Sex vs gender

margaret bolick mbolick at UNLINFO.UNL.EDU
Sun Jun 4 08:58:08 CDT 1995

To those who were puzzled by my rather cryptic reference to the use of
gender, and who are still interested, here is a more detailed
explanation of my objections.  Much of it I will quote from Frank and
Treichler because I find their arguments a concise summary of the
issue.  {F. A. Frank and P. A. Treicher (eds.) 1989. Language, Gender,
and Professional Writing.  Modern Language Association of America, New
     Traditionally gender referred only to "a formal linguistic
category involving morphological and syntactic variations in
accordance with the grammatical classifications masculine, feminine,
and neuter."  In 1955, John Money borrowed the term gender to
distinguish innate biological sex from "psychological sex, the
individual's self-image, and social sex, the complex of attitudes
and expectations that a society attaches to maleness and femaleness."
"Most social scientists in the United States...use the terms sex and
gender in keeping with the biological-social dichotomy...: sex refers
to a biologically given division between males and females; gender to
what results as society and culture create boys and
girls, men and women, masculine and feminine." Finally Frank and
Treichler quote M.A. Warren:  gender applies "to the socially imposed
dichotomy of masculine and feminine roles and character traits.  Sex
is physiological, while cultural.  The distinction is a
crucial one, and one which is ignored by unreflective supporters of
the status quo who assume that cultural norms of masculinity and
femininity are 'natural,' i.e. directly and preponderantly determined
by biology."
     The uncritical adoption of the term gender to describe aspects of
maleness and femaleness in organisms that have neither a social
organization nor a culture, i.e. plants, contributes to the notion
that human cultural norms are innate and universal.  Although many
people have no problems with the cultural norms, there will always be
individuals who find them more difficult to accept.  I prefer a
society where individuals are not pressured into being macho men or
flirty, helpless women but are free to develop their own strengths.

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