Gender 1(1): what really does it mean? What qualifies a person as a man, woman or neither?

In brief view, we shall examine the following:

– Sex and Gender
– Gender stereotype and roles
– The origins of gender stereotype


Gender refers to the socially constructed categorisation of individuals into masculine and feminine. Unlike gender which is a social constraint, SEX on the other hand refers to the categorisation of an individual on the basis of the genetic materials they produce during sexual reproduction or intercourse. Masculine and feminine are gender categories, while male and female are sex categories. Thus, sexes are biological categorisation of individuals based on their reproductive responsibilities and capabilities and gender are social categorisation of males and females into defined roles and responsibilities. Further differentiation of gender and sex can be broken thus


Men have the XY chromosomes while women have the XX chromosomes
Women menstruate, men do not
Women have vaginas, men have penises
Women develop breasts, men do not.
Men have testicles, women do not.


In most places in the world, men do not do babysitting; it is presumed a female responsibility.
In many places, women wear high heels, long nail, and skirts, men do not.
In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive and in many other places they are not allowed to participate in politics and certain trade.

THE CONCEPT OF SEX: What defines an individual as a male or female or neither?

Members of species of living organisms across all domains are divided into 2 or more categories and it is based on the complimentary materials they are capable of reproducing during sexual reproduction. Typically, species of living organisms have the male and female sexes. The female sex is defined as the individual who produces the larger gamete, that is, the one which is capable of bearing offspring. Sex is primarily based on the reproductive capability of individual specie.

In plant kingdoms, species are mostly hermaphrodite that is, they bear both the male and female reproductive capabilities. In other cases some individual species bear single gametes the case may be. However, in the animal kingdom, sexes differ in broadways across species. In mammals for example in humans, sex is determined by the X and Y chromosomes (XX for females, XY for males), thus making the sex in human a dichotomous one. All individuals in the human species have at least one X chromosome. The Y chromosome is shorter than the X.


Gender roles and stereotype is more or less a cultural dictum of modalities, etiquettes, instructions, mannerism, responsibilities, etc. which men and women are expected of. Without gender, there cannot be any gender role and stereotype. Gender stereotype are laid down social manuscripts which men and women are required to correspond with. They are culturally defined social standards of relations between male and female. What is obtained as a gender acceptable norm in one society may not be obtained in the another, however, gender stereotype and roles are universal and are culturally distinct from the other and most times very similar.

In Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive, engage in active politics or be ambitions, which are culturally induced, is not obtainable in Western societies where such perceptions are frown at. Thus, gender stereotypes and roles are culturally induced standards of behaviour and relations for the sexes. If individuals put up behaviours that do not confirm to these perceived standards of their gender, the social consequences maybe unpleasant. For example, in Africa where nail painting is a feminine fashion, a man who paints his nails may get a backlash and negative label from those around him.

Generally, gender stereotype cuts across cultures and domains. In a study by Williams and Best (1982) across 30 countries, stereotyping of females and males are pervasive. Men are generally believed to be more dominant, independent, aggressive and achievement-oriented while females are believed to be nurturing, affiliative, sensitive, gentle, etc. In another study by Williams and Best (1989), men and women who lived in highly developed countries perceived themselves as being more similar than their counterparts in less developed countries. A simple explanation for this is that women are more educated and independent in developed countries than their counterparts in less developed countries. Also, respondents in Christian societies were more likely to perceive similarities between the sexes than those from Muslim countries.

One may wonder: HOW and WHERE do these gender stereotypes come from?

Gender role learning and subsequently stereotype are rooted in socialization. Socialization is simply the process where the norms, beliefs, culture, perceptions, sentiments, etc of a social enclave are passed onto their members. The primary agents of socialization of gender role and subsequently, gender stereotype are: FAMILY, EDUCATION, PEER GROUP AND THE MASS MEDIA. Each of these agents services the commonly perceived gender roles and images in the minds of the members of a given society, thus setting standards and expectations of what is generally perceived as suitable for male and female. Other agents of socialization are religious organizations, social gatherings, workplace, etc.

Repeated exposure to cues from these agents of socialization elicits the individual’s perception that what he or she defines as the right or suitable gender attitude is natural, but unknown to him or her, he or she is simply a product of social conditioning. Thus, the socially accepted standards of behaviours and roles for a gender is nothing more than indoctrinated perception from social construction as a result of our repetitive interaction with the above agents of socialization. Thus, gender role can be defined as set of behavioural and social norms that are considered as generally appropriate for a man or woman. A typical example in Africa is that it is inappropriate for a woman to make passes at a man, specifically, to chase after a man. The people in these societies adhere to this and see such conception as a natural standard for gender interpersonal relationships, but these are individuals unknown to them are merely acting on a false sense of natural dictum rather than socialized sentiments.

Stereotypes generally come with negativity. The negative stereotype that emanates from gender leads to sexism- the discrimination of a person based on their gender. Women are mostly are on the receiving end of the negativity of gender. These stereotypes have evolved from the old type typical backlash of women as being less smart, less competent, less responsible, and less creative than men to the modern form of sexism which merely deals on the denial of sexism. Although in less develop countries in Africa and the middle East in particular, some these old type of sexism persists, like women being refused into political participation, jobs, violence and abuse. In places like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, women are objectified as sex objects and household pets. The recognition for their talents, capabilities and roles outside the home and marriage is often frowning at violently opposed.