Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gender vs. Sex

. . . or why words are important.

If you've seen the news this week, you've probably heard about the family that intends to raise their third child to be genderless.  They don't plan on disclosing the baby's sex, they gave it a neutral name and will dress it ambiguously.  This is disturbing on so many levels.

One that just struck me as I was writing the above paragraph is how I referred to the baby - it - as if this child is a thing.  We don't even refer to our pets in this manner.  I have a dog, Jack, that when talking about him, I'll tell you what he did.

Which leads me to the next thing that bothers me about this whole discussion - the use of the words sex vs. gender.  When a human is conceived, its 23rd chromosome either is XX and therefore a female, or XY, and is a male.  That, and only that, determines this human's sex.  We are born one or the other.  Gender, on the other hand, is the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.     

There are gender traits that are traditionally male and ones that are traditionally female, which are often defined by society, but more often created by our capabilities.  Men tend to be be the protectors, the providers, the leaders.   By virtue of their male physicality they are more capable of this.  Women more often than not are the nurturers, the caretakers, the multitaskers.  It's what we are good at. 

Given that gender is a collection of traits that define a person, it seems to me that there aren't just two,   there's an infinite spectrum between the girly girl and the macho man.  Being at one end doesn't eliminate a person's likes or capabilities along that continuum.  But by making gender irrelevant, it makes sex relative.   Who needs male and female when either sex could be masculine or feminine?  Or neither?  A woman could be a feminine partner to a man, a feminine partner to a woman, a masculine partner to a man.   

There has been a slow but continual erosion of our language.  And along with those changes comes an attempt to change societal norms.   It kind of makes you wonder what's next.

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