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"Sex" versus "Gender"

Several extended discussions of the distinctions between "sex" and "gender" 
have taken place on WMST-L.  Part 1 of this file contains a discussion
from April 1993, while that in Part 2 took place in July 1997.  For 
additional WMST-L files on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.

Date: Tue, 6 Apr 1993 14:55:31 EDT
Subject: sex/gender
I have a question for the list and you may respond privately if you wish. I was
reading an article in Psychological Reports in which the authors used the
following distinction between sex/gender:
"As the term is currently, used, gender usually refers tothe perceptions people
have about  the differences among males and females such as believing that
women managers tend to be better listeners than their male peers. Sex
differences, however, refer to actual differences between men and women (Powell
1987) such as the fact that the mean height of men exceeds that of women."
I would love to know what others think about this definition which struck me as
incredibly weird.  Is this an accurate definition by your standards?  What is
the agenda behind such a definition. I am pondering this with members of my
intro class.
I'd appreciate feedback and I will share what you send me with my students.
Thank you
Laurie Finke
finkel  AT
Date: Tue, 6 Apr 1993 15:59:11 -0400
Subject: Re: sex/gender
In my training in Counseling Psych., definitions of gender and sex differences
have run pretty much along with the quote you give from Psychological Reports.
Gender tends to have a more sociological flavor while sex differences tend
to have a more biological flavor.
Date: Tue, 6 Apr 1993 12:59:11 -0700
Subject: Re: sex/gender
 There has been an attempt to distinguish between gender differences and sex
   differences in psychology;  Rhoda Unger published an article about the
 distinction in the American Psychologist, which is the most widely read
  journal in the field, some years ago, and a lot of people base their
  definitions on that article.  Since Rhoda is on the list, she's a better
  person than I to explain it.
     But not all people think its the best way to conceptualize sex and/or
  gender.  I personally believe that we should conceptualize gender as a
  structural variable, that it depends on the situation, and that is in "the
  eye of the beholder" and not "in" the person.  Terms like gender
  role, gender schema, gender identity, and so forth then can be used to
  conceptualize psychological or personal attributes or processes that interact
  with, represent, or otherwise are related to gender as it is defined in the
   social structure.
Nancy Felipe Russo, Ph.D.
Director, Women's Studies
ASU, Tempe, AZ 85287-1801
(602)965-2358 FAX:(602)965-2357 BITNET: ATNFR  AT  ASUACAD
Date: Tue, 6 Apr 1993 16:53:00 EST
Subject: Re: sex/gender
My understanding is that nowadays, "sex differences" refer to
biological differences between genetic males and females.
"Gender differences" refer to socially constructed
differences, but these go far beyond differences that
people perceive to be true--as was stated in the Psych
Reports article.  Thus, I would argue that the statement
in the Psych Reports article (not generally recognized
as a very good journal) is in error.
! Irene Hanson Frieze              Bitnet:  FRIEZE  AT  PITTVMS
! Dept of Psychology               Internet:  FRIEZE  AT  VMS.CIS.PITT.EDU
! University of Pittsburgh         Phone:  (412) 624-4336
Date: Tue, 6 Apr 1993 22:41:00 EDT
From: mh90 <Marcia_A_HERNDON AT UMAIL.UMD.EDU>
Subject: Re: sex/gender
It isn't only in psychology that "sex" is used to refer to the biological
differences and "gender" to the various constructs that a particular society
might identify.  In ethnomusicology, for instance, we make the distinctions
exactly that way, but since we are cross-cultural and international we try
to avoid stereotypes in dealing with gender.
One related (?) point: not all languages make it easy to make a distinction
between sex and gender.  When we set up the Music & Gender group of the
International Council for Traditional Music, which is tri-lingual, we found
that there was no easy way to say "gender" in German (my colleagues have
borrowed "gender" as the term they use in German conversation).
However, don't you think it is a useful distinction to make?
Marcia Herndon
Email:Marcia_A_HERNDON  AT (mh90)
Snail: MRI, Box 362, Pt. Richmond, CA 94807
Date: Tue, 6 Apr 1993 23:40:11 -0500
Subject: sex/gender
    The current issue of Psychological Science (which I received in
    the mail today), March 1993, has a short article by Douglas
    Gentile titled, "Just What Are Sex and Gender, Anyway?" and
    critiques by Rhoda Unger and Mary Crawford, and by Kay Deaux.  The
    issue is too complex to summarize briefly, but people interested
    might want to read these.
    The problem I pose to students (and this is probably not original
    but I don't know where I got it):  If you're alone at home
    expecting to see no one nor interact with anyone, you clearly have
    a sex--you are a female or a male--but do you have a gender
    (feminine or masculine)?  I personally tend to think of gender as
    a social phenomenon, arising from expectations about how a person
    of a given sex "ought" to behave, and can be changed depending on the
    situation, whereas sex is rather fixed
Arnie Kahn, Psychology, JMU, Harrisonburg, VA 22807     (703) 568-3963 - day
fac_askahn  AT                             (703) 434-0225 - night
fac_askahn  AT  jmuvax                                       (703) 568-3322 - fax
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1993 05:26:00 CST
From: "Dr. Judy Gibbons, Psychology,
Subject: Re: sex/gender
The current issue of Psychological Science, Volume 4, Number 2, 1993, has
a special section on the terms sex and gender. There are three articles,
representing different viewpoints.
Gentile, D. A. Just what are sex and gender anyway?  A call for a new
terminological standard. pp. 120 - 12.
Unger, R. K. & Crawford, M.  Commentary: sex and gender - the troubled
relationship betwee terms and concepts,  122 -124.
Deaux, K.  Commentary: Sorr, wrong number - a reply to Gentile's call,
125 - 126.
Judy Gibbons
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1993 09:17:00 EST
Subject: Re: sex/gender
There is an interesting story associated with the article and commentaries
on sex and gender mentioned by Arnie Kahn and Judy Gibbons that I want to
share with the list and also raise another issue.  The original article had
already been accepted for publication when we were asked to do the commen-
taries.  It tries to make 5 different distinctions about sex and gender and
uses only 3 references--one to a local newspaper, one to the Oxford English
dictionary, and one to William Safire.  Both commentaries were an attempt
to clarify the distinctions but also to set the record straight and inform
readers that there was a long history of feminist scholarship that discussed
these issues.  I never received any information about why the journal decided
to accept the article with its lack of any recognition of this work.  To me,
it represents a good example of masculinist imperialism at its worst.  I
was wondering whether anyone else on the list has examples of such imperialism
and any suggestions about what we can do about it.  My usual experience is
that commentaries are not usually solicited and published at the same time.
Rhoda Unger
unger  AT    INTERNET
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1993 10:02:12 EDT
Subject: Re: sex/gender
Rhoda is right about the persistence of the kind of imperialism she describes
in her posting. It has frequently been my experience that when men (not all
men, but genderally men who have not been a part of feminist research or study)
write about anything associated with feminism they generally (I just typed my
Freudian slip for the day by typing genderally) ignore any feminist research on
the subject which may have been going on for decades.  My example was a book a
reviewed for the Journal of the History of Sexuality. The book was on medieval
love and marriage, an anthology of essays. One essay was on the use of the
gender neutral pronoun and I couldn't believe my eyes!  There was not one
reference to decades of feminist research and writing on this issue (witness
recent discussion on the list) and the author acted as if he had made this huge
new discovery.  Nothing in the essay would have been even remotely news to
anyone who had read any feminist literature.
Laurie Finke
finkel  AT
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1993 10:10:45 -0400
Subject: Re: sex/gender
If you want to push your threshhold on sex/gender schema, I encourage
you to read Anne Fausto-Sterling's new article "The Five Sexes"
in a The Sciences (published by the New York Academy of Sciences in
March/April 1993).  Goodbye binary oppositions!!!
Karen M. Hicks, Ph.D.
Director, Women's Center, Albright College
internet: karenh  AT
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1993 12:35:07 -0700
Subject: Re: sex/gender
This is going to sound like a very strange question -- which was my (thought)
response to the student who asked it today in class.  We were talking about
biological development and biological functions, and someone asked "Could
you tell us about the conditions under which men lactate?"  This was a very
bright student, who obviously wasn't trying to put me on, so I probed for
clarification and was told by her and several other students in the class
that they had all been told in their just-finished Men's Studies class, that
under stressful environmental conditions, when women are unable to produce
adequate breast-milk to feed babies, that men begin to lactate.  My
understanding of this process (based on my best Bio. of Women texts) is
that only women have the necessary milk-producing structures and ducts that
permit lactation -- structures that biological males do not have.  Does
someone out there know more about this than I do, and do men actually have
such structures and ability?  Sharyl Bender Peterson, Colorado College
speterson  AT
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1993 15:12:11 EDT
Subject: sex/gender
For some alternative conceptualizations of 'gender' see articles
by Lana Rakow in Journal of communication, 1986 "Rethinking gender
research in communication' and by Linda Putnam in Women's Studies
in Communication, 1982, "In search of Gender: A critique of communication
and sex-roles research"
Kathy Cirksena
Department of Communication
East Carolina University
encirkse  AT  ecuvm1
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1993 15:43:00 EST
Subject: Breast milk in men?
It is my understanding that all humans have the anatomical
structures to produce milk, but they need to be stimulated
by the proper hormones.  Men undergoing surgery for
transsexuality first take high doses of female hormones,
and one of the first side effects is breast development.
And, there are certainly cases of infant males born who
are producing small amounts of milk [as a result of
the hormones being produced by their mothers].
! Irene Hanson Frieze              Bitnet:  FRIEZE  AT  PITTVMS
! Dept of Psychology               Internet:  FRIEZE  AT  VMS.CIS.PITT.EDU
! University of Pittsburgh         Phone:  (412) 624-4336
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1993 20:27:00 EDT
From: mh90 <Marcia_A_HERNDON AT UMAIL.UMD.EDU>
Subject: Re: sex/gender
If anyone wants to stretch the hopefully-now-blasted-forever dichotomous
sex/gender distinctions, get in touch with Paula Gunn Allen at the English
Dept. at UCLA and ask her to outline the SEVEN genders of the Pueblos.
Email:Marcia_A_HERNDON  AT (mh90)
Snail: MRI, Box 362, Pt. Richmond, CA 94807
=========================================================================== ===========================================================================
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1993 09:50:08 EDT
Subject: Re: sex/gender
To reply to Marcia's response to my query. Yes I think the sex/gender
distinction is useful and even if I were to critique it it would be from the
position of destablizing the fixedness of biologicial sex (similar to the
critique Judith Butler makes in Gender Trouble).  But that is not what, I
think, this article was doing.  It was, I am convinced, quite cynically taking
the sex/gender definition and redefining it in a strange way.  It was no longer
a question of sex=biological sex and gender=socialization.  It was gender as
stereotype and sex as everything else.  Thus the writer was able to argue that
it is a sex difference (and not a gender difference) that women are more likely
to use looks and charm to advance in their jobs (or some such nonsense).  That
is, for this author sex difference didn't just include the fact that men have
penises and women don't, or that women tend to be smaller than men, it also
included much that any feminist analysis would include as gender.  That is a
sex difference didn't have to be biological just "real" whatever that means.
It was a shoddy shoddy piece of work and antifeminist to boot (though it wasn't
at first obvious).
The reason I posted my query was that my intro class has been struggling all
term (since reading Faludi's backlash) to articulate how we go about evaluating
the information about gender that we get.  Reading Faludi really plunged them
into an abyss in which they couldn't trust anything they read.  How it played
out in their minds, I think, is that before reading it (I guess) one believed
everything one read in print.  Then they read this powerful critique of the
power of the media to distort information and all of a sudden you can believe
nothing you read.  There was no middle ground. So we have been struggling
with the question of how the ordinary woman on the street who is not a
scientist, a demographer, a psychologist or whatever, evaluates research that
she reads about.  This article was just another example of that, but what your
responses have suggested (and I thank everyone who took the time to respond) is
that we need to pay more attention to the politics of reputation.  Not
everything that ends up looking nice on the pages of a book with footnote and
bibliography is equal.  We understand in our own disciplines how reputation
works, but not everyone has this understanding and we don't often have it for
journals outside of our field.  I didn't know that Psychological Reports was a
subvention publication and that basically they will publish anything the author
is willing to pay for.  I'm sure my students didn't know that either,but it
makes a difference.
At any rate I don't want to plunge us back into another question about
sex/gender which we covered pretty thoroughly in the fall.  My query was really
asking about something quite different which was non-feminist uses of this
Thanks to all who took the time to response.
Laurie Finke
finkel  AT
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1993 09:36:07 -0400
From: IANA PATTATUCCI <angela%bchem.dnet AT DXI.NIH.GOV>
Subject: Sex & Gender
I wrote an essay a while back in which I mentioned the irony that sex
carries such a powerful connotation in western culture, while gender seems to
have a lesser impact.  In other words, in general social encounters, it is
what you are, not who you are, that seems to be important to people.  Whereas,
in personal encounters, who you are becomes a major factor.
With this in mind, I pointed out how interesting (and tragic) it is that
western society concentrates so much on same sex relationships, with the
prejudice, discrimination, that tends to accompany pathologizing this
aspect of non-reproductive sex.  (For example, the Dupont Circle metro station,
and areas where there is a high concentration of lesbians and gays, in
Washington, DC had to be closed this last Thursday because of a bomb threat
in the wake of the congressional hearings on lesbians and gays in the
What I find really interesting is that western society seems to competely
ignore that relationships that I termed in the essay are "homogendered and
heterogendered" abound.  Furthermore, homo- heterogendered relationships
appear to be a axis independent of same sex relationships, such that a
same sex couple in what western society would pathologize as a homosexual
relationship, may actually be a heterogendered couple.
The essay is titled, "On the Quest for the Elusive Gay Gene:  Looking
Within and Beyond Determinism", and if you would like to read more about
this, I'll be happy to send a copy to you.
iana pattatucci
"angela%bchem.dnet  AT"
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1993 08:47:04 CDT
From: Jean Elizabeth Glass <SC2MASG AT VM.TCS.TULANE.EDU>
Subject: Re: sex/gender
The definitions Laura quoted from Psych Reports seem as good as anything out
there.  That said, I still think they are inaccurrate (sp?) and biased.
Ignoring the gender definition for a moment, the definition of *sex* as
some biological given is absured.  What part of biology should we use to
define *sex*?  Maybe phenotype?  Possible, but there are far too many *women*
wtih typically *male* appearences (eg. facial hair, chest hair, etc.), as well
as *men* with *female* phenotypes (eg. large breasts, narrow hips, etc.).
How much *cross-sex* phenotype can a person have and still be classified as
*male* or *female*?
Maybe we should use genotype instead.  That would be okay, I guess, if we
could truly say that it was a marker, but what do we do with *women* who have
the chromosonal make-up XXY?  How about *men* who are YXX?  The Olyimpic
Committee had (I'm sure if is still does) a policy of doing just such
genetic testing and excluding athletes who were not "real" *women*.
What if used both phenotype and genotype?  This too presents problems.  If
a child loses *his* penis due to injury or dieases (a rare but not unheard of
occurrance) It is the practice to "recreate" *him* as a *her* (if *he* is
under age 5 usually).  Does this mean that *he* is a *she* regardless of
*her* XY chromosomes?  What about *women* who lose their breasts?  Are they
no longer *female*?  And what do we say about hermaphodites?  Some are both
*male* and *female* in geno- and phenotype.
Now the question of gender.  I have no doubts that this is socially
constructed.  Whether this social construction overrides some basic "inherent"
difference between *men* and *women* I can't say, and I'm not sure that
we'll ever know.  However, even if it did, given the range of abilities
people have, I think whatever "inherent" capabilities *women* and *men*
may have, they are ALL normally distributed in both populations.
One final problem with this particular definition is that it encompasses
a half truth.  Yes, it is a *fact* that many *men* are taller than *women*,
but it also a fact that height is normally distributed and there are as
many *women* taller than *men* as there are *men* taller than women. :-)
Jean Elizabeth Glass
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1993 22:33:55 LCL
Subject: Men lactating.
The La Leche League International has been claiming for the past 25
years that it is possible for men to lactate sufficiently to
breastfeed an infant.  It claims that the same techniques as those
used with (e.g.) women who wish to breastfeed their adopted infants,
will work in at least *some* men.
The technique is this: put an actual suckling infant to each breast at
regular and frequent intervals, and let it suckle as long as it will.
The La Leche League suggests dribbling milk or formula down the side
of the breast into the infant's mouth as it suckles, so that it does
not get discouraged and give up.  For women who have *never*
previously nursed a baby (& presumably, for men who have never
previously nursed a baby as well) it is suggested that the natural
hormonal feedback loop be given a little boost by dissolving a tablet
containing the hormone oxytocin under the woman's (or man's) tongue as
the infant sucks at the breast.[prescription required]  Eventually the
lactating wo/man will respond with an internally cued oxytocin "rush"
(necessary for "letting down" the milk) which is a response of the
autonomic nervous system to having the nipple sucked.  This, in turn,
triggers the production of the hormone prolactin, which in turn
triggers additional milk production.
This technique is extremely succesful for so-called "re-lactation" --
that is, in a woman who *HAS* previously nursed an infant, even if it
was many years earlier, she can resume lactating in sufficient
quantity to nurse an infant without an additional intervening
pregnancy (BTW - in case anybody cares, this is very difficult to
acheive in cows, but human women seem to be able to do it considerably
more easily than our bovine sisters).  Initiating lactation FOR THE
FIRST TIME in a woman who has never lactated before via this procedure
is considerably more difficult.  I believe there are only a handful of
examples of women who have never previously lactated being able fully
to nurse an infant without undergoing an intervening pregnancy. There
may be more lesbian couples who have done this than there are women
who have *reported* doing so to researchers, so it might be an
interesting research project to seek out lesbian couples who have both
nursed, or both tried to nurse, an infant by using these techniques for
producing lactation in a woman who hasn't been pregnant.
As for whether this has ever been acheived by a man -- I think it is
doubtful, although it is theoretically possible. Certainly *many* men
can be coaxed to produce small quantities of milk (measured in
droplets) using these techniques.  There are a number of 3rd- or 4th-
or 5th-hand stories of men who allegedly did so (somebody's friend's
sister's nextdoor neighbor's brother-in-law), but I do not know of any
confirmed first-hand reports from men who claim, personally, to have
actually produced enough milk to sustain an infant.
Of course, I suppose if a man were willing to allow his hormonal stew to
be artificially twiddled so as to make it indistinguishible from that of
a lactating woman -- well, I s'poze ANYTHING's *possible*.  I think in most
men considerable suppression of androgens would be necessary in order for
the man to produce sufficient quantities of prolactin to produce lactation.
Ruth Ginzberg <rginzberg  AT>
Philosophy Department;Wesleyan University;USA
Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1993 07:56:10 -0400
From: Jean Potuchek <jpotuche AT CC.GETTYSBURG.EDU>
Subject: Re: sex/gender
   During the past decade, there has been quite a bit of discussion in
sociology of gender about the conceptual problems of the sex/gender
distinction.  The Introduction to Hess and Ferree's *Analyzing Gender*
provides a good overview.  More and more, sociologists who specialize in the
study of gender have been moving in the direction of conceptualizing
"gender" as a verb that describes a relational process rather than as a noun
that describes an individual quality.
Jean L. Potuchek
Women's Studies
Gettysburg College
jpotuche  AT
Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1993 09:35:46 EDT
From: maureen korp <MKORP AT UOTTAWA.BITNET>
Subject: Re: sex/gender
Re male lactation
I remember being reading in my LaLeche handboook more than
20 years ago of such events.  As I recall the tale,
apocryphal or not, a new mother, the father, and their
baby crashed in a small airplane.  Mother dies.  Father
puts baby to his breast.  The infant's vigorous suckling
releases the necessary hormone...voila! one nursing father,
one fed baby.  The story may be apocryphal, but men do
get breast cancer (just not nearly so often), and we do
all have the same set of hormones (just not in the same
Someone on the list will know for sure, and more precisely
than I, just how this all works; but I'd be inclined to
think your students are right (besides, I don't want to
give up my LaLeche story which so encourage little me
22 years ago that anyone, anyone! could nurse if you'd
just keep that baby to breast).
Maureen Korp
University of Ottawa
Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1993 09:56:47 EDT
From: Linda Bernhard <Linda=Bernhard%LSP%CON AT NURSING.CON.OHIO-STATE.ED
Subject: men and lacatation
The topic was just too provocative for me to ignore.  I knew I had heard that
some adoptive mothers (with great effort and persistence) had been able to
lactate, but though I know that men DO have all the right biological equipment
to lactate, I didn't know if they had.  So I consulted with a colleague who is
a nurse-midwife and she said there has been research (at Michigan, she thinks)
where, with considerable hormonal stimulation, men were able to lactate, but
she didn't ever think they had nursed a child.  Certainly not just because the
mother was too stressed out that the man just took over the breastfeeding.
I guess this is an example of giving students a little information (if perhaps
incomplete and/or incorrect), but because it is so enticing, they zero in on
it.  I probably would go to the faculty member who taught the Men's Studies
course and ask him what he said.
Linda Bernhard
BernhardL  AT
Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1993 12:57:54 -0400
From: David Greene <dgreene AT ULTRIX.RAMAPO.EDU>
Subject: men lactating
I remember hearing during my undergraduate days (30 yrs. ago), in a cultural
anthropology course, about a culture that had male wet nurses. I don't recall
any details, but perhaps a cultural anthropologist could provide more info.
or suggest where to search.
dgreene  AT
Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1993 17:08:35 -0300
From: Pam Wimberly <WIMBERLY AT AC.DAL.CA>
Subject: Re: sex/gender
Re: Men lactating under stressful conditions
This sounds apocryphal to me.  The "stressful" conditions that would cause
a lactating woman to dry up would almost certainly include famine, or lack
of food for _some_ reason. Since women, as a rule, retain their fat stores
longer, and use them more efficiently than men, if the woman lost her fat
stores so severely as to dry off, the man would be even thinner and less
likely to be able to feed an infant.
I've heard of men lactating before (in childbirth class), but not in the
context of stressful conditions.  In fact, the couple who introduced the
idea (disdainfully) refused to say anything more about where they had
heard of this practice occurring.
If anyone else can illuminate this issue for us, I'd be pleased.
                                    wimberly  AT

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