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Gender and Sexuality CHAPTER 2. Gender is a system of classification based on sex

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2 CHAPTER 2 Gender and Sexuality Gender is a system of classification based on sex 19 Gender stereotypes and gender identities 20 A gender stereotype is the set of beliefs about what it means to be a man
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2 CHAPTER 2 Gender and Sexuality Gender is a system of classification based on sex 19 Gender stereotypes and gender identities 20 A gender stereotype is the set of beliefs about what it means to be a man or a woman in a particular society 20 Gender stereotyping provides a social shorthand for classifying people by sex 21 Gender identity describes the personal concept of me as a man or a woman 22 Gender differences may not be as great as they first appear to be 22 The origins of gender 23 Hormones, the brain and behavioural dimorphism 24 In animals hormones condition sex differences in behaviour and brain structure 24 Non-human primates show sex differences in behaviour which appear to be influenced by hormonal exposure early in life 24 In humans there may be both sex and gender differences in brain structure and the expression of gender attributes, but the underlying causes are uncertain 26 Gender development may form part of social learning in humans 28 Patterns of interaction between babies and those around them emphasize gender differences 28 Gendered behaviour by babies may affect the way that they are treated 29 Summary 30 Gender and reproduction 30 Sexuality involves the erotic 31 Sexuality can be classified by the stimulus of erotic arousal 31 Genetics, brain anatomy, androgens and social learning have all been implicated in the formation of sexualities 32 The relationship between sexuality and gender 33 Summary 34 Further reading 34 Key learning points 35 In Chapter 1, sex was defined in biological terms as the creation of a genetically unique individual as a result of the equal contribution of chromosomes from two parents: hence, two types of gamete (oocytes and spermatozoa) are produced from two types of gonad (ovary and testis) in two types of individual (female and male). What then is gender, how does it relate to sex, and where does sexuality fit in to all of this? This chapter examines these questions. At the outset, it must be emphasized that there exists considerable variation in the ways that these terms are used. The discussion that follows attempts to clarify the issues, explain common usage and provide a consistent framework through which to consider gender and sexuality. Gender is a system of classification based on sex The features by which the two sexes were described and differentiated in Chapter 1 included their chromosomes, genes, gonads, gametes, hormones and anatomical structures (upper part of Table 2.1), and we explored the developmental relationships between them. There is an assumption, broadly universal across cultures and history, that the identification of one of these features as male or female could reasonably be expected to predict that all the other features would also be concordantly male or female. Thus, the presence or absence of a penis at birth is taken generally as diagnostic of males or females, respectively. Of course, as described in Chapter 1, discordances can and do exist, and we now understand more of the nature and origin of many of them. Estimates of the incidence of ambiguous external genitalia are understandably problematic, but figures of % of babies with major ambiguity and 1 2% with less severe ambiguity have been suggested (Box 2.1). Although small in percentage terms, this amounts to a large number of intersex individuals. The traditional approach to genital ambiguity in Americo-European cultures has been to intervene as early in childhood as possible to remove or reduce ambiguity and assign a clear anatomical and thus social sex to the baby. An intersex state was not considered acceptable. However, other cultures have taken a different approach, and accepted intersex 19 20 CHAPTER 2 individuals for who they are, often according them a special social status as a distinctive third sex, for example, the hijra in India or the berdache among some North American indigenous peoples. A move towards a more flexible approach to the clinical management of genital ambiguity has recently occurred in Americo-European society, in part through pressure from people who were assigned a sex medically, and in their view inappropriately, as babies (see later). The bipolar biological classification of individuals as either men or women is paralleled by a bipolar allocation of many other traits, some of which are summarized in the lower part of Table 2.1 as gender attributes. Unlike the features characterizing sex, these attributes are based more on attitudes, expectations, behaviour and roles; some of them may appear contentious or less absolute; many are complex; and many vary in detail or substance with different cultures or, within a culture, over historical time. In the table, these attributes have been grouped under the broad heading of gender because they are associated with sex, but not obviously, invariably or simply so. Moreover, any causal relationships between those features listed under sex and those attributes listed under gender are not always immediately obvious. It is for this reason that gender is defined here as a system of classification based on sex. In order to distinguish sex from gender, we reserve the terms male and female to describe sexual features and the words masculine and feminine to describe gender attributes. The nature of the relationship between sex features and gender attributes forms the substance of this chapter. First, we will examine in a little more detail some of the gender differences summarized in Table 2.1. Then we will explore the basis of gender differences in behaviour since, collectively, these will influence social interactions and thereby the socially based gender attributes. Lastly we will examine the reproductive and sexual attributes of gender and explore their interrelationship with sexuality. Gender stereotypes and gender identities Two quite complex concepts need to be grasped for a sound understanding of gender. A gender stereotype is the set of beliefs about what it means to be a man or a woman in a particular society The gender attributes listed in Table 2.1 constitute the elements of gender stereotypes. Gender stereotypes provide a Table 2.1 Sex and gender: oppositional descriptions. Sexual features Male Female Chromosome Y present Y absent Gene SRY active in Sertoli cell SRY inactive Gonad Testis Ovary Gamete Spermatozoon Oocyte Hormone Androgens, MIH No androgens or MIH External phenotype Penis, scrotum Clitoris, labia Internal phenotype Vas deferens, prostate, etc. Oviduct, uterus, vagina Gender attributes Masculine Feminine Inter-/intra-gender Pre- and proscribed contact and relational Distinctive patterns interaction patterns patterns Social role Public, extrovert, in the workplace, powerful, Private, domestic, powerless, quiet, care provider independent, forceful, outspoken Reproductive role Disposable and transitory Essential and enduring Sexual role Active, insertive, dominant Passive, receptive, submissive Work role Rule setting and enforcing, leadership, Constructive, agricultural, food preparation, military, ritualistic and priesthood, artistic domestic, creative, nurturant Appearance Characteristic and uniform hairstyle, body Characteristic and varying hairstyle, body decoration, clothes, ornamentation decoration, clothes, ornamentation Temperament and emotion Competitive, combative, aggressive, ambitious, Cooperative, consensual, expressive, empathic, not expressive of vulnerable emotions affectionate, emotionally free Intellect and skills Better mathematical and spatial skills, Better linguistic skills, people oriented systematizing Language used Words reserved for use by men Words reserved for use by women GENDER AND SEXUALITY 21 BOX 2.1 How frequently is concordance for chromosomal, gonadal and genital sex absent? Cause Estimated frequency/ 1000 live births Non-XX females or non-xy males 1.93 Complete or partial androgen 0.08 insensitivity Congenital adrenal hyperplasia True hermaphrodites 0.01 Vaginal agenesis 0.17 In the UK, the birth certificate has to record the baby s sex as male or female; intersex is not a legal option (Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1953). Interestingly, the Adoption and Children Act of 2002 does allow parents to be registered by the sex neutral term parent. This neutrality accommodates adoption by same-sex couples (both male or both female), thereby avoiding two mothers or two fathers. It will be interesting to see whether this precedent leads to pressure for sex-neutral birth and/or death registrations, or even for the recording of intersex. Such pressure may come from the increasingly prevalent clinical practice of conservative surgical and endocrinological intervention in cases of sex ambiguity until the child grows and expresses a gender identity as masculine, feminine or intermediate. Data adapted from Blackless M et al. (2000) How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis. American Journal of Human Biology 12, description which is broadly recognizable as defining what it means to be masculine or feminine in a society. The precise attributes appropriate to each gender will vary from one society to another, or in the same society over time. However, social, historical and anthropological studies reveal a remarkable consistency in the extent to which each of those attributes listed recurs with greater or lesser emphasis in the gender stereotypes of a range of different societies. For example, the exclusion of women from public life or from particular social or work roles is more evident in strict Islamic societies or traditional Judaeo-Christian societies than in modern secular societies. However, in the latter societies such gender stereotyping still persists in that certain roles remain associated strongly with men (e.g. consultant surgeons, priests) or women (e.g. nurses, midwives) even if many of these associations are much weaker than they once were. The behaviour expected of men and women also differs. Rowdy, aggressive behaviour from men is resignedly expected and often excused ( boys will be boys ), whereas the same behaviour from women is considered unladylike. On a more trivial level, the wearing of earrings by men or of trousers by women was until recently in British society very gender astereotypic: there were social rules about what constituted appropriately gendered body decoration and clothing, many of which still linger in today s attitudes and values, albeit much attenuated. Although it may appear difficult in a society in flux to define the current gender stereotypes in terms acceptable to all, nonetheless there tends to be a normative social view about those elements constituting masculine and feminine behaviour. The cohesiveness of that view can be particularly strong for the members of each generation: a person s peers. In framing a gender stereotype, no claim is being made that this stereotype is true for all or indeed for any female or male. It is rather a shared cultural belief about what men and women are like. This social consensus about what it means to be a man or a woman is important for individuals perceptions of themselves and of those around them. It provides a yardstick against which to measure their own masculinity or femininity and that of those whom they meet. This measuring process is important because those who appear to stray too far from the stereotype are generally regarded negatively or as a focus for rebellion. In societies in which gender plays a strong social role, it is less acceptable for men to appear feminine than for women to appear masculine, although there are boundaries in both directions. This asymmetry may result from the fact that men tend to be more powerful than women, and so their attributes are more valued socially. So in societies in which gender stereotypes are being eroded, there tends to be more acceptance of the perceived masculinization of women s stereotypes and more resistance to the feminization of men s stereotypes. However, as economies shift increasingly towards a service function, in which traditionally feminine attributes are more valued, the employment opportunities for traditionally masculine men are reduced and these men become marginalized as their masculine attributes are less valued. A key message from this brief discussion is the strong cultural contingency of gender attributes. Gender stereotyping provides a social shorthand for classifying people by sex We are presented with a bewildering array of social information. Part of the process of our development as children is to learn how to interpret the world around us. Sex differences are an important part of that world. By learning a gender stereotype, or indeed any other stereotype (ethnicity, race, class, age, employment), one is provided with a social shorthand or sketch that enables some rapid preliminary assessments to be made of each individual encountered. Recognizing someone as male or female allows us to associate the various attributes of gender stereotypes and thereby conditions our immediate behaviour patterns in 22 CHAPTER 2 ways that are socially appropriate for our and their gender. Of course, this process will tend to reinforce the gender stereotype of the society. It does not, however, preclude later reactions to the individual as an individual. If you doubt the importance of social sketching of this sort, consider your reaction on being introduced to someone whose sex and gender are not immediately obvious. How comfortable are you, and how does it affect your behaviour? Or consider how you react when, in a different culture, you find that the accepted gender stereotypes conflict with those of your own culture: for example, men holding hands or kissing in public or women being excluded from public life? Humans are social beings and the rules by which societies function are therefore very important. Gender identity describes the personal concept of me as a man or a woman We have a social view that there are two genders defined broadly by the gender stereotypes of our society. Each of us is part of that society. It therefore follows that each of us has a view of ourselves as being masculine or feminine and of conforming to a greater or lesser degree to the stereotype. The extent to which each individual feels confident of his or her position within this bipolar gender spectrum is a measure of the strength and security of their gender identity. Most individuals have gender identities that are fully congruent with their sex. Thus, most women and men who are physically female and male, respectively, have strong gender identities. Some individuals may feel less certain about their gender identities, although they nonetheless identify congruently with their physical sex: they may be said to have weak gender identities. A few individuals may feel that their gender identities are totally at variance with their otherwise congruent genetic, gonadal, hormonal and genital sex. Such people are described as being transsexual or transgendered. Transgendering may occur in either direction, the male-to-female transgendered consider themselves to be females with a female gender identity and brain but with otherwise male bodies, whereas the femaleto-male transgendered feel themselves to be men in an otherwise woman s body. Traditionally, more male-to-female transgendered individuals have been identified than female-to-male, although this may represent differential reporting more than real prevalence. The transgendered may adopt the gender roles of the physically different sex, and some may undergo surgical and hormonal treatments so as to bring their bodies and their bodily functions (their sex) as closely congruent to their gender identity as is possible (females becoming trans men and males becoming trans women) (Box 2.2). Transgendered men and women provide us with perhaps the strongest justification for making the distinction between sex and gender. A better BOX 2.2 The law and trans men and women Recent legislative changes across Europe permit recognition of trans men and women in their new identities. In the UK, the relevant law is the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which provides for a gender recognition certificate meaning that their legal sex does not match that on their birth certificate. In order to qualify for a certificate, expert evidence must be produced to establish the person s gender identity, effectively a gatekeeper role for clinicians. Then, only after 2 years living in one s acquired gender (the terminology the Act uses) can the person get a certificate. Third, the person s birth certificate remains unamended. Although legally this is not a problem, some trans people argue that this is a failure to accept that the surgery or treatment is to match them to their true sex and that the sex on the birth certificate was an error. understanding of the basis of trans people may also help us to refine more clearly the boundary between sex and gender. Gender differences may not be as great as they first appear to be Intuitively, when looking at the gender attributes in Table 2.1, it is possible simultaneously to recognize the gender stereotypes as familiar while rejecting them as an oversimplification. For example, whereas men in general might not readily express vulnerable emotions through crying and admissions of helplessness, many individual men do express such emotions and show such behaviour. Individual women can be just as competitive and aggressive as men, although overall these attributes are associated much less with women than with men. Many studies have attempted to make objective and quantitative measurements of gender differences, through the use of behavioural and cognitive function tests and the use of questionnaires to address attitudes. For most attributes, the degrees of variation within populations of men and of women are so great that the overlap between men and women is too large to produce significant differences between the sexes (see Box 2.3). Moreover, rarely if ever do any differences observed have predictive validity: it is not possible from the measurement of a gender attribute in an individual to predict whether that individual is a man or a woman. There is thus a paradox. Society has a clear and polarized concept of what it means to be masculine and feminine within society. Moreover, most individuals profess a very clear concept of themselves as masculine or feminine and an understanding of what that means for their place in society. Yet both objectively and subjectively it is not GENDER AND SEXUALITY 23 BOX 2.3 Summary of findings from a meta-analysis of studies on sex differences in humans 124 traits were analysed in a range of published studies to see whether there were significant differences between populations of men and women. For 78% of these traits, there was effectively no difference. For 15% of them, there was a moderate population difference. Traits observed more frequently in the male population included spatial perception, mental rotation, physical and verbal aggression, assertiveness, body esteem, sprinting, activity level, self-efficacy of computer use. Traits more frequently observed in women included spelling and language skills, and smiling when aware of being observed. For only 6% of traits were large differences observed. Observed more frequently for men were mechanical reasoning, masturbation, permissive attitudes to casual sex, and for women agreeableness. Only 2% of traits showed very large sex differences, throw velocity/distance and grip strength being significantly more frequent in males. Conclusions and qualifications It is important to note that for all traits there was overlap. Some are clearly related to the anabolic actions of androgens on muscles, and others may be culturally conditioned expectations from gender stereotypes perhaps influencing attribute acquisition. Where statistically significant sex differences are found, it is important to note that scores f
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