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The Binary Constructions of Sex, Gender and Sexuality

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There exist the potential driving force that sex, gender and sexuality possess, which dictates our day to day life’s activities and encounters. These three terms in contextual perspectives are extremely related in provisions of an individual’s or groups’ perception of the world that we live in and the social attributes that accrue to our relations with nature and one another. Technically, human beings are either male or female, which is evident by looking at their physical and biological attributes like their reproductive organs. However, there are extreme cases whereby one might be classified as neither male nor female due to him and/or her being intersexual or hermaphrodite. Sex by definition refers to the physical, biological and morphological dissimilarities that distinguish men and women. On the other hand, gender refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male or female and the relationship between men and women, girls and boys. These correlations are socially constructed and learned through the socialization process.

Any undertaking or activity is usually firstly structured in reference to the participants’ sex then gender or both. This explains that both sex and gender are either complementary or supplementary to each other. In contrast, most parts of America and Europe have fixed their judgments on gender that it’s binary; backing their arguments with reasons like being male or female encompasses people with different feelings, bodily structure (anatomy) and behavior. Furthermore, people have to fit themselves efficiently into one of the above groups. In reality, this is not socially true with the existence of homosexuals, lesbians, hermaphrodites (intersexual) who possess transvestite behaviors. If the above reasoning, as the Europeans and Americans do holds water, where do we place these kinds of people who possess traits of the opposite sex and at the same time their biological traits do not match? My main aim in this paper is to clarify by explaining the relationship between sex, gender and sexuality with reference to the lifestyles of various people and the consequential understanding of human behavior and desires in our contemporary societies.

PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SEX CHARACTERISTICS

Primary sexual characteristics in both men are found around their sex organs and the area surrounding the production of sperm and their role in fertilization of the woman’s ova; they are involved in reproduction. Women’s primary characteristics pertaining to sex are also found around their genital organs, ova production and the growth and conception of the baby. Males have testicles and the penis; women have the vagina and uterus. Technically, primary characteristics are those that are directly connected to the sexual organs and their roles. They can be vividly seen. Secondary characteristics in both men and women are frills that contribute to the primary characteristics but not directly related to them. However, they distinguish the male and female and lend a hand in pursuing their sexual favors from each other. They are related to hormonal balance like the changes during puberty; in women mainly estrogen and in men testosterone. Examples in men include increased growth of penis, chest broadening, growth of facial, pubic and underarm hair, increased mass and enlarged muscles, broadening of shoulders, and bigger bone structure. In women: hips broaden, breasts enlarge and erection of nipples, growth of pubic and underarm hair and development of thigh muscles. The difference in shapes and sizes of both sexes are also well thought-out secondary sexual characteristics.

Intersexual

Anne Fausto-Sterling exhibits the strange occurrences whereby one is born with both genitals making it difficult to place them in a distinguished sex and gender grouping. She stresses that these people should not be forced to find a middle ground with their dissimilarities with other members in the society but they should lead normal lives and be allowed to make their uninterrupted choices. Frequency of intersex is not easy to determine but she explains that it is very rare. Her figures show that there are less than 0.02 percent of intersexual beings on the earth and it occurs in 2 out of 10,000 births. In the book, ‘Sexing the Body’ by Fausto-Sterling, she adopts her cases entirely from those who are explicitly intersex. However, using Fausto-Sterling's own figures, such individuals account for less than 0.02% of the general population. None of her case histories are drawn from the five most common conditions in her table, even though these five conditions constitute roughly 99% of the population she defines as intersex. Without these five conditions, intersex becomes a rare occurrence, occurring in fewer than 2 out of every 10,000 live births. Furthermore, these cases are rare because they are immediately corrected by surgical doctors, thanks to the contemporary surgical procedures; hence a baby grows healthy knowing his or her place in the society either as male or female.

…Modern surgical techniques help maintain the two-sex system. Today children who are born "either/or-neither/both"--a fairly common phenomenon--usually disappear from view because doctors "correct" them right away with surgery (Fausto-Sterling 31).

The third sexes

The lives of Hijras in India are not fully socially recognized even though they hit approximately half a million mark. Nevertheless, they play a key role in the societies they live in. These are eunuchs who are discriminated by their own families. They have ambiguous genitalia that are as a consequence of either being castrated or natural by birth. Their only way of survival is through help from other people or through extortion. People believe that they have the power to bless and curse so they usually visit family functions like weddings, burials, child births and other ceremonies impromptu to demand for their needs before they leave. They are often welcomed with the fear of consequences if the people do not cooperate with them. For example, they would lift their dresses and talk in a vulgar and offensive language. They are even being used by financial institutions to obtain money from debtors; whoever would hit them will have to encounter the wrath of the Hirjas army groups. Due to the rejection and neglect by their families thru ridicule and mockery, they normally do sex work during the early stages after being driven out from their homes. This makes them so vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and to add insult to injury their services are often seen as of lower levels and they also face unnecessary police brutality.

Talcott Parsons is recognized for the notion that each society accomplishes its achievements through four ‘functionalimperatives’ namely,

  • adaptation to the physical and social environment;
  • goal realization, which is the need to identify the most important goals and encourage people to participate in achieving them;
  • integration, the harmonization of the people or group as an interconnected whole;
  • latency, motivating individuals to perform their roles according to social expectations.

Parsons was above all concerned with the social structure, and assessing the social interaction and the relationships among individuals. People are encouraged by motivation from social and cultural factors so as to find a safe haven in their interactions with one another. Parsons was mostly concerned with the social system and this encompasses the society as a whole. He describes the society in his own words as,

A social system consists in a plurality of individual actors interacting with each other in a situation which has at least a physical or environmental aspect, actors who are motivated in terms of a tendency to the "optimization of gratification" and whose relation to their situations, including each other, is defined and mediated in terms of a system of culturally structured and shared symbols (Parsons 5-6).

Parsons considered the social system as involving the fulfillment of needs of community members first and this called for the active role and participation of all genders. This preserves a systematic arrangement in the society whereby socialization, learning and education of the boy and girl child are vital in the realization of their interests by instilling the norms and values in them. There exist many roles, statuses and opportunities for people in the society to exhibit their personalities. According Parsons, this is an affirmative characteristic of the social system, and a flexible system of this sort is more able to maintain order.

Homosexuality, as portrayed by Sigmund Freud, is illustrated as being deterministic and based his argument on attributes pertaining to psychological and biological make up of humans which drove someone to feel attracted to the same sex. Sigmund had a belief that human distracted libidos and different sex urges varies from one person to another, and therefore homosexuality is diverged from this. Some high levels of homosexuality are so embedded into someone’s biological and psychological makeup that it is almost impossible to use conversion therapy successfully. Freud explains about female homosexuality (lesbianism) as in the case of the 1920 paper ‘The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman’. He scrutinized the woman who was taken to therapy by her parents after she exhibited characteristics owing to being a lesbian. The psychoanalytical therapy used on her by her father was criticized by Freud as he described the diagnosis to be unsuitable and hostile to her considering the conditions that it was applied; her condition was not sickness. He further explains that homosexuality is connected to the victims feelings and changing him or her to be heterosexual is almost impossible than vice versa. This had the basis that planting heterosexual feelings to a homosexual is not possible but the reverse is possible.

Heteronormativity

This is the foregone conclusion in a cultural setting that same sex relationships are more accepted than opposite sex relationships. Same sex relationships are portrayed to be of the best standards than opposite sex relationships. Examples are so realistic in our contemporary societies: same sex marriages are not wholly accepted and laws have been drawn and implemented discriminating same sex relationships. Culture dictates our norms (how we should behave) therefore it’s the only corrective measure to heteronormative forms of behaviors like racism, chauvinism and heterosexism biases. Legislative arrangements can play a role in correcting this but in a minimal way. Life and human behavior complements. The way someone acts towards the same or opposite sex determines his own motives. Opportunities are got from interaction with different people who were pleasant to the other.

Another author who portrayed himself as a natural family man, Alfred Kinsey, went further to introduce the homosexuality-heterosexuality scale that is used to describe the sexual history of an individual from the last time he or she had a sexual encounter. It has a scale of 0 to 6, whereby 0 represents a totally heterosexual individual and 6 extremely homosexual individual. Kinsey’s work depicts the notion that males are not characterized by being heterosexual and homosexual. He explains that males represent two separate populations, but not in the extreme of cases as sheep and goats. It is true that a biologically male person can take a female role but not as easily as the vice versa. Gender equality mostly focuses on incorporating women’s concerns in the strategies and policies that are development conscious. This gives women more opportunity to take on roles that are currently done by men. Men can also focus on activities that women are concerned with though few do so because they are not as economically advantageous as men’s roles.

CONCLUSION

Human behavior is consequently dictated by the differences in gender roles considering the ambiguity of sexes such as intersexual, eunuch, hermaphrodite and the normal male and female. Conceptualizing gender with the consideration of the binary construction of sex is discriminatory and does not look into the needs of the intersexual and hermaphrodite beings that are left disadvantaged when it comes to distribution of resources. Human desires and behavior are vividly portrayed with the presence of an opposite sex or even the same sex. Analysts’ views show that women are a catalyst to development activities. Gender should be acknowledged as a potential and authentic truth. Gender has the potential to sideline others and accommodate the rest depicting its oppressive nature making it real. It is also culturally constructed hence creating its complexity. Sexuality and gender differences should be conceptualized as a working whole for development of human agendas but also as separate ends to understand human behavior and desires.

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