Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Pet Peeve

I have a problem.  For the last several months, my time has been filled with school and job applications.  Because I am a student, the job offers have been non-existent, and this requires me to fill out more applications.  At the end of each application, there is a survey to determine the ethnicity and gender of the applicant that is claimed to not be used in the hiring decision, but it is used to track who applies for jobs and other random nothingness.  My problem is the choices they offer me in the gender category: Male or Female.  These are not genders; they are sexes.

This may be a moot point for some people who think that the terms sex and gender are synonymous, but I claim that they are not, and the distinction ought to be made in order to not sound like a common fool.  A person's identity forms from a variety of sources.  Perhaps the earliest and most distinct identification occurs at birth when sexual organs are defined.  Males are born with a penis, and females are born with a vagina.  Since this is not an academic post, I will not include the 4% of the population born with ambiguous genitalia to keep things simple.  These sex organs set the stage for later identities formed throughout our lives.  Gender, religion, sexual orientation, schools, culture, professions and posterity all determine future forms of identity, and I will talk about some of these another day, but for now I will focus on gender.

Gender is fluid.  This means that a person's gender does change over time.  While many religions claim that gender is the same all our lives, they are misinformed and use the term incorrectly.  To prove this, I will give you an example.  When an infant is born with a penis, they are assigned the gender of a boy not a man.  When does this transition from boy to man occur?  This varies with the cultural identity and often rests on the shoulders of the person undergoing the transformation.  I don't know when I became a man, it certainly wasn't when I hit puberty.  To this day, many comment that I am just a big child.  This does not change my sex, nor does it mean I am prepubescent.  Often when males tease one another about being emotional they tell each other to "stop being a woman."  This doesn't imply that their penis has transformed into a vagina, but that they are acting in the manner of another gender (which is another rant for another day).  This shows that gender changes over time, and in some cases rapidly changes, to represent the person's identity.

Why do people confuse sex and gender?  The best solution that I can come up with is that a majority of the population is uncomfortable with the word sex, even as a clinical term.  Using gender in lieu of sex appeals to the easily offended because it avoids the other connotations of the word.  Get over it!  Rather than limit the expression of individual identity, embrace the beauty of diversity and learn some new vocabulary.

Please be informed.  Sex= Male/Female; Gender= Man/Woman/Boy/Girl.  This is the simple version, so please learn it; you won't be held responsible for the larger social constructs that forms each form of identity.  That will come another day.

I don't want to make fun of you one day for not knowing the difference, but I will.