SOC327 2017 Tut4 – Mon 1330

How do you know if you’re a boy or girl, straight or gay, or something else altogether? Is it just obvious biology, something you’ve always known instinctively? Or is it something you’ve learned? What about your sexuality? Or what about your image of yourself as a sexual person?

While conventional perspectives focus on a hetero-normative image of men and women accompanied by prescribed male and female behaviours, and other perspectives gave range to a number of alternative conceptions – gay, lesbian, queer, transgender etc – the origins and repercussions of our sex, gender and sexuality are contested.

Some say that sexuality is fluid and eroticism is plastic, changing over the life course and in different contexts. Others point out that ‘obvious biological’ parts of our existence – our bodies – are increasingly altered to confirm to socially derived gendered stereotypes. Many women continue to alter themselves in ways ranging ‘beach ready body dieting to labiaplasty in pursuit of the perfect female form. Similarly, eating disorders, cosmetic surgery, and sales of protein enhancement and grooming products are steadily increasing amongst men.

What do you think? How much of our sex, gender and sexuality is innate and biological, and how much is environmental and social?

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  1. It is interesting to consider this question, with a focus on twins, both fraternal and identical, in order to understand whether there are biological links between an individuals sexual identity. Multiple studies have been conducted upon the topic, and it is interesting to note that if one twin identifies as homosexual, there is a 70% chance that so too does the other. This short video gives credit to the notion that sexual identity is biological and that attempts to change a persons environment in order to ‘cure’ them are meaningless.

  2. To be young and growing up in a society where the line between either gender is clearly defined is something that I think is slowly changing. Personally, I have always instinctively known my gender and sexuality, but for many people the path to self-awareness has been quite tricky.

    A person’s biological sex can mean different things, it could be related to their gender identity, gender expression, their sexual orientation and all of which could be fluid. Now, I think, in Australia, we are becoming increasingly aware that these four key areas can be independent from another.

    It is also clear though, that there are still misconceptions and categories that people are placed in because of their biological sex. These structures can characterize and restrict people to be defined by their ‘categories’ which can be quite harmful. Chodorow (1978) grouped certain people into categories but was harshly criticized because these conceptions were mostly theory with little evidence, and similarly, Skeggs (1998) showed that people don’t necessarily accept the categories in which they are placed.

    I think there are always going to be pressures on each gender, to attempt to fit within societal norms and gender stereotypes, but I also think that a lot of people pursue certain paths of alterations because within themselves they are not happy, regardless of what society thinks.

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  3. In the 21st century there is a lot of attention surrounding gender and sexual fluidity, as well as alternate conceptions of sexuality as seen in the LGBT community. It is seen in Davis’ ‘Technologies and sexual citizenship’ (2009), “that sex and sexuality are now subject to what is called liquid modernity…these perspectives underline the dissolution of the universal ordering of sexuality in late modern times.” I believe that as society progresses, the general public has become more open to the idea that there is not simply male and female; heterosexual and homosexual, but an array of different gender and sexual classifications in which individuals can associate with.

    I believe that our sex is innate and biological, but our gender and sexuality is decidedly influenced by societal, cultural and environmental stimuli. Yes, we are born with specific anatomical differences that classify us as either male or female, but these anatomical differences do not divide us in terms of what gender we identify with and whom we are sexually attracted to. Sexual fluidity demonstrates sexuality on a spectrum, with each sexual choice not reflecting our sexual nature but reflecting an individual’s preferences and attitudes in that context (Selterman). This again supports the notion that sex, gender and sexuality are mainly influenced by social and environment stigma, and that biological classification is only the beginning of our sexual classification.

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  4. Sex and gender are still perceived to be the same thing by many within society. However this is not the case. According to Nobelius sex refers to the biological differences in the body (e.g. chromosomes, sex organs) and gender as the “characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine’ (2004). This misconception creates the hetero-normative constructs which have guided society for years. In the last few decades these notions of gender has been challenged, with gender being seen on a spectrum instead of two opposing forces. However the quest of obtaining the ‘perfect body’ has also risen dramatically, creating a range of issues.

    I believe that the increase of this is mainly due to the media and their perceptions of the perfect body. In order to promote and sell their products they used images of unobtainable bodies in order to make the majority of their audiences feel insecure about their bodies. As such, this had created a phenomena where a high percentage of people are dissatisfied with their physical appearance and undertake unnecessary bodily changes in order to achieve “beauty”. Instead of actually treating those who have these poor perceptions of their body the media takes advantage of this so they can sell their products to vulnerable populations. I’d argue that there needs to be a shift from promoting unnecessary bodily procedures to support and services for those who suffer from poor body image.

    I believe gender is socially constructed due to the sex we are born as. Many argue that sex is biological and that there are only two categories for that, but what about people born as intersex? In this society many are forced to become one or the other through “corrective’ operations which are made for them at a young age. So could, contrary to popular belief, sex be socially rather than biologically constructed?

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  5. While I personally believe that social learning plays a large role in my own gender identity, this approach is made problematic by people who instinctively identify with the opposite of their biological sex, or are gender non-conforming. Consequently, it seems that both biology and social learning have a role to play, although different people may feel as though one is more dominant.

    In the current mediated and globalised world, bodies are arguably becoming more autonomous, and individuals have more freedom to realise their ‘true’ sex/gender/sexuality. In contemporary western society, there is increasing acceptance of unconventional and even fluid gender and sexual identities, which supports “the dissolution of the universal ordering of sexuality in late modern times” (Davis 2009, p. 23).

    In recent years, both social media and art have played a role in changing the perceptions of gender and sexuality. For example, this performance artist uses his own body as a tool to explore gender identity and demonstrate how the body can be both a biological and social in different contexts:

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  6. Butler (2001, p. 621) poses the question ”Who can I become in such a world where the meanings and limits of the subject are set out in advance for me? By what norms am I constrained as I begin to ask what I may become?”

    Butler follows the case of John/Joan and his sex reassignment and interactions with medical professionals throughout his early life. Interestingly Butler (2001, p. 625) notes that “John experienced some deep-seated sense of gender, one linked with his original set of genitals, one seemingly there as an internal truth and necessity that no amount of socialization could reverse”.

    This study suggests that sex and gender are largely innate and biological, with environmental and social efforts having little to no impact on the attempted upbringing of John as female (Joan). This conclusion could also be applied to individuals identifying as transgender who may feel that they were (in a sense) ‘born into the wrong body’, therefore strengthening the idea that sex and gender are largely innate and biological.

    In regards to sexuality, I agree with Selterman’s idea of sexual fluidity as presented in the lecture, whereby context and environment play a strong part. Contextual factors are particularly important; this can be illustrated by expanding on the given example that “having sex with someone of the same sex does not automatically make you bisexual” – whereby individuals who are victims of rape and sexual abuse may not consider being the victim of same-sex acts as fundamental to their identity and still identify as heterosexual (if that is what they initially considered themselves as).

    Sexual fluidity can also be considered in terms of one’s environmental and social interactions. With increases in tolerance, an individual that identifies as heterosexual may later identify as a different sexuality as their experiences and interactions change, expanding beyond the “gay-straight dichotomies”. These social interactions are constantly expanding as illustrated by Davis (2009), with the rise of techno-sexuality and our interactions with others, both online and through developments such as the contraceptive pill and Viagra.

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  7. The socially acceptable perception of masculinity and femininity has been moulded from a rigid framework. Originally, the feminine figures were primarily perceived as child bearers and obtained the virtues of being caring, loving and kind. Conversely, masculinity gave the impression of protection, resilience and strength. Both these basic definitions are reinforced by Chodorow’s belief that “Anglo-Saxon men become more emotionally restricted, independent, and achievement oriented, while women ‘connect better’ to loved ones and reproduce mothering roles learned at an early age.” However, individuals have biologically pre-determined desires highlighting the concept of homo and hetero sexuality.

    Although there is an initial deep grounding of sexual identity and desire acquired at birth, social and environmental factors will influence future action. It is becoming more acceptable within society to freely express homosexuality. This is highlighted by the intense change from the social stress that homosexuals would have felt during the epidemic of A.I.D.S. Additionally, Mardi Gras has grown somewhat over the last decade and has become increasingly more enjoyable for all. The purpose of this festival agrees with Butler as “Sex’ does not describe ‘raw’ bodies, upon which gender is artificially imposed”.

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  8. The complexity that is gender and sexuality is amidst the epitome of misconception in our modern, contemporary society. It has evolved to fit an even larger scaffold in recent years, with excessive attention placed on how we define ourselves, how we express ourselves, and our attractions to each other. Although, it is becoming more accepted to measure ourselves across a spectrum rather than placing ourselves into definitive categories.

    I too believe that our biological sex, defined by hormones, distinctive features and bodily parts was originally innate, however the rise of a transgender community in the 20 and 21st centuries have begun to defy these parameters. Having the freedom of choice in our appearances and our mind is now moving in a positive direction.

    Additionally, sociology categorizes us into femininity and masculinity, or heterosexual or homosexual, however, we are, now, allowed a freedom to move fluidly between both at any one given time. Our sexuality and our genders are scaffolds of a predisposition to the society we live in. Gender and sexuality are not just personal identities anymore; they are social identities. They arise from our relationships to other people, and they depend upon social interaction and social recognition, and are continuously evolving with each experience.

    The obsession with unveiling the truth behind whether gender identities are an innate disposition or the result of social conditioning is certainly increasing. But will we ever truly have one definitive answer?

  9. The common idea is that this idea of the perfect body for men and women is learned from society. We constantly see people portrayed as thin, beautiful and happy in pop culture, and with the rise of social media it is even more widely available. Recently, there has been a rise of ‘body positivity’ posts in social media and articles written for websites and magazines, however, there are thousands of people who comments back negativity against the idea that men and women can look however they choose and still love their body. This idea of masculinity and femininity are still ingrained in our culture.
    This body positivity movement could be an advancement of Skeggs’ idea of Glamour, which pairs femininity with strength (2005). Perhaps femininity will become whatever we choose it to be, if we have the inner strength to project that to the world.

  10. Discussing gender/sex was once seen as a relatively simple thing, I think, because our understanding of the two concepts were pretty narrow in comparison to what they are today.
    Gender is no longer considered a black and white boy/girl thing, and we can also consider gender to be independent of our biological sex. This is because it becomes up to the individual to “perform” their gender as they see fit. For example, a biological woman could participate in what traditionally would be considered a masculine/male activity like football. This does not make her a man, it is simply a more masculine characteristic of her feminine identity.
    It has become a common idea that just because you were born one sex, does not mean you have to conform to it gender-wise or even stay strictly that biological sex. There are now more easily accessible procedures for altering biological sexes to more accurately “match” (for lack of a better term) the gender that a person may feel best represents them.
    In terms of how gender is performed, I do think there is a standard set by society that determines what is considered acceptable for gender behaviour, but I think this is being challenged more and more everyday.
    I think when it comes to sex and gender and sexuality, we see a constantly changing, fluid state of being. We do not have to be one absolute and final “thing” – we can change and alter as we feel we need to. And there is decreasing stigma surrounding this sort of fluidity, I think largely because of increasing visibility of people who challenge common gender/sexuality stereotypes everyday (like certain celebrity people.)

  11. Using my prior knowledge from Soc210 – Gender and Sexualities, biological sex is constructed through physical features of the body such as genitalia, while Gender is constructed through social phenomena such as social norms.

    In my view biological sex does play a role in the formation of sexuality, however this varies from person to person as countless real life individuals could attest to.

    I view that there are sexual traits that are learnt and enforced through social and cultures customs and behaviours. For example the phrase “Man up” or “Eat some concrete” can be seen as forms of social behaviour pushing forward ideal masculine traits.

    In regards to the bodily modification of such as the ‘Beach body’, male grooming or ‘Libiaplasty’, there may be a couple of possible explanations as to why individuals take these actions:

    • Viewing the body as a form of status and value, and using these methods to increase its wealth.
    • A person expressing sexuality and individual through the social accepted constraints
    • Individuals altering their bodies in order to conform to social norms
    • Individuals conforming to the social expectations and views of others around.

    In my personal view, I believe that the majority of our gender and sexuality is constructed through social acts and norms. In terms of ‘erotic plasticity’, I believe that mindset is the biggest influence on an individual’s sense of sexuality, however changes in social values and acceptance of varied cultural practices can have an affect on the mindset, and inturn sexuality.

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  12. Historically, ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are two terms that have been used to define the same thing, however in modern society, the meanings of these two terms are becoming increasingly different. In a broad definition the term ‘sex’ refers to the biological differences between males and females, while ‘gender’ refers to an individual’s concept of themselves, their gender identity. The gender binary classifies the two sexes into two opposite and distinct categories, masculine and feminine. At birth we are assigned a gender based on our biological sex and throughout our lives we are expected to align our gender with traditional and socially accepted expressions of masculinity and femineity.
    Every day we see stereotypical gender roles in our families, education, the media and our peers, which are based on ‘norms’ that have been defined by society over time. Masculine roles are associated with strength, aggression and protection, while feminine roles are associated with kindness, nurturing and patient. However, over time these gender roles have evolved and will continue to evolve. It is becoming more and more socially acceptable for both men and women exhibit masculine and feminine qualities. I believe that biology and society both play key roles in an individual’s sexuality and gender identity. While our ‘sex’ is determined at birth based on our biology, our gender and sexuality cannot not be defined as such.
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  13. Throughout history sex, gender and sexuality have been labels set in stone, with stereotypical nature toward the minority groups -such as the LGBT community. Fast forward 10 years these labels have been relaxed. Due to social perceptions and culture gender and sexuality are hard to grasp of some people, worried about the flack for choose a group that isn’t accepted or acknowledged as legitimate.

    I believe that biological sex is inherent due to distinctive body parts, hormones, child bearing capabilities. In regards to the transgender community, if an individual believes they belong with the opposite people in this day and age are starting to accept this. Furthermore, there is now genetic analysis being undertake to find biomarkers which would connect a transgender thought and feeling with inheritable characteristics.

    Fluidity is another concept that has made headlines around the world. I also believe that context and environment plays a vital role in one’s fluidity. Intercourse with the same gender does not imply you are Homosexual, lesbian or bisexual. As an individual develops their experiences may change, where they would normally find comfort in a lesbian relationship. They’re finding heterosexual relationships more interesting, and therefore start a heterosexual relationship. This fluid acceptance allows people to not be defined by one action, rather allowing them to develop and find happiness.

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  14. The idea of gender is very much up to an individual’s personal opinion. In modern society, the concept that someone can identify with a gender that is not just male or female, is becoming more accepted. The decision to classify yourself as an alternative gender or sexuality is often not only a personal choice, but is also influenced by the social environment an individual associates with.

    Even in today’s age, there is still a large amount of emphasis placed on masculinity and femineity, with the social stereotypes of each still playing a significant role in many individual’s lives i.e. the increased number of women and men that have opted to have plastic surgery in the last decade. Even with the focus on the male and female gender norms, many social studies accept that these concepts are constantly changing overtime and often depend on cultural environment. Nilan, Donaldson and Howson describe the masculine ideal of an Indonesian man is “in wisdom, self-control, and emotional mastery” (2007), instead of physicality and aggression, which is seen as masculine in Australian men.

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  15. As much as we as individuals are aware that society does have an impact on our bodies and sexuality, I still believe that it happens more often then we would want. As much as we try to defy gender stereotypes, women are still subject to ‘the perfect body’ in magazines and on TV and men still face the issue that all males must be strong and tough. This doesn’t just impact us adults who are aware of what is happening, but more often to children, who are more successible to these pressures. Last week my mum got a call from my younger brother’s school, she thought something bad might have happened, but instead the school called to tell us that my brother needed to stop hugging his friends. Now, if that was a young girl hugging her friends I don’t think he parents would have been called. I don’t know how this experience will impact my brother later in life, if it will make him hide his affectionate nature and turn him into a ‘tough manly man’, or not impact him at all, but that is the power society has; it can completely alter how a person sees themselves.
    My brother was born a male, as I was born a female, which is purely biological, but it is society that shapes how we see ourselves as male, female or other.

  16. Historically, ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are two terms that have been used to define the same thing, however in modern society, the meanings of these two terms are becoming increasingly different. In a broad definition the term ‘sex’ refers to the biological differences between males and females, while ‘gender’ refers to an individual’s concept of themselves, their gender identity. The gender binary classifies the two sexes into two opposite and distinct categories, masculine and feminine. At birth we are assigned a gender based on our biological sex and throughout our lives we are expected to align our gender with traditional and socially accepted expressions of masculinity and femineity.
    Every day we see stereotypical gender roles in our families, education, the media and our peers, which are based on ‘norms’ that have been defined by society over time. Masculine roles are associated with strength, aggression and protection, while feminine roles are associated with kindness, nurturing and patient. However, over time these gender roles have evolved and will continue to evolve. It is becoming more and more socially acceptable for both men and women exhibit masculine and feminine qualities. I believe the biology and society both play roles in an individual’s sexuality and gender identity, while our ‘sex’ is determined at birth based on our biology, our gender and sexuality cannot not be defined as such.
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  17. I understand the argument that sex is something biological and gender is something we are taught. After reading much of Iris Marion Young ‘On Female Body Experience “throwing like a girl” and other essays” she reveals much on how the way we socialise our children can affect their perceptions of themselves and gender. Boys are encouraged to be sporty while girls are encouraged to build their maternal skills at a young age.

    One exception to this rule I have studied is the John/Joan case by Butler which follows his sex reassignment and interaction in his early life. Born with a severely damaged penis, surgeons transformed John into Joan. However, it is shown in the research that Joan always “experienced some deep-seated sense of gender” that no amount of socialisation could change. Later in life, Joan transforms back to John to feel complete as an individual. This study would suggest that sex and gender are both biological and socialisation has little impact on how we view our gender. Personally, I feel I have always known and felt comfortable as a woman, despite enjoying things that are considered as masculine such as motocross. Growing up, I saw my older sister was less feminine than I was, despite being raised the same given we are close in age. This supports the idea that socialisation has little to no impact on our sense of identity.

    Regarding sexual fluidity, I think in an era of Caitlin Jenner, male and female models and plastic surgery, a significant part of our identity is impacted by social contexts. Men no longer need to be aggressive and masculine to live a successful life and woman have more autonomy over their bodies. A popular trend for a woman once was a Mono-brow, men desired women who could grow facial hair and the more hair, the more attractive you were. Now it is the exact opposite. Men are now desirable if they are more on the hairless side of the spectrum too.
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  18. Sex, gender and sexuality I feel are greatly attuned to the social norms of the era. As studies continue to show, sexuality appears to be a fluid and dynamic property of the human condition. Historical examples also lend support to this theory, with standards of beauty and sexuality, vastly different to that of our own existing within a number of societies. Spartans would for example, often require a period of readjustment to adopt heterosexual tendencies when marrying as illustrated by their bizarre wedding ceremonies ( The current “beach body readiness” culture within present day society further confirms that an individual’s sexuality and gender expectations morphs to a certain degree the social norms of the day. The ideal male body of today versus that of a century ago are vastly different, as are the gender roles expected.

  19. I believe that our sex is biological, something determined from birth based on one’s anatomy which indicates whether someone is male, female or intersex. However, I question how rigid this is. Can someone’s sex change? For example, through surgery and hormone replacement therapy. Additionally, if someone feels like they are in the wrong body does this further suggest that sex is an innate experience or is this linked to the gender they identify more with?

    Alternatively, I feel that gender is more likely to be produced via the social and environmental circumstances one is surrounded by. Influences such as culture and upbringing are key considerations in this. For example, parents may pressurise their children into conforming to gender roles by giving them certain toys to play with and clothes to wear. It can then be suggested that gender is learned rather than innate. This idea corresponds to that of the social constructionist paradigm and also Butler’s (1990) idea that gender is performed through what is idealised as gender norms.

    Meanwhile, I think sexuality can be fluid and based on the situation one is in during the moment. Hence, I think sexuality can be both innate but also a product of our social environment in some instances. Restraints such as religion or a desire to conform to the hegemonic masculine ideal may prevent one from embracing their sexuality as fluid due to heterosexuality only being considered socially acceptable. However, there has been a lot of progress in accepting people’s sexuality as seen through celebrations such as Mardi Gras and through the legalization of gay marriage in countries such as the United States and Ireland.

    Overall, I think it is important to remember that individual cases may vary.

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  20. Are our sex, gender, and sexuality determined by biology, society, or ourselves? In my opinion, it is a combination of all three determinants. Biology is the physical evidence of our sex, which in turn defines the way each individual is socialised by their family, community, and society. From birth, gender socialisation includes the clothes we wear, the way we are spoken to, and the opportunities we have access to. As Margaret Mead uncovered, each culture has a unique idea of what embodies masculinity and femininity, and thus a unique approach to socialising males and females. This is an example of the role that socialisation plays, in both a micro and a macro setting, in influencing our perceived gender and sexuality.
    As we get older, I believe gender and sexuality are determined by the individual, though this may not be expressed through physical appearance due to a number of reasons such as social pressures, fear, opportunity for social gain, or a preference for privacy. For example, as Skeggs explains, in the 19th century the visual projection of femininity was seen to be the property of middle class women. It was a tool with which they were able to access higher status and power. Therefore, one might dress in such a way to represent the ideal of femininity rather than their true identity in order to benefit socially, financially, or emotionally.

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  21. Everyone is born with a gender – this described the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine. Our sex however, refers to our biological differences; chromosomes, hormonal profiles and our internal and external sex organs. Our physical characteristics do not identify nor differentiate this. So to ask the question ‘is your gender biological, known instinctively or learned?’ is a very subjective and personal question to answer as yes or no. Personally, growing up in a traditional household with two other sisters, we were given barbie dolls, pink clothing etc. Having an ethic decent, giving your girl child a blue bedroom with racing car’s was never even an option. My sister’s and I however, did not grow up to be such ‘girly girls’ that one would expect growing up with pink, dolls and other ‘girl’ things – It is really a stigma that is based around these cultural traditions that is an expectation for all. I believe this stigma is based on both environmental and social factors.

    There will always be pressures on each gender attempting to fit it within society and certain stereotypes, whether this be changing our bodies and becoming ‘beach body ready’, grooming products or even cosmetic surgery. All in which I believe are done in making one happy within themselves, rather than fitting into societal norms. This again, supports the concept that ones gender, sex and sexuality are influenced around social and biological and environmental factors.

  22. The more common beliefs coming up in modern society leans towards that of sexuality as being more fluid in nature. However, in terms of gender identity there is still a fair amount of disagreement around whether it is purely a biological thing or whether it is possible to be more mental and emotional, re. transgender people.
    When it comes to the perfect body, there can be a lot of contention around what the is and where these ideas have come from. Commonly, modern society and the media we consume depicts the perfect body as be either distinctly feminine or distinctly masculine, with what biological genitalia you have dictating which of these you fall under. But when we discuss things like sexuality and gender identities, these dichotomies of male and female become muddied.
    As we as a society grow and become more tolerant of those who do not fall distinctly under these labels of male and female, we too must adjust what we see as beautiful and become more accepting and inclusive of all identities.

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