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What is Gender?

Posted: 19 Oct 2018, 09:58
by Eric the Orange
For a while now I've been wrestling with a question. What is gender? Lets start by getting some definitions.

Google says, "the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones)."

Merriam-Webster says, "the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex"

Oxford English Dictionary says, "Either of the two sexes (male and female), especially when considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones. The term is also used more broadly to denote a range of identities that do not correspond to established ideas of male and female."

So what I'm taking from those is that gender is what your society or culture says it is to be male or female or anything in between (in a non physical sense). I have a problem with this.

I think societal gender norms are bull shit. You should never feel like it's wrong to think or act a certain way because society says shouldn't. For example, in my society (United States), pink is a "girls color". But if you are male you should feel no shame for liking pink.

Or to put it another way, by my personal belief their should be NO gender norms. Their should be nothing that is a "guys thing" or a "girls thing". Everyone should be able to be them selves without the restrictions of such labels.

So perhaps we can create a better definition for gender. Change out society and culture for personal belief. So with that change gender becomes, "gender is what you think it means to be male or female or anything in between (in a non physical sense)"

I feel this is a better definition but it also has problems.

for one, as stated above I don't believe in any gender norms, so by my personal belief gender doesn't exist.

for another, this makes the word gender useless for communication. because unless the person your talking to already knows what you think any particular gender represents they will not understand what you mean.

Also I'd like to head off certain comments I feel this post would get. I'm not trans phobic or against the idea of gender expression. I see nothing wrong in people doing whatever makes them comfortable and happy as long as it doesn't harm other people. People are allowed to present them selves as however they like. I do not mean to say that it is wrong to do so.

I'm only trying to work through my own confusion about the idea.

Re: What is Gender?

Posted: 22 Oct 2018, 16:35
by Eric the Orange
Thinking about this more the last few days I think I've solidified my issue more.

What is the difference between gender and gender stereotypes?

And if their is no difference would that make gender bad?

Like if sex is to gender, what race is to racial stereotypes. And racial stereotypes are bad, is gender also bad?

Re: What is Gender?

Posted: 31 Oct 2018, 12:50
by AdmiralMemo
Effectively, this is a hard concept. First, you need to extract the differences between "being male" and "being masculine" and "what other people see as male or masculine" and it becomes a whole can of worms. Add on top of that cultural baggage of different cultures, since traits seen as masculine in Japan vs. in France vs. in the US, etc. can be wildly different.

Also, I think racial stereotypes are only bad if applied externally by someone else. If the person embraces those attributes, then it's not really bad, I don't think. The same could apply to gender stereotypes. That's the difference between A: someone saying "Woman! Get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich!" and B: that woman deciding of her own volition to make a sandwich for her partner, because she enjoys cooking and preparing food. While both are a woman going into the kitchen to make a sandwich for someone else, the first is bad, but the second is not, at least in my opinion.

Honestly, the discussion boils down to language and semantics. If you say "male" or "female" to someone else, the question becomes whether your definition of those words matches what the hearer understands them to be. If the speaker and listener basically agree, then there's no problem. If not, then that's where arguments start. The key is that most of the world has a general agreement on what is perceived as "male" or "female" to them, and most people can talk about gender most of the time without getting into problems. There's a concept in language that is described in this video:
Speakers tend to want to use the least energy to get their idea across to listeners, so they use the least words they need to in order to be understood. Conversely, listeners want to hear more words, because it uses the least energy to understand if the speaker gets more and more specific. This turns into Zipf's Law, and that's a tangent to review the video for, not to be discussed here. But, the point is that if I as the speaker can get my point across in a word such as "male" or "female," then that efficiency is preserved. If I have to bring out my entire concept of gender every time I speak about a person, it becomes a hassle to talk about anything.

It's when expectations do not match between people that trouble starts. For example, I could say "I spoke with Frederick and she agreed with me." Many people would take a moment to process that sentence, because expectations have been subverted. While there is absolutely no rule that says "Frederick" can't be a woman's name, most people who speak European-based languages would initially assume that a person named "Frederick" is male. To follow up the name "Frederick" with the pronoun "she" will make many people lose the flow of the conversation, which can become aggravating because after you process it, you've got to catch back up, because the speaker has continued on.

Expand all of these concepts several hundred-fold and you get the world we live in.

Re: What is Gender?

Posted: 29 Jan 2019, 01:47
by Danielle Pepin

This is how I've started personally using the words and what I mean as I try to remain consistent with each instance so as to help minimize confusion:

-man/boy, woman/girl, non-binary or agender when referring to gender (roles, expressions, identities)
-she/her, they/them, he/him, etc. when using a person's preferred pronouns as it applies to their gender that they view themselves as inside.

-male, female, intersex when referring to sex

Gender stereotypes are more problematic than an actual gender because people rarely see themselves completely only the stereotype and nothing else and can often be quite opposite or something totally out of the range of what anyone thought possible based on any gender stereotype.

Gender stereotypes are often used by cis* hetero-normative cross dressers who aim to do it for the sake of mocking the gender rather than to present what they feel they actually are inside. A drag queen/king may also do it but not with the intent to mock but do it because they love everything that is feminine and enjoy the expression despite being totally comfy also being masculine most of the time or could be gender fluid. Transgender people may come across seeming as though it's a stereotype though it would likely be a lot less intentional as they are expressing how they wish to reflect who they are inside. Some may also either look or behave like a stereotypical "trans" person (extreme exaggeration toward media's ideals of feminine vs masculine) but most don't look any different than most people who don't identify as transgender. All people are different and not all people who are transgender wish to transition and not all of them have gender dysphoria. Being gender confused, atypical or undecided also does not mean one is delusional in case anyone was wondering. :)

*cis man: born as male and masculine while feeling that they fully identify as a man inside
*cis woman: born as female and feminine while feeling that they fully identify as a woman inside
(traditionally matching sex and older definitions of gender)

Re: What is Gender?

Posted: 29 Jan 2019, 01:50
by Danielle Pepin
I liked that video about Zipf's Law, AdmiralMemo.

Re: What is Gender?

Posted: 01 Oct 2019, 02:33
by Chad Capote
I have friends who discuss this a lot. Sometimes these discussions are a good churn of old norms and understanding. In fact it has been quite a discovery for me to hear them discuss these issues from various other societies. I am slowly starting to understand that these are age old topics which have been much discussed and written about in other cultures. One of my friend's is reading this prescribed text Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: The New Basics and he keeps sharing what the author writes. Most of us find it very interesting and well written. It helps to hear these discussions because they are studying these subjects and they know what to read.