of biological sex and gender

My holidays have started! Yes indeedy.  I have a month off from scurrying around trying to save lives and instead I shall be spending it lusciously lazing and reading books.  Also hitting the gym, but that doesn’t fit in much with the idea of lusciously lazing so we’re going to ignore that.  I have already wasted 5 days of my holidays without making a post on my sorely-neglected blog (aww) and so I will remedy that right now 😀

I had intended in these holidays to pick up a completely unrelated subject for fun and in the course of my pre-exam musings had finally selected Sociology as the subject of choice.  Accordingly I went out and bought the A level book on sociology which I thought would be enough to give a me an amateur background.

HOWEVER, I went to my uni library couple of days back and did a bit of searching for books on atheism (none), feminism (several) and philosophy (even more) and finally came home with a book on feminism that sort of gives an introduction to women’s studies and feminism in general.  So I have found that since then, sociology has taken a back seat and this subject (which is closer to my heart), has taken the front seat and seems to be driving too, and the first stop it took was my blog.  So here I am.

Since I am reading all this stuff and since it is a topic close to my heart (as aforementioned), and hence probably will surface in upcoming posts, I am going  to talk a bit about a concept here that is very very basic and yet very very often disregarded or overlooked.  Sort of as a foundation for later ideas.

The difference between biological sex and gender is one that needs be insisted because it is the foundation for many injustices and miconceptions that arise about men and women.  Basically the difference lies in their definitions.

Sex can be defined as a set of biological, genetic and physical characteristics.  It is a fact, as well as a term used by biologists and social scientists.  Sex can be divided strictly on the basis of genetics into male and female, but loosely three sexes exist, the intersex state being hermaphrodites.

Gender, on the other hand, refers to a complex set of characteristics and behaviours prescribed for a particular sex by society and learned through interaction with it.  These are simply ingrained things stuck into your head by your surroundings and have very little to do with any actual difference between men and women. It’s a social construct and varies from place to place.

So for example, the idea that ‘boys don’t cry’ or that women are better at nurturing are ideas that are based on gender, not sex. Similarly typical qualities that are Masculine or Feminine (such as strength/frailty, logical/emotional) are based almost entirely on gender and not sex.

Of course, I could've used blue and pink, but didn't for obvious reasons.

Gender Identity, then, very simply, is what gender you identify with.  In contrast to sex, which is a discrete variable (you either are it, or you aren’t), gender identity is a spectrum, albeit most people fall on either end.  But this is important to remember because not everyone has a clear gender identity, and nor should this be expected.  It is also not related to one’s biological sex (an obvious example being transgenders). I for example, fall somewhere between the middle and the extreme green end.

Anyway this idea, and the difference between the two, was just something I wanted to discuss.  I might continue with the base I’ve built here in later posts, or I might not, but for now chew on what I’ve mentioned above, and see if you can notice examples of gender characterisations around you 😛

See you for now.  🙂

14 thoughts on “of biological sex and gender

  1. Actually it’s so simple to make a division of gender, even easier to imagine people carrying out different roles once you get rid of the notion of ‘manly tasks’ and ‘feminine duties’. (Really wtf is with the female gender stuck with duties?) But then sociology complicates it 😛 Your post is so open-ended! There is so much to say… I’ll post again another time. 🙂

    1. Lol, it is, isn’t it? It’s meant to be only a basic intro, I was going to expand on this and other concepts later 😀 this is something that just gets under your skin. Do post more when you get the chance, I’d love to have a dialogue on the topic 😀

  2. I just had a REALLY REALLY REALLY long discussion with my friend on this very topic and it’s just creepy weird to read you posting the exact same thing O.o

    But yes. One point that was made was that we see social roles in the animal kingdom as well; for instance, it is the female lions job to hunt as well as teach her cubs how to do so, while the male lion protects the territory by defending it against any invader where the invader usually is a male too. Also, in most species, one sex tries to seduce the other one (the same sex for the same species). For instance, male peacocks dance to attract female peacocks. The frog that croaks the loudest gets the female frog.

    We were just discussing whether this makes social roles and constructs a part of evolution and natural selection that we’re sort of wired with because it helped us in the past, or if it’s something else.

    1. I agree that social roles do exist in animals, but here’s the catch. Humans because of our higher intelligence and communication and other factors, often perpetuate practises whether they have an evolutionary advantage or not. What i’m trying to say is that we don’t evolve the same way as animals do because we are conscious beings and thus able, in some ways, to alter our own evolution.
      So while things like patriarchy (or religion) may have evolved out of a need in the past, they perpetuate because of human constructs such as society and culture, and not because of any continuing biological or evolutionary compulsion. And thus they can be changed or substituted for better systems.

      1. I suppose the short answer is that yes we are wired into these because it helped us in the past, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change that wiring, or shouldn’t (given enough time and awareness)

  3. Cool. I do enjoy reading your blogs. My family is full of doctors and my sister graduated from S.M.C. recently. I was too lazy to become a doctor, though I enjoy reading medical stuff. Did you study at DOW?

    Here is an interview I did with my sister’s friend who is the pak women’s chess champ, and also a doctor from S.M.C. You doctors are everywhere!


    Anyway, I found the differences between gender and sex very interesting! I actually never thought of it that way, but it makes sense.

    1. That interview is really good. Confident, talented girls like her are so admirable, I feel so proud that she’s a doctor too haha. I’m not a DOWite actually, i’m in my fourth year at Aga Khan University.

      As for the differences, its kind of like an obvious thing one doesn’t realise, isnt it? I’m going to make a list of qualities attributable to gender/sex in another post, this one doesn’t really have enough examples. And thanks! I enjoy reading your blogs too, they’re almost always Very amusing.

  4. haha yea we need more people like that in Pakistan.

    Cool you are in AKU. Well, the next time I get a cold and come to Agha Khan, I will say hi if I see you.

    Yea I guess it is obvious now that I think about it. Never thought of it that way, but it makes sense! Look forward to the next blog. You should be doing more on The Tribune!

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