So I wrote the post below 6 months ago, then never got around to editing and publishing it. I am very passionate about equality, but rarely post about it because honestly, it can get fucking depressing and blogging is supposed to be a fun hobby for me. (If you follow me on Instagram, that’s where you’ll see more on the topic.) But 6 months ago, I felt inspired and wanted to share my thoughts – it’s not perfect, but hopefully it provides some interesting food for thought. This week seemed like a good time to get it out there, with all of the terrible political attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. Hope you enjoy!
Photo by Andrew Branch on Unsplash
I read a fantastic article the other day that got me in full-on sociologist mode.
I highly recommend it, even though it’s pretty academic. But it covers a very important concept in our society – that men and women are very different, because of their biology.
Now, I’m not going to argue that males and females aren’t different. Males have different genitalia than females – females give birth, males don’t, etc etc. However, notice that I switched from the terms “men and women” to “males and females”. You’re thinking: who cares? “Men” and “males” are synonyms, and so are “women” and “females”.
And here’s where I’m gonna stop you and give you a free sociology lesson – and you will learn what my friends and family had to go through from 2010-2012 (who am I kidding, it didn’t stop then) when I was getting my master’s in sociology. Free and unsolicited sociology lessons were thrust upon innocents all around me during that time…
But YOU – you might want to hear this, right? Right??? Cuz you love me, and you love learning.
That’s what I thought.
So here’s the lesson – there is a big difference between sex and gender.
Sex = male/female, which refers to our chromosomes or genitalia.
Gender = women/men, which refers to how we express ourselves to the rest of society. This includes how we dress, talk, dance, eat, sit, stand, walk, work out, flirt, do our hair… it’s part of our identity, which is shaped by us, and our environment.
So back to this idea that is so important – are women and men different, on some core and essential level, because of their biology (aka sex)?
This is a very prevalent idea, that shapes our culture in a ton of different ways. The idea that we are inherently different because of our sex is the foundation of everything from family structure to war to deodorant to self-help books to our country’s entire labor force.
So you might be thinking, “Ya, of course everything is based on that, because it’s true – men and women are born different, and we are built to do different things – we’re just different, down to the very core.”
Some things are true. Males, on average, have more muscle mass and can lift heavier things and stuff. Females are able to give birth and males can’t. Males have more testosterone, females have periods.
But now, can you look at those things and then conclude that women are better at working with children? Can you conclude that men are not “built” to be as good at listening and empathizing? Can you conclude that men are not as sensitive, shouldn’t cry as much, are just designed to have trouble staying faithful in monogamous relationships? That women don’t have what it takes to run a government or a company? That women are predisposed to focus on one primary goal: to find a husband, keep him faithful, and have children?
See what’s happening here? We are extrapolating A LOT. And I know that hormones and genetics and all of that have a big effect on who we are and how we behave. However, I think that too much weight is put on this one aspect of our biological bodies (sex) and how it impacts who we are in society.
And you know what throws a big ‘ol wrench into this whole idea? The fact that intersex people exist. Newsflash – there aren’t just two binary sexes. There’s a whole grey area, a whole population of people (and not a small one) that is neither male nor female. So who are they? Should they raise kids? Should they have long hair? Should they suck it up and “be a man”? How does this work for them?
There is also the transgender community. A man can technically give birth if they wanted to – because perhaps they were born with female biological characteristics, but they identify as a man. And if you talk to someone who is transgender who is undergoing hormone therapy, you will realize that physical sexual characteristics can be completely created by hormones – if you are born a female and identify as a man, you may undergo hormone therapy and can become a physical male, in almost every way. Body hair, fat distribution, chiseled jaw line, even an adam’s apple! It’s tougher for transwomen, but what you realize when you look into what these communities experience is that so much of what we see as genetic or biological can be performed in a way, just like the cultural aspects of gender.
Let’s break this down even more. Our culture tells us that we are born a man or woman, and that makes us so distinctly and essentially different – that it is a binary and clear distinction that determines who we are. Okay – then why, if you asked me, could I walk, talk, and act like a man? I can mimic all of that behavior. Because all of that is cultural, learned behavior – it is performed. It is not something we are born with.
If you add in hormones, voice training, months or years of living as the gender that doesn’t traditionally align with your sex – you honestly, in a lot of cases, wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. You probably are unaware that you have interacted with multiple trans people in your life. They just seemed like “normal” men or women.
The intersex and trans community are exactly why the distinction between the terms sex and gender are so important. When you learn more about the LGBTQ+ community, you’ll see how fluid both of those concepts really are – despite the media telling you how important your genitalia and gender are to how you interact with every person in your life.
Let’s go back to the hetero-normative idea for a moment. You read in the news all the time about studies of men and women, right? “Studies show that women are 5x more likely to x when doing x than men.” Something like that. What I loved so much about the article I linked to at the beginning is that they called out these types of studies and how you can’t take them at face value. First of all, studies are only news-worthy when they call out our differences. Studies like this would be kind of boring, right?:
When it comes to humans, yes, Fine says, on average men report a greater interest in casual sex than do women. But according to a large-scale British study of more than 12,000 people ages 16-44, the most common number of sexual partners for both men and women was … one. That answer held whether the respondents were asked to report for the previous three months, the previous year, or the previous five years. Both men (80%) and women (89%) also said they preferred to be in a sexually exclusive relationship.
We have our differences, of course – but the argument here is that our similarities are never emphasized. This makes us feel like strangers to each other, like we can’t understand the “opposite sex” – and it encourages us to feel estranged and dramatically different from each other.
Why? If you’re asking me, personally, I say the patriarchy and the interest of those in power to make sure we all feel like only a certain group of people are fit to be in charge, and so we don’t band together to call bullshit. But it’s also used to sell us all kinds of things, like I mentioned before. Why do we need different deodorants???? Razors? Self-help books? Cars? Clothes? Anything can be gendered in advertisements, it’s actually amazing. Once you start looking for it, it’s kind of mind-boggling.
But this article also called these news-worthy studies into question in a different way – I laughed out loud when I read this part:
What about the now-famous studies done on college campuses that show men are far more likely than women to accept the request of an opposite-sex unfamiliar peer (actually a research confederate) to come over to their apartment or even to go to bed together?
Here Fine is at her best, registering this objection (among others):
“What this study is actually primarily showing is women’s lack of interest in being murdered, raped, robbed, or inflaming the interests of a potential stalker…. Social realities mean that women and men in these studies are simply not participating in the same experiment.”
Actually, I might be interested in casual sex, but I’m just really not into being murdered, which is kind of at the top of the priority list.
So with everything we just talked about, here’s the kicker – both gender and sex are not that important in a lot of ways, right? So what if I don’t have a penis – I’m really not that different from men, and we are definitely not as different than society wants us to believe.
BUT – with sexism and rape culture and homophobia, sex and gender are very important in other ways – if you are in the minority group in these categories, it can affect everything from getting a good job to being safe in our own homes.
So – this stuff is all so important when reading news headlines and puff pieces and when watching romantic comedies (which are the absolute worst when it comes to this stuff, but I still love them?). Sex isn’t binary, gender is performed, sexism and heterosexism are real and ubiquitous.
Think about why you are hearing the messages you are hearing. Why can’t you just do what you want? Why do you have to have your hair that way, or do this or that in order to be a real woman or man? Question everything, my lovelies.
…like why Trump announced the trans military ban and the Justice Dept. argued against LGBTQ+ discriminatory protections this week. This particular week. Why now? What are we being distracted from? Who are they distracting? I bet you can guess.
It’s been a rough week, but if we keep questioning, taking no bullshit, and standing up for each other, we can spread love better than they can spread hate.