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Differences between sex and gender

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Introduction

5) (a) Why do Sociologists draw a distinction between sex and gender? Within this essay I aim to determine the main reasons why sociologists identify a discrepancy between the two key concepts; sex and gender. To begin this argument, the discrepancy between the terms sex and gender was first proposed by feminist sociologists in the 1970's (e.g. Stoller, 1968; Oakley, 1972), whereby many it was perceived as a conceptual breakthrough. This vital distinction has allowed sociologists to embrace gender, enabling them to emphasize the social over the biological. For instance, when we consider how males and females differentiate, 'sex' is normally the first thing to come to mind. Traditionally 'sex' is seen as a universal term based on nature. It is perceived as a biological entity, whereby its biological characteristics define humans as either male (XY) or female (XX). Such anatomical characteristics are typically taken to have the following six components; chromosome make-up, external genitals, internal genitals, hormonal states and secondary sex characteristics. The addition of all of these qualities forms the basis of which sex category most people fall under; female or male (Dr Robert Stoller, 1984: 158-159). ...read more.

Middle

On the other hand, a cross-cultural study carried out by Margaret Mead has illustrated that gender is in fact separate from our biological sex. Margaret Mead studied three tribes of New Guinea; the Arapesh, Mundugumor and Tchambuli. Mead's findings showed that each tribe varied extensively in terms of their attitudes and behaviour. For instance, both Mundugumor males and females were found to be typically selfish and aggressive (what our culture would refer to as 'masculine') whereas in the Arapesh males and females were both reported as cooperative and sensitive to others around them (what our culture would label 'feminine'). These results would therefore imply that there is no universal masculine or feminine personality, thus supporting Oakley's claim that gender is a social fact constructed by the culture around us and, as a consequence, unrelated to our biological sex. A further reason for the distinction between sex and gender has been argued by feminist sociologists, who have claimed that when sex and gender are interchangeable it is easily argued that certain experiences are an inevitable consequence of being male or female. This eventually leads to sexism (normally in relation to women rather than men). ...read more.

Conclusion

This determination of sex presumes a consequent set of behaviours and attitudes which are suggestive of that gender (masculine or feminine), thus resulting in the probable direction of the child's life. However, historical studies have shown that this model was preceded by a different one-sex model, as shown by Thomas Laqueur (1990). This model dominated the 17th and 18th centuries, in which the central thought was that male and female bodies were primarily similar, even in terms of genitalia. In contrast to the latest 19th century two-sex model, males and females were not seen as difference in kind, but rather in degree. It can therefore be proposed that sex may not be as fixed as feminist sociologists have argued. In conclusion, the 'sex-gender distinction' can be seen as important for sociologists for a number of reasons, as outlined above. However, the fact that the 'sex-gender distinction' is perceived as fixed and unchangeable leads too one if it's major flaws; it's too narrow. This means that many nuances of intricate social organisations are excluded. This acts a vital drawback and leads to the view that it may be more efficient for sociologists to consider the view that each of the two key concepts is dependent on the other; gender is influenced by sex and sex is influenced by gender. ?? ?? ?? ?? 1 ...read more.

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