GENDER: the distinction of one’s nature, whether male, female or confused

genderI bristle whenever I hear someone ask an expectant parent the question:

Do you know the sex of the child?”

The obvious answer, from my perspective, is “None!”

The point is that the unborn fetus has not even taken its first breath. How could it have sexual relations?

Oh, I’m being somewhat facetious, but my point is that I disapprove of the use of the word “sex” when what we actually want to know is the fetus’ gender.  That is the official word to denote  the physical characteristics of a human…as well as other animals.

When a child is born it is just a matter of checking to see if the child has a penis or not.   Males do; females don’t.  Sometimes an anomaly occurs in which both a penis and a vagina are present in a child.  That person is defined as a hermaphrodite.

And now we are finally at a point in history when we are identifying the reality that some children are born with male appendages, but are really females, and vice-versa.   Gender identification, we have discovered, has more attributes than sex organs.

That leads to my point that I hate to see someone identified by the term “sex.”    It is a limited capacity with a lot of confusions connected to it.   Gender is a better term which incorporates a broader range of characteristics, some of which are not necessarily obvious at the time of birth.   I’m not suggesting that we stop calling out the gender at birth based upon the visible characteristics.  But simply, my point is that it’s not a foregone conclusion in the delivery room as to what gender a child may be; that may become clearer as time progresses.

Gender is from the Latin genus which means “kind or sort.”   

The distinction between sex and gender is not my own construction.    The World Health Organization includes the following commentary on its web page:

Sometimes it is hard to understand exactly what is meant by the term “gender”, and how it differs from the closely related term “sex”.

“Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.

“Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

To put it another way:

“Male” and “female” are sex categories, while “masculine” and “feminine” are gender categories.

Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.

I had the same concern a number of years ago when the world began to deal publicly with the aspect of persons with “homosexual” orientation.   I encouraged organizations to use the word homophile rather than homosexual.  My point was, and remains, that homosexual makes it appear that the orientation is only about sex.  The gay man and lesbian woman are real people, with interests, skills, talents, and achievements which are well beyond their sexual activities.  I feel the same way about sex and gender. One’s life is larger than one’s identification of his or her organs.  One’s gender refers to one’s whole life, not just one segment of it.


Image Credit:  ucla


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