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Sex and Gender Distinction

Sex and Gender Distinction

“In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman” (Thatcher). The saying contains the truth. Moreover, it emphasizes the fact that there is a prejudiced treatment of both genders towards one another in politics. Is it possible to use the word “gender” in this context or probably the term “sex” is more acceptable? This is not an easy question to answer and it needs further research.

First of all, it is necessary to define the notion of “sex”. Generally, this word means the indicator of the obvious physical and biological characteristics that establish the differences between males and females. (Nobelius). The differences may be biological, physical, psychological and genetic. For example, a higher timbre of male’s voice than female’s one, a females’ ability to bear children, physical strength of the men and some others. There also exist sex differences in language usage. According to some stereotypes, it is considered that a woman can talk more than a man, a woman is also likely to use adjectives, such as divine, charming, cute.

Women tend to use question intonation in response to inquiries: ‘About ten o’clock?’ as a reply to: ‘What time’s dinner?’ Probably, this insecure style of conversation is typical for ‘power­less’ people, who are somewhat nervous and afraid of antagoniz­ing others. Powerless people come from both sexes. However, the most significant difference found between men and women by linguists is a women’s tendency to speak in a prestigious way. They try to use language, close to the standard one.

What can be said about the word “gender” is that it is used to denote the socially established patterns and behaviors, roles and attributes. They are realized through different means including family, educational institutions and wrk organizations. The gender roles and behaviors also depend on the individuals’ values, customs, religion and beliefs (Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, United Nations).

Gender identification starts in the childhood. Between the ages of two and three, children begin to acquire gender roles and stereotypes by the types of toys and games they want to play. Gender identification continues during adulthood and is established via two major theories: social learning theory and gender schema theory. Social learning theory uses the methods of punishment and modeling, while according to the gender schema theory, males and females cultivate mental categories from the childhood and perform their gender roles in the manner they were “programmed”.

Although it is a mistake, sometimes people relate term “sex” to the concept “gender”. The probable reason for such point of view is the fact that both notions are embedded into the process of social construction of reality, as they indicate individuals’ roles in society and people’s relations to each other. However, it is necessary to realize that such an approach is not quite correct, because though some similarities exist, the meanings of the terms are not alike. Sex indicator distinguishes male from female, depending on biological characteristics while gender – masculinity from femininity, indicating men and women’s functions and roles in the society. Sex is something given to a person from the first day of his/her existence, whereas gender is not inbuilt, but learnt and acquired through a process of development and socialization. That is why it is possible to state that sex is biologically determined while gender is culturally determined (Torgrimson, Minson).

Gender identification starts in the childhood. Between the agess of 2 and 3, children begin to acquire gender roles and stereotypes by the types of toys and games they want to play. Gender identification continues during adulthood and it is established via two major theories: social learning theory and gender schema theory. Social learning theory uses the methods of punishment and modeling, while according to the gender schema theory, males and females cultivate mental categories for the childhood and perform their gender roles in the manner they were “programmed”. Gender identification in some way may correlate with sexual orientation, but it looks so only from the first sight. Sexual orientation is a person’s emotional or physical impulse to the individual of the opposite sex.

There is one more category, which can be confused with “gender” and “sex”. This is “sexuality”. The concept “sexuality” means human capacity to have erotic perceptions, experiences and responses. In other words, the notion describes men and women’s sexual desires. The concept of sexuality may vary according to biological, physical, emotional, or spiritual context (Science Encyclopedia).

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Therefore, gender and sex distinction is quite a controversial issue, because on the one hand, concepts “sex” and “gender” seem to correlate and many people use these words in the same meaning. However, it should be mentioned that these notions are different: the notion “sex” is meant to define the obvious physical and biological differences between males and females. Gender is the indicator of the socially established patterns and behaviors, roles and attributes.  Consequently, sex is a biological indicator, whereas gender is a socially constructed indicator. Sexuality should not be confused with sex, because this is human capacity to have erotic perceptions and emotional attraction.

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