The Difference Between Gender and Sex

By | October 13, 2011

I appreciated some new insight I gleaned from a book I read recently. In it, the author talks about how there is a difference between sex and gender, even though the terms are often used interchangeably. In a sentence, “Where sex is tied to reproductive physiology, gender is a cultural construct.” (Struthers, p. 136) This is the best insight I have yet gained on this topic. At times during the past year, I’ve been contemplating gender topics (click here for one good example). At it’s most basic, the question is if there is any traits which can always tied to one’s physical sex. In other words, can it be said that “All men are (fill in the blank)” or “Women always (fill in the blank)”?

I’m not quite ready to confidently say that nothing can be associated with gender, but I do believe that there are few things which can be said to always apply. Now there are many things which are more typical for men or for women. For instance, it may be true that men are more interested in things while women are more interested in people and relationships. However that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any men who are more interested in people and relationships than in things. It also doesn’t mean that a male who is this way is somehow less of a man. (This doesn’t mean that there isn’t any sense of mature verses immature, ideas which are also associated with “Man” and “Woman”.)

I really like recognizing that masculine and feminine ideas are at least mostly cultural. It is good because there are many people who don’t fit neatly into their gender’s stereotype. Without this, if a man doesn’t fit into the masculine stereotype in some way, he may well think that there is something wrong with himself and feel like he is a “broken” human being. But this isn’t the case. It is freeing to understand that we don’t have to judge ourselves based on our culture’s beliefs about masculinity and femininity. Our culture may say, “Real men don’t cry.” Now it may be true that overall, men don’t usually cry as easily or as often as women. But in many cultures it is perfectly normal, acceptable, and even expected for men to cry in certain situations.

I am certainly thankful for this bit of understanding. As a person who doesn’t necessarily fit our culture’s stereotype of masculinity, it’s good to know that there isn’t anything wrong with me, and I’m not somehow of a worse or less valuable person.

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