Key Concept: What is Sex and Gender?
Sex is a biological term which tells us whether someone is male or female. This is determined at conception, when a sperm fertilises an egg. A person's sex is obvious through characteristics present from birth, for example the Penis or Vagina. It is also obvious from other characteristics that develop as a person gets older, such as breasts or facial hair. Since these characteristics are fixed, a person's sex cannot change. Even people who undergo so-called 'Sex change' operations have not really changed their sex. Their internal organs, such as the ovaries and the brain, will still be the same, and these also determine sex.
Gender is a psychological term and is more to do with how a person behaves or thinks. There are three main categories for gender: masculine, feminine and androgynous. Masculinity refers to typical male traits or roles, such as being aggressive, going out to work or playing football. Femininity refers to typical female traits or roles, such as being sensitive, staying at home to care for children, or playing with dolls. Androgyny refers to both masculine and feminine traits and roles. An androgynous person is someone who displays many masculine behaviours and many feminine behaviours. There is evidence that androgynous people are healthier then people who are just masculine or feminine.
Core Theory: Biological Approach
The biological approach believes that an individual's gender is decided the same time as their sex is determined - at conception. When a new foetus is formed, it has two sex chromosomes as part of its genetic make-up. This pair of chromosomes decides whether it will be a male or female. The biological approach also argues that they decide whether the individual will grow up to be masculine or feminine. The female chromosome is **. The male chromosome is XY. Some babies can be born with atypical (abnormal) sex chromosomes like **Y on some baby boys so the extra X chromosome gives them a more feminine traits as well as more female looking bodies. This shows that chromosomes can have a significant effect on gender.
Alternative Theory: The Psychodynamic Approach
The psychodynamic approach says that gender is less to do with biology and nature, and more to do with upbringing. It particularly focuses on the role if parents. Freud believed that children develop in stages. Between the ages of three to six, a child develops a strong attachment to the opposite sex parent (boys to their mother, girls to their father). However, this causes problems for their relationship with the same sex parent. In boys, Freud called this the Oedipus complex. In girls, it is called the Electra complex.
What is the Oedipus complex & Electra complex
In the Oedipus complex, boys fear their father finding out about their desire for their mother. Boys are afraid their father will be so angry that they will cut off their penises - this leads to castration anxiety.
In the Electra complex, girls desire their fathers because they desire a penis - this is known as penis envy. They blame their mothers for not having a penis and believe they have been castrated already.
The Oedipus complex, Electra complex and identification all occur in the unconscious mind according to the psychodynamic approach.
Core Study: Diamond and Sigmundson (1997)
The biological approach is supported by a case study reported on by Diamond and Sigmundson in 1997. They aimed to show that a child cannot be socialised to take on the role of the opposite sex.
They researched the case of a boy who had been raised as a girl. They conducted interviews to help them to describe the life history of this boy. The boy was one of a pair of twins born in Canada in 1965.
When they were 8 months old, the boys went to hospital for a routine circumcision operation. However, one of the twins, Bruce, suffered a terrible accident. During the operation, most of his penis was accidently burnt off. At this time, reconstructing a new penis was not an option. His parents took advice from a number of experts.
A psychologist named Money recommended Bruce was raised as a girl instead. He believed that babies were not born with their gender, and that it was upbringing that made them masculine or feminine. When he was 17 months old, he had his testes removed. He was re-named Brenda by his parents, who then began to treat him as a girl.
Money frequently interviewed and observed Brenda. He reported that she had adapted to her new gender role well. However, When Brenda reached puberty, there were some problems. To begin with, she needed to be given hormones to help her to develop a more feminine shape (e.g. breasts and hips). Despite this, she was said to have quite a masculine appearance and masculine mannerisms. Brenda later reported that she had felt like a man inside. For example she found other girls attractive and rejected boys who were interested in her. She preferred more masculine activities, such as sports, and wanting to 'hang out' with her brother.
At the age of 13, life had become so difficult for Brenda that her parents decided to tell her the truth about her past. When Brenda found out she had been born a boy she was actually quite relieved. It helped to explain the strange feelings she had about her gender. Soon after finding out about her true sex, Brenda decided to live the rest of her life as a man. She renamed herself David. Eventually, David ended up having a penis reconstructed, married a women and became a father by adopting her children. Diamond and Sigmundson concluded that the effect of David's chromosomes had outweighed the attempts to socialise him as a girl. In other words, gender is more a product of nature then nurture.
Difficult to generalise. The sample was one individual of one sex and it also does not mean that other boys might not be able to socialise to their new gender role. Bruce may have been an exception to the rule.
Naturally occurring variables (Lack of control of key variables). He had a twin brother who looked like him. This gave him a masculine role model that he could easily imitate. He was raised as a boy for over a year and a half. Ideally, he should have been raised as a girl from birth.
Applications of research into sex and gender:
Equal opportunities for the sexes:
Research into sex and gender is important for real life situations. It is crucial that psychologists discover which gender differences, if any, children are born with. The point is that if males and females naturally have different strengths and abilities then there is little we can do about this. However, if males and females are born more or less the same, then they can potentially achieve the same kinds of things.
Applications of research into sex and gender: (Con
Equal opportunities in education:
There are still a lot of debates about how different females and males are. As we have seen in this chapter, there is also still a lot of debates about whether differences are natural or socialised. This debate is particularly relevant to equal opportunities for the sexes. If males and females are essentially the same, then we just need to give them the same opportunities to succeed. However, what happens if one sex has a natural advantage over the other sex?
We may need to use positive discrimination to create positive discrimination to create better opportunities for the disadvantage sex. For example, what if boys naturally struggle with reading and writing more than girls do? Similarly, if girls struggle more with mathematical tasks. Schools should put in more resources to help them for their specific needs.
Applications of research into sex and gender: (Con
Equal opportunities in work:
Despite the fact that females perform better than males in education, it is men that seem to do better in the workspace in terms of promotion and pay. This may suggest that there is a need for more equal opportunities in the workplace.
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