinds of human beings and, by about the age of three or four, they begin to apply gender standards to themselves (Kohlberg cited in Lengermann & Wallace, 2005). Sociologists define gender as the significance a society attaches to biological categories of female and male which we often refer as sex (Weeks,2006).
Thus, sex is a biological distinction that develops prior to birth while gender are the human traits linked by culture to each sex that guides how females and males think about themselves, how they interact with others, and what positions they occupy in society as a whole. Hence, gender is not synonymous with sex; as “scholars use the word sex to refer to attributes of men and women created by their biological characteristics and gender to refer to the distinctive qualities of men and women (or masculinity and femininity) that are culturally created” (Epstein, 1998).
Sexuality on the other hand, covers gender identity, sexual orientation, and actual practices, as well as one’s acceptance of these aspects of one’s personality, which may be more important than their specifics (Beasley, 2005). By gender identity we mean “an individual’s own feeling of whether she or he is a woman or a man, or a girl or a boy” (Kessler and McKenna, 1998). Sexual orientation is the manner in which people experience sexual arousal and achieve sexual pleasure. For most living things, sexuality is biologically programmed.
In humans, however, sexual orientation is bound up in the complex web of cultural attitudes and rules. A well known psychologist, Sigmund Freud (1985) assumed that “biology is destiny” and that children learn their gender by observing whether they have a penis or a vagina. But modern science has shown that the situation is somewhat more complicated. The development of gender identity occurs during a critical period of every child’s socialization. There is a time before which the child is too young to have a gender identity and after which “whatever gender identity has developed cannot be changed” (Kessler and McKenna, 2002).
Most of the evidence in support of this conclusion comes from studies of children who were assigned to the wrong gender in infancy. In all cases in which adults attempt to change the child’s gender identity after the age of three, “the individual either retains her/his original gender identity or becomes extremely confused and ambivalent” (Kimmel, 2000). Gender and sexuality guides how females and males think about themselves. It is evident throughout the social world, shaping how we think about ourselves, guiding our interaction with others, and influencing our work and family life (Adams, & Savran, 2002).
Gender is at work in our society’s expectations for us as well as our aspirations for ourselves. Different and unequal sex roles have long been a part of Western culture. In the United States and most other western countries, social positions involving leadership, power, decision making, and interacting with the larger world have traditionally gone to men. Positions centering around dependency, family concerns, child care, and self-adornment have traditionally gone to women. Further, these unequal sex roles mean that men and women are expected to behave differently in a number of situations (Lorber, 2000).
Gender and sexuality deals not only with difference but also with power. Gender and sexuality affects who makes decisions in families as well as in politics, it shapes patterns of income, and it influences who gains opportunities in the workplace. Like class, race, and ethnicity, therefore, gender and sexuality is a major dimension of social inequality (Lorber, 2000). This inequality, which has historically favored males, is no simple matter of biological differences between the two sexes. Males and females do differ biologically, of course, but these variations are complex and inconsistent.
Nevertheless, the deeply rooted cultural notion of male superiority may seem so natural that we assume it is the inevitable consequence of sex itself. Hence, many societies have yet to fully eliminate either distinct sex roles or gender inequality. Thus, as was stated earlier, gender roles, as they exist in the United Kingdom and many other nations, are not just different; they are also unequal. Whether you consider power, income, occupational status, research, and even access to health and quality of health care, men in the United Kingdom are an advantaged group compared to women
People may assume that gender and sexuality simply reflects biological differences between females and males. But there is no “superior sex. ” Beyond the primary and secondary sex characteristics, men have more muscle in the arms and shoulders, and the average man can lift more weight than the average woman can. Furthermore, the typical man has greater strength over short periods of time. Yet, women do better than men in some tests of long-term endurance because they can draw on the energy derived from grater body fat.
Women also outperform men in life itself as the average life expectancy for males is 72. years, while females can expect to live 79. 0 years (Alsop, Fitzsimons & Lennon, 2002). Moreover, researchers have found that adolescent males exhibit greater mathematical ability, while adolescent females outperform males in verbal skills. But there is no difference in overall intelligence between females and males (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1994; Baker et al. , 1990; Lengermann & Wallace, 2005). When scholars ask why people are treated differently because of their gender or sexuality, biological explanations often come up first.
To a causal observer it seems obvious that men are stronger than women and are less tied to the home because they do not bear children. We need only to accept this simple biological truth to understand why societies assign different roles to women (Beasley,1999). Thus, sociologist Desmond Morris (1986) argued that gender and sexuality developed early in human evolution, when apes began hunting. “The females were busy rearing the young to be able too play major roles in chasing and catching prey,” he wrote. They maintained the home base, where the young were reared and the gains of the hunt shared.
Once this division of labor was established, it was maintained throughout human evolution. These biological arguments often anger sociologists, who, as noted earlier, have found that gender and sexuality are culturally conditioned rather than biologically determined. For example, the British sociologist Ann Oakley (1994) contends that attempts to explain gender stratification on the basis of analogies to nonhuman societies are fallacious. Worse still, they are used to justify a view of women in which their confinement to domestic roles is validated by “an image of Mrs. Pregnant-or- Nursing Ape, waiting gratefully with a cooking pot in her hand for the return of Mr. Hunting Ape with this spoil.
Mr. Hunting Ape then kept the home fires burning,” just as women are expected or encouraged to do today, long after such a division of roles has ceased to be necessary. In a thorough review of both biological and sociological evidence on differences between the sexes, neurophysiologist Ruth Bleier (1994) evaluated research on the question of whether women’s hormones establish brain functions that make them more emotional than men, or more intuitive, or less aggressive, or less skilled at mathematics.
Even though many biologists and some sociologists suggest that there are clear differences between the sexes in these traits. Bleier found that “whatever characteristic is being measured, the range of variation is far greater among males or among females than between the two sexes. ” For example, the difference between tennis champion Martina Navratilova and the average woman playing tennis at the country club is much greater than the difference between most male and female tennis players.
Biologically, then, females and males have limited differences, with neither sex naturally superior. Nevertheless, the deep-rooted cultural notion of male superiority may seem so natural that we assume it proceeds inevitably from sex itself. But society, much more than biology is at work here, as the global variability of gender attests. Neurophysiologists and other medical researchers often draw sociological conclusions from their findings.
They begin by seeking evidence to challenge or support biological hypotheses and end by pointing to such factors as culture, role behavior, and socialization as the most persuasive explanations for gender and sexuality differences. Further, researchers investigating the roots of gender and sexuality were drawn to collective settlements in Israel called kibbutzim. The kibbutz (the singular form) is important for gender and sexuality research because its members historically have embraced social equality, with men and women sharing in both work and decision making.
There, people have deliberately organized themselves to give females and males comparable social standing. In the kibbutz, both sexes perform a range of work including child care, building repair, cooking, and cleaning. Boys and girls are raised in the same way and, from the first weeks of life, live in dormitories under the care of specially trained personnel. To members of kibbutzim, then, gender and sexuality is defined as irrelevant to much of everyday life. But here, again, we find reason for caution about completely discounting any biological forces.
Some observers note that women in the kibbutzim have resisted spending much of the day away from their own children; more generally, many of these collections have returned to more traditional social roles over the years. But even if this is so-and this research has its critics-the kibbutzim certainly stand as evidence of wide cultural latitude in defining what is feminine and masculine. They also exemplify how, through conscious efforts, a society can pursue sexual equality just as it can encourage the domination of one sex by the other.
Hence, sociologists wonder if subtle but persistent biological dispositions may undermine efforts at gender equality (Tiger & Shepher, 2005). Even if this were so, the kibbutzim clearly show that cultures have wide latitude in defining what is feminine and masculine. They also exemplify how, through conscious efforts, a society can promote sexual equality. Another way to determine whether gender and sexuality reflect social constructs or biological givens is to take a global view of how the two sexes interact in many societies.
To the extent that gender reflects the biological facts of sex, the human traits defined as feminine and masculine should be the same everywhere; to the extent that gender is cultural, these conceptions should vary (Brod & Kaufman, 2004). The best-known research of this kind is a classic study of gender in three societies of New Guinea by anthropologist Margaret Mead. Trekking high into the mountains of New Guinea, Mead observed men and women of the Arapesh, with remarkably similar attitudes and behavior.
Both sexes, she reported, were cooperative and sensitive to others – in short, what our culture would term “feminine. ” Moving south, Mead then studied the Mundugumor, who found females and males to be alike; however, the Mundugumor culture of head hunting and cannibalism stood in striking contrasts to the gentle ways of the Arapesh. Both sexes were typically selfish and aggressive, traits we define as more “masculine. ” Finally, traveling west to observe the Tchambuli, Mead discovered a culture that, like our own, defined females and males differently.
Yet the Tchambuli reversed many of our notions of gender, raising females to be dominant and rational, while males were taught to be submissive, emotional, and nurturing toward children. From this comparison , Mead concluded, first , that culture determines the extent to which the sexes differ and, second , what one culture defines as masculine may be considered feminine by the other . Further she noted that societies can exaggerate or minimize social distinctions based on sex. Meads research, therefore, supports the conclusion that gender is a variable creation of society.