Gender and sex are terms we generally think about when we’re filling a form. It used to be easy, you tick on M or F and you’re done. However, the usage of the two terms – Gender and Sex – are not always interchangeable. It is important to understand nuances.
Sex is what science gives you. This means your sexual organs, chromosomes, physical features like height, weight, colour, etc.
Gender is what society gives you. It is the category to which an individual is assigned by self or others, on the basis of sex. This means as soon as you are given a title of man or woman, you automatically inherit historical, religious, racial, class and societal stereotypes of what a man/woman “should” be. It is to escape this unhelpful, often violent, binary of 0s and 1s that we have persons who describe themselves as gender nonbinary. More on this below.
Sexuality is what you give to yourself. It is an expression of sex and gender. Its who/how you’re attracted to someone.
An example to understand the meaning of gender vs sex:
Sex can be observed by biological traits such as breasts in women or Adam’s apple in men. But gender is a reflection of the self that a person chooses to be. For example, it can be women wearing high heels or men keeping facial hair.
To further see it in the context of the LGBTQ community:
A transgender man has chosen the pronoun he/him to represent his identity in society. But the sex assigned at birth to him was that of a female.
Why should you care?
So that you can be the best and most authentic version of you.
You can be more empathetic and supportive to the struggles of those around you. Right from men speaking up about their mental health, to seeing women leaders, to reduction in violence, to more inclusivity and choices for the nonconforming people.
You can write characters the way you want without having to check if they conform.
You can understand that gender is a social construct. Which means, it is not set-in stone. It can be changed. If you know how it works, you can resist, change and improve the working of things.
Taking a leaf out of point 4 from above, there are many factors that affect gender and the baggage that comes along with it. Here, we’ll touch upon two of the most important historic factors: society and religion:
Gender has long been seen a representation of the self in an accepted set of norms placed by society and religion together. They also often give a nod to centuries of conditioning that may have become synonymous with the representative gender. For example, men are ambitious and women are more empathetic.
But in a fluid system of representation, these norms do more damage than benefit. The restricted roles and behaviors that each gender is assigned can become a prison for someone who is yet to understand their inner self. Take marriage for example. It is defined with the help of religious practices and societal understanding. They only work in a binary setup. A wife and a husband are clubbed by the virtue of their duties and responsibilities but more importantly their behaviours. A woman’s place as a caregiver and a husband’s position as a bread-earner is almost universal across the world.
A lot more visual elements that define gender can be clothing, lifestyle, even expectations. And a person who is not adhering to these set norms can be ostracized or even made to feel out of place by religion and society combined.
David Bowie was a gender-bending, pan-sexual superstar, and his wide-ranging loves — romantic and artistic — paved the way for more people to become okay with their gender and sexuality.
Role of pop culture has in fact been considered even more important than society or religion combined – the conversations that young men and women required everywhere was provided by their favourite popstars on stage and in songs. More on pop culture and content we recommend here.
Usage of right terms is very important when we talk about topics that matter. We have several times used words and phrases loosely because it is thought of as the 'cool lingo' that everyone is using. 'He is so gay', 'You throw like a girl', or the usage of 'policeman' denoting that it is a profession for males are some negative stereotypes we see in everyday life. Sensitizing ourselves to understand proper terms and their usage helps us all be on the same page of understanding when awareness is the goal that we are moving towards. Here are some for your reference:
We hope that through these resources we can spark an idea of what gender, sex and sexuality can be in your world view and perhaps through your words we can make the world a more inclusive place via the power of our voice. Gender and concerns around it come a long way from history and if you'd like to take a look at the journey humanity has been through, here's also a short film we compiled on the unforgettable moments in history in regard to gender.