The term politics refers to a group of individuals coming together to make decisions on a specific topic. This theme applied to the politics of sex, are the ideas and norms that a society has created in which people are suppose adhere to in terms of sex, sexuality and gender. These can be regulations such as laws on marriage, to guidelines about how women and men should dress. The politics of sex affect people on a daily basis. In today's society, there is a constant reminder of how men and women should behave. Commercials, billboards, and movies are all sending out messages of how people should act, dress and carry themselves in public. Women should be "feminine", often synonymous with makeup, dresses and being good homemakers. Men should be masculine, told to be strong, provide and never show vulnerability. However, most people don't fit into these strict gender roles that have been taught. The study of the politics of sex looks at how and why these gender roles have been defined the way they have. Why are certain jobs believed to be for men, like construction while careers in cosmetology and dance reserved for women?Why are men who have many sexual partners seen as pimps or players, while women get called sluts and whores? The politics of sex addresses the issue that what society has deemed as "normal" and "proper" doesn't always hold up. Even before we are born we are being socially constructed into a gender role. Little girls will have pink blankets while little boys will wear blue. In a society that only has room for two gender specific identities, there is no place for those who don't fit either category perfectly. The many that do divulge from the socio-normative ideas of sex, gender and sexuality are seen as outcasts and deviants of society. Though looking at the actuality of individuals, it is easy to see there are far more categories than can be defined. People who identify as transgender, gender queer, bisexual and many other non traditional roles don't always have a place in our overly homogeneous societal ideals. Looking at the politics of sex will help us better understand how these norms have been created, and how they affect our everyday lives and will hopefully shed better light on how to open these boundaries that have been defined for us generation after generation.
Sex refers to the biological characteristics that determines whether and individual is male or female. This includes genitalia, chromosomes and hormones. Body types, skin texture, and shape can also be used in determining an individuals sex. Gender refers to the specific traits and behaviors that have been assigned to each sex based on cultural norms. Each sex has a specific gender identity that has been social constructed. Sexuality, or desire refers to what individuals find pleasurable, either mentally or physically. What characteristics they find attractive or appealing in others. Although gender, sex and sexuality have independent meanings, the terms have been conflated and are often used interchangeably with one another. These terms have been separated into binaries: men and women, masculine and feminine, gay and straight. The view of sex, gender and sexuality are seen through a heterosexual lens in which there is a defined normality of how the three should function together. Men should have masculine traits and behaviors, and should desire women. Individuals are taught to emulate these ideas from parents, families, and society as a whole. Those who do not follow the normalized order of sex,gender and desire are seen as deviant and are often ostracized from society.
In "Transgendering," Kimberly Tauches describes how binaries have defined our view of sex and gender in our society. Explaining how in American culture we are taught to fit into very specific roles based on our sex, "a person is seen as fitting into one and only one gender, masculine or feminine. But never both masculine and feminine". (174) We wear certain clothes and hairstyles to help distinguish our gender for ourselves and others. Tauches also discusses how sexuality has been normalized by heterosexual ideals. Sex is only seen as natural when the relationship is between a man and woman because they have complementary sex organs for procreation. Sex outside of these confines are viewed as unnatural. (175) "Normativity" from the Scholar and Feminist Online, illustrates how heteronormativity has dictated individual's lives through laws and regulations. Laws that determine who can marry whom, along with welfare policies that punish "the sexual deviancy of single mothers".These normalizing practices could also be as simple as "romantic plots of t.v. shows...and questions... if ones 'married yet'". (12) Those who do follow the heternornormative system fit into the "Charmed Circle". Anyone else can be seen and not as morally righteous and suffer for their actions.
The documentary Transgeneration follows the lives of four college students and their experiences of being transgender. The movie addresses several of the issues that surround sex/gender/desire. Raci, a young girl going to school in California felt very pressured to fit in and be seen as female. She wanted to hide the fact that she was transgender from her classmates so she would not be viewed as different. She did not want to be seen with her friend who was also a male to female transgender because she was less "passable" as a woman. She felt this would giver her away as trans. Lucas, an f to m, was going to an all girl school and felt he had no real place or voice in a school that was designated for females. He struggled with getting representation along with having a sense of belonging. Although physically Lucas was still female, he displayed the normal traits of a man based on the views of heterosexuality. Both of these examples help illustrate the pressures that are felt to fit in and be "normal".
Tauches, Kimberly. "Transgendering Challenging the 'normal'." In
Handbook of the New Sexuality Studies, edited by Steven Seidman, Nancy Fischer and Chet
Meeks, 173-179. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Scholar and Feminist Online. "Normativity"
Sex is the scientific description of whether a person is male of female. Sex is determined by genitalia, body shape, and the reproductive organs of a person. There are two classically defined sexes which have led to the binaries we live by in our society, such as straight-gay and feminine-masculine. Many people believe science is an objective subject without bias. However, the discourse of science and the language used in the description of male and female exhibit a gender hierarchy that has encompassed the rest of our culture. The woman's egg is passive while the men's sperm are active. Scientific discussions of sex also focus on the differences between the two sexes without a real look at how the two are similar. Ignoring what traits women and men share push the two groups farther apart and discourage a unity or a better understanding between the two groups. Each sex has come to be synonymous with a gender which helps determine at glance what sex a person is. Having a clear categorization of sex discriminates against people who do not naturally fall into one sex category and who must choose to live as one of the other to adhere to the hetero-normative standards of society.
As Emily Martin discusses in "The Egg and the Sperm, "...the picture of egg and sperm drawn in popular as well as scientific accounts of reproductive biology relies on stereotypes central to our cultural definitions of male and female".(Martin, 29) In biology we learn that female reproductive parts are the damsels in distress floating around until the men's sperm come in and save the day. There are clear favoritism of sex, even in the description of what the two's functions are. Riki Wilchins addresses how in our culture "difference is what we want, and difference is what we get." (Wilchins,86) Our society is not interested in what makes men and female similar because we have create a large number of characteristics that sets each sex apart. Being male and having masculine attributes gives one a higher status in society. Men are seen as being strong, independent and providers while women are weak, independent and homemakers. The scientific description of sex are not independent of the cultural norms and biases that live in society. These sex identifications are a result of a gender hierarchy not necessarily the cause.
Living in a society that is so draws a clear line between sexes makes blurring those lines difficult for some people to handle. The show Pregnant Man showcased a transgender female to male who was pregnant. Many people were upset over the direct opposition of sex and gender. Thomas Beatie looked and lived as a man but still had the reproductive parts of a female. In my homophobia class, we had a visitor who was also female to male. He talked about his dislike of the pregnant man's publicity because he did not want society to believe that transgenders were still the sex they previously were. He told us that he could not get pregnant and did not want to be associated with females. This again shows that even some transgenders want a clear definition of what it is to be a man or woman. I also thought it was interesting the type of benefits he felt after transitioning to a male. People treated his better and he even got more recognition and a higher pay in the work force. Showing that gender and sex hierarchies are very much apart of our society.
1.Martin, Emily. The Egg and the Sperm: "How science has constructed a romance based on stereotypical Male-Female roles in" Gender and Health: An international perspective edited by Caroline B Brettell, Carolyn F. Sargent. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458, 1996
2. Wilchins, Riki. "Can sex have opposites," in Queer Theory, Gender Theory an
Sexuality is separate from gender and sex. Sexuality refers to the desires and pleasures pertaining to sexual activities. It can be how humans express their erotic feelings, along with deep interpersonal connections. People have attractions, turn-ons and sexual needs that all form a persons sexuality. The term has been socially constructed and can be defined differently depending on the cultural and historical context. Western culture has defined sexuality into categories based on sexual orientation. Heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. Many view heterosexual practices to be normal or natural, while other forms are deviant and viewed as negative or shameful. Many people do not fit into these categories and view it as a larger array of preferences and identifications. Sexuality is not strictly a biological matter. The very idea has changed over time and depending on social standards. Western culture has created a sexual hierarchy that gives values to certain sexual activities. Some acts are seen as good, those that are for procreation between a heterosexual married couple. Sex acts that are defined as bad can relate to those that are same sex, masturbation, pornography, group sex and many others that are non heterosexual and procreative.
Abby Wilkerson discusses the socially constructed hierarchy in Disability, Sex Radicalism and Sexual Agency "in which those who are most socially privileged on various axes of social differences..are most likely to be considered respectable and therefore worthy citizens" (Wilkerson, 35). People on top of the hierarchy are often white, heterosexual individuals who reap the benefits of laws and practices that our culture has created. Jeffery Weeks explains how sexuality is "concerned historical and social organizations of the erotic" (Weeks, 17). Some cultures practice same sex relations but are not viewed as homosexuals. Religion has played a major role in defining sexuality and determining what are acceptable sex practices.
My sister has personally experienced how social standards have determined her views of sexuality. She was always attracted to men, and therefore identified as a heterosexual. However, later in life she realized she was also attracted to woman. She felt she needed to identify as a certain way based on how our culture defined sexuality. She does not identify as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. She instead understands her sexuality is based on personal desires and attractions. She is not attracted to specific sexes or genders, but instead on other individual characteristics and qualities.
Wilkerson Abby, "Disability, sex radicalism, and political agency" NWSA Journal; Fall 2002; 14, 3; GenderWatch (GW) pg. 33
Weeks, Jeffrey, Sexuality: Second Edition Pg. 10-21
A persons gender is separate from their sex. It is a socially constructed categorization of how each sex should behave. In our culture there are two sexes, male and female, along with two genders, men and woman. Each category have different characteristics and behaviors that are understood to be normal for their specific sex. In our culture men should be masculine and woman feminine. People perform according to these gender roles that have been determined as acceptable for their sex. Gender roles include dressing a certain way, talking a certain way, along participating in certain activities and jobs that are deemed appropriate. However, many people's sex and gender conflict. Someone born a male may identify with the opposite gender. They are more comfortable with feminine characteristics. They may choose to dress in clothes traditional reserved for woman. It is important to understand that sex and gender are not the same thing, but because of cultural norms people feel pressure to act in ways designated for their sex. Gender varies among cultures and what is acceptable in one culture may be completely different in another. Our culture favors the male gender and sex over the female. They have more privileges, power, and opportunities.
The Gender Studies Terms and Debates explains how "the operation of gender in our society takes up these sets of meanings, organizes them as masculinity or femininity and matches or lines them up with male and females bodies" (Cranny-Francis,3). This demonstrates how binaries between male and female, masculine and feminine define how we look and understand gender and sex. The idea that each sex has a specific gender that they should naturally identify with. How individuals, look, dress, and behave are all characteristics that determine gender. In Doing Gender , the authors contend that "doing gender involves a complex socially guided perceptual,interactional and micropolitical activities that cast particular pursuits as expressions of masculine and feminine 'natures' (West, 126) This illustrates how people perform their gender according to a set of guidelines society has deemed natural. It is established by personal relationships, actions and even politics such as laws and regulations. They authors explain how there are many outside forces that create what our genders should be, it is not a naturally occurrence like many people suggest.
The documentary Straight Laced address the issues of gender roles. Many students felt pressure from their peers, family and society to display appropriate gender behaviors. Men that wore tighter clothes were perceived as gay and woman who spoke with a lower voice or participated in more physical sports are seen as lesbians. This shows how the mind and body are two separate identities. Some peoples sex and gender do not coincide. Many people are ostracized for deviating away from culturally normal gender roles. It is important to broaden the understanding of what gender is and how it differs from a persons sex.
West Candace, Zimmerman Don. Doing Gender:Gender and Society, Vol. 1, No. 2. (Jun., 1987), pp. 125-151.
Cranny-Francis, Wendy Waring, Pam Stavropoulos, Joan Kirkby. Gender Studies "Terms and Debates"
The four concepts I discussed of Sex/gender/desire, gender, sex and sexuality all have different definitions and meanings but relate and interconnect to the ideas that relate to the politics of sex. The readings from Emiy Martin, The Egg and the Sperm explains that sex is a biological categorization of male and female. It is the distinction we make of each sex based on reproductive organs, body shapes and genitalia. Gender is the characteristics, such as clothing, hairstyle, and mannerism that we identify belonging to a specific sex. The two concepts are often tied together into binaries men and woman, masculine and feminine. Men are suppose to be strong and have masculine attributes, while woman are docile and feminine. Sexuality is a way individuals express their desires and needs. Society has also created a binary of straight and gay in determining one's sexuality. However, these binaries create a social hierarchy which places certain individuals above others. Many people do not fit into the categories that society has deemed natural. Someone born a female may identify as male but feels pressure from family, peers and society to behave in a manner that is appropriate with their sex. while another person may be attracted to females and males.