I have my ideas about what I think other peoples views are around gender, but I wanted to see how accurate my ideas are. I started a very non-scientific survey on Craigslist. In the platonic section of the personals I have posted a few questions about gender using the title ‘Who Are You?’. So far I have posted this in several Canadian and US cities. The response has not been overwhelming, but I receive one or two responses from each city typically and it has been interesting enough that I think I will keep posting. Here are the questions I ask:
- Do you have a gender and if so what is it?
- What is your definition of your gender from question 1?
- Are there any “rules” (social, religious, legal, etc.) you feel you have to follow because of your gender that you would like to break?
- Is it possible for someone to not have a gender?
- What city do you live in?
I asked the last question just to get an idea if there are differences based on geography or size of city.
I will do a better job of compiling the answers in another blog. The one thing I have noticed though is that almost all of the answers so far have based gender on either biological sex or sexual orientation. None of the people who have answered have been able to separate these three. I think if anyone is going to have a good understanding of gender, some definitions is a good starting place. Here is what Mirriam-Webster and Oxford have to say in their respective online dictionaries:
The behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex. (Mirriam-Webster)
The state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones) (Oxford)
The state of being male or female. Men or male animals as a group or women or female animals as a group. (Mirriam-Webster)
Either of the two man categories (male and female) into which humans and most other living things are divided based on their reproductive functions. (Oxford)
A person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted. (Oxford)
In the Oxford dictionary there is a usage section that further expands on gender and sex. The first part of this section was about the grammatical use (gendered nouns) but here is what it had to say about the usage I am more concerned with: “…’the state of being male or female’ has been used since the 14th century, but this did not become common until the mid 20th century. Although the words gender and sex both have the sense ‘the state of being male or female’, they are typically used in slightly different ways: sex tends to refer to biological differences, while gender refers to cultural or social ones.”
I find it interesting that the division is into two groups only when, even in biological terms, there is a wider variety than this. That is more of a side note for my purposes but I did want to recognize that using the binary classification leaves out a large number of people.
In future posts, I would like to look at this more in depth. These three are interconnected but each is different and your biological sex does not have to determine your gender and neither have to determine your sexual orientation. It seems, and the survey seems to reinforce, that some people at least have the misconception that their gender is determined by their biological sex. I also received two responses that identified their gender by their sexual orientation. Curiously enough, one response each was from someone who identified as male and female. In both cases they knew their gender because their sexual attraction was for the opposite sex. In the males case though he did admit to a desire to experiment sexually with a man dressed in female clothes. By his own definition that would change his gender from male to something in between male and female. I am not convinced he has really thought about it in those terms.