Sex and Gender are NOT the Same Thing! All Gender is a Drag!

Solution Focused Life Coaching with Dr Gary Wood (Birmingham, Edinburgh, Telephone, Skype)

One of the things to emerge from the Caster Semenya controversy (in the 2009 World Championships) is the misconception that the terms sex and gender mean the same thing. They do not. Numerous sources, including ones that should know better, have been waffling on about ‘gender tests’ when what they actually mean is biological sex tests.  Sex as a categorization is a biological designation. It refers to the physiological characteristics that differentiate males and females.

Gender is the social interpretation of biological sex. It refers to socially constructed roles in the form of behaviours, activities and other social attributes that any particular culture or society considers appropriate for women and men. So, “male” and “female” are sex categories, while “masculine” and “feminine” are gender categories. Now there are also wide gender variations with any culture. For instance, do rugby players have the same gender as librarians, stamp collectors…

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Who Says So? Gender and the Social Construction of the Sewing Machine (and other power tools).

The reason why boys and girls are taught different skills is because they are expected to fulfil different roles, this is due to sex role scripts allocating most instrumental tasks to males and most expressive tasks to females.

Solution Focused Life Coaching with Dr Gary Wood (Birmingham, Edinburgh, Telephone, Skype)

All attempts at theorizing social life are, at the same time, works of autobiography

– William Simon, 1996

As we read a text. . . we produce something different, another text which is a translation

– Ian Parker, 1999

Pic: Sewing Machine - GO FASTER! GO FASTER! Pic: Sewing Machine – GO FASTER! GO FASTER!

I was watching a re-run of the Australian version of Changing Rooms, one of the many home improvement shows conveniently gathered together on one Cable channel. An ‘expert’ was initiating his acolyte into the mysteries of the jig-saw. The expert explained ‘It’s like a sewing machine only a bit more manly’. I was immediately struck by the similarity of the sewing machine and the ‘more manly’ jigsaw. However, both are essentially power tools.

Thinking about the arbitrary nature of gender labels I recalled two questions from performance artist Laurie Anderson‘s film of her show Home of the Brave. In it…

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Why We Are All Trans-(binary)-gender and the Myth of Cisgender

Solution Focused Life Coaching with Dr Gary Wood (Birmingham, Edinburgh, Telephone, Skype)

In many ways, this post seems at odds with recent psychology and coaching posts. However it’s really just a piece about how we think about the world and our inherent need to classify. Over the past few years I’ve noticed the word cisgender (and its variants used) and for a while have thought how deeply unhelpful it is. It is a flow of consciousness and no doubt will change over time. Constructive comments and insights are most welcome.

Defining cisgender

Cisgender offers a complement to transgender. It refers to people whose gender assigned at birth matches their own experience and sense of identity. The problem with cisgender is that it introduces yet another binary into how we think about sex and gender. It should also be noted that gender is not assigned at birth. A peek at the genitals is not gender. It’s a biological classification. It’s sex…

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Sex identity in a post gender system world.

To be able to criticise the gender system which creates the masculine and feminine sex role scripts while also making room for sex identity its necessary to separate femininity from woman and masculinity from man. There are those who have separated male from man and female from woman, but if the sense of being a man or a woman exists separate from the sexed body what is it and how can it be defined without masculinity and femininity.

To pin this down the experience of living in a male or female body needs to be thought about from an angle of living independant of the masculinity and femininity scripts and independent of how others treat you because of the sexed body.

Most people need to know the sex of the person to work out how to interact with them, and this is so they can refer to the social gender schema to take short cuts in the conversation. This results in a set of assumptions being made about what the person is interested in, how much each of you should talk, and also how you rate the person in terms of being likable or not likable. The very existence of sex based expectations leads to things that are seen as good in one sex seeing as negative in another, leading to some people needing to be seen more like the opposite sex to get people to register them different on their gender schema. We have an option of playing up to a widely held stereotype which is closer to how we want to be treated, examples are tomboys who may have some of the interests coded as male and if they can be registered as a tomboy and recognised that way then people are more likely to assume closer as to preferences of that person. The problem though is the push, because the sense of whats right and wrong based on sex is also in the social gender schema and this will lead to everyone gradually pushing the tomboy closer to the side of whats expected for their sex and further from their own interests. Humans whole social reward system is dependant on interaction and this results in a need for many to fit in and be accepted, and a feeling for many that the only way to get this need met is to be what they dont want. Over time a divide can be felt within by those who are giving too much of themselves up to fit with whats expected, and this can be felt as another self. All of this is a product of socially constructed masculinity and femininity, the problem is felt as interactional and based around how others treat you, its different depending on the company and also on how much energy reserves you have that day. Just existing as yourself feels depleting because your energy is dispersed by others in effect sending waves crashing in the opposite direction to what your ship is sailing, while others carry on the natural current, the current of the gender system.

Many are unaware there is a tide and instead think its their ship, its blamed directly on their sex. If only i had been born male, i would not be expected to look pretty, or to reproduce or to be so emotionally open and connected. I would have got to be seen as a free thinking independent minded person, whose opinions were listened to or at least debated, but never referred to as trivial or emotional or even irrational. If only i was male i would not have to deal with all this focus on my appearance, all they would care about is if i was tidy or not, they would not be looking at every tone in my hair, skin or even voice. If only i had been born male i would not be expected to be so emotionally tuned in, i would be able to tune out and navigate the world with a blank face and no one expecting me to smile. If only i had been born male i could navigate the world virtually unseen, but never unheard if i choose to speak. If only i had been born male i could be laughed at when im joking and not laughed at when im being serious as oppose to the reverse. If only i had been born male i would have been a great person in everyones eyes. If only i had been born male i would not be seen as the vehicle for the next generation, the world would be my stage until the day i died.

All the above is clearly to do with the social gender schema, nothing in it is about biology at all, yet all these things if blamed on sex and not on society, by those unaware this is sexism at work can end up with sex identity issues. Many trans people have social role issues more than biology issues, its the need to be treated in a certain way, one more inline with who they are inside. The problem is that different way of treating the sexes is a command not a service, an imposition not a thing one gets much say in. Its based around ideas about not just what the sexes are but what they should be doing because of it. It is based on the idea women are the nurturers and the ornaments, their role is expressive and for this reason they are meant to be expressive emotionally in communication and expressive decorative on their body, they are to tone down their instrumentality i.e functionality. This ranges from body functions, things that make the body more functional like muscles and functional clothing and thinking and doing stuff. The creations of women are not expected to shape the outer world, they are to be service orientated towards people as opposed to systemising and technical. A big personality and interest clash with ones sex role will leave one feeling like they are emotionally exhausted from all the expected interaction, they need more space and they just need to be able to achieve something instrumental and find so much of what they are is coded as masculine in culture, a need arises to form a self that will enclose all they are to some degree and protect them from all they are expected to be. Like it would be great to get away with less interaction, more action and have people see what you do rather than be still there wondering why you’re ignoring them. Like the wish to just walk in say hi and get to work, in much the same way men can if they want without people making assessments as to mood etc. The basic problem lies in the instrumental vs expressive role expectations based on sex.

If all this was to vanish and the entire domain of human interaction on all levels was free from masculine and feminine coding, what would it mean to be a man or a woman then, right and wrong would be based on whats against the law at the time and also whats harmful. How everyone sees everyone would be transformed overnight, like the woman who has 3 kids and her male partner does all the housework and cares for them while she works 80 hours a week, suddenly she would be transformed from  selfish power obsessed  to a great provider and hard working person and he would be transformed from a downtrodden “mangina” to an homemaker and great parent. The woman who slept with 10 men in a month will be no different from the man who slept with 10 women in a month, how they’re viewed would depend on how one views the behaviour itself rather than who does it and the situation the behaviour takes place in.

At this point we will find people dressing and acting in a range of ways regardless of sex, and these ways won’t be boxed along a gender spectrum or even traced back to a notion of one way belonging to one sex or vice versa.

Biological sex will still be a factor though, and the limits of the biological vehicle itself and of the cultural tools available to it will determine its experience. At present cultural tools that enhance biology get sexed, like men running fast on concrete for example, this would not be without modern trainers people forget that when they point out women need breast support to run, we all need various aids to run because humans did not do much running historically unless they needed to flee and not on concrete. Men needed cultural tools to play sport, many which were denied to women, most of the male role is done with tools and requires still not aggression. Even wars are fought with skill and have been since humans took to using weapons over fists. All crafts and trades used tools, things that don’t come pre packaged in little boys and many not out of the physical ability of a woman, infact children historically have done a lot of the work. Biologically speaking males and females are both born with equal capacity to do the work allocated to women, as a lot of the female role requires less cultural tools and the instrument is the womans own body, communication and emotional expression for example. Both sexes are also born with the ability to display the personality traits associated with men, like using the thinking mind to use tools. There has been no justifiable reason for womens oppression throughout history, no material need for womens oppression. There have been times when men and women needed to do different tasks, but never the need to remove bodily rights from women and make them property. The work of yesterdays women involved making their own clothes with the basic tools they had, and various other things which is by nature more skilled than what the average office working man does today. Even if women were stupid in relation to men, which is not the case there would be no need to have oppression system we have because the skill level of most jobs is well below the average intelligence and has been for some time. The level of physical strength needed for higher profile jobs is lower and always has been, so if jobs were matched to ability there would be more women in those jobs. The whole class system would turn on its head without sex roles.

For sex identity to continue to exist independent of the ever changing roles, it has to be an interaction between mind and sexed body. What we know now as masculine and feminine would dissolve into a sea of humans who have a mix of instrumentality and expressiveness. Through the eyes of someone of today it may be possible to see females who appear to be like what we consider today as masculine, by that i mean they choose fitted functional clothes made of thicker fabrics with less detail on them, and they are less ornamental, active people who like to do physical jobs and are free spirited. In these times many things may be cast aside as no longer useful, other things will emerge and looking at humanity from a different angle will lead to a lot of changes. Say it worked out that the average woman was 45% instrumental and 65% expressive and the average man was 65% instrumental and 45% expressive just as the average man is taller than the average woman, this would not be translated to gender because the definition of masculine and feminine would be removed from instrumental and expressive. Height varies and only gets noticed as an anomaly if a man is very short, or a woman is very tall and even then its not automatically translated to masculinity and femininity, its put down to genes.

In these times the word man or woman will mean nothing more than adult male or female and transitioning will be purely biological. The sexes will look different as they do now, but may not want to spend every day of their lives pointing out those differences or more importantly expecting other people do.

This is what i think a post gender system world will be like.

How sex would be seen

Most humans are either male or female, the human race evolved to reproduce and those whose biology goes in the direction of either male or female are more likely to develop into adults capable of reproduction. Hormones and genes lead biology in the direction it heads in, other directions in biology other than male or female are possible, these rarely lead to adults capable of reproduction.

The trans experience

There are some humans who think their biology went in the wrong direction and wish to intervene to reshape their biology more inline with the direction they think they should be on. Cross sex hormones, hormone blockers and in some cases surgeries. No change in the way ones lives or acts is required, and only reason to transition today are purely biological

The assigning of things to people based on sex has ended, no concepts of masculine or feminine exist now, outside of physical male or female form. There is no expected modes of appearance, behaviour, expression, interests, jobs or sexual expression coded as for males or females. All things that ever existed still exist, there is still pink things and blue things and things in other colours too, though no two colours dominate for any reason other than current trends. No sex based fashions or products exist outside things needed for biologically based differences. Even down to underwear, sexes have things that fit their anatomy in various fabrics and colours. More things are unisex. Its not assumed things made for females have to be finer fabrics or pretty.

Peoples speech patterns are similar with little sex based variation, words used and subjects talked about are no different based on sex, facial expressions are also no different based on sex.

Its no longer assumed a persons sex is an indicator of who they will want to sleep with, for this reason identities around sexual preference are less common

An increasing number of places are stopping using terms he or she completely and going for options that just refer to them rather than linking to their sex all the time. This is due to the fact that these days its so hard to tell them apart. Most people now see themselves as people who just happen to be male or female or other, as opposed to seeing themselves as men or women and having a big identity around their junk

It still remains a mystery as to why some people are attracted to a certain physical sex, why some think their biology went in the wrong direction and they wish to change it, and also why we get people who are more interested in function and practicality and others willing to compromise both in the name of style. Biological sex or sex identity is no longer used as a way of making sense of it though.

The Class Of Gender.

Who benefits the most from sex role scripts now?

I point to social class, and i say the sex role scripts they create and change depending on what they want from classes of people they control. Sex roles benefit the higher classes because they delegate working roles which make it easy to slot people into jobs. In the higher society we have the concept of ladylike and gentleman like behaviour and it is all based on a script that maintains the class distinction, concepts of it have changed now but not gone away.

No one ever says that woman is no lady, she is such a man, they say she is no lady she has no class. Its for this reason the high class maintain their sex role scripts, and the middle classes aspire to the class and to do it they aspire to the created gender expectations and all without knowing it. Just as the victorian lady and her “femininity” was not based on the absence of some “masculine” side of self, but instead on maintaining her status above the common woman. Her skin pale with poison arsenic and her ribcage and reproductive organs crammed into a corset, easily misshapen due to her lack of vitamin d from the sun. This was the victorian gentlemans idea of attractive, above the tanned toned bodies of the peasants who worked outdoors.
Now would a trans woman of that time have wanted to be a lady or a peasant? Well a lady of course, despite the fact not being one would not make her any less of a woman, it’s likely most of the peasant women would have swapped places to get the social privileges of a lady too as their self worth as a woman was being devalued by the fact the things they had to do to survive (like work!) would forever keep them from being seen as fully a woman as the definition of this was the lady. This in itself represents a shadow of dysphoria, but of a different kind. So i ask radical feminists to think about this when they point out how trans women are all about perpetuating current day harmful notions of “femininity”. Sex stereotypes are still being created out of class struggle.

Many ask why is femininity so impractical and restrictive, why does it include so many things that get in the way of activity and work. Many come up with it being because men as a class want to reduce activity of women as a class, to make them more vulnerable, rapable and compliant. But look through it another way and see it originates in the lady, the kep one, the one above hard work and the one who wants to show her status by having an expression no “common” working peasant could aspire to. Yet many still try and many find this conflict of never really being able to do it, and never quite manage to be that lady fully. Today the example is played out with the celebrities setting the standard and women falling over themselves to meet it and finding it costs money and needs a lot of time. Time and money they don’t have. It just happens the traditional lady fully lacks any instrumentality and follows a script of modesty, and todays version has a new definition of what class means, but its still the same old issue. It could be said she was there to aspire envy in other women, but instead its more like she inspires envy in other men for the man who “owns” her. She is an incentive for men to climb the ladder, to conform because she represents a woman completely subjectified and compliant and only obtainable to higher class men. Meanwhile men of all class ranks flock to women who have been forced to sell their sex, something higher class women have always shamed and aimed to eliminate as they don’t want their man folk buying sex and they don’t want to find themselves selling it themselves one day either so it was always an advantage to oppose it on moral ground. Prior to feminisms objections to it from the point of it being harmful to women other reasons existed too for women who were higher class to oppose it.

Many sex stereotypes originated from the higher class opinion of lower class members of their own sex and the other sex. The wife beater shirt gets its name because these were underwear worn by working class men, who were typed as more violent and more likely to beat their wives. The origin of “slut ” shaming is again found in class because sexual restraint was a part of being a lady, up to a point where a woman could not even fully express herself sexually in marriage, to some degree this issue remains today where some men take a woman who is pro active sexually as being not worthy of commitment. Men as a class always sorted women into good vs whore based on this factor, female sexuality has always been shamed by both men and women and class distinctions have a lot to do with it. It is for this reason so many high class men visited prostitutes who offered services either as a full time job or to substitute the low pay women received at the time, because working class women always worked. This whole system served the wants of the upper class man, and for women the wealth was a trap to a great degree.

Im here to say nothing much has changed, the power base still remains. Only difference is it has changed its rules a little, it has worked out that its better to give minority groups rights rather than have them shout about the bigger problem. Let them instead fight over who has the most of those rights. Let them be divided and fearful of each other, fearful that another group will impact those rights. All while the ruling classes run the global marketplace, have the trading of the world at their fingertips and move people from country to country when it suits their economic need and let them fight about that too.

This is how we perform class analysis of gender. We need a revolution, we need sex role script abolition. I don’t think we can get it until we look at who really benefits from sex roles the most, at present its the big companies. The men at the top want to hang on to their wealth and power and to get the system back on the road, to reverse the effects of feminism and other progressive movements. A lot of people who hate feminism hate the left in general, or they hate the old left the one that was destroyed, the marxist agenda is what they call it. Its a give away how so many on the right get defensive about sex roles while also getting on the offensive when they see anything remotely left wing or marxist. Today we have the neoliberalist left which is just a fractured individualistic left with all the values of the right installed into it, the right destroyed the sense of a co operative left and instead turned it into a consumerist individualistic left where the path to liberation was through material wealth and having better odds in the current system. The notion of choice and “be it on your own head” is really a right wing idea of everyone being responsible for their own situation and it denies that inequality exists because it denies any form of oppression exists, to them inequality is just the natural order of things, some are just more successful than others, generations of economic disadvantage, class oppression, race oppression or sex based oppression are denied. The right are against the welfare state because they think everyone should be self dependant, but in reality no choice exists on the right or the left, not anymore. Neoliberalist individuality is close to right wing privatization and the breaking of everything down, in todays new area people are convinced they are choosing to take up the things the right have always tried to get us to take up. Examples include marriage, sex roles and personal responsibility (self blame not system blame).

For as long as we are fighting about pronouns, axes of oppression and transgender power is diluted, and for as long as its diluted things move closer to a point of no return. At present trans people are drawing a lot of attention to sex roles, and feminists of all stripes are talking about gender again for the first time in years. Its important not to get to focused on sex identity of people and instead keep looking at the sex roles, the right are doing everything in their power to retain them and get them as close to their old format as possible, and under it all is a very racist and deeply misogynistic agenda aimed to destroy all that has been achieved. We cannot afford the time to get distracted.