Sex is defined as the biological differences between men and women whereas gender is the fashion in which society highlights the sexual differences among both species (Siann, 1994). From the moment we are born, our lives are shaped by our biological identity, which in turn, is further influenced by an unlimited number of social, cultural, environmental and psychological forces. Even when we reach adulthood, these social and psychological forces are still prevalent. Determining what it means to be male or female involves more than a strictly biological definition.
Often without our awareness; our behaviour, attitudes and aspirations have been strongly influenced by the gender role expectations of our particular culture. By the time we reached late childhood and adolescence our concept of gender identity and sexual orientation is firmly entrenched (Wood, 2010). This essay will relate sex in comparison to gender and eventually how the latter develops.
The term “sex” refers to the genetic makeup, internal reproductive organs and the organization of the brain of individuals that distinguish them as male or female.
On the contrary, the social roles and behaviour associated with both males and females are due to their cultural awareness and the way they were brought up (Lippa, 2005). Thus one can claim that the gender of an individual is nurtured by social, environmental and cultural factors whereas sex is a biological trait and, while it can be altered in the course of advanced surgery, it is normally believed to be fixed and determined by natural forces.
Nature has made men and women different from the very outset in their inceptions when they became human beings. Scientists in the medical field have found that the determination of basic sexual behaviours are not conditioned by society and the process of socialisation, but are innate- inherent during the very making of the babies in the mother’s wombs. The way the brain of the girl is wired, and the quantities of male hormones (testosterone) that exist in the babies are responsible for influencing this sexual difference (Williams, 2011). On the other hand gender is an existing socio-cultural model that describes social outlooks of masculinity and femininity. The gender theory suggests how society typically expects men or women to do; how they behave and what kinds of personality attributes to associate with each gender (Hutson, Warne & Grover, 2012). Thus one can assert that sex refers to biological variables and that hormones play a chief role in sex differentiation. In contrast gender refers to the cultural, social and psychological orientation of feminine and masculine behaviour.
Playing with what is considered gender appropriate toys is one way children begin to form their gender identities. When a child is between the ages of two and three, they start to acquire gender role stereotypes by the kinds of toys and games they prefer along with similar preferences for clothing, household objects and work (Rathus, 2010). When does the idea of gender begin? There are two major theories: social learning theory and gender schema theory. According to the social learning theory, children learn appropriate behaviours for each gender through concepts such as reinforcement, punishment and modelling to shape their behaviour. The gender schema theory suggests that from an early age, children develop mental categories for each gender and that underlined awareness influences what they have learned and remembered and how they apply it to themselves and others. Gender identification starts when we are troubled and continues throughout childhood and adulthood (Devor, 1989). Therefore one can claim that the social learning theory lays emphasis on how people learn from behaviours and attitudes of others to model their own. Conversely, gender schema theory explains how an individual regulates his behaviour to society’s definition of gender vis-à-vis the internalised beliefs he acquired in childhood.
In order to understand how gender identity and roles develop, cognitive psychologists highlight the significance of critical reflection process. They are keen in how children collect and grasp information about gender and how their perceptive of gender modulates. Cognitive psychologists presume that gender differences in behaviour reveal changes in how children value and reflect about gender. Kohlberg’s theory suggests that a child understands gender as he matures with age. The child thinks in distinctive ways about gender at succeeding stages and as he transits from one stage to another; he develops a complex understanding of gender. The first stage is gender identity (at age of two years), is where the child is able to properly identify his own sex. The second stage is gender stability (at age of four years) is where the child realizes that gender is consistent and stable. However, a boy at this stage might say he would be a girl if he wore a dress. It is only in the third stage (at age of seven years), that the child is aware that gender is independent of external features (Cardwell & Flanagan, 2003).
Men and women are very similar in social, personality and cognitive aspects but still that there are some significant differences between the sexes. In the area of personality, research has proven that women do tend to be more nurtured than men. Nevertheless men tend to be more assertive than women and there are some limited differences in certain cognitive abilities. Men outscore women in some tests involving spatial skills and test slightly better in mathematical ability. In areas of verbal fluency however, women scored much higher than men. These skills include reading comprehension, spelling and basic writing manner. Men are assumed to be more rational and logical and think in a very linear way. Women are believed to reject logics and rely mostly on their feelings and intuitions. Scientific evidence suggests that there are differences in the way men and women process information but that doesn’t automatically mean that a woman is incapable of doing a job that a man might traditionally do or vice versa (Carter & Seifert, 2012). Hence one can affirm that social, personality and cognitive aspects determine the differences between masculine and feminine behaviour.
To conclude; sex refers to one’s physical anatomy and the sexual orientation of a person is determined by a combination of genetic and hormonal influences. In opposition, gender is shaped by culture, social expectations and behaviours assigned to being male or female (Giddens & Griffiths, 2006).