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Debate! Sex vs. Gender

>> Sunday, September 20, 2009

I haven't done a Debate! in a while, but with all the news circling Caster Semenya, I figured this could be a pretty interesting discussion. I also had a research writing class where this was the topic of discussion for an entire semester. Needless to say, there were some very heated discussions, so lets go straight to the facts.

Defining Sex:

The Medical Dictionary defines sex as:

The totality of characteristics of reproductive structure, functions, PHENOTYPE, and GENOTYPE, differentiating the MALE from the FEMALE organism.
In more generic terms, Onelook.com says:

noun: the properties that distinguish organisms on the basis of their reproductive roles
And last... Biology Online:

The distinguishing peculiarity of male or female in both animals and plants; the physical difference between male and female; the assemblage of properties or qualities by which male is distinguished from female.
However, what all these definitions are leaving out are the groups that don't necessarily fall into these two categories. These are now known as "intersex" individuals. A researcher known for arguing the limits of the two sex system is Anne Fausto-Sterling from Brown University. While we may think that the number of people born intersexed must be really minuscule, we are actually wrong. The following is a summary of Fausto-Sterling's findings as reproduced on the Intersex Society of North America website:

Not XX and not XYone in 1,666 births
Klinefelter (XXY)one in 1,000 births
Androgen insensitivity syndromeone in 13,000 births
Partial androgen insensitivity syndromeone in 130,000 births
Classical congenital adrenal hyperplasiaone in 13,000 births
Late onset adrenal hyperplasiaone in 66 individuals
Vaginal agenesisone in 6,000 births
Ovotestesone in 83,000 births
Idiopathic (no discernable medical cause)one in 110,000 births
Iatrogenic (caused by medical treatment, for instance progestin administered to pregnant mother)no estimate
5 alpha reductase deficiencyno estimate
Mixed gonadal dysgenesisno estimate
Complete gonadal dysgenesisone in 150,000 births
Hypospadias (urethral opening in perineum or along penile shaft)one in 2,000 births
Hypospadias (urethral opening between corona and tip of glans penis)one in 770 births

Total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or femaleone in 100 births
Total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearanceone or two in 1,000 births
Defining Gender:

Gender, while often used interchangeably with sex, is arguably quite different. A common definition sociologist use is social statuses to which males and females are assigned in a society. This is silly things like what is a man's job and woman's responsibilities as construed by ones own society.

Going back to Biology Online, one of their definitions is as follows:
a classification of nouns, primarily according to sex; and secondarily according to some fancied or imputed quality associated with sex.
The consensus is that sex and gender are quite different even though in multiple societies they are believed to be inexplicably entwined.

The Debate:

Do you believe sex determines gender? If someone is an XY female, since the chromosomes indicate maleness, are they then male even if externally and culturally they are placed as females? Is the two sex system becoming a bit more outdated as we no longer try to hide away intersexed individuals? Is it fair to say that because it is so rare we should ignore it? On that same note, using just one of the above varients, Klinefelter, which affects one in one thousand, I ask you this: using the estemated US population on CIA World Factobook of 307,212,123, is it okay to ignore the 307 thousand people with this condition? That is just one of the"conditions." Add in all the rest. The number starts to get much bigger. With a global population of close to 6.8 billion, that is an estimated 6.8 million with just Klinefelter's. So discuss. Feel free to answer any or all of the questions.


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