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Gender - Overview - Some Research On Gender Differences, Challenge To Bipolar Assumptions, Gender Studies, Variations In Gender Behavior Between And Among The Sexes

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Gender is an old term in linguistic discourse used to designate whether nouns are masculine, feminine, or neuter. It was not normally used in the language of social or natural sciences or in sexology until 1955, when John Money adopted the term to serve as an umbrella concept to distinguish femininity, or womanliness, and masculinity, or manliness, from biological sex (male or female). Though the term was quickly adopted in studies of transvestism and transsexualism, it did not receive widespread circulation until 1972 in a book coauthored by Money and Anke Ehrhardt. Its popularity became firmly established in the 1980s as the feminist movement increasingly adopted the term gender studies as a replacement for women's studies. In a sense by using a new term to describe a variety of phenomena, Money opened up a whole new field of research since it implied that genitalia were not the only factor involved in being a man or a woman.

Money himself went on to develop a number of terms such as gender identity and gender role to categorize different aspects of one's identity. He also argued that the term sex should be used with a qualifier as in genetic sex, hormonal sex, or external genitalia sex. Gender was more inclusive since it entailed somatic and behavioral criteria on how one conducts oneself personally and socially, and how one is regarded legally. Sex belonged more to reproductive biology than to social sciences, romance, or nurture, whereas gender covered them all. The term was seized upon by an increasingly powerful feminist movement that was concerned with overcoming the biology-is-destiny argument that had been so long used to keep women in a subordinate status.

Gays and lesbians also found the term helpful in challenging traditional ideas. Since both the feminist and the gay and lesbian movements had well-organized constituencies, the research into gender had increasing political implications.

Popular adoption of the term, for example, was a major factor in the undermining of traditional Western ideas about dimorphic essentialism, that is, males and females are different and should display erotic sex and gender characteristics congruent with their sex because of their biological makeup or, in religious terms, their God-given nature had made it so. In simplistic terms, the first stage of a growing controversy was over whether nature or nurture was more important in forming individual development. Some of the early feminists argued that women's subordination to men had resulted from the dominance of the male, and if girls and boys were simply raised differently they would react differently. Boys, they argued, should be given dolls and girls trucks; girls should be encouraged to be more aggressive; and the role of males and females in society would change. There is undoubtedly an element of truth in such a belief, but it is much too simplistic. Still many of the differences were social and cultural, as demonstrated by the fact that once barriers were removed through equal opportunity legislation, women rapidly moved into fields formerly dominated by men and began to approach financial parity in salary and perquisites. Women athletes have also become increasingly important. As research progressed, important gender differences between the sexes were noted, but at the same time the issue also became much more complicated.

Gender Studies: Anthropology - Kinship And/or Gender?, Rituals Of Becoming: The Making Of Sexual Difference, Feminist Interventions: The Legacy Of The Seventies [next] [back] Gender in the Middle East - Origins, Anthropology, Literature, And History, Gender Politics: The Veil And The Koran

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