Sex and Gender

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It's a Lot More Than What's Down There
When most of us think about differences between men and women (or boys and girls) we tend to think first about the biology involved. The physical shape of our bodies genitalia mostly, but also the relative breadth of hips and shoulders, the presence or absence of a uterus and the potential to sustain a pregnancy helps us sort humans into male and female. Simple as pie. Which is good because sorting people by sex is something that is very important to most people. Watch nearly anybody go up to someone holding an infant and the first thing that she or he will ask the parent if the child is a girl or a boy. But why should it matter to anyone what the sex of the baby is? Even if it is easy to tell masculine from feminine. Except, of course, that it's not. There's nothing at all simple about the differences that exist between men and women because the biological differences between the sexes are only the beginning of the overall difference. (And even the biology itself can be ambiguous at times: Intersex individuals and others whose DNA is different from the most common XX or XY can be ambiguous in terms of appearance.) Much of what gives us our gender identity as opposed to what we might call our sexual classification derives not from biology (or at not from genetics) but from the social and cultural values that give shape to each person's life. Because of this latter fact, the sociologist (along with the anthropologist and the social psychologist) is ideally qualified to help us understand what distinguishes the male from the female and why there are more differences among men and women than between them. Doctors and physiologists are of far less use in determining gender than one might have suspected. One of the most longstanding, most intense (and ultimately most frustrating) questions within the social sciences is that of nature-versus-nurture or how much we come into the world with and how much that birthright is shaped by...
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