One of the most seemingly overlooked topics in the society is the question on sex and gender. In most cases, sex and gender are being taken as related, if not synonymous, insights in the course of sociological context. However, it is aimed in this paper to point out that there are indeed differences between the two concepts, and these differences are significant in contextualizing sex and gender among individuals in the society.
Hence, to point out clearly, sex and gender differences are essential in “doing gender” and assessing it. First and foremost, to do gender is perceived as to act or behave based on what had been the presupposed actions of an individual, depending mostly on his or her sex/gender assignment. There are two main types of the correlative notions of sex and/or gender: to be male or to be female. Following so, it had been long established in most societies that a male individual should do according to the standards of what a male must do.
These are behaviors that commonly relate to physical attributions such as strength or power, and are manifested in ordinary actions and preferences like being sports-minded, taking engineering or mathematical courses, and the likes. On the other hand, females are taken in a less important light, that is, by identifying her to be of weaker and of subtler tendencies, such as doing the housework, following what her father says regardless of reason, and so on.
It is “well recognized that the […] household is constituted by a division of labor that defines certain kinds of work as domestic, unpaid, and usually women’s, and other kinds as public, paid, and usually men’s” (Connel, 1987, p. 122). According to West and Zimmerman (1987), “Sex […] was what was ascribed by biology: anatomy, hormones, and physiology [while] gender […] was an achieved status: that which is constructed through psychological, cultural, and social means” (p. 125).
This could be a very simplified difference between sex and gender: It is with how the concepts are distributed in the different fields or aspects. However, it must be understood that the difference is merely that sex is a biological concept and gender is a social concept; “sex is a determination made through the application of socially agreed upon biological criteria for classifying persons as females or males” (West & Zimmerman, 1987, p. 127). In this sense, sex may also be taken in a social context, in that it applies several sociological determinants in order to prove or identify it.
The categorization of an individual’s sex is determined rather by a common-sensical manner most of the time, in which the observant deduces the sex category to the sex itself of the individual in question, in absence of the more vivid biological justifications of a person’s sex. It is common understanding that there had already been established social norms that contribute to the categorization of a person. The process of categorizing males and females as indigenous identities uses this test: “if people can be seen as members of relevant categories, then categorize them that way” (West & Zimmerman, 1987, p.
133). Naturally, people take the identity of a person at face value, unless there is a strong ground that makes them apply certain criteria that will try to test further that person’s sex. Gender, quite relatively, moves on with what the society implores on one’s identity. A male person must be masculine; a female must be feminine. We would like to digress then, that the acceptance of sex and gender merely as concepts does not totally stop here. Gender, in some cases, goes beyond adherence to what is socially acceptable.
To do gender is “not always to live up to normative conceptions of femininity or masculinity; it is to engage in behavior at the risk of gender assessment” (West & Zimmerman, 1987, p. 136). Therefore, we are taking into consideration the ways in which people could see further than what had merely been established by the society. Doing gender is not just accepting or agreeing to what the society tells us to; it is “creating differences between girls and boys and women and men, differences that are not natural, essential, or biological” (West & Zimmerman, 1987, p. 137).
The differences that we would like to see revolves not only on shallow aspects but also on how we could integrate these differences into going further down the line and probably initiating actions that will give a new light to the concepts of sex and gender. As what West and Zimmerman (1987) says, “social change, then, must be pursued both at the institutional and cultural level of sex category and at the interactional level of gender” (p. 147). We can illustrate doing gender in these following scenarios: In a typical neighborhood, the wife was able to get home from work earlier than her husband.
She was wearing an old rose blouse, a matching old rose slacks, and high heeled shoes. She went straight home after her classes from the town high school. She has just been recently married with her husband, and they do not have children yet. She then proceeded to do the cooking for their dinner, while at the same time, she quietly took note of her students’ exam papers she still had to check later. When her (engineer) husband came, he greeted his wife and went to the kitchen where they ate their dinner. They talked about work and later agreed that the husband will wash the dishes afterwards.
This routine has been in effect since the time that they got married and lived together. In this scenario, it is very clear that there is an “engendered” division of labor especially inside the household. The productive side is not merely given to the husband since the wife also earns through being a teacher. In a similar manner, the reproductive side is not solely attributed to the wife because they have agreed to share on doing the household chores. The gender roles are not purely associated with what is feminine or what is masculine. Even if washing the dishes may construe the feminine side, the husband still agreed on doing it.
At least in this case, the couple was able to manage “contradictions between relational identification and gender differentiation” (Dryden, 1999, p. 87) in the sense that they both realize not only the essence of marriage as a relationship but also as a matter of gender difference that they could compromise about. Similarly, in the same neighborhood, a little girl points at a blue balloon. She wanted her mother to buy it for her. The old male vendor was looking intently at the girl, commenting that because she is a girl, she should take the pink balloon instead.
The little girl shook her head and pointed at the blue balloon. Her mother was able to resolve the situation by buying the blue balloon. Simplistic in nature, this scenario may pose as a very ordinary activity, but a lot of people always see things like the way the vendor did. There are always assignments among boys and girls – that boys should choose blue things and girls should choose pink things. It is almost linearly righteous to take these preferences as normal things, but it must be understood that the identity between a girl and a boy does not merely punctuate from their color or toy preferences.
We cannot just assume that just because the girl was a girl, she should have a pink balloon. To do gender is to go outside the confinements of the socially-accepted norms. To do gender means not to reinforce the social norms since these could block the freedom of a person to prefer or to choose what he or she really likes. To be a boy or to be a girl does not follow with how the society must shape him or her. In this case, it is fortunate that the girl’s mother completely understands how to “engender” her child by not just adhering to the accepted norms in the society.
Learning about doing gender is an important part of capacitating oneself in the sense that it makes people understand day-to-day activities of people, male or female alike. Doing gender is vital in assessing the identities of individuals. It not only supersedes from the power of gaining knowledge, but it is more of reinventing how we deal with ourselves and other people in terms of sex and gender. The gender differences may prove to be worthwhile as basis for re-contextualizing and reconstructing the concept of gender.As in West’s book “Doing Gender, Doing Difference” (2002) gender is “always a doing” (p. 193).
Connel, R. W. (1987). Gender and Power: Society, the Person, and Sexual Politics. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Dryden, C. (1999). Being Married, Doing Gender: A Critical Analysis of Gender Relationships in Marriage. U. K. : Routledge. West, C. (2002). Doing gender, doing difference: inequality, power, and institutional change. U. K. : Routledge. West, C. & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing gender. Gender and Society, 1, 125-148.