“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.” Ok, so quoting Salt-N-Pepa may not be the most conventional way to start a conversation about sex and gender. However, since we don’t talk about them and their meanings and differences enough, it seemed apropos.
It seems to me that not enough people pay attention to the vast differences in the meanings of these words and use them interchangeably. I have but one request on this topic: Please don’t. I think the fight for equality could benefit greatly from proper use of these words. I’m sure everyone at some point or another has learned the definitions of these words, but for the sake of this column we’ll go over their meanings so we can re-evaluate our understanding of them.
According to the World Health Organization’s website, “Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. “Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.
Basically sex refers to our bodies, while gender refers to how we present our bodies to the public.
I’ve recently started hearing the term “Gender Reveal Party,” and every time I do it makes me start to twitch. I can’t fault anyone for wanting to know what to expect when their child is born and sharing that information with the people in their lives, but I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to words and their proper usage. It’s a bit of a joke amongst my co-workers, as a matter of fact. In this situation, though, it is so much deeper than just a desire to speak succinctly. I hate to break it to you moms, but you aren’t revealing the gender of your child. Accurately speaking, you are revealing the sex of your child. Your child will tell you what their gender is and how they choose to present it.
As a society, we put so much emphasis on how people should or should not represent their gender that we tie ourselves up in knots trying to fit into these boxes that almost no one fits exactly into. Maybe if we gave ourselves a break once in a while we could see that everyone enjoys something that goes against their gender “norm.”
In addition to using the proper terminology when speaking about matters related to male and female things versus masculine and feminine ones, we also need to cut our boys some slack. It struck me one day when I was looking through my Facebook feed and saw a post that talked about how we tell girls they can be anything they want, but boys are expected to be rough and tumble. If they show any signs of being anything less than a “man’s man” we should “whip them into shape.” Hold up. What? How is it still ok to advocate violence against someone just because they live their life in a way that is different than you do?
It seems to me, that if we elevate the people who dare to be different, whether it is something as small as accepting that some women wear their hair short just because they don’t like it long or something as significant as welcoming our trans brothers and sisters, our community would be much better off. Acknowledging that gender identity, like sexual orientation, is fluid, and embracing the people who color outside the lines could have a massive effect on our fight for equality. I, for one, would really like to be a part of that movement.