Sexuality and gender are still extremely hot topics in America. Nobody but a man and a woman can get married in most of the states, and people protest gay marriage very strongly based on a number of different things like religion, morality, and a personal discrimination against homosexuality. In America and the West, nearly everybody believes that there are two genders: you are either a man (with biologically male reproductive organs) or a woman (with biologically female reproductive organs). Although some people do believe that someone can be born as the so-called “wrong gender” (meaning they feel like they were born with male reproductive organs but are actually a woman, or vice versa), this is not the mainstream opinion. The way that countries and people view gender and sexuality tells a lot about that culture, and it is often rooted very much in their history. Although in America people believe in the two-sex theory now, this was not always the case. Before Europeans ever came to America, the Native Americans lived here and they had some very fluid beliefs about gender. Their ideas were more complex than the simple distinction between male and female that we make today. When the Europeans began settling in America, they brought their one-sex theory along with them. Just like in so many other ways, the continent of North America has been a melting pot of ideas about gender and sexuality, but just as Europeans dominated the North American continent, their ideas about gender have become dominant in society. By comparing two competing arguments about human sex and gender, the one-sex model of the West and the three-sex model practiced by indigenous people, we can begin to understand the role that culture plays in ideas of sex and gender.
Although it is no longer believed, the one-sex theory was a very influential set of beliefs with scientific background that has influenced current Western thought on gender. This theory essentially states that men and women have the same body. The male body is considered “normal” or the “dominant” body, and women’s bodies are simply the male body turned inside out. Additionally, body fluids were the same in both men and women. At the time, “medical experts thought these fluids could convert into one another and therefore what might look like distinct fluids in men and women were simply different forms of a single, endlessly protean substance” (Page 30). These fluids like semen and menstrual blood were interchangeable and although they presented differently in men and women, they were the same substance at their core. Men and women (and their related physical characteristics) were different because of temperature and humidity. Medical experts believed that men’s bodies were hot and dry, causing the sex organs to expand and develop externally. Women, on the other hand, were moist and cold, and their sex organs developed internally. Despite these differences, though, all bodies were human, with male and female characteristics, rather than being thought of as fundamentally different based on gender. Although the one-sex theory seems like a very strict and narrow definition, men and women were in danger of changing sex if they engaged in activities of the other gender and thus men became too cold or women became too hot. Since all people had the same basic body with different characteristics, gender could be changed if you took on the characteristics of the other gender and developed like them. This view was influenced by the belief in the hierarchy of God and humans. God was seen as the ultimate being at the top of the hierarchy, and people were of one body made in his image. Men were closer to God on the hierarchy and women were below them, even more imperfect. This view was informed by religion but also by their scientific understanding at the time.
Even though it seems like it would be easy to explain a third gender (intersexed, or hermaphroditic) within...
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