GENDER IDENTITY AND SEXUALITY
The fact that gender is continuously learned and relearned illustrates the importance of the concept of social reproduction. We socially reproduce – make and remake- gender in a thousand minor actions in the course of a day. E.g. the way we carry ourselves, the way we sit, the way we laugh, talk, eat, drink. In other words, gender as a social institution is created and recreated in our interactions with others (Bahar, 2012). We perform gender every day. A good example is the narrative of a man named James Morris who later had a sex change to become a woman called Jan Morris. James Morris was indeed a very “manly man” and not a “soft sissy” as most would imagine. James Morris was a member of the British expedition led by Sir Edmund Hillary who successfully climbed Mt. Everest. She was a racing driver and active in many sports. Yet, she always felt herself to be a woman in a male body so she underwent sex-change operation and since lived as a woman. Jan Morris is a celebrated travel writer. She provided interesting insights as to how people do gender every day. If we are expected to behave in a certain way, we do. For example, as a man, no box is too heavy but as a woman, she was not expected to carry it, so it became too heavy. Similarly with opening a bottle – if it is thought that a woman can’t do it, she found that she can’t although she could last time as a man. As a man, he was treated respectfully in restaurant and as a woman she was treated as frivolous. All these are a unique perspective because he has experienced life as both a man and a woman and can therefore describe the difference.
The two leading theories of gender identity development are those of Sigmund Freud and Nancy Chodorow.
Sigmund Freud’s (Psychologist) Theory of Gender Development
According to Freud, the presence or absence of the penis is symbolic of masculinity and femininity. For example, “I have a penis” is equivalent to saying “I am a boy.” “I lack a penis” is equivalent to “I am a girl.” At around the age of 4 – 5 years, Freud says a boy feels threatened by the discipline of the father and accepts the father as a superior being. In this way, the boy identifies with the father and becomes aware of his male identity. Girls on the other hand, do not possess the visible organ that distinguishes boys. The mother is also devalued in the little girl’s eyes because she is also seen to lack a penis. When the girl identifies with the mother, she takes over the submissive attitude involved in the recognition of being second best. There have been major criticisms of Freud’s theory. For instance:
Freud seems to identify gender identity too closely with genital awareness. Other more subtle factors are also involved.
The theory seems to depend on the notion that the penis is superior to the vagina. Why shouldn’t the female genitals be considered superior to those of the male?
Freud treats the father as the primary disciplinarian but in many cultures, the mother plays the more significant part as disciplinarian.
Freud thinks that gender learning is concentrated at the age of 4 -5. Most writers say that gender learning begins much earlier than that – in infancy.
Nancy Chodorow’s (Sociologist) theory of gender development
Chodorow on the other hand, stresses the importance of the mother rather than the father as in the case of Freud. Both girls and boys are emotionally involved with the mother from an early age since she is the most dominant influence in their lives. At some stage, the child becomes more independent by breaking away from the mother in order to achieve a separate identity. However, boys and girls break away from the mother in different ways. Girls stay attached to their mother longer and imitate what she does (Gabriele, 2002). Thus the identity of an adult woman is more continuous with other people. Boys on the other hand, gain a sense of self by a rejection of their original closeness with their mother. They learn not to be “mommy’s boy” and “sissies”. They unconsciously feel that their identity will be threatened if they become too involved in a close emotional relationship with others. Therefore, men are unskilled in relating closely to others. They develop analytical ways of looking at the world, emphasizing achievement but are repressed in their ability to understand their own emotions and those of others. Women on the other hand, feel that the absence of a close relationship with another person threatens their self esteem and therefore define themselves mainly in terms of their relationship. However, Chodorow has been criticized because women nowadays are independent and do not often identify themselves primarily via their relationships with others. She was also criticized for basing her theories on conjugal parenting. In many other cultures, social parenting (by many adults) takes the place of conjugal parenting.
Biology and Sexual Behavior
Some biologists argue that there is an evolutionary explanation as to why men tend to be more sexually promiscuous than women. The argument is that men are biologically disposed to impregnating as many women as possible in order to ensure that their seed has the greatest chance of survival. Women, on the other hand have only one egg that can be fertilized and therefore have no such biological interests. Instead, women want stable partners to protect their children. This argument is supported by studies which claimed to show that male animals are normally more promiscuous than females of the same species.
However, more recent studies show that female infidelity is actually quite common in the animal kingdom and the sexual behavior of many animals are more complex than was thought. It was once believed that females mated with males that had the highest potential for a superior genetic inheritance for their offspring (Canakis, 2015). But a recent study of female birds disputes this argument. Female birds take an extra mating partner not for its genes but because it may be a better parent and offer a better home territory for raising offspring’s. Thus females think of their futures and copulation is not merely the transfer of sperms.
Social Influences and Sexual Behavior
Alfred Kinsey began research in the United States in the 1940 and 1950s. It was the first time that a major investigation of actual sexual behaviors had been undertaken and he and his colleagues were condemned by religious organizations and newspapers as immoral. He persisted and eventually obtained information from 18,000 white Americans. His findings shocked many because they revealed a great difference between the public expectations of sexual behavior at that time and actual sexual conduct (Wallerstein, 2016). For example, he found that 70% of men had visited a prostitute and 84% had premarital sexual experience. For women, about 50% had had premarital sexual experience, although mostly with their future husband. And yet, 40% of the men expected their wives to be virgins at the time of marriage.
Justification and Organization of Methodology:
In the 1960s, the hippy, anti-Vietnam war movements preached sexual freedom “Make love not war”. The contraceptive pill for women was also invented, separating sexual activity from reproduction. Women’s groups rejected the double standard of treatment and the need for women to achieve sexual satisfaction in their relationships. In the late 1980s, Lillian Rubin interviewed 1,000 Americans between 13-48 years old and found that sexual behavior and attitudes has changed over the last 30-40 years since Kinsey’s research. According to her, sexual activity starts at a younger age. Double standard still exists but not as powerful as before. Women also have come to expect more sexual pleasure in their relationships. Sexual practices are equally diverse amongst different cultures. Clellan Ford and Frank Beach (1951) conducted an anthropological survey of more than 200 societies and found great variations in what is regarded as “normal/natural” sexual behavior and norms of sexual attractiveness. Sexual behavior (who people have sex with, the frequency in which they have sex) varies enormously with different cultures. Some practices are outlawed in some societies while the same practice is legitimate in other societies. Sodomy and homosexuality is one good example. We will deal with this later. Equally, what is considered sexually attractive for men and women also varies with different cultures. In the West, a slim, small body is admired while in other cultures, a more generous shape is regarded as most attractive. Some societies place great store on the shape of the face (like a melon seed) while others emphasize the shape (phoenix eyes) and color of the eyes or the size and shape of the nose and lips (thick or thin).
Findings and Analysis:
Most people in all societies are heterosexual and heterosexuality is the basis of marriage and the family. However, there are many minority sexual preferences. Judith Lorber distinguishes as many as 10 different sexual identities amongst human beings:
transvestite woman (a woman who regularly dresses as a man)
transvestite man (a man who regularly cross dresses as a woman)
transsexual woman (a man who becomes a woman)
transsexual man (a woman who becomes a man)
Sexual realignment means using surgery and hormone treatment to change body shape (breast) and hair distribution such as beards. Their internal organs such as wombs and chromosomes remain the same. In many countries such as Canada, Italy, Germany, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Switzerland and even Islamic countries like Turkey and Indonesia, the name and sex can be amended on all official documents such as passports, university degrees, driving licenses etc.
Sexual orientation is defined as the distinct preference for sexual partners of a particular gender when there are clear alternatives. Kinsey and colleagues (1948) devised a 7 point rating scale to measure sexual orientation from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual and 5 other points on the scale which is a mixture of both. Is sexual orientation nature or nurture? Freud believed that infants are bisexual and it the way that they are brought up which makes them either heterosexual or homosexual (Veena, 2001). Freud found a great diversity of sexual practices amongst his patients. Others say that it is the genetic make-up but there is no conclusive evidence to date for either nature or nurture. Religion often creates homophobia – the fear of homosexuals.
Homosexuality is an example of how sexual behavior varies with different societies and in different times. Among the ancient Greeks for example, the love of men for boys was idealized as they highest form of sexual love (Greek soldiers). Homosexuality exists in all cultures and has been documented since time immemorial; biological/genetically and cultural explanations. (Nature vs. nurture) but nobody really knows why.
In some non-Western cultures, homosexual relations are accepted or even encouraged among certain groups. The Batek people of northern Sumatra for e.g. permit male homosexual relationships before marriage. At puberty, a boy leaves his parents’ house and sleeps in a dwelling with a dozen or more males of his age or older. Sexual partnerships formed between couples in the group. This situation continues until young men marry. Once married, most, but not all, men abandon homosexual activities. In a village in Melanesia in the Pacific, homosexuality is similarly tolerated, although again only in males. Many men are bisexual, having relations with younger boys and also with their wives.
The idea of a homosexual as someone with sexual preference which is different from the majority of people is a relatively new phenomenon. It emerged only in the 18th Century. The word homosexuality was coined in the 1860s and the word lesbian to mean female homosexuality came later. Homosexuality was a criminal activity in many Western countries until the 1960s and Christianity has been important in shaping sexual attitudes. So, is sodomy – it was denounced by the church as an “unnatural act” and was punishable by death in several European countries and in England. However, sodomy is not specifically a homosexual offence. It can be applied to heterosexual relations and between men and animals.
In societies with rigid sexual codes, double standards and hypocrisy are common. The gulf between norms and actual practices can be tremendous, as studies of sexual behavior have shown. Sexual practices vary widely between and within cultures.
Thus homosexuality is not a sickness and is not a result of mental illness. Homosexuals are not restricted to any particular sector of occupation like hairdressing, make-up artiste and such like. Homosexuality is increasingly normalized and becoming an accepted part of everyday society for example the Australian ambassador to Sweden is a homosexual and introduced his partner to the queen (many famous and talented people are gay). Several countries in Europe like Denmark, Norway and Sweden now permit homosexual partners to register with the state and to claim the rights of marriage. Cities and local governments in Holland, France and Belgium have also started to give recognition to homosexual relationships. In Hawaii, homosexual marriage can be legally obtained by means of a court. Why do gay activists want homosexual marriage to be fully legalized? This is because recognition by the state has legal implications. For example, it gives partners rights to make life-or-death medical decisions, rights of inheritance and rights to a share in pensions and other economic benefits. Many people are opposed to homosexuals and see it as unnatural but some gay activists argue that they do not simply ‘choose’ to be homosexuals and it is a part of nature and all they want is to be seen as simply ordinary people who need economic and emotional security like everyone else in society.
HIV and AIDS
The needs of homosexual people as people.
Gender and sexuality confusion in young people.
Social and family ostracism.
Religious intolerance and exclusion.
Oppression of people in their personal and working lives.
Public ignorance, fears and fantasies.
Prostitution can be defined as the granting of sexual favors for monetary gain. The word ‘prostitute’ began to come into common usage in the late 18th century. In the ancient world, those who gave sexual favors for economic reward were courtesans, concubines (kept mistresses) and slaves. Courtesans and concubines often had a high position in traditional societies. One key aspect of modern prostitution is that women and their clients are generally unknown to one another. Prostitution is directly connected to the break-up of small-scale communities and the development of large impersonal urban areas and the commercialization of social relations. In small-scale traditional communities, sexual relations were controlled by their very visibility. In newly developed urban areas, more anonymous social connections were easily established.
Most prostitutes come from poor social backgrounds as they did in the past. Paul Goldstein has classified types of prostitution in terms of occupational commitment i.e. how frequently they sell sex, whether it is temporary or continually and occupational context i.e. their work environment. A street-walker solicits business on the street; a call-girl solicits clients over the phone or house prostitute who works in a private club or brothel. A massage-parlor prostitute provides sexual services in a place where they are suppose to only offer massage and health facilities. Some women also engage in barter (payment of goods and services in the form of sexual services rather than money).
A UN resolution passed in 1951 condemns those who live off the activities of prostitutes but does not ban prostitution. In some countries, prostitution is illegal while some countries like Britain prohibit only certain types of prostitution such as street walking and child prostitution. Some countries like Holland, Germany and Australia has officially licensed brothels. Those countries that ban prostitution rarely punish clients. Those who purchase sexual services are not arrested or prosecuted and in court procedures their identities may be kept hidden. There is also more research on prostitutes than on their clients. This imbalance in research suggest that the stereotype of sexuality is that it is ‘normal’ for men to actively seek a variety of sexual outlets but those who cater to these needs are condemned.
Prostitution frequently involves children. Studies in the West have shown that child prostitutes are usually children who have run away from home and have no income and turn to prostitution for a livelihood. Child prostitution is also part of the sex tourism industry in Thailand and the Philippines. Package tours bring men to these countries from Europe, United States and Japan. Sex tourism in Asia has its origins in the provision of prostitutes for American troops during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Rest and Recreation centers were built in Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea and Taiwan. Some still remain to cater to tourists and military stationed in the region.
Why does prostitution exist despite of the attempts of government to eliminate it? It is almost always women selling sexual favors to men although there are some instances of the reverse. Of course, boys or men also prostitute themselves to other men. It is not because men have greater sexual needs because studies have shown that women have also intense sexual needs but there are not many male prostitutes. The problem is that men treat women as objects to be used for sexual purposes and men are in a more powerful position in society than women. Women are often portrayed in the media as sex objects e.g. Beer advertisement, the Golden Girls in airlines e.g. MAS/SIA, advertisement for mattresses, sports cars etc. These sexualized images perpetuate the notion that women’s bodies are for consumption. With globalization and the transmigration of labor, prostitutes also cater to men who are away from home and who desire sexual encounters without commitment. In the end, prostitution is about the inequalities of power between men and women.
There are few areas of sociology which has developed as significantly or emerged as so central to the discipline as a whole as the study of gender relations. In many universities in the West, whole departments are devoted to this field. This is a reflection of changing times where established differences between male and female identities and typical modes of behavior are increasingly being challenged. Could we imagine a society where gender differences disappeared, so that we are androgynous (that is, have the same gender characteristics)? Equally, sexuality has also emerged as an enormously complex area of human behavior, undergoing fundamental changes in modern societies. Our attitude towards sex and our sexual behavior reflect wider social transformations in society.
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