The inequalities, differences and the division of labor between women and men are frequently viewed as consequences of the natural differences between female and male humans. According to Caplan, (1987), such views point out the most commonsensical comprehension of what it means to a woman or a man in any society. In addition, these views have been intrinsic in worldviews reigning across various societies throughout human history. The notion that the natural differences between male and female sexes are the source of all things makes men and women different. In this regard, this paper presents an overview of how sexuality and gender are socially constructed. The paper examines the distinction between gender and sexuality and the various explanations concerning the almost universal inequality between women and men.
The absolute variability of the relations and roles of women and men across various social groups and societies presents itself as one of the evidence against the simple biologically determinist view. Danova (1989) pointed out that if there is dependability between how different societies anticipate women to be women and men to be men, and then there must be something else apart from natural differences underlying their makeup. In addition, most people have faced incongruence between what is anticipated of their sex and what they are. The mismatch between what ‘an individual is ‘ and what ‘he or she should be’ is another apparent indicator that something other than natural differences constitutes people as women and men (Danova, 1989). The fact that gender has various manifestations and that it is more associated with institutions than individuals are reveals that it is obviously a social construct.
Since the naturalization of sex differences has been more crucial for women than for men, according to Fausto-Sterling (1997), women have more than men questioned these constructions. Indeed, according to Halberstram (2002), gender became a primary concept of sociology because of the effect of feminism. Therefore, Laqueur (1987) argued anatomy is not destiny, and one is not born, but instead becomes, a man or a woman. Laqueur (1997) questioned the above assumptions. However, his assertion is equally true for men. An In social sciences, there is agreement in acknowledging that differences between women and men are more social than natural. According to Martin (1991), the conceptual difference between gender and sex has wanted to capture this view of the matter.
Sex and Gender
Margaret Mead was one of the first people to ground practically the difference between the social and biological characteristics of women and men (Caplan, 1987). Margaret did this through her study of the conceptions of femininity and masculinity. She argued that the relationship between aggression and masculinity on one hand, and nurturance and femininity on the other hand, has no intrinsic association with the biological sex. The three non-western societies studied by Margaret showed other possible combinations of these variables. This study, though contestable on different grounds, contributed immensely to the shaping of the concept of gender.
The functionalist concept of ‘sex role’ is also a simple precursor of the notion of gender (Fausto-Sterling, 1997). The concept of sex role suggests that women and men are socialized into specific roles based on sex, which are instrumental and expressive roles. These roles are considered as the basis of a complementary relation between women and men. This, along with sexual division of labor, contributes immensely to a stable social order. However, various scholars have questioned the focus of this conceptualization upon ‘individual’ women and men who are socialized into roles that are specific in terms of sex (Laqueur, Orgasm, generation and the politics of reproductive biology, 1997). These scholars liken gender with the economy, which is more than the jobs performed by individuals. As such, they point out that gender is something more than the roles performed by women and women. Critics of the concept of sex role have also argued that socializations is a frequently a precarious attainment (Halberstram, 2002). In addition, critics also argue that agency, negotiation and interpretation are part of how gender identities are actually constituted.
According to Fausto-Sterling (1997), the difference between sex and gender that dominated the theorization in the sociology of gender is based upon the universality of sex and variability of gender. For Fausto-Sterling (1997), sex refers to the biological distinctions between female and male. These differences are can observed in the genitalia composition and the related composition in procreative function. On the other hand, gender is simply a matter of culture. According to Halberstram (2002), it refers to the social categorization into feminine and masculine. The ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ terms can be traced Robert Stoler, who used them to deal with cases of individuals whose biological sex did not conform to their gender.
Criticism of Sex-Gender Distinction
The distinction of sex and gender s no longer viewed as an explicit sociological breakthrough. This conception is majorly interrogated for its perception of sex as a binary classification accorded to nature and for positing gender as dependent on this binary classification. Danova (1989) traced one of the major challenges to the distinction of sex and gender. In their study, a female uses feminine cultural symbols to ‘pass’ as a female. This study indicated that sex, and not just gender, is a social achievement and performance. Caplan (1987), who agreed with Danova’s (1989) approach, argued that sex is a socially acknowledged biological criterion for categorizing individuals as either males or females.
Laqueur (1997) has also deployed various instances from the queer contexts to interrogate the binary aspect of the classification of sex and gender. He argued that both gender and sex are socially constructed. Using the linguistic concept of performativity, Halberstram (2002) treats femininity and masculinity as being established in regulative and normative way.
Caplan’s (1987) critique of the presumption that sex is a biological fact has also emphasized the growing discontent with the distinction between sex and gender. According to Fausto-Sterling’s (1997) critique, sex owes its survival a certain non-scientific and scientific discourses. Fausto-Sterling (1997) demonstrated how the sex idea to form in the various strategies of power by classifying together biological functions, anatomical elements, sensations, pleasures and conducts in an artificial unity. In addition, Danova (1989) critique enables one to utilize this fictitious unity as a fundamental principle, an omnipresent meaning, or a secret to be discovered everywhere.
This analysis shows that gender is not simply a social construction tied to sex that is a fixed and given. Instead, according to Laqueur (1997), sex is itself a construction. Therefore, for example, a study of medical management of children having physically ambiguous traits indicates that cultural acknowledgement of gender informs the management of such cases.
Gender Differences and Inequalities
Besides the above theoretical concerns about the actuality of differentiating sex from gender, a nagging issue occupying social anthropologists is that, despite the myriad differences in gender constructs, the subordination of women is almost becoming a social universal (Caplan, 1987). In this regard, the big question is accounting from this almost universal subordination of women without resorting to biologically determinist arguments. According to Marxist thinkers, gender relations are situated in systems of reproduction and production that characterize various societies and have historically developed to take the currently prevailing form of capitalism (Danova, 1989). Caplan (1987) historically traced the dynamic course of gender relations. According to Laqueur (1997), the source of the subordination of women is in the women themselves and in the emergence of private property. The source of women’s subordination is not in their biological differences. From this perspective, gender inequality arises under certain socio-historical situations and is not universal.
Another view that rejects the universal subordination of women suggests that domination and subordination of women arise contextually, and women are capable under all contexts in a society (Halberstram, 2002). Therefore, women might exercise reasonable influence within the domestic domain, whereas the same is normally true for men in the public domain.
Nevertheless, various scholars have tried to find some explanation for almost universal women’s subordination. Fausto-Sterling (1997) argues that nature is generally undervalued by culture. This is because of the women are directly identified with nature in the role they assume in reproduction. Despite being hugely powerful in the discourse of anthropology, it is debatable that the idea that culture undervalues nature hardly withstands the test of universality. In the least, according to Caplan (1987), this idea is deeply euro-centric. Caplan’s (1987) suggestion that women subordination is grounded in the division between public and domestic spheres together with a reliable devaluation of the former leaves room to criticism on the same grounds.
This short overview of the hypothetical attempts to explain and conceptualize inequalities and differences has hardly affirmed the consensual perception of the matter. However, this theoretical attempts point towards the significance of acknowledging gender in social instead of biological terms.
The way in which gender is constructed socially in the society is directly associated with the organization of religion and kinship of the society. However, neither religion nor kinship are honored site of gendered relations (Martin, 1991). Religion and kinship seem to bear immensely upon the certain characteristics of gender inequalities and differences that prevail in a society at a certain time. According to Fausto-Sterling (1997), the approach of religion has virtually universally naturalized gender differences, which treats them as unchallengeable. Females are viewed as inferior to male in both their bodily and mind attributes. On the other hand, men are viewed as the normative humans of who female represent a divergence. Nevertheless, most of the religious views exemplify vagueness towards females. On one hand, females are viewed as dangerous and inferior, and on the other hand, they are revered (Danova, 1989). Therefore, the equating of Hinduism women with animals on one hand, and on the other they are equated as goddesses represents the religious vagueness towards women.
Different religious worldviews have different consequences for gender relations (Halberstram, 2002). For instance, some religions ordain a strict segregation amid sexes. Some religions might limit the reproductive rights of the ordained people. The seclusion of females is common in more than one religion. In addition, some religions view women’s bodies defiling and impure. Therefore, women tend to remain barred from certain areas of social life. As such, the limitation of rights of reproduction more seriously disadvantages women than men (Fausto-Sterling, 1997). Most of these religious views have shaped gender relations and identities by creeping into the seemingly secular worldviews. However, in the modern world, various competing views also elbow with the religious perspectives, and neither religious perspectives nor the competing perspectives enjoy a clear-cut superiority over the other (Laqueur, 1997).
The organization of kinship in a society plays a pivotal role in influencing the gender roles and relations (Fausto-Sterling, 1997). The descent system followed in the social group has close consequences for gender relations’ construction. Whether the system of descent of a society is matrilineal, patrilineal or bilateral, it has a considerable effect on the construction og gender relations and identities of a society. According to Danova (1989), this is because the system is frequently the bases of the membership of a group (Laqueur, 1997). It is important to understand how gender and sexuality articulates with caste, class, ethnicity and race structures. Societies stratified based on class sustains various patterns of gendered relations across various classes with sophisticated social consequences. In most Indian societies, gender immensely intersects with caste.
The absolute variability of the relations and roles of women and men across various social groups and societies presents itself as one of the evidence against the simple biologically determinist view. Since the naturalization of sex differences has been more crucial for women than for men, women have more than men questioned these constructions. The relationship between aggression and masculinity on one hand, and nurturance and femininity on the other hand has no intrinsic association with the biological sex. The concept of sex role suggests that women and men are socialized into specific roles based on sex, which are instrumental and expressive roles. The difference between sex and gender that dominated the theorization in the sociology of gender is based upon the universality of sex and variability of gender. The distinction of sex and gender s no longer viewed as an explicit sociological breakthrough. Sex owes its survival a certain non-scientific and scientific discourses. These analysis shows that gender is not simply a social construction tied to sex that is a fixed and given. Instead, sex is itself a construction. The way in which gender is constructed socially in the society is directly associated with the organization of religion and kinship of the society. The organization of kinship in a society plays a pivotal role in influencing the gender roles and relations.
Caplan, P. (1987). The cultural construction of sexuality. London: Tavistock.
Danova, J. (1989). Natural facts: a historical perspective on science and sexuality. Wisconsin: Wisconsin University Press.
Fausto-Sterling, A. (1997). How to build a man. London: Routledge.
Halberstram, J. (2002). An introduction to female masculinity. Oxford: Blackwell.
Laqueur, T. (1987). Discovery of the sexes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Laqueur, T. (1997). Orgasm, generation and the politics of reproductive biology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Martin, E. (1991). The egg and the sperm: How science has constructed a romance based on stereotypical male-female roles. Signs , 16 (3), 12-20.