In psychology many different perspectives seek to explain the differences between males and females. In societies they play distinctive roles and are treated and viewed differently. They behave differently too. To compare and contrast the accounts of sex and gender we need to define the terms sex and gender. To examine further we need to examine the key aspects of the biological, evolutionary, social constructionist and psychoanalytical perspectives focusing on similarities and differences regarding their accounts of sex and gender. Finally need to consider the ways in which these perspectives compliment, conflict or simply co-exist with one another.
Often the term sex and gender are used interchangeably. Often this usage has lead to confusion therefore we have to begin by attempting to draw a distinction between the terms for discussing psychological perspectives in this paper. Traditionally, the word gender has been used to refer to the cultural aspect of what it is to be man or woman. ''Womanly' or 'manly' and 'masculine' or 'feminine' are viewed as not being connected with a person's biological sex, but more in terms of psychological characteristics shaped by individuals experience (EPoCH CD-ROM). The term sex is used solely when referring to biological and physical traits such as primary and secondary sex characteristics or specifically to 'sexual intercourse'. (Hollway,Cooper,Johnston,Stevens ,The psychology of sex and gender p117).
It is important to bear in mind that different perspectives ask different questions and use different methods to examine the basic assumptions made by each perspective with respect to the concepts of sex and gender. In terms of the biological factors that are thought to shape sex and gender include external genitalia, sex chromosomes and genes, hormones and lateralization of brain function. Although it is important to emphasize that anatomy is not necessarily destiny but the most commonly used way to determine sex is then observation of the external (visible) genitals (Hollway, Cooper, Johnston and Stevens, 2003).
To determine the individual's sex is through sex chromosomes and every human being has a pair of sex chromosomes; in females this pair normally comprises of two X chromosomes and in males an X and a Y chromosome. Another indicator of 'maleness' or 'femaleness' for biological theorists are the levels of specific hormones such as testosterone (male) and oestrogen and progesterone (female) which produce primary and secondary sexual characteristics and are different in males and females.
But we must not fail to say that genetic abnormalities do occur for example Klinefelter's syndrome is when males inherit an extra X chromosome resulting in an XXY pattern resulting in many feminine physical characteristics. While these genetic abnormalities are unusual, they make clear that biological processes alone do not make us male or female (Hollway et al, 2003).Then again biological sex is not central to explaining what it is to be man or a woman and can be unreliable in some cases, it does offer simple explanations which can be tested empirically.
Likewise the evolutionary perspective, while adopting a scientific approach similar to biological theorists, cannot be subjected to empirical testing and therefore can operate only at the level of speculation. This is due to its reliance in part on the principles of reverse engineering in constructing theoretical models regarding the origins of human behaviour (Hollway et al, 2003).
Moreover evolutionary psychologists argue that genetic make-up and behavioural predispositions between males and females evolved according to the process of sexual selection. (Phoenix, 2002). They believe that reproduction is the only way for an inherited characteristic to be passed on from one generation to the next and thus their primary focus on explaining gender differences is in terms of reproductive behaviour and sexual style.
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