Lecture 8: What is Gender ?

Sex- On the basis of reproductive functions (presence or absence thereof)

  • State of being male/female (but not always binary b/c intersex, genitally ambiguous)
  • Biological


  • Social, cultural, behavioural, psychological
  • Masculinity (e.g. strength) & femininity (e.g. soft) : culturally specific

Margaret Mead :Sex & Temperament in 3 Primitive Societies (1935) 

  • Arapesh: men & women displayed similar attitudes & actions (esp. in feminine traits)
  • Mundugumor Society: Males & females similar (esp. in masculine traits)
  • Tchambuli Society: Gender expectations were the opposite of what we expect in modern societies (women dominant & men submissive)

Take Away: No necessary connection b/w biological sec & gendered behaviour/ norms

  • Gender is culturally constructed (we learn it from normative expectations)
  • Therefore, ppl. also have the choice to reject it just as much as they learn

Judith Butler: “Your Behaviour Creates Your Gender.” 

  • Gender is performed
  • If gender is performed, does that mean it doesn’t exist in the first place and that people are only “acting” to fulfill their role
  • Those that deviate from stereotypes are heavily discriminated (often by violent & traumatizing means) –> creates problem in situations like bathrooms

“The Sissy Boy Experiment.” 

  • The trade off between allowing people to be openly gay or having them be so unhappy that they commit suicide
  • Gender identification should not be something that society could “solve” with therapy
  • People should be free to act how they wish in terms of their masculinity and femininity

Gender Inequality 

  • Right to vote
  • Equal wages
  • Violence

*Gender stereotypes are ultimately destructive & problematic for both men & Women


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