You probably already know what sex is (and no, not that kind of sex !): the classification of a person (or plant or animal) based on whether their anatomy and chromosomes are what we identify or classify as male or female, from a biological and physiological perspective. What, when you were born, brought a doctor or midwife to holler out, “It’s a Girl!” or “It’s a Boy!” as if that were somehow the most important thing there was to know about you.
It’s typically assumed that sex and gender are the same thing. They’re not.
What the heck is gender? Gender isn’t about biology or science. It is a man-made set of concepts and ideas about how men and women are supposed to look, act, relate and interrelate, based on their sex. Gender isn’t anatomical: it’s intellectual, psychological and social (and even optional); about identity, roles and status based on ideas about sex and what it means to different people and groups. As part of that set of concepts is also the idea — even though we know by now it’s flawed — that gender is only male or female in the first place. Like sex, gender is often presented as binary: as being only one thing or the other, without any overlap or grey area in between. When we talk about sex, we’re talking about what is male and what is female based on chromosomes and/or reproductive systems: when we talk about gender, we’re talking about what is considered masculine and what feminine. If our doctors or midwives were to call out our gender at birth, rather than our sex, they would instead be shouting “High heels!” or “Sneakers!”
Making sense of gender – and the roles and status based on gender — can sure get complicated, especially because of what a big deal gender is in our world, how it effects everyone’s relationships and personal identity, and how varied – yet pervasive – ideas about gender can be.
Say “female” or “feminine” and a given group of people are likely to define that pretty similarly, in terms of appearance and behavior, just as they would if you said “male” or “masculine,” despite the fact that those things differ with incredible variance globally and individually. In many ways, the spectrum of gender is much like the spectrum of sexual orientation. Very few people are at the outer edges of the spectrum of what is traditionally or currently defined as “male” and “female” — most of us are somewhere in the middle, with a variety of qualities in terms of our appearance, emotions, behaviors, interests, goals and strengths. Whether we live in one area or another, go to this country or that one, live in this or that period of history, have this set of rights or that, or identify ourselves this way or that way, our chromosomes under a microscope, or our genitals and reproductive systems, will always look the same.
Gender is someone deciding that we’re masculine or feminine – or gendernormative: “normal” for what our sex is — not based on what’s between our legs, but based on how we dress, what our job is or interests are, or even based on what our favorite colors are. Ideally, someone deciding what gender we are would be about what gender we tell them we are and identify as yourselves. but for the most part, we don’t frequently live in that world yet.
It’d be tough to find someone who hasn’t been exposed to gender roles and status. Maybe growing up you heard that “real” boys weren’t supposed to play with dolls or “good” girls weren’t supposed to sit without crossing their legs. Maybe you’ve experienced how much emphasis is put on how women look or on how much money men make. You may have gotten the message that only weak men cry or only hysterical women yell, that women are “natural” caretakers and men are “natural” providers or fighters. Perhaps you’ve heard snide remarks about male nurses or female construction workers. In your family or community, there may be certain duties assumed and assigned for members of your household based only on gender. In the media, you may notice that women are often presented and marketed to as being concerned primarily with romance, family and appearance, men with sex, money and sports. Those are all about gender roles.
When it comes to sexual behavior, expectations, relationships, gender roles, status and identity often have a starring role. Many people decide who they will and will not date or sexually partner with based on gender as well as sex. Often, “feminine” men are often assumed to be gay, “macho” men assumed to be heterosexual; “masculine” women are often assumed to be lesbian, and “femme” women heterosexual, even though none of those assumptions may be correct. Sex and gender are required components of the concept of sexual orientation: what sex and gender we are or identify with, and what the sex(es) or gender(s) of those we are sexually and romantically attracted to may be.
It’s not exactly accurate to say you can pick your gender roles and status. You may be able to in your own home, or in a given relationship or community, but out and about in the world we don’t always get a whole lot of choice. How we appear and what our gender is thought to be dictates much of our status and our roles. Few of us can completely escape or ignore those mandates or status. For instance, women can’t just decide we’re going to be paid more by the hour as a class than we are; men can’t just decide that strict ideas about masculinity won’t be applied to them. So, it’s common for our gender identity –and how we present ourselves—to be largely or entirely gathered from, and interpreted through, overt and covert messages we’re all bombarded with from a very early age which tell us how we should be valued (or value ourselves), act and appear.
But you CAN choose a great deal of how you present your gender (how you behave, groom, dress and carry yourself) and how you identify (what you call yourself and what that means to you).
Some people assume that certain types of gender presentation are a given: you’re born male or female, so you look a certain way or act a certain way, and any appearance or behavior outside expected norms are deviations, instead of variations. Many assume that you either accept to deny being “male” or “female,” rather than realizing gender roles and presentation are active — not passive — choices we all make. Those assumptions and assertions cause very real problems for many individuals and groups: from more benign matters like just being called Mr. instead of Ms., to the overt violence of hate crimes (such as rape or the murders of gay men). The collective cultural notion, for instance, that men are physically “stronger” than women has caused numerous social and interpersonal problems for men and women alike (as well as simply being untrue). The notion that biological — anatomical or genetic — sex must and automatically does “match” socially dictated gender identity and presentation creates a world of confusion, conflict and imbalance for many of us, and for some, big emotional and interpersonal torment.
You get to — and should — explore, challenge and ultimately decide whatever gender identity suits you best, whether it’s a good fit and match with existing cultural gender roles or it isn’t, and even if the rest of the world isn’t ready for you yet. Just like that glass slipper in Cinderella, if the shoe doesn’t fit? Don’t wear it. You can still go to the ball, and insist on wearing watever you want when you go.
Name : Nguyen Ngoc Huy
ID : BAAU09556
Gimmi some comment to help make a better one 🙂