Let's Talk About Sex, and Gender

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Sex and Gender

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Let's Talk About Sex, and Gender

Talya Gates-Monasch

"Let's talk about sex, Baby. Let's talk about you and me. Let's talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be, let's talk about sex."
~Salt 'N' Pepa, "Let's Talk About Sex"

Sex, in a biological sense, has become easily definable. It is something tangible. Most people are born either one way or another. Granted, those who are not are ostracized or simply ignored. Salt 'N' Pepa's song "Let's Talk About Sex" is speaking about the action and about how it's something that happens and therefore shouldn't be ignored or forgotten. However, there is one aspect to this song, and to most thought processes, which is forgotten: gender. Does gender mean the same thing as sex?

Gender is more difficult to comprehend let alone explain. In most politically correct communities, gender is considered a spectrum, something fluid. Gender is all about self-definition; sex may be predetermined but gender is not. There is no right or wrong gender; yet despite that, our society has come to accept and expect certain things from certain genders. Rather, it has become so engrained in us that we simply consider it human nature to believe that actions and emotions accompany a gender.

Recently, there has been a surge of pressure for individuals to reevaluate their "roles" and expectations to help tear down the boundaries that stereotypes and titles create. There has, however, been confusion and debate over the cause of gender. Is it something that is inherent in human evolution or is it socialized?

My parents raised me in the most balanced way that they could. They taught me to play in the mud and to bake challah. They encouraged me to play sports and to properly set a table for a seven-course meal. They encouraged me to play with boys and girls. They quizzed me on my math times-tables and tucked me into bed every night while giving me "good-dreams".

"Adults can help kids build relationships based on mutuality and respect" (Thorne, 159). Most children are not as privileged as I was. I not only grew up in a safe area but I grew up with loving and caring parents who pushed me to discover who I was whether or not that person would "fit" into society. I did not get "stuff" but I developed a strong sense of self which they challenged, and still do challenge, on a daily basis. My older sister, Naomi, also took part in that adventure toward self-discovery, and she offered a perspective that my parents could not. She was the older sister who, in response to my biting and drawing blood, said, "I can't bite her back, she's too little" yet had no qualms about teasing me mercilessly.

Naomi and I were always very different. It was first noticeable when we began choosing our own clothes and played dress-up together. I always chose pink and high heels that could have fit, literally, three of my feet; she always chose earth and matte jewel tones. She put her hair up to get it out of her face and I put my hair in whatever way I thought that it looked prettiest.

We went to the same school through 8th grade. By the middle of preschool, I had become a socialite. She had become the teachers' favorite; she was a dedicated student who never came into class hyper after (or before) lunch, she spent her free time reading and being "the good little girl". She watched someone French-braid my hair, once, when she was seven, and she learned how. I, on the other hand was a hyperactive and dirty child: I was the "tomboy" who wore dresses. I still followed directions, for the most part, but I was also in a dream world for most of the day. My world involved building forts, watching "The Sound of Music", and playing Tunnel or Candlestick Tag. If I asked really nicely, I could convince her to do my hair; however, I was not a child who sat still for more than three minutes. We decided to create a game, which she, then, took part in: I sat backwards on the toilet seat and we timed her as she braided. One-day, when she was in 4th grade, she managed to double French-braid my waist-long hair in 3 minutes.

Throughout her high school years, she wore really baggy jeans and sweatshirts; I became "preppy". I encouraged her to alter her attire simply because I knew that she was gorgeous and, in her choice of clothing, did not feel it. The irony in our choice of clothing is that while I was wearing the "girls" clothes, I was still constantly dirty and while she was wearing the "boys" clothes, she was compulsively clean.

Naomi was in college across the country from me by the time I was a junior in high school. She had just ended summer vacation and left for school the day before my senior portrait. I called her the morning of and was frantic: I did not know what to do with my hair. I wanted it to look nice, but more importantly I wanted to feel pretty. Naomi laughed and said, "You know, it's sorta funny, I know how to do hair and make-up and you're the girly one". I didn't really know how to respond: she was right, right? Needless to say, I managed to get through that day without too much pain.

"Don't sit on the ground, your ovaries will freeze and you won't be able to have children. Boys, you carry the desks and tables; Girls, you sweep." I was livid the first time I heard this and realized that it was said seriously. By the tenth time, I realized that it had less to do with me than it did to do with the society that I was in. I was informed of the ways of the world; well, at least the ways of Former Soviet Union Eastern European countries. I thought of my sister: I reminisced about the experiences that we shared.

Throughout our lives, we chose to describe ourselves and each other. We both took our turns at the "girly" and "tomboy" phases but we didn't know that they meant anything or came with negative connotations. "...provide mutual support as they go through the dangers of the forest. They each take the lead" (Thorne, 172). We still count on one another: often for encouragement, frequently for criticism, but mostly as a dose of twisted sisterly reality. Some might say that we still go through phases; however, I have come to accept it, not as a phase, but simply as part of me.

As I look back I realize that there isn't, inherently, a problem with having traditional gender roles. When gender roles become a problem is when people stop treating them as possibilities and start treating them as truth, and truth alone. Is gender socialized or biological? Contrary to popular opinion and stereotypes, current and archaic, it is not as simple as biology. Some things are biological and some things are sociological.

"Yo, I don't think we should talk about this. Come on, why not? People might misunderstand what we're tryin' to say, you know? No, but that's a part of life."
~Salt 'N' Pepa, "Let's Talk About Sex"

"How do children actively come together to help create, and sometimes challenge, gender structures and meanings" (Thorne, 4)? Is there a need to talk about gender? No. Is there a need to create a world where men and women, girls and boys are treated with the same expectations and opportunities? Yes. How do we achieve that utopia? We talk about gender; we talk about language; we talk about miscommunications and interpretations; and, we talk about ourselves.

Salt 'N' Pepa; "Blacks' Magic," "Let's Talk About Sex"; Herby Luv Bug; 1990.

Thorne, Barrie; Gender Play: Girls and Boys in Schools; Rutgers University Press; New Brunswick, New Jersey; 1993.

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