The difference between Sex and Gender

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In psychology, it is important to draw a distinction between sex and gender

They are not the same thing.

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Sex in Psychology

'Sex' in psychology refers to whether an individual is male or female

Sex relates to the physical differences between men and women, or boys and girls


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Gender in Psychology

'Gender' refers to whether an individual is masculine, feminine or androgynous.

Gender relates to the differences in attitudes or behaviours

We cannot assume all males 'behave male' and all females 'behave female' and that sex and gender amount to the same thing.

There is a strong relationship between sex and gender, but this is not a consistent finding.

For example, one man may have a penis, and other male physical characteristics, yet act feminine - therefore, their sex would be male, but their gender would be female.

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Androgyny is when an individual displays roughly equal levels of masculine and feminine traits and behaviours - either males or females can be androgynous

Whether a person is androgynous, or just feminine or masculine can be assessed by questionnaires or inventories. Bem's study is an example of this.

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Bem (1974)

  • Bem constructed an investory to measure masculinity, femininity and androgyny
  • 50 Male and 50 female judges rated 200 traits for how desirable they were for men and women. 20 were chosen for a masculinity scale, and 20 for a femininity scale
  • Feminine traits -sympathy, warmth, shyness and gullibility
  • Masculine - ambition, athleticism, being analytical, self-sufficiency and aggression
  • These traits were then used on the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) where people had to rate themselves between 1 and 7 on each trait.
  • When the BSRI was tested on 1,000 students, it showed to be valid when checked against the sample's own description of their gender identity. A smaller sample of students were tested again a month later and got similar scores.
  • Bem found that some people do score highly on masculine and feminine traits. Men normally scored higher on masculine, and women on feminine traits. However, many people were more androgynous than at the extremes and these people tend to be psychologically healthier. A small number of people scored low on both tests and were said to be 'undifferentiated' 
  • The problem with inventionairies or questionnaires is that they require people having insight into their own personality and behaviour, which all people don't have. They may lie or exaggerate to be socially desirable. However, it was confidential which reduces the likelihood of dishonest responses.
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Bem (1974)

This study shows that people cannot simply be catergorised as either masculine, feminine or androgynous. There are different levels to each behaviour. 

It is also easy not to measure gender precisely, as gender is more subjective than sex. Where an individual's sex can be objectively defined by their genes and physical appearance, their gender may be more open to interpretation

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Sex vs Gender

If sex is whether an individual is male or female, then this is decided at conception when a sperm fertilises an egg.

A newly formed foetus has the chromosomes that determine whether it will be born a girl or a boy. Whether a baby is actually born with its masculine or feminine traits is much more open to debate.

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If sex is genetic...

then it follows that an individual's sex is fixed. Genes cannot be changed. 

'Sex change' operations therefore do not really change a person's sex.

BUT an individual's sex is partly determined by their anatomy (like, genitals) and this can be changed in gender-reassignment surgery.

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Transsexual: A person who desires to be a member of the opposite sex

A transsexual woman may have a penis surgically constructed and her breasts removed so she appears as a man - she may also be given hormones to stop menstration, to deepen her voice and encourage growth of body a facial hair. - This is a good example of the effects of FTM hormone treatment

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However, in terms of genetics and sexual organs, she will always be female. This is not a problem as long as she feels like a man - why she would probably be undergoing the treatment in the first place!

Technically, her sex would be female but her gender identity (an individual's perception of their own masculinity/femininity) would be masculine (I think this is why the term 'transgender' is more widely used than 'transexual' now).

This suggests gender is fixed (like sex) as people cannot simply adopt the gender role of the sex they were born

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So, is gender fixed or not?

There's a debate about whether gender is fixed or not. There is a body of evidence that suggests a person's gender can change.

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Imperato -McGinley et al (1979)

  • They wanted to demonstrate that individuals can change their gender role and identity
  • A case study on 18 males who were part of the same extended family living in rural communities in the Dominican Republic.
  • They had been born with a hormone deficiency which meant their genitals appeared to be female and so they were raised as girls.
  • Research shows they had no issues with adopiting a feminine identity and role until puberty, when the increased production of male hormones caused their testicles to decend and their ********-like organs to grow into penises 
  • Following their biological transformation, nearly all of the boys easily adapted to their true sex by adopting masculine idenities and 'behaving like men'
  • This shows that sex and gender are distinct concepts - their sex had not changed over time but their gender had. When investigated they had full embraced the gender role, showing that gender is flexible
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Evaluation of Imp-McG

However, case studies are small and so can't be generalised to other cultures. Some cultures would respond differently and not adapt so easily to their new gender. For example, in this community, roles were seen as God-given and part of one's destiny. The Dominican Rep was a very patriachal society so boys in the study may have been pleased to be male.

BUT the researchers had to rely on reterospective accounts of their childhoods as they didn't meet them until they were older. They could not, therefore, reliably say that the boys had fully adopted the female role prior to puberty.

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Further evidence...

of the flexibility of gender comes from Rekers et al (1974) (note that this is BEFORE Impreato-McGinley). They described how they used a three year programme of treatment to extinguish the highly feminine behaviour of an eight year old boy and replace it with masculine behaviour.

When the boy was assessed at 16, he was described as a normal gender-appropriate adolescent. This had been achieved by reinforcing masculine traits in the boy, again showing that a person's behaviour can be changed (perhaps supporting the behaviourist theory?) 

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Evaluation of sex and gender

To conclude, psychologists are more interested in the concept of gender because it relates to the people's perception of themselves and to their behaviour.

Essentially, gender is a psychological concept, whereas sex is a biological concept. There is little dispute about the origins of an individual's sex, but what makes a person masculine, feminine or androgynous is much more debatable.

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These are some things I found on Google that you could use in 10 markers as evidence/to dispute theories or simply to mention. -- may be able to find who will be transsexual before puberty! Supports theory that gender is interchangable in an innate way. -- just displays the confusion people have with gender identity

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