“A man and his son are in a car crash. The father is killed and the child is taken to hospital gravely injured. When he gets there, the surgeon says, 'I can't operate on this boy - for he is my son!!!' How can this possibly be?”
Take a moment to think about this question. It is supposed to make you aware of our preconceptions regarding sex and gender.
The answer to the question above is “the surgeon is the mother”. Simple. Yet the majority oversee this simple reply and instead, we come up with other possibilities such as the grandfather, two dads, the step-dad, the man in the car was not his dad, etc. Our mind unconsciously assigns gender roles based on sex, not surprisingly, considering our history and society. Perhaps we cannot think of the mother as the surgeon since we have developed the preconception of assigning gender based on sex, i.e. surgeons as male only.
Sex is based on our biological features: our chromosomes, sex organs, hormones, and some physical features. Gender, on the other hand, is based on social factors such as roles, positions, a form of identity within our society. Given that gender roles are based on our society they can change over time.
The lack of distinction between sex and gender has caused severe inequalities between men and women. Back in 1889, Geddes and Thompson put forth the idea that due to women’s slower metabolism (a biological factor) psychological traits such as passiveness, conservative, stable, and disinterest in politics were caused. Thus, they justified womens social behavior as being part of their biological nature and not society’s impositions. Women were seen as second class citizens who were completely dependent on their husbands. By assigning gender roles based on sex they were able to justify keeping women away from politics.
As women gain equality in the world, we are witnessing a change in gender roles, that has nonetheless met resistance. For instance, the stereotype of the housewife with the minivan was a gender role assigned to the female sex. However, as more men are becoming stay at home dad’s they are challenging the notion that women are to care for children and clean the house. Thus showing being the main-income of a household is not a feature of the male sex but rather a gender role.
As we come closer to equality for everyone, we will see that gender roles are in fact grey areas in which a person identifies themselves with based on society. For instance, a man can be a stay at home dad who likes shopping, and is emotional. Just as a woman can work, provide for the family, and be uncomfortable expressing her emotions. Thus, matching someones gender based on their sex limits us.
By: Jeffery Bustos