SOC327 2017 Tut4 – Thu 1030

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?

#S327UOW17 #Tut4 # Thu1030

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16 Comments

  1. There can be no solid distinction of how much of our gender and sexuality is biological, innate, social and environmental. The only thing that is for certain determined biologically is our sex. Beyond this, the influence each factor has over gender and sexuality cannot properly be determined. This is because the diverse experience of people across cultures, societies and environments differ significantly. Some theories would suggest that these things are determined by biological factors and others suggest that our social environment determines them. I think it would be more accurate to acknowledge that while all factors would have some influence you cannot put an accurate figure on how much.

  2. In reading your blog Roger, I cannot help but think of my father straight away. Born into a conventional and religious family in 1948, from a young age my father knew he was gay. Under expectations from his father, the church and society, my father struggled for many years with his innate sense of sexuality. Looking back I can see how he took the conventional approach in dealing with his sexuality by putting mind over his emotions and complying with what he thought was expected of him as a christian man. He married and had three children, worked hard, went to church and immersed himself in study of the bible. None of this changed how he felt, in fact his sexuality intensified the more he tried to cover it up. My fathers sexuality was not socially or environmentally constructed, but his life choices were due to expectations of his family, religion and society and that is what made him struggle the most.

  3. To further extend on what Blake has said above, I agree that sex is the only thing that is determined biologically. I don’t believe that gender or sexuality are learned behaviours. Of course, there are social mores and norms that have an influence, however these concepts are essentially innate.

    Going with the saying ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’: you can teach someone that traditional relationships between men and women are what they are expected to do, but you can’t make that relationship either happen or work. Sexuality and gender are felt emotions and gender displays especially can become quite complicated and distorted.

    I am most interested in the sexuality part of this discussion. I feel that in most cases a person always knows their sexuality, the difference comes in where environment and social influences either encourage or discourage. If a certain behaviour is always discouraged, the individual may be taught to always suppress or not acknowledge what they feel. This could include a country that an individual lives in (i.e being gay in Russia), the religion their family practices (transgender catholic) and so on.

  4. Biologically speaking, gender and sex are distinguishable qualities of a person determined by DNA that correlate to certain bodily forms and functions. Sexuality on the other hand is more fluid, influenced by each individual’s contextual realities i.e. environmental conditions, social and societal norms and expectations, relationships, religious beliefs etc. If we compare the sexuality of both men and woman 100 years ago to present times, gender expectations and standards have become less rigidly defined. As the gender equality gap diminishes, socially derived gender stereotypes also become more vague. In today’s society, it is more commonplace and accepted to find a woman doing a “mans” job. For example, in today’s society it is common for a woman to fill roles normally filled by men such as a police officer, a soldier, an executive etc. It also now more accepted in society to have a man filling a “woman’s” role, such as staying at home with the children, nannying, becoming yoga instructors etc. Evidence of this can be seen in baby diaper and children’s food advertisements where the dad is depicted as the caretaker. As progression continues, it seems as though notions of masculinity and femininity become evermore obscure, as they slowly blur into one.

  5. My first thought when reading this blog was to my recent TV series obsession, shameless. They recently brought in a character that was born a boy, but was told from the young age of 2 months by her mother that she was a girl. So, although biologically, yes she was a boy, socially, she was conditioned, and taught to believe that she was in fact a young girl. This is an example of someone ‘learning’ to be something from their social and environment, trying to assume that nurture, not nature is the key to gender identity. In saying this, the case of David Reimer argues this. At the young age of just eight months, David was in an operation that led to him loosing his male genetically; bringing his parents to the decision to identify David as a girl. Even after years of this young girl being socially and environmentally conditioned to in fact think she was a girl, she decided she wanted to be a he and asked her parents to agree at the age of fourteen to be known from then on as a boy.
    I believe that biological is the leader in terms of these areas, but this can be probed with other factors influencing the situation.

  6. We determined to be male or female from birth because of our genitals. Intersex people don’t get a say in what sex they are as it is by law the parents must make the decision at birth for the purposes of the birth certificate.
    Society has created what is seen to be normal.
    I am called daddy by my best friends two small children because l was there at their births, they understand that everyone else has a boy daddy, but as they will tell you, their daddy is special because l am female. Who says a daddy has to be male.
    SOC327 2017 Tut4 – Thu 1030

  7. Sex, gender and sexuality are all socially mediated. The sex of an individual is biologically determined and manifests bodily; both internally and externally. But from birth, it is our external appearance that determines what sex we are; we emerge from our mothers with the herald ‘it’s a boy’ or ‘it’s a girl’. It is this assessment that is socially constructed, reinforced and performed.

    Gender enters the equation when this external evaluation is applied to our ‘internal sex’. Social and cultural (ergo environmental) norms apply and enforce gender dictates. Anyone performing outside these roles is considered deviant and is ostracised. As Selterman argued, the degree to which we express our innate sexuality is determined by the surrounding environment. The statistics in Rogers lecture show that same-sex couples in cities are more comfortable identifying as such when compared to those living in towns; this suggests that sexual diversity is more accepted in metropolitan environments as opposed to towns.
    SOC327 2017 #Tut4 #Thu1030

  8. @rpatulny the irony of the ‘natural’: how much time, effort and product goes into achieving the ‘natural look’? #S327UOW17 #Tut4 #Thurs1030
    Bodies have become central to our understanding of sexuality. Biotechnologies and techno-sexualities may be seen as collapsing the boundary between nature and culture, prompting us to question life and its relationship to the real/natural. Viagra and other biotechnologies have assisted in providing a definition of bodily dysfunction that is purely physical, as well as creating idealistic notions of performance and aestheticism that position the ‘natural’ as inferior. Along with Viagra, there has been an increase in other forms of biotechnology that focus solely on increasing body performance and promoting the sexual or aesthetic appeal of the body, such as; weight-loss or fat burning supplements, steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, and cosmetic surgery. Ironically, these are not broadcasted, as we all aim to appear ‘naturally beautiful’.

  9. Although sex is seen as purely biological in terms of what doctors use to determine one’s sex at birth e.g. genitals, hormones or chromosomes, this cannot be divorced from the forces of society. There is nothing intrinsically ‘male’ or ‘female’ about these characteristics as society labels someone who has a penis and XY chromosomes as males, therefore, this concept is still socially constructed to a certain degree. This aligns with one of Margaret Mead’s key points which was discussed in the lecture, as she argues that sex does not describe ‘raw bodies’ as even the body you are born with is influenced by the society around you.

    In terms of gender, I believe that this is socially and culturally constructed which is clearly exemplified by the fact that gender norms change throughout history. For example, in Australia if a man was wearing a dress and tights, he would be seen as very feminine. However, a man in the 1500’s, such as Henry the Eighth, wearing a dress and tights like this , was actually seen as very masculine. This change in gender norms can also be seen with femininity. In the 18th century femininity was associated with the upper class, restraint and luxurious material goods (Skeggs 1998). However, over recent years, women are altering these gender norms to prove they are just as capable as men. I think this notion in itself demonstrates just how socially constructed the concept of gender is.

  10. The basic view is that sex is biological, and therefore an individual’s body is pre-determined, regardless of ones true identity. Many oppose this interpretation, viewing even the simple characteristics of a male or female as socially influenced and a cultural norm (Butler, 1993). Gender however, is universally recognised to be a social construct, which has changed significantly over time. From birth, society attempts to constrain and label individuals, stereotyping people whether it is through clothing, toys, differing emotional expectations or the different gendered roles. This is reinforced through cognitive theories in relation to feminism, which explain that children acquire these identities and place themselves in groups within their environment, based on society’s structures.

    However, when considering the way many people identify, contradictory to the discourse and gendered roles imposed by society, it is evident that an individual is intrinsically structured in a way regardless of how we are socialised, and is perhaps more instinctive and comes naturally. Maybe, the only role our environment plays as an influence is if and how someone chooses to express this identity. Despite difficulties in choosing to express these details, an individual’s identity cannot be labelled by just a word or phrase, regardless of social constraints and expectations. There are many layers contributing to the makeup of a person. Perhaps this is signified by the concepts sexual fluidity and erotic plasticity, in which although a person has a particular sexual orientation, their sexual preferences vary depending on the context and immediate situation.

  11. Sex is biological, everything else is social construct. I thought what Skeggs (2005) said about femininity and class was new for me, and it’s interesting to think about how that may have been an expression of power.

    The upper classes ‘owned’ femininity, and it was a way to keep the lower classes in their place, always inferior to the leisurely classes who had the time, income and inclination to subjugate sexuality and simply be a ‘lady’.

  12. Biological aspects of sex can help some to identify with gender and sexuality, however for others it might not be a defining point of their identity and who they see themselves as. I believe that while biological aspects can influence one’s perception of gender and sex, social influences and perception of one’s true self regardless of their environment is also a large factor. Our physical biology has led to social structures that construct our gender, however as society has progressed; that depiction of sex and gender has become fluid and allowed individuals to have the autonomy to be who they feel they are.

    SOC327 #Tut4 #Thu1030

  13. Looking at the issue from the conventional and scientific standpoint, some evidence suggests that sex and gender is determined by one’s DNA. Recently I watched Ben Shapiro (2017), an American commentator and writer state that he believes “gender is not disconnected from sex” and “the idea that sex and gender is malleable is not true.” Personally, I tend to agree with this world view that sex and gender is biologically constructed. This being said, I am also open to the idea that this conventional perspective may not always offer a reasonable explanation to transgendered individuals who feel they are one sex trapped inside anothers body.

    I also believe that environmental and social factors can shape sexuality more so than sex and gender. Reading Dylan Selterman’s (2015) piece named ‘Explainer: what is sexual fluidity?’ surprisingly made sense to me, despite my preconceptions. According to Selterman, “sexual preferences are not set in stone and can change over time.” This idea, which seems to reject the conventional perspective of heteronormativity is definitely valid. Whether or not some individuals simply repress their inner sexuality whilst keeping a façade for society to see or have experienced actual changes in sexuality, I do believe that our sexuality is shaped by the society or culture that we relate to. The power of environmental and social factors can even be seen in Beverly Skeggs’ (2005) work; ‘Ambivalent Femininities’, in which the power of visual technologies are recognised as playing a key role in developing strong “gendered notions of sexual propriety.” This explains why men and women aspire to alter themselves and gain the ‘perfect body’ in an effort to fit in with the society in which they live.

  14. We know that sex is biological and gender is a social construct, and sometimes the two don’t match up, or even don’t conform to what is generally experienced by most people. Recent times have seen a more liberal approach to sexuality in this respect as well – an increased understanding that sexuality is not easily grouped under two or three labels. While external social environments can impact on sexuality, I believe it is fundamentally internal, but can change and evolve over time in a fluid manner, as discussed in Selterman’s article (2015).

    Gender norms and expectations, on the other hand, are 100% socially constructed. This refers to a variety of things ranging from not only behaviour and appearance, but also personal characteristics and even occupations and hobbies. We are, thankfully, seeing a decrease in emphasis on gender norms in contemporary society at large, with fewer people being concerned with how they are expected to look/act, and how others look/act. Despite the growing rejection, gender norms are continually perpetuated by many forms media, and although society is starting to fight against this, the damaging effects can still be seen in many cultures across the globe – for both women and men.

  15. I think an interesting aspect to consider is the fact society does not cater for the multiple possibilities that arise when talking about and practicing gender. Societal thought and understanding have progressed over time and the expressions of power have shifted. However I do wonder about people who do not identify with the female and male gender and how this exclusion must feel in day to day interactions. Our societal symbols, for examples bathroom signs, only cater for two genders. I believe that as time goes on, these changing ideas on gender and sexuality will have to be reflected in structural systems to enable the fluidity and autonomy of gender to be fully acknowledged. #SOC327#Tut4#Thu1030

  16. With the rise of technosexuality, it has become easier for people to experiment with their sexuality and who they are as a person. I do believe gender is more of a social construct, while sex is biological.
    Environment and social influences have a big impact on how we are as people as it shapes who we are.

    #S327UOW17 #Tut4 # Thu1030

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