Tag Archives: hermaphrodite

Big Question: How does biological sex function in society?

We’ve studied and settled on the idea of gender as a cultural construct, within whose system society forces us to choose an identity of male or female. The role that biological sex plays in social roles is less clear. As it’s usually tied to gender, sex identity seems fairly straightforward–perhaps not as an identity at all, but a fact.

Even cases of intersex persons being forced to choose a sex seems to be tied to gender. The confusion of sex identity plays a role, but for the most part, sex as a category seems to be considered most as it pertains to gender–i.e., if the child doesn’t know their sex, how can they know what gender to perform?

The biology of sex comes up particularly, however, in “gender testing” in sports. (A side note: should it be called “sex testing” because it pertains to physical characteristics?). That testing testing is meant to measure physical advantage based primarily on testosterone levels; because of the potential of physical advantage, in sports, sex is an important category. Physical attributes dictate how the world of athletics work. In a hypothetical gender-neutral society, individuals with more testosterone would still excel at sports, regardless of gender identity. I’m interested in this because it suggests an area where cultural facts could be based almost entirely on physical, natural characteristics.

Do you agree? Are there other categories in society where having a normative sex identity–having more or less testosterone, for instance–plays a significant role, apart from its ties to gender? At least off the top of my head, I can’t think of other situations in which biological sex, not gender, manifests itself culturally. That is, in sports, the actual physical qualities of sex seem more relevant a category than elsewhere. What do you think?

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