Hi everyone! I am so, so sorry for just dropping off for weeks like that. These last few weeks have been insane. I had five 3000-word essays due in one week and I spent every free moment either buried in books in the library or typing my fingers to a nub in order to meet the deadline. But thankfully that’s all in the past and my life has returned to a semblance of normality.
I’m currently in Johannesburg, taking part in a youth summit hosted by Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) with people from all over southern Africa until the 29th. With that in mind, I thought that I’d share what I learned each week with the rest of you. Enjoy!
We as society have a tendency to force people into boxes in an attempt to create some form of easy categorization. As you can imagine, grouping people together based on nothing but loose generalizations often does more harm than good. One of the major themes of the first week was the presence of labels in our everyday life, specifically those relating to sex and gender.
Now, before we go any further, I think I should clarify the difference between sex and gender. Sex refers to the biological features of a person, while gender (which will be discussed further on) refers to the characteristics of each sex as well as how people choose to identify themselves. Understood? Good, let’s continue.
When it comes to sex, society tends to focus on only two: male and female. A typical male is defined by his sexual organs: the penis and the testes. The same goes for a typical female: vagina, ovaries and a womb.
While this seems like a neat little system, it is tragically flawed. Sex is rarely ever clean-cut and there are countless variations of the binary male/female dynamic. These tend to be grouped under the category of “intersex” (yes, I understand the irony) but they can take many forms.
According to the Intersex Association of North America, “Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.”
These could be anything, from people being born with genitalia that don’t match those of a typical male/female to people being born with mixed up chromosomes. Either way, the existence of intersex people is proof that the idea of a strict sex binary is false.
Next up, let’s look at the idea of gender. Like sex, gender tends to be reduced to be reduced to two categories: men and women. Again, these two categories have specific categorizations which define typical men and women. Let me list just a few:
Men are expected to be physical, aggressive and interested in sport. They are smarter, stronger and more successful than women and are not interested in anything even remotely feminine.
Women are expected to be the exact opposite. An “ideal” woman is quiet and submissive to the men around her. They are weak and not as smart as men and should focus on maintaining a family and home instead of pursuing a career.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in the real world, you’ll have noticed that limiting men and women to these strict, non-negotiable characteristics is complete BS. As I’ve written before, not all men are tough and aggressive and not all women are submissive caretakers.
Granted, there are men and women out there who fit nicely into these categories, but we can’t pretend that they are the only ones out there. People are unique and everyone chooses to represent themselves in a million different ways from the rest of us. Rather than forcing people into boxes, we should instead focus on celebrating our differences.
See you all next week!