Is Gender Natural or Acquired?

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Topic: Sociology
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Introduction

Gender may be categorized as both natural and acquired since one has the ability to transform from one gender to another. There is a myriad of theories that have been put forward to explain the two extremes of the argument (natural and acquired gender) in an attempt to support the divergent views. For instance, sociologists on humans and scholars from other fields of study have come up with explanations to support their varied perspectives on this debatable issue. Some believe that human body can be used to explain natural gender differences while others use social ideologies such as social constructionist theory to support the idea that gender can indeed be acquired. However, it is imperative to note that both male and female genders are naturally different, be it physically, emotionally or socially. This supports the argument that both genders are naturally different though there are some individuals who have shown contradicting characters. These are males and females who are born with characteristics that are meant for opposite gender. For example, some females have male body parts which may rule out the fact that body differences can be accurately used to differentiate male and female gender. Some people have even demonstrated characteristics of the opposite sex both physically and emotionally. This has made it difficult to classify such people as either males or females.

On the other hand, gender can also be acquired. An individual can artificially acquire characteristics possessed by opposite sex. The advances gained in contemporary studies in medicine and highly integrated technology have made it possible for one to acquire body parts of a different gender. In addition, there are those who have gone through plastic surgery to acquire them. In addition, one may acquire gender through his or her childhood orientation.

The society plays a very important role in latently determining gender role of each and every person through defined code of ethics and expectations that are found in every society. This implies that if gender can be determined by the society at the place of birth, then it is also possible for every gender to be reversed. Although the society sets expected code of behavior as well as duties and responsibilities of each gender, these gender positions may be reversed where male assumes responsibilities and duties of female and vice versa depending on the situation. This study offers a succinct analysis of whether gender is purely natural or can be equally acquired when desired.

Natural Gender

Although gender may be acquired as will be discussed later in this paper, natural difference between men and women has been used from time immemorial to create a defining line between the two genders. According to Laqueur, orgasm theory has been used to discuss and deliberate on gender differences that exist between men and women (4). Male and female body parts are naturally different and this has continued to differentiate the two genders for a long time. Laqueur claims that reproductive organs can be used to tell the difference between two genders since they are different for a man and a woman (5). Female reproductive organs such as vagina, labia, uterus and ovaries are different from penis, foreskin, scrotum and testicles in male. In the nineteenth century, the difference between the two genders was clear not only from the visible body parts but also from building elements that were microscopic in nature. Both genders could be differentiated using cellular physiology which is a natural and not acquired difference. These physiological differences determine the character and behavior of the two genders where men are more energetic, active, passionate, variable and eager, and women are more sluggish, passive, stable (Laqueur 6). These psychological differences also define the cultural role of each gender when it comes to political, social, cultural and economic engagements.

Gender and culture

As Ramet points out, gender and culture cannot be separated since every human being is born in a culture that has well established gender roles for both sexes (1). These societal structures inform each and every person about his or her gender position and what code of behavior is expected. There are behavioral patterns that are linked to a certain gender in the society which will end up shaping gender compatibility of a person through various responsibilities and roles. It is against this argument that gender may be seen to establish itself as a result of certain unique characters and behavior that any given society dictates to an individual. Indeed, a person assumes gender dictated to him/her by the society after birth. This implies that one may be born as a boy or a girl but the gender he or she ends up taking depends on the society where one is brought up. From this argument, gender may be designated as both natural and acquired at the same time. There are several instances which may be used to demonstrate gender reversal in the society where females assume the responsibilities and roles of males and vice versa.

Woman-marriage

It is a common practice in Africa where one woman marries another woman. In this case the woman-husband acts as a husband of the married wife and assumes all the responsibilities and roles of a husband in that marriage. In many case scenarios, this type of marriage occurs when the woman is barren of marrying any man. In this case, the woman marries another woman in order to be accepted culturally as a man. The society has accepted the woman-husband as a man and she is allowed to take all the responsibilities and duties of a husband in that marriage. Many people consider this type of marriage as non-sexual where the two women concentrate on other duties without any sexual relationship. However, according to Ramet, lesbian behavior may not be ruled out in this type of marriage (31). Among the Nandi community in Kenya, a woman-husband undertakes all the responsibilities of men in the society such as herding, cultivating and other heavy tasks that are meant for men.

Boy-marriage

It is a type of marriage where young boys are married to bachelor youths among the Azande community of Sudan. Youthful men are recruited to work in the military companies where they need people to serve them as wives while in battle field. Polygamy is common in that society as well as in other African societies which leads to scarcity of women who can be married. Wealth men marry all the marriageable women in the society thus leaving the poor young men with no women to marry. The boy-wife can perform most of the duties that are meant for a woman such as cooking and taking care of the home when the man is away. However, the boy-wife cannot perform the sexual role of a woman and this leaves them with no option but to practice homosexuality. The boy-wife can then become warrior when he grows up, marry other boy as a wife and the former husband, then join a senior group where he can now find a wife to marry. This shows how even natural roles of each gender could be reversed depending on the situation that is prevailing in the society

Socialization and gender

Society plays a very crucial role in determining gender of a person due to its social systems and structures. This approach is known as social constructionist theory when gender is shaped by the structures of the society. According to this theory, gender socialization contributes to a large extent in to determining the role and responsibility of different genders. Girls and boys are not treated in same ways right from the childhood. They are also put in separate learning environments when they are growing. Growing and learning in different environment will make the two genders develop different wants, needs, desires, temperament and skills. This makes the two groups divide into different categories of people, which are women and men, who do not bother to ask themselves what happened to them to end up being different. According to the societal expectations, girls and boys are not supposed to be the same; they are therefore treated differently and given different opportunities in their development. This treatment will enhance certain images and behaviors which will help to build preconceived stereotypes in the society about gender. This process continues to repeat itself across many generations, thus creating deep rooted stereotypes in the society about different genders.

Societal entrenched stereotypes about gender are passed so easily to the children because they form the core of the society’s organization. As they grow up, children automatically learn the accepted behaviors of each gender in the society. They learn expected gender responsibilities and roles as they do their routine duties, dictated by the society where they live. For them to be seen as competent and responsible members of the society, they must fit in their preconceived responsibilities which are based on their respective genders.

Sigmund Freud has also contributed greatly to the issue of gender focusing on the difference between male and female, using psychological and physical construction (342). Freud brings his argument to contrast masculinity and femininity in his support for natural gender. He concentrates on the female gender and attempts to show how the gender is closely related to the male gender with just a few differences that come as a result of the development process. In line with this, Freud sees a female as a castrated male with just minor differences in their development. In his support for natural process of acquiring gender, Freud brings out the following gender differences: first, male figures are more active than female ones. Females are passive which is a constructed state rather than ideal state which develops as the two genders grow in different environment. Secondly, the two genders undergo phallic phase in a different manner which ends up shaping them in different ways. The initial sexual experiences of the two genders are almost similar in regards to masturbatory activities beginning with boy’s penis and clitoris of girls. As boy-child grows, he maintains his sexual experiences while girl-child is forced to change her sexual experiences.

Parental attachment

Parental attachment during the childhood also plays a great role in shaping the gender.. A girl-child is first attached to her mother during the early stages of development. This occurs because girls tend to be closer to their mothers and also act as their role models do. However, as the girl-child grows and reaches the age of maturity, she starts being attracted to her father after realizing that the latter has what she needs. The girl-child becomes obsessed with her father and in general with the opposite gender. Freud uses the argument of ‘penis envy’ to support his argument that women become envious of men as they grow up. As the girl-child grows, the motherly love is withdrawn when mother withdraws breast feeding and the girl starts finding this love in her father. Thus realization, of what a girl needs and does not have, shapes her gender orientation. Girls realize that they are different from boys. This concept also affects boys in their growth and development right from the childhood. Boys are driven by desire to fulfill their sexual feelings which, they realize, can only be found in the opposite gender. As they grow, boys begin to understand they are different from girls and their needs, wants and preferences are also different. This understanding begins to shape their perceptions toward the gender. One of the major discoveries that males make as they grow is that female gender is weaker and is dependent on them. This occurs particularly as a result of emotional obsession of a female that can be satisfied by the male gender. This realization of gender differences shapes the responsibilities and roles of the two genders even as they grow together in the society. For instance, in marriage this realization shapes the position of each gender in the family. Men realize that one of their roles is to satisfy emotional needs of their wives while women assume a responsibility of satisfying sexual needs of their husbands.

Cross-gender roles

In the past few decades, the world has experienced an incensement of civilization where female gender has been empowered more than ever before in the history of mankind. Many societies have accepted the new position of a girl-child and woman away from the former position, where women were seen as less and inferior sex compared to men. Traditionally, the boy-child was much elevated in the society at the expense of the girl-child. Education was seen as preservation for men, and in many societies girls could not be taken to school. However, with increased civilization, women can acquire education just like men and pursue their careers in their field of choice. The place of women is no longer at the kitchen, as it was in many societies, they can assume senior positions in the society such as leadership role. Many jobs, that were traditionally known to be preserved for men, in offices, banks and other places, can also be undertaken by women. In many families, men are no longer the sole breadwinner but they are sharing that responsibility with their wives. In some cases, though not many, women are the sole breadwinners in their families if their husbands are not working due to such factors as high rate of unemployment, facing many economies. Increased rate of divorce and separation is also forcing the two genders to perform any duties without considering whether it belongs to them or not. Many husbands have found themselves with the responsibility of bringing up their children alone after the death of or separation with their spouses. This also applies to women especially due to a high rate of divorce and separation. Cross gender roles may be explained further using the case below.

Recession and gender reversal

Many jobs were lost during the recent recession which led to the gender swap in several families. It is estimated that about five million people lost their jobs between 2008 and 2010. Another seventy eight per cent of those who lost their jobs were men who worked in manufacturing, finance and construction sectors. The latter were worst hit during recession (Laqueur 25). Salaries have also been affected with many families earning less than what they are expected to spend, forcing them to look for survival tactics. This gender swap has changed the long held stereotypes about gender responsibilities and roles where it does not matter any longer who earns family income, who cleans the house and who takes children to school. The pressing issue in many families was how their family would survive in terms of the present financial challenges. Traditionally men have been known to be sole breadwinners in many families though at times they are assisted by their partners. Many women, who have assisted their husbands, maintain their family work in informal sectors such as small businesses, which does not earn a lot of money. However, job loss during recession left a lot of men without any other option but to stay at home and wait for their wives to become the breadwinner in the family. This means that men at times could be left at home to take care of the children while their wives go to work in order to feed their families. Many families had to negotiate as for some adjustments on their roles as men and women swap their gender roles to survive in this tough economic period. Many couples struggled with the change of gender responsibilities where men could not accept losing their position in the family even after losing their job as the family head. This implies that it is possible for gender to be reversed where men perform duties that are preserved for women and vice versa. External factors, such as recession, can make the two genders to change their responsibilities though it may lead to so many domestic problems.

Conclusion

Gender is natural but can also be acquired or reversed depending on the environment where one is growing or the prevailing cultural circumstances. Apart from very limited cases, each person is born with either male or female body parts. The latter are used to inherently distinguish the two genders. However, there are some exceptional cases where one is born with both male and female body organs. Physiological and physical differences have also been used to define feminine and masculine using different theories. Societies also play a very important role in determining the gender of an individual through its well established structures and code of behaviors. Roles and responsibilities of each gender are clearly defined and one is expected to fit in his or her gender. However, it is possible for one to reverse his or her gender depending on the prevailing conditions. Cases of same gender marriage and cross-cultural roles are good examples of how one can reverse his or her gender.

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. “Femininity.” Freud on Women. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990. Print.

Laqueur, Thomas Walter. Making sex: body and gender from the Greeks to Freud. New York: Harvard University press, 1992. Print.

Ramet, Sabrina Petra. Gender reversals and gender cultures. London, Routledge publisher, 1996. Print.