Understanding Gender Identity And Sexuality Essay

1341 words - 5 pages

While the terms “gender” and “sex” are often used interchangeably, the two words have significantly different definitions. One could argue that sex refers to biological essentialism and the idea that we are who we are because of our genetic material. On the other hand, gender is associated with the social constructionist theory, which argues that the way we are is dependent on our race, class, and sexuality. Because each person is different in their race, class, and sexuality, their gender becomes socially constructed. To argue that gender is not socially constructed would be to say that all people, for example, that are biologically female have the same goals. However, this cannot be true because within the sphere of being female, that individual person varies from the next in their race, class, and/or sexuality, each of which affect their goals and perspectives differently from their sister, friend, and neighbor. One’s gender identity refers to his or her perception of self as a male or female, as well as being masculine or feminine. Because masculinity and femininity are fluid, rather than static, they are dependent on the perspective of the beholder. A person’s perspective is often influenced by their surroundings as well as values with which they were raised, both of which are never identical between two people. Race, class, and sexuality are the underlying factors that influence perspectives and values, thus differentiating the understanding and portrayal of gender identity from one person to another.
When asked to associate characteristics with the female or male sex, many equate reproduction and child-rearing with females because they are the ones that are biologically capable of carrying and giving birth to a child. However, when race, class, and sexuality become involved, this concept often becomes distorted. In Our Mother’s Grief, Dill discusses the cultural assaults women of color face in terms of their role as individuals versus their role in family settings. Women of color are “treated primarily as individual units of labor rather than as members of family groups” (Dill, 1986, p. 332). This conclusion that Dill brings to light shows the contradiction between the essentialist and social constructionist viewpoints of female identity. Women, on the account of simply being women, are expected to be a symbol of family. However, as soon as race, class, and sexuality, are brought into the situation, the idea of what it means to be a women changes. A high value was placed on family in colonial America. As a result, those who did not fit the accepted social standing of being white and affluent were not seen as family material. Dill explains that wealthy, white women were still recognized as having a role in the family, while color, poor women were not. In such an instance where people of color were viewed to be lesser than white people, the understanding of what it meant to be a woman changed. Throughout history, family has been valued and...

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