How Sex Creates Gender

Sex creates gender

Sex creates gender

Sex — the verb, and everything surrounding it — helps create gender.

Like when some guys discourage other guys from relationships, and pressure random sex.

What’s that got to do with gender? What it means to be a woman or a man?

Casual sex is independent, invulnerable, unemotional. And you can “score”

Casual sex is independent, invulnerable, unemotional. Things we associate with manliness.

And it’s a lot easier for unattached guys to “play the field,” in a “manly” competition to see who can bed more girls — and “score.” Winners in this game just might take a stroll down the Walk of Fame, returning, triumphant, to the frat house and “high-fives.”

For the victor has not merely had sex. He has conquered women — getting them to “give it up” and “submit” to him. He demonstrates his dominance and superiority over the vanquished, now rendered mere “ho’s” who just might find themselves treading the Walk of Shame.

But he’s also shown supremacy over all those guys who boast fewer notches on the proverbial bedpost.

Plus, his unlimited lust for women demonstrates that he’s “not gay.” No, he’s a “real man.”

“Players” in this game are independent, without ties to, or reliance upon, any woman.

Guys in relationships can’t score… and they’re emotional and vulnerable 

Guys in relationships can’t enter that game.

Worse, men with girlfriends are at least somewhat dependent on women. The guys want to get a beer? Well, relationship-guy is tied down by the old ball and chain and just might have to check with his sweetie first.

If the relationship is strong, he will be loving, nurturing, open and vulnerable, and able to express his feelings.

Yes, guys are actually capable of all that. But macho men won’t want you to think so.

Men take the leader role

Of course, getting that relationship in the first place creates gender, too.

Men typically play “leader,” taking the initiative to approach a woman, ask her out, plan a date, pick her up, open her door, maybe order her meal, pay, take her home, reach for her hand, initiate a kiss, initiate sex, and call her the next day.

Any rejection he gets just helps to toughen him up — very manly.

Women, on the other hand, more often wait passively to be asked out, transported and treated. Later, they may “wait by the phone,” hoping to be asked out again.

Since women are passive, they must attract — doll themselves up and throw out a few subtle hints — so that men will notice them. Thereby upholding the “women should be attractive” role. And the “don’t be too assertive!” role.

If a man and a woman get together, they might eventually try a little Dominance/submission. And he’ll more likely be “D” to her “s.” If they’re not into that, there’s still a good chance he’ll spend more time on top — which needn’t be about submission, but we often act like it does.

Why do most guys prefer to initiate dates and pay?

Some guys complain about always having to ask women out and pay for dates. Yet surveys say that most men like it best that way. Why opt to take on the greater burden?

It may be due to gender ranking: our society ranks men over women. Thus, men must constantly prove manhood — that they deserve that high status. (Women needn’t prove womanhood. I’ve never even heard the term, “prove womanhood.”)

Maybe risking rejection and paying seem a small price to demonstrate leadership and thus, “manhood” (since society has assigned “leadership” to “masculinity”).

Why is dating resistant to gender equality?

But why is the early stage of dating so resistant to gender equality, even as parity comes easily in so many other areas of life?

Most of us cross gender boundaries these days. But typically, women needn’t do something masculine just because a guy does something feminine. If a guy owns a cat or writes poetry, the woman he loves need not own a dog and swear like a sailor.

But when it comes to the dating ritual, one must lead and one must follow. Women and men could take turns leading, but because society is in most of our heads, women can be just as uncomfortable taking the “leader” role as men are at becoming “followers.”

But she probably isn’t uncomfortable being a leader in a business situation, right?

Maybe the role switch feels more powerful in a dyadic relationship, versus a group of people who work at a company, for instance. And when a female boss leads a group of men and women, the power differential isn’t all about HIM and HER. It’s not so “in-your-face.”

A lot of men who are comfortable with female leadership in their jobs are not so comfortable when their female partners seem “higher up” in the relationship. Ethan Hawke divorced Uma Thurman because he couldn’t handle standing in the shadow of her greater success. Goldie Hawn and Audrey Hepburn have talked about similar difficulties.

A lot of people think that sex (the noun) and gender are the same thing. Actually, gender is what society makes out of our biological sex. And in an ironic twist, sex (the verb) has become the most tenacious way by which we create gender.

Looks like we’ll all have to work a little harder to get out of that trap.

Reposted at The Good Men Project.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 7, 2015, in feminism, gender, men, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.

  1. Who asks who out is a balancing act between shyness, risk of humiliation etc etc, vs payoff… Sex for the man, but emotional whatever, conversation, babies down the track etc for the woman. A man can look at a woman and see the sex he wants. A woman can’t easily abstractly imagine the conversations, intimacy and future babies. So she doesn’t act. The man acts, because he has the testosterone that forces him to act, despite the potential downside. Women don’t want sex as much, and even if they did, they are not visual enough to have it on the brain at just the right moment to act.

    And I don’t think men “score” for the sake of the high fives, any more than footballers play for high fives. It’s the game that matters, the high fives are just the victory dance.

    • Women are disinclined to ask men out because they are socialized not to. Men are inclined to ask women out because they are socialized to. Even with that socialization most of the women in my classes who I surveyed had asked a man out before, and a number of men in my classes had out been asked out by women – some of whom they were currently dating.I was well socialized enough to not ask a man out but I was kind of pissed off about it. And I am older than my students in group anymore sexist time.

      And see this

      Women’s sexuality is also much more repressed because of things like slut shaming. Having experience with this I can tell you that I was much more interested in sexuality at age 10 than at age 25. And that’s because I knew I would be punished for being a sexual person and constantly pushed down any sexual thought I had until they pretty much went away. I have a lot of data of women who have experienced a similar thing. No wonder almost half of American women have low or no sex interest. But that is not natural. Mother nature would want women to be sexually interested in order to reproduce.

      • Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s imagine a culture where women are massively rewarded for being highly extroverted sexually. Maybe where they go around everywhere in a bikini and are praised and encouraged about their body. Where any kind of extroverted sexual behavior is praised and encouraged. Where you ask a man out for a date, and sleep with him on the first night, you get high fives from everyone. Hell, let’s say you even get money for it. Let’s say you get a week’s average wages for going on a date and taking him home and sleeping with him. What will we find? In this hypothetical experiment will we find women acting like men, and asking men out left and right?

        Actually we don’t have to guess, because this scenario exists. Go to any go go bar in south east asia, and you’ll find girls in exactly this situation. And by and large, 98% are just as passive and shy as girls anywhere else. Despite the fact that getting male attention, buying them a drink will earn them a day’s wages. Often going to feeding their child. Or taking them home will earn them a normal week’s wages. They’ll passively wait for the men to make the first move. Or at least 98% of the time it is so. They won’t make eye contact. They won’t come up to you. They’ll hang back and wait for you. When you do beckon them, they are very happy and excited. But they mostly wait for you.

        Contrast this to east Asian lady boys. One of the big give aways that you just met a lady boy is that their aggression. They absolutely will call to you, come up to you, talk to you, solicit you. Often it’s extremely difficult visually to tell they are a male. But their behavior is a dead give away.

        How do you explain this, when you think socialization is everything?

      • You’ll have to give me some data for a Southeast Asian culture where it’s OK for women to be sexually assertive.

        I had a conversation with one of my Southeast Asian students who told me that on the one hand in her culture girls are expected to ask boys out and woo them, but on the other hand Assertive girls are not found attractive. So what’s a girl to do? My understanding is that the girls are supposed to woo the man by giving them presents but then the boy asks the girl out. Really, it’s very patriarchal. He gets presents and he gets the power.

  2. nightingalebrunette

    As a self-proclaimed free spirit (and cisgender woman), I spent my late adolescence reclaiming sexuality on my own terms. Growing up in a rigidly Catholic household, I was somewhat aware of the damaging gender norms I’d internalized from women and men in the family- I couldn’t wait to “spread my wings” in college. I opened my eyes to the possibility of sexual liberation. I used Tinder thrice daily (sometimes more), jumping at the opportunity to engage in sexual behavior. The world of sexuality enthralled me- it was a form of pleasure seeking I feared but simultaneously longed to understand. As I engaged in more and more sexual behavior, however, I began to feel disrespected by many men who superficially knew me as a sexual partner. While I viewed them as friendly acquaintances and sexual equals, it was clear to me that I had been slut-shamed and dehumanized as a result. No longer was I the “nice, friendly person” from a neighboring hall, but the “Girl Who Was Down For Anything.” I felt misunderstood- my genuine interest in sexual exploration was minimized, degraded and sexualized by other people. Instead of feeling empowered and informed, I felt humiliated by my sexual behavior- an experience no one deserves.

    The politics of casual sex only reinforce the dominance/submission underlying patriarchy. In order for patriarchy to truly dismantle, we need to support the sexual decisions of everyone around us- irrespective of race, class, gender and other social identifiers.

  3. One thing that I have noticed often is when there is a gay couple, many people ask about who is the “male” and “female” in the relationship. This demonstrates that no matter what your gender is and what your sexual orientation is, all couples must conform to this “male” and “female” type relationship where one person is dominant and masculine while the other must be submissive and feminine. Even in marriage, there is always one person that is the groom and the other is the bride even though the people getting married may not be a straight couple. On the topic of males needing to prove they are masculine, this occurs often in the frat culture. Women are seen as points and the more points they get the better they are. This shows that to them, women are just objects and not actual people with feelings.

    • Yeah, we live in such a gendered world that people are really uncomfortable with no gender distinctions, So a lot of gay and lesbian couples do gender themselves — although many don’t, so I guess it is possible to get out of that box. Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. There is so much to say about this topic. Something that caught my attention while reading this was how different men and woman are portrayed after having sex. Society makes it seem like all guys want is sex, and how its important that guys sleep with as many woman as they can. If a guy tells his friends that he just had sex he gets a pat in the back and a high five but if a woman was to do that she would be shamed. While men encourage each other to sleep with as many women as they can woman are putting each other down for doing the same thing that men do. Many woman now a days are ashamed of saying they are not virgins. Many because they know they will be looked at differently and will be called “ho’s” or a slut. Why shouldn’t girls be allowed to have sex just as much as men do with out being put down for it all the time? I think it is just interesting how different our society makes something okay for men to do but not for women.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. And it’s a good question — why the double standard? I’ll have to talk about it more sometime. But it appears to be related to the beginnings of patriarchy — trying to create a sense that men are better and freer by creating a sense of shame for women about something that is very natural. And of course the double standard tells you who is free and who is not — privileging one gender over the other. And then we all internalize the culture so that Society ends up in our heads and the way things are feel strangely natural and normal. Even though when you really look at them they don’t.

  5. This blog posting brought out a lot of emotions for me because the points that are stated are so accurate and I know that many people can relate to this blog through experiences. It is true, that sex does create gender because despite the fact that in this society we like to think that men and women are equal, this isn’t true when it comes to sex. Casual sex is associated with manliness and as unfortunate as it is to say, it is true. Today it is looked at in a positive way if a male is having sex with many females, but if a female is sleeping with a lot of males, she is looked at negatively. Many of my friends that are male brag about the girls that they sleep with because I believe it gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment. How is that right? Gender roles are constantly being portrayed through sex. Sex creates gender roles, and it gives men dominance and women are dependent.

  6. I agree with the article that sex definitely creates gender in a way, I also agree with some of the comments about this article that sex and dating seems to be a type of sexism today that is still generally accepted in culture. As a single young woman in college I found a lot of the instances described in the article very frustrating. There’s still this general idea with dating that the man approaches the woman and the woman plays hard to get, flirts and waits for the man to get to demonstrate his manliness and “court her” in a way. People in general are constantly telling me you have to wait to text the guy, you text text first, etc because the guy has to make the first move. I find this in general frustrating and immediately want to do the opposite, the problem is some men (obviously not all) find this forward and tend to become uninterested. I tend not to hold this against them 100% ( although everyone in a perfect world should form their own opinions on dating) because culture and media surround us with specific rules genders should act depending on their sex. My hope is just like a lot of other issues with sexism, this idea that sex creates gender will hopefully evolve to be more equal in the future.

  7. I think that dating is resistant to dating equality simple because of the way society is heard toward the male point of view. When growing up as a kid in the deep south a young man who doesn’t take the lead role when out on a date could or would be considered weak in the eyes of his date and his and her friends. Even though I went out with a young woman who could and didn’t mind paying for or sharing the cost of dinner and a movie but I knew that my father would skin me alive if he ever found out that I let that happen.

    It was kind of and still driven into young men that you are the dominant one and you need to be in control at all times in order to be considered a real man and this idea as transferred to the bedroom and reinforces the gender role in most cases.

  8. Wow, I’ve never really perceived gender roles being reinforced and emphasized through sex. It’s a really interesting and eye opening vantage point. Your point that “sex has become the most tenacious way by which create gender” is such a true statement in that we let, as a society, the act itself convey gender roles. I think this also plays into the sexist hypocrisy of men being able to “play the field” and be deemed as “masculine” (ultimately in a positive light), while women who want to do the same are looked down upon as “sluts”. It’s definitely interesting to think about how this aspect of our sex culture can fortify male dominance in our culture.

  9. I really hate the idea that men have – we can have sex whenever we want and we don’t need to be responsible for that. The very moment I started to see the difference between women and men was when I knew my grandfather betrayed my grandmother, who I grew up with and was closest to me. He just felt fed up with an old woman and wanted a younger woman to have sex. I really wondered where his loyalty was since my grandmother is always kind, friendly, loving, intelligent, hardworking, etc. How could he lose his conscience? And I thought he was controlled by his genitals.
    Then I realized that all of this stems from patriarchy. Men, usually, feel they are dominant and superior and women are dependent on them. Women, somehow, agree on this unconsciously. Thus they forgive betrayed or aggressive husbands. They think they can do nothing without men. They are afraid of being judged after divorcing.
    Hence gender equality is pivotal. Human beings will have more healthy relationships and less conflicts under gender equality.

  10. “Like when some guys discourage other guys from relationships, and pressure random sex.”

    I thought this was called cock blocking?

    “And it’s a lot easier for unattached guys to “play the field,” in a “manly” competition to see who can bed more girls — and “score.” Winners in this game just might take a stroll down the Walk of Fame, returning, triumphant, to the frat house and “high-fives.””

    You are being thoroughly disingenuous here. Only about 20%-30% of men are deemed attractive enough to “play the field.”

    This is more like what is really taking place,

    Note how the young co-ed Jayne Dallas says only 40% of the guys even make the cut! What do you think the other 60% of men are doing? But, women think ALL men should join the bandwagon in fighting for feminist causes.

    “Why do most guys prefer to initiate dates and pay?”

    Two reasons:

    1) If they don’t, they will not get a date.

    2) They know women will not ask.

    Women have more choices and options when it comes to dating and sex. It is pure privilege. There is no incentive to change things on their part. No group even in human history has voluntarily surrendered its power and privilege. I don’t see women doing it any time soon.

    In order for thing s to change I would argue it is just a critical that women change their ways and attitudes as men. Especially women’s very dim and negative views of “average” men.

    • I’m not saying that all men play the field. But some do, and when they are do they are working to create gender.

      Also, the majority of men prefer relationship sex, Anyway.

      I’ve seen both of those links before and they are based on old data in terms of what actually happens on college campuses. It’s based on what everyone thought everyone was doing on college campuses. More recent research asking college students how they behaved, and how they thought everyone else was behaving, Found the following:

      Everyone thought everyone else was doing hookups every weekend. But hardly anyone said that they behaved that way, themselves. And three-quarters of both men and women said they preferred relationship sex. And only 11% of students enjoyed hook up culture. Meanwhile, few people dated because they thought no one else was doing it and they thought that it was uncool, and not “hookup culturey” enough.

    • Like when some guys discourage other guys from relationships, and pressure random sex.”

      I thought this was called cock blocking?’

      That’s not quite cockblocking. A guy who cock blocks doesn’t care if another guy is trying for a relationship and doesn’t care to discourage from it happening. He also is less likely to pressure another guy into having random sex as it means it pushes the other guy to have sex or be competition to what he’s trying to do “get laid”. From my belief of cockblocking is basically a guy either, doing something to prevent another man from getting laid. Either getting the other girls attention, swooping in and taking her attention away from the guy for himself to get with. Or doing something that makes the other guy look bad so she may lose interest in him for different reasons.

      The guy wants her himself. He doesn’t really want her, but just wants to be an ass for shits and giggles He wants the girl, she’s not interesed but is a sore loser and feels why not ruin it for the other guy too. It can also be unintentional too, just from say a guy being friends with another guy who is trying to get with a girl. But the guy friend is just a slob or d bag and his manners and way he is just turns off the the girl from being near that and ruins it for his buddy ha. That there is would be a violation of guy code if they are friends and to hand over his man card promptly for being a bad friend.

  11. Most of us cross gender boundaries these days. But typically, women needn’t do something masculine just because a guy does something feminine. If a guy owns a cat or writes poetry, the woman he loves need not own a dog and swear like a sailor…

    Well, dear Georgia, that was a very eloquent paragraph indeed…
    And I think you are right as to gender boundaries becoming more pervious these days, so to speak…
    Regardless if we still have to highlight the differences to define each genre, I think that we are tossing aside the similarities…. Hence that would be a way to legitimize certain cultural stereotypes, as relative and volatile as they might be…

    Have a great weekend ahead… Best wishes. Aquileana 🐉☀️

  12. I really wasn’t looking for anything related to this, but as a person who is on facebook and goes on it and checks the newsfeed of friends. I see things that are shared and liked and that show up on my newsfeed as a result. You talk about the dynamics of gender and sex on this blog here. Here’s an article from a woman talking about dating and how she didn’t date for a while because of her bigger size, not her being fat, but you know the tall, amazon like problem some women can have who are tall and full figured. And it played into the gender roles of society and problem she felt with dating and how her parents and people think or see for taller, bigger women being with a shorter, smaller man. How it emasculates the man which is kind of silly but seen that way or masculizes the woman and makes her look ‘bigger”, How many women even feminists like a man to be bigger because it makes her look and feel more feminine, womanly and slimmer. Here’s the link, check it out.

  13. A trap indeed it is. Most men are not at all comfortable to be overshadowed by their partners. A reflected glory is something more aversive! That the notion men should be strong, independent and invulnerable and women, just the opposite, has done much harm to us..and still doing.

  14. Why don’t feminists try to “bring” gender equality in dating?
    I have heard many female feminists saying that when it comes to dating they prefer “traditional roles”.

    • Well, many of us are. Not sure why some don’t.

    • Because women enjoy privilege when it comes to dating and sex. Why would they want to give that up?!

      Yes, they are more passive. So what? There is real power in being passive. Again, why would they want to give up their power?

      • But you can also feel powerless. There were times when I wished I could have been more assertive before I was married but felt like I couldn’t be — felt like guys wouldn’t take it well, would think I was desperate or just weird. I found it really frustrating.

  15. I think if we as a culture can get out of that trap we’ll be more satisfied in our relationships and feel more free to express both our “masculine” and “feminine” aspects without worrying that it might affect our “stock in the eyes of others and our partner.

  16. This is a barrier for sure, and dating and sex seem to be a last bastion of accepted sexism. Good points, all.

  17. I suspect that efforts were made to socialize me, but that it never “took.”

  18. All of this applies if you play by, or are constrained by, The Rules. If you live honestly and directly–with open communications–you break The Rules. That way you get to create your relationships in ways that honor your values and speak to your various tastes.

  19. Interesting discussion, Georgia, on sex as a gender-noun conundrum, and the question of deemed male superiority in male-female dyad. I am reminded of the wag who, while filling out an application form, entered ‘no experience’, in the column ‘sex’ (requiring gender denomination). While the former relates to the way the language evolved, the latter hinges on the giver-receiver equation, where the male energy or purusha gives, and the female energy or prakriti receives. The question of the giver’s superiority and the recipient’s inferiority is an ill-informed mental construct. If I am in the position of the recipient, I will feel superior in the sense that I am giving an opportunity to the giver to exercise his or her capability of giving. And so should the female if she is at the receiving end…best wishes.

    • And then there are whole levels of social constructions on top of this. Levels that you don’t find in all cultures. In a lot of cultures, now and historically, and even in the US, A woman is not seen as having been conquered just because she had sex with a man. That sort of thing happens more in subcultures that enforce the notion that men should not be vulnerable, emotional, dependent — like jock and fraternity culture.

      And even the notion of receiving could be seen differently depending on who is on top. But I also appreciate your point about who is superior based on who receives. The one who receives a gift could be superior.

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