Sex and gender. These two words are used interchangeably every day even though there’s a slight difference between the two that goes unnoticed. Although it isn’t quite clear, the difference is becoming increasingly defined in modern society.
Photo: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Sex is based on scientific terminology and the biological characteristics that distinguish male and female organisms from each other. Basic biology tells us that if you were to take a look at the 46 chromosomes that make up a person’s genetics, two of those them would be sex chromosomes. Males have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. Females have two X chromosomes and no Y chromosomes. As a result, the different chromosomes produce specific hormones that contribute to the physical characteristics of a person.
Although a majority of the people in the world easily align with the usual male or female classifications, there exists is a small exception: the intersexual. Intersexual is described as a series of “conditions that don’t seem to fit the typical definitions of a male or female.” Individuals that appear to have intersex conditions generally have an extra chromosome in their genetic makeup, which in turn may lead to the enlargement or absence of a reproductive organ.
Gender, on the other hand, is based on a variety of external factors, including environment, social interactions, and media. Historically, society has seen that certain motifs are associated with each of the respective sexes. For example, the color blue is for boys while the color pink is for girls. Short hair for boys, long hair for girls. These generalizations have resulted in an “unspoken” set of standards that has further developed the concept of gender roles.
In the 1950s, American gender roles were defined with men coming home from World War II, meanwhile women were stay-at-home moms who took care of the households. This stereotypical dynamic, however, has changed significantly. At present, almost half of the U.S. working population being composed women. While gender inequality is still an issue that plagues the world, it has evened out significantly over the years.
When it comes to gender, an individual has all the power to choose which one he or she identifies as. Although biology can define a person’s sex, those physical characteristics may not align with who a person feels he/she is. Depending on the society the individual is from, his/her self-expression will vary and what constitutes masculine or feminine in one society may not match what qualifies as such in another culture.
Now why does the difference between sex and gender matter? Because there’s still confusion between the two, and this confusion plays a role in the discrimination that occurs among people that choose to identify themselves a certain way. It’s crucial to understand the distinction between sex and gender in order to combat the potential bigotry that comes with the two.
There’s never a legitimate reason to be prejudiced against anybody. We’re all unique individuals who come from different walks of life. We have our own morals, values, and beliefs. Most importantly, we identify ourselves in our own way. Being educated on the different types of discrimination is one of the necessary steps to eradicating the concept completely.
That said, the next time you witness a person being antagonized for either the sex or gender, don’t ignore it. Step up and say something.
Nate is a senior studying marketing at California State University, Long Beach. Also a current student at the Book Shop Portfolio School, he's an aspiring creative who hopes to write ads that will change the world one day.