Gender sex distinction

Gender sex distinction 

'Sex' and 'gender' are often used interchangeably, despite having different meanings: Sex refers to a set of biological attributes in humans and animals. It is primarily associated with physical and physiological features including chromosomes, gene expression, hormone levels and function, and reproductive/sexual anatomy. Sex is usually categorized as female or male but there is variation in the biological attributes that comprise sex and how those attributes are expressed. 

Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and gender diverse people. It influences how people perceive themselves and each other, how they act and interact, and the distribution of power and resources in society. Gender identity is not confined to a binary (girl/woman, boy/man) nor is it static; it exists along a continuum and can change over time. There is considerable diversity in how individuals and groups understand, experience and express gender through the roles they take on, the expectations placed on them, relations with others and the complex ways that gender is institutionalized in society. Feminism is said to be the movement to end women's oppression (hooks 2000, 26). 

One possible way to understand ‘woman’ in this claim is to take it as a sex term: ‘woman’ picks out human females and being a human female depends on various biological and anatomical features (like genitalia). Historically many feminists have understood ‘woman’ differently: not as a sex term, but as a gender term that depends on social and cultural factors (like social position). In so doing, they distinguished sex (being female or male) from gender (being a woman or a man), although most ordinary language users appear to treat the two interchangeably. More recently this distinction has come under sustained attack and many view it nowadays with (at least some) suspicion. This entry outlines and discusses distinctly feminist debates on sex and gender.

Gender sex distinction

“Sex” refers to the physical differences between people who are male, female, or intersex. A person typically has their sex assigned at birth based on physiological characteristics, including their genitalia and chromosome composition. This assigned sex is called a person’s “natal sex.” Gender, on the other hand, involves how a person identifies. Unlike natal sex, gender is not made up of binary forms. Instead, gender is a broad spectrum. A person may identify at any point within this spectrum or outside of it entirely. People may identify with genders that are different from their natal sex or with none at all. These identities may include transgender, nonbinary, or gender-neutral. There are many other ways in which a person may define their own gender. Gender also exists as social constructs — as gender “roles” or “norms.” These are definedTrusted Source as the socially constructed roles, behaviors, and attributes that a society considers appropriate for men and women.

Sex assignment typically happens at birth based on anatomical and physiological markers. Male and female genitalia, both internal and external, are different, and male and female bodies have distinct hormonal and chromosomal makeups. Doctors use these factors to assign natal sex. At birth, female-assigned people have higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, and while assigned males have higher levels of testosterone. Assigned females typically have two copies of the X chromosome, and assigned males have one X and one Y chromosome. Society often sees maleness and femaleness as a biological binary. 

However, there are issues with this distinction. For instance, the chromosomal markers are not always clear-cut. Some male babies are born with two or three X chromosomes, just as some female babies are born with a Y chromosome. Also, some babies are born with atypical genitalia due to a difference in sex development. This type of difference was once called a “disorder of sex development,” but this term is problematic. In a 2015 surveyTrusted Source, most respondents perceived the term negatively. A further review found that many people do not use it at all, and instead use “intersex.” Being intersex can mean different things. For example, a person might have genitals or internal sex organs that fall outside of typical binary categories. Or, a person might have a different combination of chromosomes. Some people do not know that they are intersex until they reach puberty. Biologists have started to discussTrusted Source the idea that sex may be a spectrum. This is not a new concept but one that has taken time to come into the public consciousness. For example, the idea of sex as a spectrum was discussed in a 1993 article published by the New York Academy of Sciences.

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