What is Gender?
Gender differs from biological sex in important ways. Our biological sex is a given; weare born either male of female. But the way in which we become masculine or feminineis a combination of these basic biological building blocks and the interpretation of ourbiology by our culture. Every society has different "scripts" for its members to follow asthey lean to act out their feminine or masculine role, much as every society has its ownlanguage. From the time that we are tiny babies until we reach old age we learn aboutand practise the particular ways of being male and female that our society prescribes forus. Gender is a set of roles which, like costumes or masks in the theatre communicate toother people that we are feminine or masculine. This set of particular behaviours--whichembraces our appearance, dress, attitudes, personalities, work both within and outside thehousehold, sexuality, family commitments and so on--together make up our "genderroles".We begin to learn our gender roles as soon as we are born. In one laboratory study of gender, mothers were invited to play with other people's babies who were dressed eitheras girls or boys. Not only did the perceived gender of the baby evoke different responsesfrom the women, but the same behaviour of a baby was treated differently, depending onhow it was dressed. When the baby was dressed as a boy, the women responded to thebaby's initiatives with physical action and play. But when the same baby appeared as agirl and did the same things, the women soothed and comforted it. In other words, atonly six months the children were already being responded to according to genderstereotypes.As adults we tend to believe that we live with a significant degree of freedom, that we arefree to choose the way we behave, the way we think; the gender roles that we adopt. Wealso subscribe to a commonsense view of the world that our way of being feminine ormasculine is "natural"--a direct result of being born biologically male or female.Obviously, a society may have many different scripts, many different costumes, but thecore values of a culture, which include gender roles, are passed on from generation togeneration like language.