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Posted on September 30th, 2012, by

During the last 40 or 50 years there have been a lot of conversations in the mass media concerning gender. If we regard the popularity of this term around 100 years ago and nowadays, the drastic change in several decades can be witnessed. Michael Kimmel in his lecture “Mars, Venus or Planet Earth”¯ says that “Women have made gender visible”¯. Indeed, mostly these are women who speak about gender inequality and underline gender difference; men are most likely not to support ideas of possible gender equality or stay indifferent about the idea.

This essay is dedicated to analysis of difference between sex and gender, and to discussing possible methods of eliminating gender inequality as well as gender-based discrimination. This question, in my opinion, needs to be analyzed from 3 main perspectives: biological, historical and sociological.

The historical origin of the word “gender”¯ shows that the predecessor of it, “la genus”¯ (in Latin) was used to denote “type”¯, “kind”¯ or”¯sort”¯.

Currently, the word “gender”¯ is used to discuss social role of a person as a man or a woman; at the same time, the word “sex”¯ is used when the speaker indicates the biological or medical characteristics of someone. However, both words are used to classify people; usually they are used to denote a set of qualities which a person has.

The aim of this essay is to analyze whether such tendency has been in all societies, which tendencies are common for modern society and in what way society might address possible gender related problems.

1. Historical comparison

In the school, we are taught that the qualities which men and women possess are different because since the early times men and woman had different occupations and biological destination. As Michael Kimmel in his work “Theorizing Masculinities”¯ says: “We think of manhood as innate, residing to the particular biological composition of the human male, the results of androgens or the possession of a penis”¯. But the studies of Margaret Mead show quite an opposite result.

She analyzed three primitive societies and the issues of sex and temperament in these societies. The results are really amazing: in first society (the Arapesh) men and women had same characteristics. They were “co-operative, unaggressive, responsive to the needs and demands of others”¯ ”“ in other words, both men and women had the characteristics which nowadays we assign only to women. The second society (the Mundugumor) also had men and women with similar characteristics, but in this society they all were “ruthless, aggressive, positively sexed individuals, with the maternal cherishing aspects of personality at a minimum”¯. In other words, they resembled a typical image of brutal man in the context of modern society. And finally, the third society (the Tchambuli) there was a difference between the typical traits of men and women, but they were opposite to current ideas: “with the woman the dominant, impersonal, managing partner, the man the less responsible and the emotionally dependent person”¯.

I can make a conclusion from these three examples that actually the nature of a human being is very flexible and from the very birth there are no specific traits of the personality; such traits are cultivated by the society in the process of nurturing and upbringing. And one more idea that I have understood analyzing Mead’s work: the whole functioning of our society is based on gender difference and gender stereotypes, and since this is not a biological matter (basing on comparison of 3 tribes), then we may influence and transform the cultivated stereotypes in order to harmonize the society.

2. Biological issues

The question of sex and gender is inseparably linked with biological characteristics of a particular human being. As usual, we consider someone with a penis and testicles to be a man and someone with ovaries and uterus ”“ a woman. According to these signs, a newly born human being is assigned a role that will be played during all life.

But is the classification so simple in reality? Ann Fausto-Sterling in the work called “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are not Enough”¯ says that intersexual babies comprise 4% of all births. Moreover, it is supposed that after 18 months the baby can be unambiguously classified as (primarily) male or female; but some babies had to be reclassified after this age. All this data looks not impressive until the moment we understand that such “reclassification”¯ may mean someone’s life, destiny and attitude of others.

Fausto-Sterling suggested a classification of intersexual people into three types: “the so-called true hermaphrodites, whom I call herms, who possess one testis and one ovary (the spermand egg-producing vessels, or gonads); the male pseudohermaphrodites (the “merms”), who have testes and some aspects of the female genitalia but no ovaries; and the female pseudohermaphrodites (the “ferms”), who have ovaries and some aspects of the male genitalia but lack testes”¯. So, in fact, beside standard male and female sexes, there are three other types of human beings. Indeed, already Plato stated that there were three sexes ”“ male, female and hermaphrodite, but the latter was lost with time.

In my opinion, such evidence states that some ancient societies were more tolerant to gender issues ”“ and I also believe that cultural and scientific progress was also remarkable (basing on the fact that a human being can live most efficiently and successfully when not oppressed with gender role). Another example illustrating this idea will be given in part 3.

Let us return to intersexuals. Such babies usually are exposed to a set of medical and hormonal procedures so that they could “fit”¯ the existing society. From one hand, it is an act of humanity and it is destined to make their life better in future. But what about changing the society so that it could accept different members instead of changing the people to suit social frame? In my opinion, such society could be far more developed and far more tolerant, not only to gender issues, but to race, religion and other differences between people. I believe that one change of social mechanisms will lead to changes in the whole structure ”“ because society is an interconnected system.

3. Sociological results

Let us analyze gender questions in the society during the last 50-60 years and outline the changes and tendencies. For the first part of analysis, we take the evidence given by Betty Friedan in “The Feminine Mystique”¯ (chapter 1, “The Problem that Has No Name”¯). In the fifties, the US has witnessed a great shift to family among women. Very few wanted to pursue a career, and the typical dream life for a woman was to marry and to become a housewife. Birthrates in the US exceeded India’s at that time. The gender question was not discussed as the competition between men and women did not exist; their spheres of influence didn’t intersect.

However, in some time lots of “successful”¯ housewives started complaining to their doctors that they feel something missing in their life (they said “I don’t feel alive”¯). The society offered a lot of recipes but all of them were related to marriage, family and diversifying sexual life.

However, that was not enough.

“Strangely, a number of psychiatrists stated that, in their experience, unmarried women patients were happier than married ones”¯, states Friedan. Finally, women started to speak about gender ”“ gender inequality that made a significant part of social spheres unavailable for them. Then in 1960’s the second wave of feminism followed. Women have been given more freedom and more rights, and they started using it actively.

At the same time, the idea of masculinity has remained the same. What are the stereotypes about masculinity and how they appeared ”“ these questions are studied by Michael Kimmel in “Theorizing masculinities”¯. He suggested that current masculine stereotype evolved basing on:

  • Power relations
  • Flight from feminine
  • Homosocial enactment
  • Homophobia

If we analyze the evolution of ideas about masculinity, we can see that the typical stereotype has remained the same for a long time already. But the stereotypes concerning femininity have changed several times. The social consequences of such changes are analyzed by Michael Kimmel. In his lecture he lists some data, which, I think it’s important to state here. The research was done in 1970 and in 2005. Let us take three statements: “Men are kind”¯, “Men just need someone to go to bed with”¯, “Men are interested in career, not in family”¯. Women’s positive answers to these questions are listed in a table below:

Question 1970 2005
1 66% 44%
2 44% 71%
3 39% 56%

 

As we see, the opinion of women towards men has changed to worse. Why? Did men really become worse? Kimmel says “no”¯, and I agree with him. Labor market did not change significantly for men during the last 80 years; moreover, the idea of manhood remained the same!

So, we have come to the fact that women’s life has changed, their duties have changed, but the expectations to men are the same. Moreover, men are sometimes opposing the tendency to eliminate gender inequality.

Kimmel gives sociological data that show: men will also benefit from equaling with women in rights. Statistics shows that men who spend more time on household duties are healthier, happier and have more sex than those who follow the “traditional role”¯. Moreover, the whole family benefits when man takes part of woman’s duties. As Kimmel says: “If women win in the fight for equality, it doesn’t mean that men lose”¯.

In my opinion, the misbalance of stereotypes in the society results in misbalance in people’s lives. In order to solve this problem, it’s necessary to change the stereotype and expectations of masculinity (which haven’t changed like that happened to femininity).

4. Possible solutions

We can witness the process of social shift: the boundaries between the social role of man and woman become obliterated. Women are the active participants of this process but men are not. In my opinion, this is necessary to include men in this process and to spread information together with images of successful families where duties and expectations are equal. It’s necessary to admit that a big role in this process belongs to mass media and other means of communication. Examples like research of Margaret Mead are also useful to prove to the society that the most difference between men and women is created by culture and upbringing.

I also think it’s necessary to include the educational system to address gender inequality and not only from the position of women, but also from the position of men. The society where gender does not play a leading role in the individual’s destiny can be quite reachable, and it will allow each human being to live full and harmonious life.

In addition to that, I think that society needs to include intersexuals into its life, and there should be a set of rules which they may use for successful integration. First of all, the “normality”¯ of intersexuals should be proven to other people, either by explaining this during biology lessons or showing by mass media that such people do not actually differ from other human beings. And what is most important, the intimate life of intersexuals should not be a subject of public interest. All this, in my opinion, can only be reached by slowly broadening the measures of the existing stereotypes.

Conclusion

Currently words “sex”¯ and “gender”¯ refer only to male and female human being, and to the set of psychological characteristics they possess.

But the actual state of affairs is much more complex. Firstly, the roles, duties and characteristics of men and women are not so clear as they were, for example, 80 years ago. The social shift that has started from feminist movement hasn’t ended yet, and necessary transformations need active participation of all members of the society. Secondly, there are not only two sexes, but three types of intersexual human beings, who also have the right to live free life and have free choice. In order to give space for such people in modern society the change of stereotypes and views is necessary. Such changes cannot be quick and painless, but in the end they will lead us to more harmonious world than today.

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