Gender: Finally Getting It Straight
From reading an article by the moral theologian Lisa Fullam (Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley) on "'Gender Theory,' Nuclear War, and the Nazis" in the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal (February 23, 2015), I finally found out what people mean when they state that "gender" is a "social construct." Fullam in fact clarified several terms that have had me confused in many of the feminist articles I help edit for the journal of Feminist Studies in English Literature, among other journals, so here's your chance to get these terms clarified for yourself, if you're interested. According to Fullam:
1. Sex is a biological category like male and female. Of course, there are a substantial number of intersex people[,] . . . where external genitalia are inconsistent with genetic sex or the external genitalia are not identifiable as male or female . . . . [and the] common practice [has been] to assign a sex to babies at birth based on the easier surgical "fix" - usually to a female appearance[, often resulting some years later in a conflict between the sex assigned and the gender identity] . . . .Now that that's all clear (though I wish it were still just a wee bit clearer), we can move on, and those readers interested in more details supplied by the article can click for more information here. These four categories give me something useful in my editing work for journals in areas outside my expertise, e.g., Trans-Humanities or the above-mentioned Feminist Studies in English Literature.
2. Gender Identity is one's inner sense of oneself as male, female or other [and is a biological trait]. If you want to know someone's gender identity, you need to ask. Gender identity emerges early in life, and usually lines up with one's biological sex. When it doesn't, . . . a large number of genetic[,] . . . epigenetic and other biological factors . . . have been implicated . . . . Gender identity is reflected in . . . the brain activity of people whose gender identity is different from their genital/chromosomal sex[,] . . . showing that gender identity, like sex, is a biological trait . . . .
3. Gender Expression is the way one expresses one's gender identity outwardly, in external and socially constructed signals like clothing, haircuts, voice, mannerisms, and such[, so gender expression is a social construct expressing a biological fact, i.e., gender identity] . . . .
4. Gender "refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women" . . . . Most children are socialized into the gender that matches their biological sex, though of course the particulars of that socialization vary with culture, personality and time . . . . To speak of gender as individually "chosen," it seems to me, merely reflects the historical fact that brave individuals stand up to challenge social norms before it is socially acceptable. (Lisa Fullam, "'Gender Theory,' Nuclear War, and the Nazis," Commonweal, February 23, 2015; emphases mine)