Sex & the Myth of Gender
So recently the lovely ladies over at Fishnet Bluestockings added me to their blogroll, and I have reciprocated in kind. If you are at all interested in a rational slant of feminism, especially as it concerns the entertainment industry, I highly encourage you to go check them out (and I am not just saying that because one of their writers is a dear friend). This post is inspired by something I started saying in their comment sections, and as it concerns something that influences my view on humanity in general, I thought it would be best to expound on it here.
Sex is a defined, binary, biological distinction. It is a genetic designation based on the possession of a particular genotype. In humans this is the presence or absence of the Y chromosome and even more specifically the gene SRY (Sex-determining Region Y).
In other animals it can get a little more complicated and fun, but that’s beyond the scope of this post. So, the presence or absence of this one thing is the difference between male and female. It’s a pretty tiny piece of genetic material, but then you know what those people with penises say… And (in this case) they are not too far off the mark. The cascade effects of having this are huge and make for a great deal of phenotype variation between males and females (for a good example of this, just check out my article on Estrogen, Leptin, and Obesity). Males and females are biologically and genetically geared towards different things: e.g. males store fat in different areas of their body, males create sperm instead of ova, males tend to have an easier time developing muscle, etc. There is also a great deal of structural change, bone shape, brain shape, there have even been recent studies showing a difference right down to the cytology of certain cell types, etc.
But what does all this mean? It means that biology is damn awesome, and it means that males and females have a number of legitimate differences that need to be taken into account if for no other reason than their medical significance. As a for instance, hip replacement therapy needs to be different for males and females since we have different bone structures in our reproductive regions (ironically there is currently only a single ‘sexless’ hip on the market because doctors have been accused of being evil and sexist for saying that their male and female patients need different prostheses). What this most emphatically does not mean is that one sex is somehow better than the other. This latter idea is part of the myth of gender, and is one that should be expunged.
Gender is a fuzzy, poorly-defined, spectrum with a basis in sociology and psychology. The important thing to take away here: GENDER IS NOT SEX. This would be a lot more clear if our society could stop marginalizing transgender individuals (and stop conflating the larger transgender community with strict transsexualism or any kind of display of sexuality). Now, gender would like to be sex, and for quite a while the enforcement of a narrow gender role based on biological sex has been the status quo (in recent years this has become less true for the concept of ‘woman’ thanks in large part to the feminist movement). The idea of gender is deeply ingrained and wants to survive and so it will often pretend to have a ‘natural’ basis. In recent years this has adopted the language of science and the lie that gender has a biological basis, or that indeed gender and sex are one. Both of these are easily shown to be false due to varied gender roles across culture and race, and especially by the presence of both eclectic third gender individuals (like your humble author and many American transgendered people) and organized third gender groups (like the Hijra). None of us have a fundamentally different biology than any of the normative folk walking around. None of us are not, at a genetic level, male or female. But we are most emphatically not men or women. And given how that false dichotomy has been repeatedly abused as the subject of a patriarchal power play, why would we want to be?