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Sex is related to the biological distinctions between males and females primarily found in relation to reproductive functions. Gender is a social definition of expected behavior based on one’s sex category. Because gender can be enacted in an infinite variety of ways, and indeed is, we know that gender is a social construction and, therefore, learned behavior.
Most people live their lives with unquestioned assumptions about men and women based on an overemphasis of the role of biology in shaping thoughts and actions. Yet, research has shown that there is a profound social influence on sex and gender with the effects of social interaction far overriding biology on human behavior. Differences among people primarily emerge through interaction and the social processes found in institutions such as religion, politics, economic positioning, and work relations. Gendered messages are everywhere and constant, beginning with the family. Over the life course, television and movies provide scripts on doing gender” that model how to play our roles on the stage of life.
Sex and gender are related yet distinctive terms, both heavily imbued with definitions, restrictions, privileges, and misconceptions based on the ways they have been socially constructed in different societies around the world. Sex, the biological component, is often used as a justification to privilege men over women. Gender, which has the widest and deepest applications, is often treated as if it were a biological condition rather than a social categorization that can and is used for placement in stratification systems.
- Fenstermaker, S. & West, C. (eds.) (2002) Doing Gender, Doing Difference. Routledge, New York.
- Kimmel, Michael S. (2004) The Gendered Society. Oxford University Press, New York.