Is Gender a Social Construct?

Author :- Angel Russell Jan. 28, 2022, 1:15 p.m.
Is Gender a Social Construct?

In a word: Yes.

Sometimes people use the words “sex” and “gender” interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing.

So, first, let’s define sex.

In this case, we are referring to sexual biology, not sexual behavior. More specifically, sex refers to biology, anatomy, and physiology. Sex is about how your body is made and how it works. There are four main components that go into biological sex: 1) chromosomes, 2) hormones, 3) genitalia and reproductive anatomy, and 4) secondary sex characteristics (like breast growth, Adam’s apples, etc.). Those four components align in various ways and typically result in bodies that we call biologically “male” or “female”. If a person’s body aligns to the expected formation of “male” or “female,” they’re endosex. Sometimes, though, those four components align in ways that vary from what’s expected. People with these kinds of variations in their sexual biology are intersex.

Typically, though, we don’t test for these things to determine whether we call someone “male” or “female”. Usually, during pregnancy (via ultrasound) or during birth, a doctor examines a baby’s genitals and, based on what they see, assigns the baby “male” or “female”. This is called a person’s “sex assigned at birth”. This is NOT the same thing as a person’s gender.

If sex is biological, gender is psychological and social.

Gender is a social construct. That means that our sense of gender is shaped by social messaging we receive from world around us. We start receiving these messages, in many cases, before we’re even born (remember, a lot of babies are assigned their sex at birth via ultrasound during pregnancy). Gender messages are the earliest and most pervasive messages we receive as social beings. These messages come from our culture, our faith and belief systems, our race and ethnicity, our communities, our parents, our friends, the media we consume, and more. Gender roles are the expected notions of what it means to be a male, female, or another gender. Our own sense of gender is a combination of which of those social messages do and do not apply to us, individually.

For example, let’s say a person was assigned male at birth. They may really resonate with some or even most of the social messages around what it means to be a boy or a man, and when they think of themselves and who they know themselves to be, “man” may seem just right. This person is cisgender. Cisgender just means that their gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth.

Now, let’s consider another person who was also assigned male at birth. Perhaps this person deeply resonates with social messaging around what it means to be a girl or a woman. When they think of themselves and who they know themselves to be, “woman” seems just right. This person is transgender. Transgender just means that their gender identity is something other than their sex assigned at birth.

Even though social messaging helps to shape and inform what gender means, the best person to identify your gender is YOU.


Cover Image from Unsplash