First off, lets define some terms to help the reader understand the underlying context. These aren’t all-encompassing definitions and the definition can vary, however, given personal experience, and the nature of this article, these definitions are applicable.
Sex – the two divisions which an organism or person can be placed into based on the anatomy of the person. Characteristics of sex have several subsets; genital sex (penile structures and semen production verses, vaginal/uterine structures and egg production in humans and mammals), chromosomal complement (XX for female, XY for male), hormonal sex (estrogen dominance verses testosterone dominance), and neurological sex (about sex dichotomous behaviors in mammals and avian species).
Intersex Condition – a condition by which the structures, chromosomes or hormonal compliment of an individual has characteristics of both sexes. I.E. A male whose body produces estrogen dominance, extra/anomalous sex chromosomes (XXY, XXXY, X only, XX/XY mosaic, XX with SRY gene, XY sex reversal), or ambiguous genitals (Penis with no testicles and labial opening and vaginal orifice, or complete vaginal or penile development with dysgenesis or reversal in the gonads ‘ova-testes’)
Gender – the ideological division between men and women within cultural phenomenon, and may or may not be based entirely on sex. Gender relates to the ideological sense of male, or female. While gender and sex are similar, sex is biologically determinate, and gender is ideological determinate. In some cultures it is customary for some males to be gendered female, or accept female gender roles. Society has role expectations for people of those two genders based at least in part on sex.
Gender Identity – one’s internal sense of being male or female. It is determined at a young age, and is likely a result of a combination of prenatal hormones, socialization in childhood/adolescence, and societal gender roles (in order of impact). While most people have gender identities and sexes that are congruent some don’t. Gender dysphoria usually results from this mismatch and sufferers can be male, female or intersexed.
Gender Identity Disorder – A persistent, long felt mismatch between ones sex or societal gender role, and their own internal sense of gender which impairs social function, occupational functioning and causes significant distress. Not all people who have mixed-gender identities and transsexuals have GID. GID is contributory to cultural phenomenon and based on acceptance or non-acceptance of gender variation within a particular culture. In a gender variant accepting culture, it is unlikely that cross-gender identified people would suffer duress.
Gender Role – refer to the set of social and behavioral norms that are considered to be socially appropriate for individuals of a specific sex or gender in the context of a specific culture, which differ widely between cultures and over time.
In our society there is a lot of confusion and debate that relates to gender and sex because of one concept (or mostly so), Sexism. The division of sexes creates a social dynamic which contributes to sexism. The gender roles of people in society are enforced by social pressure also known as peer pressure. The problem often is that the dichotomy precludes people under it from understanding gender identity in self concept first before learning it in social concept. Children from a young age are forced into gender dichotomies before they can develop that sense naturally. It is still a commonly subscribed principle that children don’t become men and women, but need guidance (gender specific rearing) to become men and women. I don’t believe this is true. I think that what really happens is that for those with congruent genders accept this conditioning as fact because there is no conflict, and others who don’t have this congruence end up suffering because of the conflict. Furthermore, it isn’t gendered behavior that is being taught to children, rather it’s gender roles and stereotypes that are being taught. This can lead people without a true gender conflict to in turn feel conflicted by the role in which they occupy. One should not assume that because someone is a child that they are an idiot and can’t see or understand something as a flawed concept or as being unfair. Children also aren’t blank slates to be manipulated.
The problem with this in lies in the fact that it creates closed identity formation. Rather than a person naturally developing from their innate traits, likes, and dislikes they are conditioned to fit a predetermined concept. One must also consider that gender stereotypes are discriminatory by nature because they demand compliance and admonish variations. Essentially, cisgendered (non-transgender) people accept this gender role as fact, but later come into conflict with it. Most people come into conflict with gender identity, role, and stereotypes at points in their lives where it becomes difficult to satisfy those expectations. In some cases it’s when they are middle-aged, and don’t feel as virile or buxom as they once did. The stereotypes are unsustainable in the long run, because all people age and in some cases may even develop characteristics common of the opposite sex. Gynecomastia in older men is common in America, and women with facial hair growth during menopause is hardly unheard of. What ends up happening, is that they suffer gender dysphoria simply because they can’t meet the unrealistic expectations of gender stereotypical roles. In fact many people, not of middle aged generations experience a sense of inadequacy in meeting gender stereotypes. They lack a egosyntonic (traits harmonious to their concept of self) gender identities that are founded within their self understanding, for which their ‘gender socialization’ can easily be undermined in social settings where they can’t meet societal expectations.
This becomes a bigger issue for transsexual, transgender, intersexed, or other people who fail to conform to gender role stereotypes. Sexism has a dictate that contributes to this mentality, and it is what I refer to as Gender Mutual Exclusivity. Under this concept men can only be masculine, and women can only be feminine. Gender expression is dichotomous, restrictive and thus inherently discriminatory. Females are supposed to be demure, reserved, accepting, emotionally sensitive, esthetically pleasing, good smelling, passive, and nurturing. Males are supposed to be strong, assertive, aggressive, strong, outgoing, stern, stoic, emotionally controlled, and objective. The process belies the diversity of human behavior for males and females, and describes males and female as complete opposites also known as part of Oppositional Sexism. Oppositional Sexism justifies discrimination through segregation of males and females and does so by proving through circular means that the gender roles are fair because men and women are different. Psychosocial studies have been done that indicate that people who have more mixed traditionally masculine and feminine traits are happier, and are more emotionally and mentally stable than people who aren’t more balanced. The overlap of male and female potential is great, and as society proves not all men are masculine, nor all women feminine. Femininity and Masculinity are both components of Gender Expression, not of some universal truth about men and women.
While the biological basis, if any exists, between men and women is largely unknown, scientist do know that some basic, more primitive behaviors about sexuality and gender identity are predetermined at some point prenatally. This is fact, not figurative, because the pattern is irrevocable, though the exact mechanism is still outside of scientific means to see directly. Hormones influence gender identity, and then plays a key role in your acceptance or rejection of socialization, gender roles, and gender stereotypes. A role that is egodystonic (characteristics not in harmony with self) is likely to be rejected at some point, or a role that is egosyntonic is likely to be accepted. But gender expression should never be confused with gender identity. Gender identity is your inner sense of gender, and gender expression is how you express yourself be it masculine or feminine. The picture this paints to me is this, you can be 100% masculine, and be a woman; or vise versa, you can be completely feminine and still be a man. Your gender expression has little to do with your identity, but your identity has everything to do with your gender expression. Gender Identity is just one part of your identity, but understanding this is essential to who you are.
But how do you sense your own gender identity? How happy are you with the things about you that show your gender to yourself and others? Meditate on your body, and think about how you feel about it. Does your body speak for who you feel you are? There are going to be things that everyone wants to changes about their bodies, or most will. Think about it in terms of expression. If you don’t like a part of your body, is it because you feel it’s inadequate, or because you feel it shouldn’t be there to begin with. Many women wish they had bigger, more perfect breasts, and many men wish they had a bigger phallus; however, this doesn’t mean you wish to be the other sex. Also, being the opposite sex should not be misconstrued with sexual/erotic fantasies of sex change, or otherwise. If you meditate on your body and feel that it matches who you are inside with societal, stereotypes, and all other inputs aside you are cisgendered, and if you don’t and having those features causes you duress you might be transgendered. Think about it this way, if someone showed you a button that would reverse your sex instantaneously, but if you pushed it you couldn’t go back. Given time to think about it, would you press it knowing you couldn’t undo it?
This is how you have to look at it to understand your own gender. You can’t see it from the social stand point, or from the opinions of others. This kind of meditation is best done in sensory isolation. When in sensory deprivation do you feel your formless silhouette in your mind as male or female. People are bi-potential for behaviors, feelings, skills, attitudes and social roles generally divided into male and female. Men and women aren’t exactly the same, but the overlap is major. Even body types and shapes can vary widely with considerable overlap, why would your capabilities as a man or woman be any different. So let’s, as a culture, see to the end of sexism, and see a start to true gender equality. That men and women would be equals that augment each other, rather than one oppressing the other. Let all people be considered for their own merits without the gender being the determinant.
The way in which sexism relates to and effects perception of gender is complex; however, time and again sexism proves that it is wrong to the most basic principles. Sexism, and gender binary dichotomies can make even the most conforming person feel as though they don’t measure up. It creates for discrimination, and scientifically speaking gender and sex are not as dichotomous as they want you to believe. I’d largely contribute this to naturalism, that basically states that anything that doesn’t help the species is unnatural. It is the basis for a whole form of different moral codes, and is resultant in the creation of gender binary ideology. However, whether something furthers the procreative sustenance of the human race or not doesn’t make it an issue of morality. There are very real biological realities that prevent procreation, but the person suffering from such is not to blame. It’s the cornerstone of sexist philosophy and places the heterosexual fertile male as the morally correct example with his static, subservient heterosexual fertile female mate as the natural order, and places all forms of gender variance (either anatomical or neurological) into the marginalized null space of “unnatural” despite science proving them as natural variations. Something being maladaptive to a species doesn’t miraculously make it “unnatural”.
Patriarchal sexism proliferates itself by sexually and politically liberating itself, scorning gender variance and subjugating women to protect its existence and erase all things that challenge its authority. Homosexuality, transsexuality, intersexed conditions, and equality for women seek to challenge its authority which it has written itself into history as being righteous, while all others are ideas, concepts and people are condemned as evil and immoral as established by morally obliged Naturalists and Patriarchates. Sexism is by extension a narcissistic ideology, because one maintains their status (even subservient statuses) in society by supporting gender roles, enforcing gender stereotypes, and admonishing gender variance. The process is self-defeating because one must lie to themselves and engage in hypersexuality, (hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine) behaviors which undermines self-esteem by creating a self-concept basis that is not indefinitely maintainable. It’s like an addiction. You act the part, and are rewarded, but you must support or exceed in successive behaviors which increase the stress on you. Eventually the stress becomes to great that you can’t keep up the behavior, and thus experience the withdrawal of the social acceptance from gender stereotypical behavior.
Hyper-feminine and hyper-masculine people are usually narcissistic and the traits attributed to how manly, or womanly they are become their narcissistic supply. However, it’s only extreme cases of this that it manifests as Narcissistic Personality Disorder predominantly in men, or Histrionic Personality Disorder in women. Sexism undermines the self-worth of people and leads to narcissistic behaviors. Most people’s healthy balance of masculinity and femininity lies far below the standards exemplified by gender stereotypes. As such they aren’t realistic personal goals to meet, and can cause psychological trauma in their adherence. I think that men and women are more alike that many people believe, but to go to the other extreme would also be inadvisable. Men are still men, and women are still women even if they are similar. Sexism exaggerates those traits to an extreme that is unhealthy and unethical.
Point is that gender stereotypes have a profoundly negative impact on everyone, especially women in our society. They are wrong, and unethical, and shouldn’t be adhered to. Being masculine or feminine doesn’t make or change your gender. Being raised as a male or female doesn’t make you a man or woman either. You are who you are, and how you were raised is a part of it, but not antecedent to your core sense of self. You are given an identity and it is yours, and at least in some small part it can not be changed. Be yourself, and to hell with superficial gender roles and stereotypes. You are the only person you can be, and no one can live your life for you. It’s that simple. Don’t let labels be your prison.