Sex Vs Gender What decides who you are? Conception If sex is whether an individual is male or female, then this is decided at conception when a sperm fertilises an egg. A newly formed foetus has the chromosomes that determine whether it will be born a girl or a boy. Is gender the same? Is sex change final? If sex is genetic, then it follows that an individual’s sex is fixed. Genes cannot be changed. Socalled ‘sex change’ operations therefore do not really change a person’s sex. However, an individual’s sex is partly determined by their anatomy (for example, genitals) and this can be changed in genderreassignment surgery. A transsexual woman may have a penis constructed and her breasts removed so she appears as a man. She may also be given hormones to promote facial hair and inhibit menstruation, yet internally, both in terms of genetics and sexual organs she will always be female. Gender Identity As long as the transsexual looks and feels like their chosen gender then they don’t care about the biological definitions. This is the reason they would have the surgery in the first place. ANTM contestant Isis’s sex was male but her gender identity was feminine. This suggests that gender is fixed like sex, since people who undergo gender re-assignment have not been able to simply adopt the gender role of the sex that they were born. There is evidence that suggests a person’s gender can change. Imperato-McGinley (1979) The Batista Boys Aim To demonstrate that individuals can change their gender role and identity. Method A case study was carried out on 18 males who were part of the same extended family living in rural communities in the Dominican Republic. They had been born with a hormone deficiency which meant their genitals appeared to be female and so they were raised as girls. The evidence suggested they had no problem with adopting a feminine identity and role until puberty. At puberty, the increased production of male hormones caused their testicles to descend and their clitoris-like organs to grow into penises. Results Following their biological transformation at puberty, nearly all of the boys easily adapted to their true sex. They adopted masculine identities and began to ‘behave like men.’ Conclusion This shows that sex and gender are distinct concepts. The individual’s sex had clearly not changed over time, but their gender had. When investigated they had fully embraced the gender role, showing gender is flexible. Evaluation The problem with any case study is that samples are small – in this case, one small community. It might be that other cultures would respond differently to the disorder and we cannot assume that all people would adapt so easily to their new gender role. For example, in the case of this community, roles were seen as God-given and part of one’s destiny. In addition, the Dominican Republic was a very patriarchal society so the boys in this study may have been pleased to discover they were actually male. However, the researchers did not meet the participants until they were adults so had to rely on retrospective accounts of their childhoods. Therefore, they could not reliably say that the boys had fully adopted the feminine gender role before puberty. Further Evidence Flexibility of gender comes from Rekers et al (1974). They described how they used a three-year programme of treatment to extinguish the highly feminine behaviour of an 8 year old boy and replace it with masculine behaviour. When the boy was assessed at the age of 16 he was described as a normal gender-appropriate adolescent. This had been achieved by reinforcing masculine traits in the boy, again showing that a person’s gender can be changed. To conclude, psychologists are more interested in the concept of gender because it relates to people’s perception of themselves and to their behaviour. Essentially, gender is a psychologist concept, whereas sex is a biological concept. There is little dispute about the origins of an individual’s sex, but what makes a person masculine, feminine or androgynous is much more debateable. Plenary 1. 2. 3. 4. Give an example of a feminine behaviour. Give an example of a masculine behaviour. Outline what is meant by androgyny. Explain the differences between sex and gender.