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Why do people say 'gender' when they really mean 'sex'?

(23 Posts)
2to3 Mon 24-Aug-09 17:01:11

I think it is a bit weird that the word 'gender' has replaced 'sex' on everything from application forms to surveys to online forums. If someone asks about my baby's 'gender' I could say I don't know what their sexual identity will be, but that I could tell them the sex because that is a biological fact. Are we really becoming so prudish that we can't bear to use the word 'sex'? Or do people just not know the difference anymore?

LadyStealthPolarBear Mon 24-Aug-09 17:03:05

I don't know, but since learning the difference a little while ago (on MN) I've started to notice that all over too!

LadyStealthPolarBear Mon 24-Aug-09 17:03:37

It does seem to be widely accepted that 'gender' is posh for 'sex'

TheFallenMadonna Mon 24-Aug-09 17:04:01

People don't know the difference I think.

TheFallenMadonna Mon 24-Aug-09 17:04:55

Caster Semenya is being 'gender tested' isn't she?

LedodgyDailyMailstinksofpoo Mon 24-Aug-09 17:10:57

It's to stop people writing 'yes please' on the forms thinking it is hilarious. hmm

MaggieLeo Mon 24-Aug-09 17:14:55

what, does gender just mean how you present yourself..?

I think ledodgy has probably hit the nail onthe head there.

LadyStealthPolarBear Mon 24-Aug-09 17:18:25

but before long people will be using 'gender' to politely refer to sexual intercourse. So if you are ttc, try gendering every day.

Hulababy Mon 24-Aug-09 17:23:32

I started to use the word gender more when I was teaching data handling and capture in ICT to teenagers. Couldn't be doing with the inane giggles whenever I said the word sex!

AvengingGerbil Mon 24-Aug-09 17:34:42

Sex is biological, gender socially constructed. So the requests for one's gender could in fact produce responses which are not 'true' in the sense that the form designers intend, ie they want to know your sex, but you may legitimately tell them your gender.

This is also a pet peeve of mine! (And makes me wish I had an interesting gender identity so I could answer misleadingly yet truthfully...)

campion Tue 25-Aug-09 16:06:38

Add me in here, please.

There was a discussion about this on Woman's Hour this am with a Prof of Bio-Ethics explaining what it all means ( re Caster Semenya),and she was getting a bit sniffy about the pc interpretation. I think she was talking sense but a) she had quite a strong ( Italian?) accent and b) I was munching toast and c) she was being rushed along every time she tried to explain some of the finer points and d) I'm possibly a bit fick.

' Have you found out your baby's gender?' ranks with ' We're pregnant' in the nonsense stakes.

Sex every time.

policywonk Tue 25-Aug-09 16:13:48

Dictionaries have started waving the white flag on this one (ie giving 'sex' as an alternative meaning of 'gender'), so technically it's not really incorrect any more.

madeupsurname Tue 25-Aug-09 16:20:30

Evan Davies was going on about testing the 'gender' of that South African athlete on the Today programme today. I almost wrote in and complained....

Amaris Tue 25-Aug-09 16:28:49

I guess discussions around Caster Semenya highlight that the definition of "sex" is not as straight forward as people think - what if you have some of the characteristics attributed to your sex (chromosomes, hormones, physiology) but not others? To what degree do you have to fit into certain parameters to identify as "male" or "female", before you even get on to issues of appearance, behaviour or dress? We've all heard about people born with uncertain sex and needing to choose one gender over another, or living as one and then finding out at a later date that they have chromosomes that don't match that.

The term gender recognises the social construction of identity that exists outside of biological categories. It also allows the possibility of moving away from crude sexual stereotypes defined by our biology that gives people the freedom to choose to express themselves as they wish without it being "right" or "wrong" for their sex. It's easy to think about the obvious examples of transgender people, but it's important for all of us, for women who don't want to be defined by appearance and want to be taken seriously at work, and also for men who want to spend time with their families that we can start to see ourselves as people with our own individual characteristics and personalities.

Gosh, not sure where that came from!

policywonk Tue 25-Aug-09 16:52:23

Surely sex development disorders affect only a tiny minority - around 1 per cent at birth, I think? For the vast majority of people, sex is perfectly easily determined via chromosomes, hormones and genitalia/reproductive organs.

TheFallenMadonna Tue 25-Aug-09 16:57:00

1% is actually quite a lot of people though. There would be than 100 competitors at the Athletics World Championships for example. I know that's not how it works, but still...

policywonk Tue 25-Aug-09 17:03:53

Um, should I be winking here TFM? grin

I think my point is... there are some people - largely those in the transgender/trans-sex community I think - who take sex development disorders (which are of course a real concern for those who live with those conditions) and use them to construct a wider argument about sexual identity being a meaningless label imposed by Society. Whereas, IMO, gender (proper meaning) is a fluid identity, which can be largely culturally dictated, and all power to those who challenge gender assumptions; but sex, for the vast majority of people, is a simple matter of fact. I've read lots of people in the last few days saying that sexual identity isn't that straightforward, but as far as I can see (not being a scientist of any kind) that's just not true for the vast majority of people.

TheFallenMadonna Tue 25-Aug-09 17:33:43

I think the reporting and comments about Caster Semenya have been very interesting (although obviously grim for her). Because, as you say, for most people, a definition of sex is straightforward. But for her, and for a lot of people (albeit a minority), the 'fact' of sex detemination becomes a debate. I bet if she does turn out to have some kind of developmental disorder, then at least some of the people testing her will disagree on definitions. Is she female? Is she female enough not to be at an advantage athletically? When we categorise things into groups which are not completely homogenous, there are always going to be problems of definition with a minority of individuals.

So I think I agree with you pw, but I'm not sure what you mean by 'sexual identity'. Because I think as soon as you start bringing identity into it, you start leaving the biology behind a bit.

policywonk Tue 25-Aug-09 17:50:12

Yes, sorry, i just popped 'identity' in there for no real reason I think. I just meant 'sex'.

Agree that there's a debate to be had around how those with sex development disorders should be categorised WRT sport - no idea about that one really. I've seen a suggestion that there should be the 'female' category and then an 'other' category, encompassing both men and those of indeterminate gender - don't know whether this is workable.

2to3 Tue 25-Aug-09 20:46:53

Wow ladies - you took that one and ran with it (no pun intended, of course). For the sake of argument, let me just throw in my tupenny's worth:

I think the whole fudge stems from the fact that we as a society have become deeply uncomfortable about sex as a subject on a personal level. We've become prudish and paranoid about it, ironically and possibly because we are surrounded by images and talk about it 24/7 in the media. To the point that even referring to something as innocent as a baby's sex is deemed to somehow be a bit - possibly - 'rude'.

People who say 'gender' when they really mean sex are misguided or just plain wimps. So what if someone sniggers in the back or writes something inane on a form? There will always be idiots out there - that shouldn't stop the rest of us from acting like grown-ups.


campion Wed 26-Aug-09 00:23:35

Hear hear, 2to3 smile

madwomanintheattic Wed 26-Aug-09 00:57:52

it is interesting though - a man (with no intersex condition) who prefers to dress and be recognised by society as a woman may or may not self-identify as a transexual. he may or may not want to be employed as a woman. he may dress in his private life, but be a 'man' at work. or he may want to 'dress' full time, but not undergo grs... he may opt for breast augmentation, and apply for the sex to be changed on his official paperwork.

sometimes there does need to be a little more nuance on the 'sex - m/f' line.... if as a society it was acceptable for a bloke to wear a frock to work and be called diane, then i doubt anyone would care what the form says anyway.

incidentally, attempting any tg community to come to a consensus on this is almost as bad as asking a bunch of mners to agree on breast/ bottle, or state/ private...

madwomanintheattic Wed 26-Aug-09 01:00:52

2to3 - it might be because of the sniggering and silly comments, but it might equally be just that the same 'grown-ups' are just not prepared to accept that some people self identify as other than m or f.

i don't give a hoot whether the bloke next door wears a frock, but it makes a lot of people very anxious...

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