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Lee Xuan Yi

Singapore

So what about gender?

March 21, 2016

A very significant part of how I behave, and how I am expected to behave stems from the fifty-fifty toss up of my sex at the point of fertilisation.

People conflate sex with gender, which is natural considering how we were brought up—boys should not cry or like dolls, girls should wear dresses and be polite. To be clear, the two concepts of gender and sex are fundamentally different things. Sex is the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. Gender is the social norms and expectations that we assign to different sexes, for example, the type of clothing you wear, your colour preferences, or your strengths and weaknesses. 

A study led by Daphna Joel at Tel Aviv university has shown that the truth is, there is no such thing as a male brain or a female brain. Joel and her colleagues looked for differences in brain scans taken from 1400 people aged between 13 and 85. When looking at each individual brain scan, they found that between 0 and 8 per cent of people had “all-male” or “all-female” brains, depending on the definition. “Sex affects the brain but how it affects the brain depends on other factors. The effects of sex can be different and even opposite under different conditions. This is why you can be highly masculine on one feature but highly feminine on another feature,” said Joel. As she concludes, “We have to treat each person according to what he or she is and not according to the form of their genitals.”

Ergo, gender is a fundamentally flawed concept as the lack of a binary categorisation of mental characteristics between men and women means that the world should also not force fit individuals into binary categories of common traits. Secondly, gender is also extremely arbitrary as when we assign gender by sex, we assume, falsely, that there are inherent reasons to why men are different from women. Given that little of such reasons exist, gender correspondingly has little value or truth behind it because the distinction we make of males and females is the main distinction that exist.

These flaws in the concept of gender are at the mild end of the spectrum. 

For some people, sex and gender are very, very different things. The most obvious example would be the transgender community, who do not identify with the corresponding gender to their biological sex. It is exceedingly unfair to impose a specific gender onto people, especially when the process of changing your gender is not easy and is seen with acute stigma. 

Granted, a large majority of the population does live inside the ring-fenced roles, behaviours, and attributes that society considers appropriate for men and women. However, this does not discount the ever-present harms that apply to normal men and women too. The core of feminist ideology, is that a woman should not have her freedoms limited by her biological sex. But gender discrimination works both ways—it is heartbreaking to see a girl denied of education because of her gender, like it is heartbreaking to see a boy conscripted into war because of his gender. 

We live in an era where increasingly, basic needs are being met and people move on to desire higher tier needs like self-actualisation. More significance is being given to respecting the identity and individuality of a person. In order to achieve liberation from the shackles of gender norms, we need to drop our preconceived notions on how each sex should behave. This preconceived belief that men and women are essentially different, reinforces the different behaviour of men and women. Children have been taught since young that boys behave in this way but girls do not. In our formative years, we need to find out who we truly are and what we feel most comfortable doing. Only so, can we know and be who we desire to be.

In a world where two mutually exclusive categories of gender exist, where specific roles and actions are ring-fenced for either one gender, where we are taught since young to fit into gender norms, perhaps it is time to break free. Perhaps we can live in a genderless world, without a false, arbitrary binary of humankind, where the focus in on our individualistic selves.
Sample, I. (2015, November 30). Men are from Mars, women are from Venus? New brain study says not. Retrieved March 21, 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/nov/30/brain-sex-men-from-mars-women-venus-not-so-says-new-study 

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