Sociology – Gender and Sex as a Social Construct

Gender and Sex as a social construct

Sociology Honours


Gender is a perception created by humans depending upon the practices of their community, the demands of time, and the need to adapt oneself to circumstances. We use the word ‘gender’ so frequently that we tend to assume that it is decided by God, and settled at the time of birth through chromosomal, hormonal and anatomical characteristics.
In practice, it is not so simple. Progressive parents may bring up their daughter as a boy encouraging her to do all that a boy does normally, such as playing football, riding a motor cycle, enjoying a drink, dressing like a boy, working in the farms etc. The girl child is taught not to be unduly polite, or avoid talking to strangers, fear bullying at school etc.

Such a need of re-orienting a child’s upbringing might become necessary if the parents discover that the child has been born with the sex organs of a girl, but her brain and body construction are more that of a boy due to hormonal and chromosomal discrepancies. [Example..DuteeChand, the ace sprinter of Odisha is an example of a girl with a male danger.]

In transgenders, this mismatch between body’s construction and brain’s orientation are very much marked. So, ‘transgenders’ have been acknowledged as the third sex, not male, nor female.

Let’s take a ‘gender’ change due to social circumstances. A widow of a truck driver whose husband was the sole bread earner of the family might take up her late husband’s profession and become a truck driver. This is a rough and tough male job. But, the wife takes it up. Gradually, her way of talking, her muscles, manners, and mind changes. He appears to be more like a male than a female. Sociologists would classify her gender as ‘male’ because her role in society and in her family has changed from an insider to an outsider. Her ‘gender identity’ changes from female to male.

Definition of Gender

Gender is a social construct that is determined by culture and society and defines man-woman relationship that is changeable. Gender can be described as ‘masculine’, ‘feminine’, ‘man’ or woman’.

Definition of sex

It is a biological identification of a person, and depends on the sex organs in their body. It includes the chromosomal, hormonal, and anatomical components of males and females. Apart from starkly different sex organs, a girl is born with XX chromosome, where as a boy is born with XY chromosomes.

Ideology of gender determines

• What is expected of us –
From a ‘male’ gender – Aggression, Propensity for mischief, adventure, Love for tough games like rugby, football, love for army as a career,
From a ‘female’ danger – Politeness, Caring nature, love for chores like cooking, embroidery, dancing, singing etc., love for nursing and teaching as careers

• What is allowed for us –
For ‘male’ gender – To join the army, police etc., be assertive, be a little defiant, bear pain, be muscular etc.
For ‘female’ gender – Be soft-spoken, caring, docile, love cooking and doing household chores, avoid too much limelight etc.

• What is value in us –
For ‘male’ gender – Be brave, daring, pain-staking, adventurous etc.
For ‘female’ gender – Be loyal to the spouse, be subordinate, emotional and soft and sacrificing.

Gender and Gender Identity –
• Gender refers to the social, psychological, and cultural attributes of masculinity or feminity, many of which are based on biological differences.
Gender includes people’s self image and expectations of behaviour among other things.

• Gender describes social attributes and behaviours expected of and associated with the two sexes.

• Gender identity refers to the degree to which an individual sees herself or himself as feminine or masculine based on society’s definition of gender roles.

Gender as a social construction

Gender is a process, stratification system and a structure

Process – Day-to-day interactions reinforce gender as opposites. For example, conversations, rituals and sayings.

Stratification – Men are supposed to be more powerful, capable and more deserving. Women are considered somewhat inferior in all outdoor and office roles.

Structure – Gender separates work inside home and in factories and businesses. It earmarks jobs for male and female taking into consideration their emotional strength, sexuality.

Gender Roles
• Expectations regarding proper behaviour, attitude and activities from both males and females
• Gender roles evident from how we work and how we react to others

Gender Bias

Society produces biasthat is structured on the basis of gender identities. Patriarchy strengthens the phenomenon of gender bias and recognizes the society as a male dominated space.
Gender bias is the construction of socialization process and it is the extension of patriarchal ideology. Gender bias results in discrimination and / or hatred towards the other based on their gender and not their merit. It can also refer to all systemic differentiations based on the gender of the individuals.

———-To be contd———

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