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Social Sci LibreTexts

4.1: Understanding Sex and Gender

  • Page ID
    14516
  • Learning Objectives

    1. Define sex, gender, femininity, and masculinity.
    2. Critically assess the evidence on biology, culture and socialization, and gender.
    3. Discuss agents of gender socialization.

    Although the terms sex and gender are sometimes used interchangeably and do complement each other, they nonetheless refer to different aspects of what it means to be a woman or man in any society.

    Sex refers to the anatomical and other biological differences between females and males that are determined at the moment of conception and develop in the womb and throughout childhood and adolescence. Females, of course, have two X chromosomes, while males have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. From this basic genetic difference spring other biological differences. The first to appear are the genitals that boys and girls develop in the womb and that the doctor (or midwife) and parents look for when a baby is born (assuming the baby’s sex is not already known from ultrasound or other techniques) so that the momentous announcement, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” can be made. The genitalia are called primary sex characteristics, while the other differences that develop during puberty are called secondary sex characteristics and stem from hormonal differences between the two sexes. Boys generally acquire deeper voices, more body hair, and more muscles from their flowing testosterone. Girls develop breasts and wider hips and begin menstruating as nature prepares them for possible pregnancy and childbirth. For better or worse, these basic biological differences between the sexes affect many people’s perceptions of what it means to be female or male, as we next discuss.

    4.1.0.jpg

    Babies are born with anatomical and other biological differences that are determined at the moment of conception. These biological differences define the baby’s sex.

    Abby Bischoff – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.