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Historically the terms ‘woman’ and ‘man’ have been understood differently: not as sex terms, but as gender terms that depend on social and cultural factors (like social position). In so doing, they distinguished sex (being female or male) from gender (being a woman or a man), although most ordinary language users appear to treat the two interchangeably. More recently this distinction has come under attack, and the idea that behavioral and psychological differences between women and men have biological causes has not disappeared. During the feminist revolution of the 1970s, talk of inborn differences in the behavior of men and women was distinctly unfashionable, even taboo. It was argued that men dominated fields like architecture and engineering because of social, not hormonal, pressures. Women did the vast majority of society's child rearing because few other options were available to them. Once sexism was abolished, so the argument ran, the world would become a perfectly equitable, androgynous place, aside from a few anatomical details.
But biology has confounded these expectations. Rather than disappear, the evidence for innate sexual differences only began to mount. In medicine, researchers documented that heart disease strikes men at a younger age than it does women and that women have a more moderate physiological response to stress. Researchers found subtle neurological differences between the sexes both in the brain's structure and in its functioning.


Sex Differences Extend Into The Brain

ScienceDaily (Mar. 3, 2008) — What was once speculation is now being confirmed by scientists: the brains of women and men are different in more ways than one.



Feminist sex/gender distinction

Provisionally: ‘sex’ denotes human females and males depending on biological features(chromosomes, sex organs, hormones and other physical features) 

'gender’ denotes women and men depending on social factors (social role, position, behaviour or identity).  

Biological determinist view:
The idea that behavioral and psychological differences between women and men have biological causes.
1900 – Political argument
Women supposedly conserve energy (‘anabolic’) 
Men expend their surplus energy ( ‘katabolic’)
These biological ‘facts’ about metabolic states were used not only to explain behavioral differences between women and men but also to justify what our social and political arrangements ought to be.
More recently, the anatomy of corpus callosum, a bundle of nerves that connects the right and left cerebral hemispheres, is thought to be responsible for various psychological and behavioral differences.
How do we go about dealing with these biological differences while shedding the layers of assumptions ‘male’ and ‘female’ carry?



What is gender?

How is it used and why?

  • Until the 1960s, ‘gender’ was used solely to refer to masculine and feminine words, like le and la in French
  • distinguish biological differences from social/psychological ones and to talk about the latter
  • Psychologists writing on transsexuality

                       - Robert Stoller (1968) began using the terms ‘sex’ to pick out biological traits                               and‘gender’ to pick out the amount of femininity and masculinity a person exhibited.



Why distinguish sex and gender?


Feminist distinguishing sex and gender:


Enabled them to argue that many differences between women and men were socially produced and, therefore, changeable.

Gayle Rubin - ‘sex/gender system’ in order to describe “a set of arrangements by which the biological raw material of human sex and procreation is shaped by human, social intervention

"describing gender as the socially imposed division of the sexes”


Although biological differences are fixed, gender differences are the oppressive results of social interventions that dictate how women and men should behave.
Since gender is social, it is thought to be mutable and alterable by political and social reform that would ultimately bring an end to women's subordination.
In this way, the feminist aim is to create a genderless society, in which one's sexual anatomy is irrelevant to who one is, what one does.
The dialetic of biological sex (as male and female) should be approached in a similar way and the assumptions that follow should be abbandoned


How would you define the terms 'male' and 'female'?




Gender realism:  the view that women have some feature in common that makes them women.

Sex realism?


Using the feminist normativity argument to counter: (Butler, J.)


Based in the idea of identity politics: This is a form of political mobilization based on membership in some group (e.g. racial, ethnic, cultural, gender) and group membership is thought to be delimited by some common experiences, conditions or features that define the group.

Presupposes gender realism in that feminist politics is said to be mobilized around women as a group (or category) where membership in this group is fixed by some condition, experience or feature that women supposedly share and that defines their gender.

Unitary gender notions fail to take differences amongst women into account thus failing to recognize the multiplicity of cultural, social, and political intersections in which the concrete array of ‘women’ are constructed.



**Object- and idea-construction: social forces can be said to construct certain kinds of objects (sexed bodies or gendered individuals) and certain kinds of ideas (sex or gender concepts). . Secondary sex characteristics, or the physiological and biological features commonly associated with males and females, are affected by social practices.***


Identity categories are always normative, and as such, exclusionary”
The terms 'male' and 'female' can never be defined in a way that does not prescribe some unspoken normative requirements that those categories should conform to.
Sex, like gender, can never be used in a non-ideological way, it will always encode conditions that are not satisfied by everyone we think of. 
Where do we go from here?