Somewhere Between Mars and Venus

From glass slippers and ball gowns to a sturdy pair of Dr. Martens and well-worn jeans, gender norms and equality has come a long way since the days of damsel in distress. With some truly inspiring reformations like equal voting rights, reproductive rights, domestic violence reforms, and activists working online, in Congress, and in pop culture, progress is undeniable. 

Yet, while we know opinions are changing, the question remains...

What really is gender?

In order to explore the ways Western culture conceptualizes “gender” and where gender stems from, a series of seven interviews were conducted. This project took a group of seven individuals of varying demographics (age, race, income, occupation) and asked for their opinion on questions related to gender. 

This is what they had to say…

Where does gender come from?

“I don’t know…probably from…sex and the sexes.” –Male/16/Student

“…I think it’s just part of, you know, human nature.” –Female/71/Retired 

“Gender…sex, your biological sex.” –Female/44/Analytic Chemist 

“Gender is a figment of our imagination. It comes from the social…it’s not scientific.” –Male/48/Computer Scientist 

“I think most people understand gender to be a social construct.” –Female/20/Social Media 

 

What role do you think biological sex plays in our gender identity? 

“I’m aware that people can identify as a gender that is not congruent with biological sex, but I think it’s a large determinant...” –Male/47/Educator

“I think it definitely influences gender identity…you’re told that if you’re a man you refer to yourself as him…” –Male/16/Student

“Sex doesn’t determine my sense of gender.” –Female/20/Social Media

“That’s (biology determines gender) not true.” –Female/10/Student

“I think biology is 100%.” –Female/44/Analytic Chemist

Clearly, most of the interviewees believed that gender was closely linked to biological sex. While biology might not determine our sense of gender, or which gender we choose to identify with, it is viewed as a large contribution to it. 

 

Obviously, this understand of gender as a product of physical and social factors has not always existed. This idea is actually a relatively new development in social science. From the beginning of gender studies to the mid 1900’s, gender was thought to be solely derived from biology. Academics and researchers advocated biological determinism, stemming from the eugenic movements, wherein gender was determined by physical sex. This led to many false beliefs that deviations from biology were “unnatural” and those individuals were largely viewed as disturbed. 

I’ll trust you can all imagine the multitude of ways in which this was problematic and harmful.

Yet, this interview series stands as evidence of changing beliefs. The responses collected illustrate a change in the way we understand gender. In a way, these responses stand as monuments of the gender equality movement, as they show a heightened awareness of gender as something that's biology alone cannot determine. 

So why do we care? Why is this important? 

Well, to put it simply, it predicts future success for gender rights. Demanding equal rights between men, female, or whatever gender is identified, requires the separation of gender from sex. If not, gender discrimination will always find support through “scientific” validity. This project represents a cultural movement that is getting increasingly closer to drawing the line between gender and sex. 

While it might be a little early to start breaking out the confetti blasters and singing Kumbaya, we can all take solace in the knowledge that the ball's at least rolling!