Women/men,female/male or girl/boy.
The discourse surrounding the difference and betweenmen and women (gender) and male and female (sex) and how to achieve equalityhas been one of the most controversial issues since the beginning ofcivilisation. Perhaps, for most of the population it is easy to implement tothe terms and find their application unquestionable. However, what if thiseasiness is really just an illusion. For example, does being a womannecessarily mean that only the feminine side should dominate, or if she dressesin a feminine way does it immediately indicate her heterosexuality? In thisessay, I will discuss that the terms of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are not interchangeableand how society has imposed on us the perception about who we are today and theposition we hold in it.
It is something that affects every one of us because,since the day we were born or even before our birth, a label has been insertedon us by society that we are supposed to carry for the rest of our lives and’obey’ to its rules. Considering the feminist perspective, until today, theword woman and female are facing a lot of judgment as to how they should actand ‘fulfil’ societies’ requirements and ideas. The real questions thus shouldbe what is a woman or more specifically are you born or become a woman andlastly are men and women really that different in achieving equality? ‘A man is in the right in being a man; it isthe woman who is in the wrong. Tobegin with, in order to progress further into the subject, it is important tomake the distinction between sex and gender. Normally we can easily identifyourselves as males or females thus the ticking of the box in a questionnairewith the options male or female hardly poses any difficulties.
Nevertheless, ifwe assume that we are all born either male or female the classification of sexis affected by the interaction of the classification of a different term- thatof gender. Sex is referred to the individual’s reproductive system and primaryand secondary characteristics whereas gender is a socially constructed concept.Firstly, whether sex is indicative or not is one of the main points we shouldclarify in order to understand the extent of the sex in which the person is inclinedto be. Simone de Beauvoir through her astonishing book ‘The Second Sex’ examines the reasons why women, even though theyconstitute half of the population, have been positioned secondary in societybehind men.
Influenced by Jean PaulSartre’s existentialism who urged her into the realisation that she grew up asa girl in boy-made world, Simone de Beauvoir became very interested into thematter that she gave up projects to concentrate to this new revelation of hers.She begins with the phrase’Tota mulier in utero’ which means ‘woman is a womb’. This impliesthat all females should identify themselves as women since they are supplied witha uterus, but several women can disagree on that declaring that they are notwomen. Yes, women have ovaries and a uterus but this distinctiveness traps herin her own subjectivity and slows down the evolution of her nature byforbidding her to explore her limits. In the mind of a man the words ovary andwomb are enough in order to formulate a superficial definition of what is awoman. It is clear that biology illustrates the distinction between male andfemale however science cannot conclude this type of differentiation just by theform of cells. The two gametes, the sperm and the egg, cannot be used to assumethat there are actually two types of sexes.
We cannot infer that there are twotypes of sexes basing it on the creation of two gametes, the sperm and the egg.To be more precise a sperm and an egg can be produced by a common singularentity like the hermaphroditic species. For what is certain is that the achievement of the continuation of liferequires both gametes and its production is purely coincidental. Nevertheless, theterms passive and active have been placed amongst the two sexes by Hegel.
Heobviously classified the male as the active since the female remainsunderdeveloped in her consensus.To elaborate more, eventhough later on the egg has been acknowledged as active, the movement of thesperm and the inactivity of the egg has been the main abstention for the egg tobe considered as passive by men. Nonetheless, by now we should add that neithergamete can be seen as more inferior to the other because when they combine theyboth surrender their originality to the fertilised egg. They both play the samerole in the creation of a living being and are both lost and surpassed in theprocess which signifies that, considering the biology, they are both equal intheir primary objective of producing life.
Regarding another important aspect ofbiology, is the subject of the human body. It is evident that the male body islarger and much stronger, the male is also more inclined to have a moreindependent life and be more open to adventures, in general it is he who directspower. A woman’s physique is weaker and feebler, physical suffering can easilybe inflicted on her which makes her more prone to vulnerability and insecurity.However, the two sexes have different obligations to fulfil in the world. Thewoman goes from puberty to menopause having incredible changes in her body. TheAnglo-Saxons used to link the word ‘curse’ with menstruation since the womangoes through painful unnecessary changes in her body every month.
Her body becomes physically agonizing and shehas to go through hormone fluctuations that irritate and disorder her innercore. Each month the body of the woman prepares for the ‘expected’ child andthen interrupts everything in a flow. Considering also pregnancy and childbirthwhich is also painful and dangerous, in unfortunate cases the female bodycannot entirely support the birth of a child which can lead to death of theinfant or even the mother. Lastly once she reaches her fifties, women must faceanother crucial state which is that of menopause, it is called the inversepuberty and the woman can experience signs such as high blood pressure andnervousness.
Therefore the body of a woman is not just her tool for survival,like the male body, but it is something more than that, a sacred anatomy thathas the ability to bring life into the world.These biologicalcharacteristics of the female, like puberty, pregnancy, childbirth andmenopause should not be neglected. The way we envision to ‘hold’ the worldusing our bodies as a tool can be interpreted in different manners and wecannot base the ranking of sexes based on biological studies because they donot provide for her an established and certain destiny. Heidegger, Sartre andMerleau-Ponty believed that the body was the tool needed to seize the world andalso a restriction for our plans. Undoubtedly, woman is physically weaker, shedoes not have the same strength capacity as man, her lungs are not as firm, shewill not perform as well as man in sports and she cannot overtake a man duringa fight. Her fragility and weakness are limiting her chances of ‘holding’ theworld the way she imagines, thus her opportunities in this world arerestrained.
Equality is therefore difficult to be achieved if we only considerthe body as a physical representation completely ignoring changes the femalebody goes through. However, Hilary Rose comes to turn this point around sayingthat woman’s competence of caring makes female corporal activity, like menstruation,more tolerable and burdensome.5 She wants to imply thatwoman was made in such a way that she can handle the adjustments happening toher in a tolerable way.