Gender and Sex: The Concept of Gender

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In the historical context, the terms gender and sex are often used interchangeably. However, the two definitions differ in that sex pertains to biological divergences, including physiological and anatomic distinctions. For instance, while the men possess 46 chromosomes, which include Y and X, the women have 46 chromosomes, which are all X’s. The female and male genitalia also demonstrate significant differences both internally and externally. Additionally, the types and levels of hormones presented in female and male bodies also vary in that though both women and men have progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone, men basically have higher testosterone. In turn, the level of progesterone and estrogen are higher in women. Gender, on the other hand, relates to the cultural or societal characteristics that identify one as either feminine or masculine. The mentioned traits may include the roles, norms, and relationships between men and women within societies. The concepts of gender and sex are, however, closely interconnected since the majority of cultures attribute gender roles or expected characteristics based on people’s sex as determined by the biological factors. Hence, a person’s sex, which mainly pertains to his or her biological characteristics, interacts with cultural and social factors in the process of shaping one’s gender.

The Concept of Gender

Gender is defined as the socially constructed feature of men and women, including the responsibilities, norms, and the interaction between the two groups (World Health Organization). The concept of gender differs from one society to another, and it can be also altered. Most people are born as females or males, and they are taught different role norms that resonate with their sex, including how they should relate to each group of members in the society. Individuals who fail to fit in the established gender roles, such as intersex persons, often face social exclusion, stigmatization, or discriminatory practices. Unlike the concept of sex, which only comprises the biological elements of being either male or female, the gender includes the social, cultural, psychological, and the behavioral elements that are associated with the idea of being male or female.

According to McDowell (23), a person’s gender is as a result of complex interrelations between three key elements, such as the body, the identity, and the expression. A person’s body is viewed in terms of the reproduction functions that involve sex chromosomes, genitals, reproductive structures, and hormones among others. The body also pertains to the way the society defines genders, including the aspect of masculinity or femininity, which is used to judge the extent to which a person is a man or woman. Moreover, the body influences on the manner, in which other people interact with a person since it determines whether others view the person as masculine or feminine.

Gender identity, on the other hand, refers to a person’s naming internal experience based on the gender. Individuals who possess a gender that matches with the sex assigned to them at birth are known as cisgenders (Rahilly 338). An example of cisgender is an individual considered as a female on their certificate of birth and identified as a woman or female. Conversely, persons, who have a gender identity that contrasts the one allocated at birth are identified as transgenders. For instance, those who were determined as males on their birth certificates and tend to identify themselves as women or females are transgenders. Male or female are the most common forms of gender identities, an idea that is defined as a gender binary. However, there are possibilities that a child possesses a gender identity that is non- binary, which indicates that the one could be identified as a boy or a girl, an entirely new gender, or neither of the genders. Such people are known as agenders, and this type often includes individuals born with both the male and female genitalia (Rahilly 340).

The third element, gender expression, refers to the manner in which people display their gender attributes to the individuals surrounding them and the world as a whole. Gender expression is often illustrated through such aspects as mannerisms, hairstyles, and clothing among others. Gender expression expectations are taught from the moment one is born and are majorly influenced by the stereotypes covering the idea of gender binary (Rahilly 356). Culture often dictates the accepted gender roles; hence, the cultural expectations of gender, gender-based roles are communicated to individuals through all the aspects of their lives, including schools, peers, media, culture, family, and religion. The combination of personal preferences and social conditioning influences on children in displaying their behaviors that are typically linked to their sex as early as when they are three years old (Cohen 394). Social expressions are, however, flexible as seen from the recent trends where men are embracing characteristics that are traditionally associated with women, like wearing earrings among others. Similarly, women are applying roles that are traditionally synonymous with men, such as having tattoos or occupying the engineering positions among others.

Factors that Influence on Gender Identity

The extent to which cultural, biological, and social factors shape one’s gender is extensively debated. According to Cohen (396), biological factors play a major role in developing one’s gender identity. The distinctive sexual features provide the prerequisites based on which a child is socialized, including teachings of the societal expectations regarding the manner of the behavior and the roles individuals are expected to play. Hence, girls and boys demonstrate different characteristics regarding their demeanor and preferences as well as their relationships with the members of the opposite sex. On the other hand, cultural factors also influence on one’s gender identity since they provide expectations that guide the socialization of children. Culture possess guidelines for educating children in regards to the roles they should play and the accepted behavior. Consequently, the guidelines are mainly founded on whether one is male or female.

The social and environmental factors make an impact on a gender identity to a great extent. Children learn their behavior from their interaction with the environment, which comprises peers, parents, and other authority figures. In most cases, the behavior, preferences, and interests of children are largely determined by the sexual stereotypes that they observe during their social interactions as well as the immediate environment. Further, children tend to internalize teachings in regards to what is suitable for them according to their gender, and such lessons continue to shape their behavior and preferences later in life (Cohen 397). Apart from the direct upbringing from the parents or other authority figures, kids learn through imitation and observation, and therefore, they are likely to demonstrate gender roles that are strictly stereotyped if they grow up watching people around them performing such roles.

Based on the analysis of the factors that influence on the gender identity, one of the most outstanding ideas is that biological factors, which determine one’s sex, form the basis due to which a person’s gender is shaped. Essentially, the society starts developing a child’s gender once it is born and the sex determined. Hence, parents, caregivers, and religious leaders among other authority figures in the society teach persons the roles that they should perform and the way they are expected to behave according to the principles the community or culture dictates. Moreover, a kid’s interaction with the environment, which often occurs through social relations, helps in shaping their gender, as they tend to observe and imitate the demeanor of those who are considered to be similar to them (McDowell 28). For instance, male children are likely to emulate the behavior of their fathers or other males surrounding them, while female children follow the behavior of their mothers and the females within their environment.


Despite the fact that the assignment of a person’s sex forms the basis for shaping one’s gender, the interrelationship between an individual’s body, gender expression, and gender identity is crucial in developing his or her gender. Cultural expectations tend to gender a person’s body, where culture equates femininity and masculinity with particular physical attributes that either label a person as more or less of a woman or man depending on the degree to which the expected attributes appear (Rahilly 340). The gendering of the bodies further affects the way people interact with each other and feel about themselves. Heylens (120) postulates that the relationship between a person’s body and the gender goes beyond his or her reproductive functions since the human brain plays a central role in influencing on how people experience their gender. Moreover, gender identity, which pertains to the internally held understanding of the personality, either female, male, or both, shapes one’s gender. In this context, despite the society’s efforts to enforce conformity to particular norms that relate to one being male or female, one’s gender identity portrays a greater impact in determining a person’s gender since it majorly defines the way one expresses his or her gender.

Therefore, the argument that biological factors are more important in shaping one’s gender is flawed. As a matter of fact, biological factors only form the prerequisites based on which the society initiates the socialization process for children. However, apart from one’s biological characteristics, the environment also develops a person’s gender (Rahilly 350). Individuals interact with diverse factors in the society, which may influence on their thinking regarding who they are. Such interplay contributes to various gender identities, as some people may be affected by the environment and think that they are not identified with the biologically determined sex. Increased instances of individuals transitioning into transgender in the recent years have evidenced the idea that the environment has a great effect on a person’s gender identity.

Further, such events demonstrate that biological factors do not entirely dictate one’s gender, although they largely determine a person’s gender by defining the way one should be socialized. This is especially evident when a person becomes mature, and he or she can make one’s own decisions pertaining to who they think they are and how they prefer to behave, or the roles they would like to play. Hence, the cultural, social, and biological factors are equally important in shaping one’s gender since gender is a combination of the biological factors, culturally constructed features of men and women, and it can be altered whenever need arises.


Biological preconditions play a critical role in shaping a person’s gender since they inform the society on the approaches of socializing a child based on the accepted norms and values regarding the different gender roles. However, these aspects provide just a portion of the prerequisites that elaborate the individual’s character since social and cultural factors define one’s gender as well. Social interactions within a person’s environment, for instance, influence on the way the one is thinking regarding the gender he or she belongs to. Therefore, since biological, social, and cultural factors interact to shape the personality of an individual, they are equally important in this process. Hence, we cannot argue that one factor is more essential than the other.

Works Cited

Cohen, Philip N. “Children’s Gender and Parents’ Color Preferences.” Archives of sexual Behavior, no. 42, 2013, pp. 393-397.

Heylens, Gunter, et al. “Effects of Different Steps in Gender Reassignment Therapy on Psychopathology: A Prospective Study of Persons with a Gender Identity Disorder.” The Journal of Sexual Medicine, no. 11, 2014, pp. 119-126.

McDowell, Linda. Gender, Identity, and Place: Understanding Feminist Geographies. John Wiley & Sons, 2018.

Rahilly, Elizabeth P. “The Gender Binary Meets the Gender-Variant Child: Parents’ Negotiations with Childhood Gender Variance.” Gender & Society, no. 29.3, 2015, pp. 338-361.

World Health Organization. “Gender.” World Health Organization, 2018, Accessed 14 Apr. 2018.

August 09, 2023


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