This page is a resource explaining general sociological concepts of sex and gender. In sociology, we make a distinction between sex and gender. Sex are the biological traits that societies use to assign people into the category of either male or female, whether it be through a focus on chromosomes, genitalia or some other physical ascription. When people talk about the differences between men and women they are often drawing on sex — on rigid ideas of biology — rather than gender, which is an understanding of how society shapes our understanding of those biological categories.
Gender is more fluid — it may or may not depend upon biological traits. Sex and gender do not always align.
Transgender people will undergo a gender transition that may involve changing their dress and self-presentation such as a name change. Transgender people may undergo hormone therapy to facilitate this process, but not all transgender people will undertake surgery. Transgender and intersexuality are gender categories, not sexualities. Transgender and intersexual people have varied sexual practices, attractions and identities as do cis-gender people.
People can also choose to be gender queerby either drawing on several gender positions or otherwise not identifying with any specific gender nonbinary ; or they may choose to move across genders gender fluid ; or they may reject gender categories altogether agender. Sexuality is different again; it is about sexual attraction, sexual practices and identity.
People can identify along a wide spectrum of sexualities from heterosexual, to gay or lesbian, to bisexual, to queer, and so on. These roles were different prior to the industrial revolutionwhen men and women worked alongside one another on farms, doing similar tasks.
Entrenched gender inequality is a product of modernity. Biological definitions of the body arose where they did not exist before, drawing on Victorian values. The essentialist ideas that people attach to man and woman exist only because of this cultural history. This includes the erroneous ideas that sex:. Gender, like all social identities, is socially constructed.
Social constructionism is one of the key theories sociologists use to put gender into historical and cultural focus. Gender norms the socially acceptable ways of acting out gender are learned from birth through childhood socialisation. We learn what is expected of our gender from what our parents teach us, as well as what we pick up at school, through religious or cultural teachings, in the media, and various other social institutions. Gender is therefore always in flux.
We see this through generational and intergenerational changes within families, as social, legal and technological changes influence social values on gender.
Australian sociologist, Professor Raewyn Connell, describes gender as a social structure — a higher order category that society uses to organise itself:. Gender is the structure of social relations that centres on the reproductive arena, and the set of practices governed by this structure that bring reproductive distinctions between bodies into social processes.
Like all social identities, gender identities are dialectical: Masculinities are rewarded over and above femininities. Take for example the gender pay gap. Men in general are paid better than women; they enjoy more sexual and social freedom; and they have other benefits that women do not by virtue of their gender. There are variations across race, class, sexuality, and according to disability and other socio-economic measures.
See an example of pay disparity at the national level versus race and pay amongst Hollywood stars. Hegemonic masculinity rests on tacit acceptance.
The hegemonic ideal is exemplified in movies which venerate White heterosexual heroes, as well as in sports, where physical prowess is given special cultural interest and authority. A event between the Australian and New Zealand rugby teams shows that racism, culture, history and power complicate how hegemonic masculinities play out and subsequently understood. Masculinities are constructed in relation to Who identifies key differences between masculine and feminine cultures in terms of sexuality social hierarchies relating to class, race, age and so on.
Hegemonic masculinities rest upon social context, and so they reflect the social inequalities of the cultures they embody. See the video illustrating how hegemonic masculinity is damaging to men. Notice that most of these often-heard sayings directed at boys and men use femininity and heterosexism as insults. Femininity is constructed through patriarchal ideas.
This means that femininity is always set up as inferior to men. As a result, women as a group lack the same level of cultural power as men. Women do have agency to resist patriarchal ideals. This can be done by rejecting cultural scripts.
As women do not have cultural power, there is no version of hegemonic femininity to rival hegemonic masculinity. There are, however, dominant ideals of doing femininity, which favour White, heterosexual, middle-class cis-women who are able-bodied. Minority women do not enjoy the same social privileges in comparison.
Women who want to challenge this masculine logic, even by asking for a pay rise, are impeded from reaching their potential. Indigenous and other women of colour are even more disadvantaged.
Cultural variations of gender across time and place also demonstrate that gender change is possible. Nationally representative figures drawing on random samples do not exist for transgender people in Australia.
The researchers think that transgender and intersex Australians either nominated themselves broadly as woman or men, and as either heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual or asexual.
Alternatively, transgender and intersex Australians may have declined to participate in the survey. American and British estimates are no more exact. Smaller or specialised surveys on issues such as surveillance and tobacco estimate that between 0.