Sex and Gender Beyond the Binaries

Sex and gender are terms used to define every single individual, and they are mostly understood in a dual form. Although one might confuse these intrinsically different concepts, it is highly important to understand their underlying meanings and manifestations. The objective is to illustrate how gender and even sex are not binary notions but rather fluid. Therefore, sex is mostly binary and determined by genes and anatomical features, but gender is a social construct.

Sex is a systemic set of anatomical and physiological characteristics that distinguish a man from a woman. Gender is a social phenomenon, which is primarily imposed by society from early childhood. Although it is based on a person’s sex, the concept itself has a little relationship with the term. For a long time, human sex was considered the foundation and root cause of psychological and social differences between women and men. As scientific research progressed, two facts were discovered, and the first is that there are far more similarities between men and women than biological differences (Lips, 2020). Second, the concept of “typically masculine” or “typically feminine” is historically and culturally determined (Lips, 2020). The diversity of social characteristics of women and men existing in the world and the fundamental identity of biological markers of people allowed scientists to make conclusions. It is the notion that biological sex cannot be an explanation for the differences in their social roles that exist in different societies.

In its most general form, the concept of gender denotes a set of social and cultural norms that society prescribes for people depending on their biological sex. It is predetermined by natural factors, gender is socially constructed, and, therefore, these words are not synonymous. People are born female and male, growing up, they learn to be girls and boys, who then become women and men. The behavioral traits that they acquire in the process of social learning constitute a gender identity and determine gender roles (Lips, 2020). Gender role is a set of norms of behavior, duties, and rights of a man and a woman, which are characteristic of a society and a specific historical time.

The roles of men and women depend on the specific socio-economic, political, and cultural characteristics of society. Gender roles are taught, they differ greatly within and between cultures, and they can change. Gender stereotypes have a significant impact on the formation of a gender role (Lips, 2020). These are standardized, simplified views of the behaviors and traits typical of men and women in a particular culture. Gender stereotypes are identified regarding the normative ideas about the behavioral and psychological characteristics of men and women. These gender roles are imposed and dictate the standards and norms of behavior for a woman and man (Lips, 2020). For example, femininity is always associated with a submissive mode of behavioral patterns, where such a person is expected to be more expressive with emotions and empathetic. In the case of masculinity, it encourages aggressiveness, domination, and assertiveness.

In conclusion, gender is a social construct that is imposed on people from early childhood. Sex is a biological and anatomical feature of each individual, which is determined by genes. It is important to avoid confusing these two terms with each other because they mean drastically different concepts. One’s gender should not be based on his or her sex because the latter is a mere genetic characteristic.


Lips, H. M. (2020). Sex and gender: An introduction (7th ed.). Waveland Press.

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