Do you know the difference between gender and sex? Probably not, neither did I until recent years, but its becoming increasingly important (especially for parents) to know the difference.
(caveat: I am not an academic scholar of gender or social science, although I do research in public health, this post is mainly made up of my own understanding of sex and gender and experiences as a woman, mother and doula)
Sex = male and female
Gender = masculine and feminine
Sex refers to biological differences; chromosomes, hormones, internal and external sex organs.
Gender is socially/culturally constructed and describes the characteristics that a society or culture thinks are masculine or feminine.
People and organisations often use these words interchangeably, especially when talking about things like equality (how can you have equality in a socially constructed characteristic?) so are frequently using gender when they mean sex.
Part of this is to do with British prudishness and the fact we use the same word for male/female (sex) and reproduction (sex) so many forms ask instead for your ‘gender’ and then list male or female (sex) which for the majority of people is thought to be the same thing, but if gender is actually ‘the characteristics that a society or culture thinks are masculine or feminine.’ then maybe you’re gender isn’t quite so simple as male/female? If you don’t fit with the characteristics your society thinks are feminine and you are a woman, what is your gender?
I very rarely wear make up, I don’t often wear dresses or skirts. I don’t like the colour pink much. I like to light fires and camp and fish and chop wood.
Does this mean I am more masculine? Is my gender male? On the other hand I’m definitely biologically female. I’ve given birth twice! #confused
If only organisations/people understood that in most instances when we say gender, we mean sex.
Gender roles vary by historical time, country, religion and group etc. Originally gender roles came from sex differences or biology (women are pregnant, give birth, produce milk to feed babies etc.) so women stayed close to home and raised babies and young children while men hunted and protected (this again would vary by culture, time, place etc.) but from these roles came all our stereotypes of what it means to be a woman or a man (you can probably easily list what society sees as men’s things and womens things) and like the nursery rhyme above the idea that the sexes are different is reinforced from a very young age, even more so in recent years, with ‘gender (sex?) reveal parties and an obsession with boy/girl differences in clothing and toys.
Most people see gender roles as’ Stereotyping and limiting, trying to make little girls and boys fit into a prescribed box which limits their possibilities, and think it might be these gender roles that cause many of the problems in society, for example the high suicide rate in young men, may be in part caused by the idea that men ‘should’ be strong and silent, that its weak to ask for help or share feelings and so have to face their problems alone.
Gender roles have also limited women and girls (don’t get your dress dirty, don’t play rough, be nice, be pretty etc.) but its mainly biological sex not gender that globally leads to so much ineqality for women (e.g. femicide, selective abortion, unwanted pregnancy , rape, FGM, child brides, prostitution)
Only 100 years ago most women could not vote…
Around the world girls are still much less likely to go to school than boys and in many countries women and men do not have the same rights
(this should read sex equality not gender)
This is known as ‘patriarchy’ where men hold the power, and has been a common feature of most societies throughout history
In the last few decades many people have attempted to subvert and move away from gender roles and stereotyping.
And nowadays many people try to do what is termed ‘gender neutral parenting’ where boys and girls are treated the same, and not socialised into roles base on their sex. This can mean not always dressing them in blue/pink. Buying toys that aren’t branded for boys/girls etc.
Some people decide to ‘cross dress’ their children from a young age (deliberately, regularly dressing boys as girls)- this is different to children having access to a range of dress up clothes and toys and choosing their own as they wish, but more a parental choice. There is evidence that raising children without a sense of their own sex (and suggesting sex can be changed) is leading to more children with gender identity disorder.
Children’s sense of themselves is built by how adults and the world around them treats them, they follow our lead, so its important to consider carefully what we are telling them.
Parents may now worry that if their child is attracted to opposite sex toys/clothes that that is a sign they are transgender, rather than it being a child’s normal curiosity. Many children love to dress up and have different interests, this can be effected by their siblings, culture, parents, personality. It is common for children to go through a period of ‘trying on’ different personas, and living as characters in their imaginary world or from media they watch, this does not mean they are transgender.
This reinforcing a binary rather than freeing children from the constriction of gender roles
There have also always been people that didn’t fit with societies views of sex and gender. Sometimes people deliberately tried to be different to cause controversy (like artists) . And men and women have cross dressed for entertainment or access to lives they couldn’t live as themselves (especially women who were unable to publish books as themselves, go into medicine, be pirates…)
So what is gender ideology and why is it harmful?
In the last few years there has increasingly been a change in the way gender and sex are talked about, with the idea that gender is not a binary and that people can be on a spectrum. That has led to people calling themselves a variety of names from non-binary, to queer and trans-gender. They have started describing people that are not trans as ‘cis’. What this means is that people born male and female are happy to describe their gender as masculine or feminine (but as I described earlier, gender is socially constructed ideas of what masculinity or femininity look like, they change all the time, and stereotype people, limiting them to a set of behaviours as ‘normal). I would argue that all people are ‘gender fluid’ to a degree. Our behaviour and self view changes.
This idea is regressive because it reinforces a gender binary. Instead of freeing people from having to behave in prescribed ways, it says that if you behave in male ways you could be a man (born in the wrong body) and visa versa.
In clinical psychology and psychiatry, individuals who experienced distress because they did not identify with their biological sex used to be known as ‘transsexuals’ A diagnosis of ‘transsexualism’ appeared first in DSM-III in 1980. Recently the name of the diagnosis changed to ‘gender dysphoria’ .
The term ‘assigned‘ sex or ‘assigned’ gender is now frequently used, which refers to when a baby is born and it is declared a boy or girl based on the appearance of external genitals. Between 0.018 and 1.7% of the population (dependent on definition https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12476264) have a ‘intersex‘ condition which can mean they have genitals that appear male/female when they are the opposite sex.
Gender and Sex are separate from sexuality, which is usually described as heterosexual (being attracted to the opposite sex) homosexual (being attracted to the same sex so lesbian or gay) or bisexual (attracted to both sexes) with additions in recent years of pansexual and asexual
Also known as LGB minority sexualities are discriminated against globally and face violence and are only now beginning to get equal rights in some areas (like same sex marriage).
Trans people were added to LGB in the late 1980’s, although strictly speaking trans is concerned with biological sex or gender not sexuality. The initialism has widened to include intersex and queer in recent years (LGBTQI) and gender identities appear to be ever increasing
Some people that feel that their gender identity does not match their biological sex (I would argue most of us feel this at times) want their body to resemble the gender/sex they feel more affinity to. There are a number of aesthetic and medical changes they can make
and legally people in the UK can apply for a ‘Gender recognition certificate’ to legally change their sex on their birth certificate to that which matches their preferred gender. In contrast to some systems elsewhere in the world, the Gender Recognition process does not require applicants to be post-operative (so a man can legally be a woman with a functioning penis and testicles, and a woman a man with uterus and breasts-that’s why you’ve seen newspaper articles about men having babies). They need only demonstrate to a Gender Recognition Panel that they have suffered gender dysphoria, have lived as “your new gender” for two years, and intend to continue doing so until death.
“Transgender activists say that the process of legal gender recognition is unnecessarily invasive, humiliating and lengthy. The UK government has proposed to reform the Gender Recognition Act to de-medicalise and speed up the process. The aim is to introduce a process based on self-declaration with no medical gate-keeping.”
So all you would need to do is say you feel like a woman or man to legally change sex. This potentially cause issues in same-sex institutions like prisons
The number of people applying for a GRC has been low (in line with what you would expect for people with dysphoria) but lately things have changed, many more people are identifying as gender non-conforming, non-binary-queer or transgender and correspondingly numbers of people requesting medical treatment to match the gender (sex) they feel more comfortable with. There are several groups that are transitioning more frequently
- Middle aged men
There could be several reasons for this steep rise in referrals
I feel it is concerning that so many more children are being referred for gender reassignment. This usually involves first socially transitioning children (as young as 3) by giving them an opposite sex name and dressing them as the opposite sex, then giving a child puberty blockers (untested as to long term consequences of blocking puberty for many years) and then giving cross sex hormones so the child develops opposite sex characteristics (e.g. a deeper voice in girls, facial hair and a higher voice in boys). Girls are advised to first bind their breasts and then have them removed (double mastectomy). Boys can be given artificial breasts and both boys and girls can have artificial sex organs (obviously all of this comes with medical risk)
These are often referred to as ‘top surgery’ and ‘bottom surgery’.
However much women or men change themselves, and even with legal recognition from a GRC it is not currently possible for humans to change biological sex and many transgender people choose not to go through medical or aesthetic procedures and are happy to remain anatomically the opposite sex to that which they identify.
There is increasing pressure for transwomen and transmen to be regarded as the sex they identify with (with the mantra ‘transwomen are women’) and language changed accordingly (so if transwomen (men) who self-identify as women (based on their gender identity) they should be accepted as women, despite still having male genitalia (leading to the conclusion that ‘not all women have vaginas’ and for transmen (women) not only women get pregnant or breastfeed. This has led to many organisations changing the terminology they use so as not to offend (using ‘pregnant people’ not women and ‘chest feeding’ not breastfeeding’)
So… to recap…
Sex refers to biological differences; chromosomes, hormones, internal and external sex organs. (except now it doesn’t)
Gender is socially/culturally constructed and describes the characteristics that a society or culture thinks are masculine or feminine. (except now it doesn’t)
If this is confusing, imagine how much more confusing it is for children, who are now having lessons in school about gender identity and being told they can be born in the wrong body…
Many children have neuro developmental conditions (like autism and ADHD) which leads to difficulties with executive functioning. This means their understanding of concepts around identity can be delayed, and they are also more likely to be gender non comforming. (50% of referrals of children to the Tavistock clinic are on the autistc spectrum)
My son has ADHD. Even at six and a half he still lives in a wonderful world where anything is possible. Fantasy and reality overlap, combine. A couple of weeks ago he told me he was the daddy of our two young cats (and yes, in case you were wondering trans species is a thing, like trans race and trans gender)
I talk to him a lot about his ‘science’ brain. About working out whats real and whats not, because whilst its cute to go along with fantasies about toys coming alive and super powers, its probably more likely to harm him than help him (though I’m sure a vivid imagination will benefit him as he grows)
And what about teenagers? I have one of them too, and she already has trans gender friends, and those describing themselves as pansexual and queer (she’s 14). I just hope she’s heard me talking about sex and gender to realise that its perfectly okay to step outside of the constraints of gender roles but that doesn’t mean you were born in the wrong body…
Teenagers are all about risk taking, and finding somewhere to belong. There are all sorts of groups encouraging gender questioning teens to see themslves as transgender, sending girls free chest binders (which can lead to irreperable damage to growing breast tissue or even gangrene) and telling them where to go (or even order online) testosterone.
Parents are advised to go along with affirming their childs new opposite sex identity, even if they had never expressed a similar desire before, with the threat of suicide risk
Self harm and suicida ideation are common in teenagers and both, puberty blockers & cross-sex hormones both carry risk of depressive side-effects and there is very little accurate data (especially now many surveys ask for gender, if this is all about identity then we can’t reliably know how many girls or boys are feeling this way)
“If we fail to record the biological sex of young people we are unable to try to understand why suddenly such a disproportionate number of young women want to ‘identify’ out of womanhood. Is ‘identifying as a boy’ just the latest coping mechanism for girls brought up in a culture where images of women being sexually abused in porn are casually passed around in playgrounds, and the internet ensures no escape from the pressure on girls to be ‘perfect’? And is the world so dangerous for lesbians that being seen as a man is a safer alternative?”
Data is important, its not just about high income countries, this type of ideology could effect global data collection which is vital to prevent violence to women and girls (VAWG)
VAWG data is essential to help quantify and qualify problems, inform policies and design programs based on evidence. The need for better collection of data related to violence against women has been recognised by the EU, the Council of Europe and, at international level, by the United Nations in their commitment to eradicate violence against women
Our kids grew up with Harry Potter, they love the idea that there is magic, transmutation, and that the inner you can ‘sort’ you into groups based on your true identity…
Belief in magical thinking (pseudoscience) and conspiracy theories are increasingly popular with adults too: anti-vaccines, gut instinct (logical falacies/cognitive biases) homeopathy, climate change denial, chem trails, flat earth…
There’s also many teenagers involved in cosplay and anime whch is all about dressing up and changing sex/species etc, is there any wonder kids are struggling with identity issues, especially if we are telling them in primary school that its possible to change to the opposite sex.
Many studies have found that a large percentage of children that question their gender (sex) identity will eventally desist and accept their sex (with many of these coming out as lesbian or gay) but if they have already been socially transitoned as young children, had puberty delayed and or cross sex hormones they may be infertile, have an inability to have a satisfying sex life and/or have had sexual organs removed.
I would argue its unethical to make descisions like these for children that will affect their long term futures, these descisons are better made as adults
Its become very difficult to talk about these issues openly as globally, gender ideology has been accepted as truth without discussion and the majority of people don’t understand the concepts well enough to see the future implications of descisions like self decleration of sex and tranitoning children. People that speak up are labelled as intollerant, bigots, right wing. It was only after I was thrown out of a parenting group (which was for evidence based parenting) for questioning if there was research evidence about transitioning children that I began to understand who serious this situation had become. (people who speak up about trans gender ideology are known as gender critical or terf’s: terf stands for trans exclusionary radical feminist and is used as a threat by trans activists)
A woman was recently suspended from the Labour party for saying women don’t have penises..
Please if it concerns you too, speak up, talk to you’re children and teenagers about sex and gender. Talk to your friends and colleagues.
What is a woman? Barbie doll’s? Is it make up and hair styles and shoes (sugar and spice and all things nice…)
Are men GI Joe’s tough, muscley, silent, no emotions? (puppy dogs tails…)
Not all trans people support this ideology, many are horrified by whats happening, and speak out
Lets go back to all working together to reduce the limiting constraints of gender roles, embracing the feminine within men and boys and the masculine within girls and women, fighting to stop violence against all people and equal rights whatever our sex or sexuality
Thanks to all those actively subverting against gender norms (like the artist Grayson Perry in the picture below and the recent Welsh Government campaign #thisisme which challenges gender sterotypes to tackle violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence) and speaking out about gender ideology. We need a completely different construction of gender to make room for trans people without harming human rights.