The concepts of sex and gender have traditionally been used interchangeably to demarcate between the identity of the male and the female. However, there are significant differences between the two concepts. Sex as a concept is based based on the perceived material or physiological difference between the male and female bodies, particularly on the anatomy and functions related to the reproductive organs. (Frayser & Whitby, 1995, p. 173) Meanwhile, gender refers to the social construct of femininity and masculinity ascribed to the ascribed to the reproductive roles which is reinforced through social norms and expectations.
(Ibid. ) Arguably, the notions of sex and gender play an important role in the formation of sexual behavior and gender identity particularly in Western societies. Judith Butler, a known feminist, argues that “sexual difference is often invoked as an issue of material difference,” (p. 235) which becomes the basis for the social construction of the concept of gender and gender roles in terms of the social, political, and economic functions of the male and female.
The role of sex and gender constructs is evident in the child-rearing practices of most Western societies wherein children are socialized into their gender roles based on their sexual identity as being male or female. At an early age, children learn about appropriate sexual behavior through their parents and other adults, who teach them the prevailing gender norms and social expectations Children and adults who do not conform to what is expected of them in terms of their sexual and gender identity, are socially stigmatized through various labels of deviance.
As adults, men and women are expected to take on different forms of employment or to engage in differing sexual behavior. Since men are thought to be physically stronger and more intellectually adept, they are often encouraged to be more involved in the social and political spheres. Meanwhile, the perception that women are weaker and more emotional, along with their child-bearing responsibilities, has relegated them into domestic affairs or employment that is related with their supposedly feminine nature such as teaching or nursing.
Thus, sex and gender roles influence the way that an individual constructs his or her identity and perceives his or her function in society. By identifying in either the male or female role, the individual develops and internalizes his or her gender roles based on socially accepted norms and standards of behavior.
Butler, Judith (1999). Bodies that Matter. In Janet Price & Margrit Shildrick (Eds. ), Feminist Theory and the Body: A Reader (pp. 235-245). U. S. A: Taylor and Francis. Frayser, Suzanne G. & Thomas J. Whitby (1995). Studies in Human Sexuality: A Selected Guide. U. S. A: Libraries Unlimited.
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