“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
“Sex” and “gender” though associated with each other are not the same. The former is biological while the latter is cultural. On a very superficial plane we tend to confuse the two categories as identical. However, as a fundamental consideration, we can accurately say that in the case of gender and sex, the cultural has in some definitive ways developed around the biological without of course creating the absolute implication that the biological necessarily leads and hence logically defines the cultural.
Sex as biological is given. No scientific or technological process may ever be availed of and brought into play for the purpose of essentially and substantially altering one´s sex. Female is female and male is male. The so-called “sex change operation” does not make a male female and vice versa. It is only appearance that changes. As far as the biological functions inherent in one´s sex are concerned, no amount of exceptionally sophisticated medical and surgical processes may ever be performed once and for all to absolutely alter its essential properties. To menstruate is certainly female. To get pregnant and bear an offspring is definitely female. It is undeniably female that a mother lactates to feed her young.
Natural (being a universal circumstance in the animal world which includes humans) sexual intercourse—also known as penile-vaginal copulation—is a fundamental process in reproduction (though the connection between sexual intercourse and reproduction is not necessarily bi-conditional) that highlights the issue of sexual differences. Animal (and human) sexuality thus presupposes the distinction of sexual roles as a biological reality.
As a matter of ontological consideration, the female and the male principles which are called yin and yang, respectively, in the Chinese thought system are the two necessary components of being that create and maintain cosmic equilibrium. In fact, this reality is not only of biological significance for even in the dynamics of the electromagnetic field we have the opposing positive and negative polarities. In other words, the cosmological assumption that the dynamicity of being (and existence for that matter) is regulated by The Universal Principle of Opposing Forces which as Newton´s Third Law of Motion states: “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.” (Actioni contrariam semper et æqualem esse reactionem: sive corporum duorum actiones in se mutuo semper esse æquales et in partes contrarias dirigi.) [Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy)]
Sex identity is either female or male while gender identity is either feminine or masculine. At the most basic instance of its socio-cultural signification, gender roles have been reckoned on the basis of the scope and limitations of abilities defined in terms of sex identity. There are general social conditions where women qua women are able to more effectively function than men qua men and vice versa. In primitive society, this state of affairs inaugurated the notion of “division of labour” which is basic in the context of social productivity. It is generally believed that the balance of gender distinction had been constantly maintained during the earliest—or the primitive communal—stage of the development of human society which brought into being the prototypical—or the most primordial—tempo of economic life called “pre-agricultural” or pre-first-wave” by Toffler in his periodization paradigm (cf. Alvin Toffler´s trilogy: Future Shock, The Third Wave and Powershift).
However, the said gender balance was “desecrated,” so to speak, at the inception of slave societies which inaugurated the political (power) components of social life at its most primitive stage. From then on, masculine gender roles had by and large been more highly regarded than those of the feminine until the vigorous emergence of the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s. Prior to that, masculine ascendancy had been the uncontested power baseline of slave, feudal and capitalist socio-cultural formations through time. The masculine role model had been acclaimed and homogenized as the sole standard bearer of what was desired and vital to continually maintain and strengthen the economic, political, and cultural fibres of society. In the process, the feminine gender roles had been unceremoniously relegated on the sideline of less importance.
The ghost of patriarchy is very much alive and felt in many traditionalist societies even in the contemporary post-modern era. Male-dominated societies which give more emphasis on the exceptionality of sex roles than gender roles (the fact that these societies are said to be dominated by males) continually thrive as denizens in these societies are yet incapable to disentangle and distinguish sex roles from gender roles. Worse still, women remain subservient to the wishes and biddings of men who are regarded as physically stronger (which is a matter of sex and hence biological) and therefore more stable, more decisive, more purposeful and more determined (which are matters of gender and hence cultural). But a closer look at this equation reveals the faulty association because physical strength is not the precondition of stability, decisiveness, purposefulness and determination. In other words, over and beyond the physical and the biological, these personal qualities of cultural importance may be present and therefore further enhanced in both masculine and feminine genders.
Masculine roles are not ideals to be desired by women who have come very closely face to face with the realization of their femininity as something equally on the same plane as masculinity. Masculinity therefore is not the convergence point that unites men and women. Masculinity is one thing and femininity is another. In fact there are no ideals at all. In this connection, femininity has to stand and maintain its stability on an equal par with masculinity where one does not dominate the other.
This whole culture of gender orientation and gender role performance is in general an issue of personal choice that does not have any necessary bi-conditional bearing with female or male sexuality. The state of affairs wherein certain roles are assigned exclusively by a traditionally patriarchal social orientation to one gender instead of to the other—which still relatively dominates many societies nowadays—has been undergoing a dramatic transformation. We are therefore heading towards the full flowering of a socio-cultural landscape where social roles become flexible and are not preconditioned by sexuality and strict gender role demarcation.
© Ruel F. Pepa, 04 March 2014