Gender is a Role, not a Biological Sex, and it is Cultural


Definition of gender identity

Gender identity differs from person’s sexual orientation or biological sex, it is rather a social role which an individual links himself/herself to. In normal circumstances, the gender identity of an individual i.e. man or woman usually resembles their biological sex, which is male or female. However, this is not the case in several occasions where an individual’s gender identity contrasts the biological sex. In such circumstances, these individuals are referred to as androgynous or transsexual. This therefore indicates that biological sex is determined by phenotype, chromosomes and genes while, on the other hand, the gender role is determined by the society, surroundings and culture (Crowe, Hill, Hollingum, MacFachern, Russel, 2010, p. 302).

Gender as a role

The debates that are attributed to social development of gender are mainly divided into two. The first category is regarded as broadly materialistic, which is associated with structural features that are incorporated in the social world and those that differentiate male and female in distinct pathways. The second category is rather discursive and is attributed to emphasizing the meanings associated with the essence of being a male or female in the society one lives in. This therefore indicates that in order to attain any gender formation the two categories are of essence. According to Anselmi and Law (1998, p. 195), gender role is defined as social anticipation of man and woman. This explains what attitudes people expect from both genders in particular society.

Gender development theories

There are numerous theories that have been developed which explain children’s awareness on matters concerning their sex differences as well as their personality traits. The cognitive-developmental and information-processing models, children tend to understand that there are two kinds of human category: male and female. It is the social characteristics that eventually differentiate the two categories. Therefore, sex role is regarded as a causal factor that is essential in acquisition of sex-typed characteristics (Bussey and Bandura, 1999, p.2).

Gender as cultural

Gender cannot be defined by sex, class and power without incorporating culture. It is indicated that gender role socialization starts at a tender age among the infants as parents play a crucial role in the development of these roles through the clothing and toys they buy for their children (Shaffer, 2009, p. 241). It is through the sex role standards that the society at large is able to define their belief system on the distinctions that surround men and women. On one hand, the sex role attitudes define the understanding of an individual’s perception of what the society regarded as norms of behavior (Gross et al, 1982, p. 11). Biological sex, on the other hand, is defined as a starting point of gender but not its basis. In different societies across the world, gender is mainly distinguished by the body language, ceremonial roles, clothing and work.

This therefore incorporates culture and roles as the main pillars of gender identity in comparison with biological sex (Spade and Valentine, 2008, p. 51). According to Nanda and Warms, gender is regarded as the “cultural and social classification of masculine and feminine.” Although culture differs in meanings that are associated with male and female, it implies the differences that exist between them. In comprehending the assumption that gender roles are not determined biologically but rather culturally, a room for debate is created on the cultural nature of men and women and their social roles. (Nanda and Warms, 2009, p. 172).


Gender identity is regarded as the conviction that exists in defining a child to be either male or female. There has been some dispute among the theorists on the process of acquiring this conviction. Although biological force plays a significant role in gender identity, the fact remains unchanged – that gender identity is also defined by social influences and physical reality of consciousness.


Anselmi, D. L. & Law, A. L. (1998). Questions of gender, perspectives and paradoxes.

Estados Unidos de América. Editorial: McGraw-Hill.

Bussey, K. & Bandura,A (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106 (4), 676-713.

Crowe, F., Hill, E., Hollingum, B., MacFachern, S., Russel, H. (Eds.) Sex and Society, Volume 1. (2010). London: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.

Gross, I. et al. (1982). Sex role attitudes and cultural change. Dordrecht: Reidel Publishing Company.

Nanda, S. and Warms, L. R. (2009). Culture Counts: A Concise Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. CA: Wadsworth.

Shaffer, R. D. (2009). Social and Personality Development. CA: Wadsworth.

Spade, J. and Valentine, G. C. (2008). The kaleidoscope of gender: prisms, patterns, and possibilities. CA: Pine Forge Press.

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