Social Construction of Gender

“The Uses and Abuses of the Sex/Gender Distinction in European Feminist Practices” discusses how different cultures use language to distinguish between biological sex, gender identity, gendered categories, etc.  Rosi Braidotti problematizes the current terminology used in several European countries and explains the role of international organizations, governments, and academia in establishing this rhetoric.  She also ponders upon the implications and connotations of terms which refer to research on feminist issues, such as “women’s studies” and “gender studies.”  Overall, her article highlights the inconsistencies within feminism on a global scale and emphasizes the need for “women’s studies” to take a more interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach in order to have a stronger influence worldwide.

The majority of the article focuses on the different terminology used to refer to sex and gender.  Braidotti explains that each culture has a unique understanding of these concepts and there is no universal consensus within feminism, but she does not explain why it is so difficult to reach these conclusions.  How are different cultures supposed to refer to something which has been socially constructed, such as gender?  As she points out, there are still countries which do not differentiate between male and female “gender.”  Other countries recognize this difference but are more concerned with social standing and class.  You cannot put a name to something that essentially does not exist, so why spend so much time attempting to manufacture the perfect language?  Instead of idealizing Western perceptions of sex and gender, feminists should reconceptualize the debate.

When discussing the reluctance of French feminists to adopt English terminology, Braidotti mentions the concept of “intellectual colonization.”  Although she only speaks about this briefly, I feel it highlights one of the central issues affecting feminism on a global scale.  Feminism did not originate in the United States nor is the United States the “most feminist” nation in the world, so why should Western feminist thought be considered superior to that of other countries?  I do understand the need for feminism to become more universal, but I do not feel that this should be done by eradicating unique cultural beliefs and encouraging individuals to conform to Western feminism.  As Braidotti says, “The obvious hegemony of the English notion of ‘gender’ marginalizes local, at times ancient, traditions and thus depletes the capital of diversity and cultural variety within Europe, not to speak of the wealth of feminist cultural and traditional histories” (295).  Here, she is only referring to the language used when discussing sex and gender, but I feel this is also applicable to feminism as a whole.  Although Western feminists have contributed a wealth of knowledge to the feminist movement, we need to recognize the importance of incorporating the perspectives of other cultures.

Overall, I feel that this article lacked analysis of the sex/gender distinction in European cultures.  Braidotti did not come to any conclusions; instead, she left me, as the reader, with more questions than answers.  Her research was well-informed and comprehensive, but the article felt more like an encyclopedia entry than a feminist analysis.  Her research seemed to be based completely in data collection and I would have liked if she had combined this with other researched techniques.  Although I was not satisfied with how she approached her article, I felt that the text left me with enough information to come to form my own opinions on the distinction between sex and gender.

There is no denying that there are biological differences between males and female nor is there any debate that we should refer to this category as “sex.”  However, the so-called differences that are associated with gender are nothing more than a social construct.  We are not born with gender nor is gender indicative of sex; gender is something that we “do.”  How we refer to gender is not nearly as important as why society feels a need to distinguish between genders: the notion of gender has been fabricated in order to justify inequality.

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