Second Wave Of Feminism - Gender Vs Sex

Many feminist theorists see Beauvoir's words as establishing a sex-gender difference. From the 1960s until the late 1990s, this difference was widely used in feminist thought, and it is still relevant in certain situations. 

The biological categories that are assumed to be natural, given, or apparent are referred to as ‘sex.' 'Gender,' on the other hand, denotes social classifications. 

While the terms "male" and "female" refer to biological sexes that are differentiated by their reproductive functions, "masculine" and "feminine" refer to culturally distinct social categories that vary over time and include a broad range of traits and roles. 

Take, for example, the subject of body image. 

  • What is considered feminine in one culture may be very different from what is considered feminine in another society at the same time. 
  • Within any particular culture, social expectations or cultural mores regarding haircuts, clothes, comportment, and even typical breast and hip sizes of women appear to vary significantly. 
  • These are gender characteristics that are the consequence of societal norms or socially created expectations of femininity. 
  • This sex/gender difference has many ramifications for comprehending women's subjugation. 
  • To begin with, when gender is seen as a social construct, much of women's oppression is viewed as a product of society rather than being rooted in the character of women. In some ways, this gives the issue a new lease of life. 

If societal practices define woman in such a manner that individual women are unable to exercise self-determination or pursue freely chosen initiatives, altering gender social conceptions may be a solution.


  • Feminist attempts to alter uneven social connections would be fruitless if women are inherently inferior to males. If, on the other hand, any inferiority stems from perceptions or varying gender roles, feminists fighting for societal change may genuinely achieve gender equality. 
  • Second, feminists may imagine political unity among women because of gender as a social construct. The premise is that through discussing similar oppressive experiences or gender norms, women can find common ground and band together for political action. 

Consciousness-raising groups were widely utilized during the second wave to capitalize on the revelations concerning gender social construction. In the following section on sisterhood, I go through this specific social and political feminist approach. 

Gender as a social construct means that a woman may be a woman but not a ‘woman,' and a man might be a man but not a ‘man.' 

  • Biological men and females may choose to acquire feminine gender features, whereas biological females could choose to adopt masculine gender traits. 
  • A person may even choose to combine features from both genders. 
  • Recognizing gender's pliability, if it is a social construct, implies allowing for a wide range of gender characteristics to be combined. 
  • However, some feminists dispute the tight separation of sex and gender. 
  • Perhaps biology is socially produced in a variety of ways as well. 

Even Beauvoir, like Friedrich Engels before her, recognized the physical consequences of social activity. 

Perhaps the idea that men and women have distinct muscular-skeletal systems is a consequence of societal conditioning that is reinforced through breeding and handed down from generation to generation. 

  • Women, for example, are often considered to be physically weaker than males. 
  • If biology, like gender traits, is a social construct, then women's physical weakness may be attributed to a long history of insufficient physical exercise. 
  • Genetics and natural selection have virtually eliminated the muscular groups. 
  • Intersex persons, who are born with ambiguous genitalia or more than one XX or XY chromosome, may be regarded as evidence that there are more than two sexes. 
  • The socially created dichotomy between biological man and female obscures intersexuality. 

A related question is if there is something fundamental about being a ‘woman.' 

Some postmodern feminists argue that the term "women" does not exist since there is no universal trait or experience shared by all women. 

  • To put it another way, they contend that the term does not relate to a metaphysical category since it lacks a defining characteristic. 
  • Because it rejects their significance - they don't refer to anybody – such a stance may be helpful in confronting sexist notions of women. 
  • However, many feminists are concerned that the rejection of the category of "woman" eliminates the potential of a group that might wield political power for constructive social change. 
  • Between stating that women do not exist and arguing that gender is still an appropriate category for defining a social construct, there is definitely some middle ground here. 
  • For example, some feminists believe that "woman" is and will continue to be a useful term as long as there are political grounds for it. 

When certain individuals are targeted for exclusion, marginalization, or violence based on sex or gender categories, whether those categories are perceived, natural, or socially created, terms like "woman," "gender," and, of course, "feminist" are still useful.

 ~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

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