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The Sociological Understanding of Sex and Gender

The fact that these two words are comparable and used substitutable doesn’t mean they’re the same. They differ in meaning because they’re diversified parts of a person’s identity. So, in lieu of this, it’s crucial to understand the concept and the distinction between sex and gender. 

Sociology illustrated distinctively, the difference between sex and gender. Sex refers to biological characteristics a society places on persons either male or female, by chromosomes, genitalia, or/and some physical portrayals. People’s understanding of male and female are centered on sex – the biological aspect rather than gender which is the society’s understanding of those biological categories.

While gender simply refers to social and cultural characteristics. It’s the cultural differences and social standards, attitudes, and actions that society prefers for a particular sex over the other. It’s important to understand the difference between these terms and to be mindful of how they are often conflated.

Gender centers on society’s mentality of what and how a particular sex should behave and the qualities that are particular to them culturally and how or what each of them feels by understanding their roles and identities like being a man, woman, transgender, intersex, and other gender positions.

Sex and gender

In sociology, gender has come to terms with the ways societies molded our perception of femininity i.e. the qualities society placed on a “female”, and masculinity i.e. the qualities society placed on the “male sex”. Because of this, we push so hard to follow the distinctive power relationship that is associated with each gender, based on our categorizations. Hence the word “Cis-gender” defines people that have the same biological virtues (body) as their gender identity.

However, transgender is quite different which means a person’s biological sex doesn’t match his gender identity. This often comes with gender switching from dresses to self-presentation, behaviors, and lots more. While some go through this transformation surgically, others do not. So, you can call it a complete transformation from one gender to another while still biologically related to the original sex.  


  Another familiar term in sex and gender is intersexuality. This simply explained the differences in sex definitions on chromosomes, hormones, and sex organs hence, intersexuality stays on the same page with transgender which happens to be a gender category. In lieu of this, transgender and intersexual people have different sexual attractions, practices, and identities just like cis-gender. 

Sociological perspectives on sex and gender.

One sociologist who has made important contributions to the study of gender and sexuality is Patricia Hill Collins. She has written about the intersections of race, gender, and class, and about how these factors affect the experiences of black women in particular. Another scholar is Michael Kimmel, who has written extensively about masculinity and how gender roles are constructed and enforced.

One of Patricia Hill Collins’ key arguments is that gender and sexuality are not separate categories, but are inextricably linked. She writes, “There is no gender without sexuality, and there is no sexuality without gender” (Collins, 2004). This means that the two concepts are deeply intertwined, and can’t be considered separately from each other. 

Collins’ work highlights the importance of intersectionality, which is the idea that different identities and experiences are interconnected and can’t be separated from each other. Intersectionality is an important concept in sociology and other social sciences, and it’s a useful lens through which to understand gender and sexuality.

However, our understanding of society and how society works are all derived from sociological theories. These theories enforce our awareness of the relationship between society and class, sex and gender, and other identities. Hence the sociological belief that sex (biology) alone does not determine gender identity because society contributes more. 

Four sociological theories on gender identities

1. The functionalist theory.

Functionalist theory can be applied to the study of gender and sexuality by looking at the functions that gender and sexuality serve in society. One way to think about it is that gender and sexuality are social constructs that help to maintain the stability of society.  For example, gender roles and norms help to regulate the behavior of individuals and to organize social relationships. They also play a role in shaping the division of labor and the distribution of power in society. Gender and sexuality also influence how individuals understand and express their identities.

This theory emerged from a sociology scholar named Emile Durkheim in his work on how society remains stable. This posits that gender roles establish and buttress the difference between genders which in turn makes the society maintain stability. Because societies exist with individuals and how they relate, there is a need for each person to know and perform their roles, in line with the socially established benchmarks.

2. The feminist sociological theory.

The feminist sociological theory is another approach that is used to understand gender and sexuality. The theory is concerned with understanding the ways in which patriarchy – a system in which men have more power and privilege than women – affects gender roles and relations. Feminist theory challenges the assumption that gender roles are “natural” or “biological” and argues that they are socially constructed. Feminist theory also highlights the importance of considering the diversity of experiences among women and the ways in which gender intersects with other social identities, such as race, class, and sexuality.

This theory also emphasizes the importance of women and their contributions to the stability of society. The gender identity of females examines how a woman’s view of society is different from that of a man due to their experience, teachings, and most times situation. 

3. The Conflict theory.

Conflict theory or conflict perspective, is another sociological theory that offers a different view of society. Instead of seeing society as a well-functioning system, conflict theory sees society as being characterized by inequality and conflict. In the context of gender and sexuality, the conflict perspective might focus on how gender and sexuality are used to oppress certain groups of people. This focuses on how heterosexuality is privileged over other sexual orientations, or how masculinity is privileged over femininity.

Karl Max stated in his writing that ‘society is a stage on which the struggle for power and dominance are acted out’ which means, the only way society can maintain stability is by one social class to compel power over the other and in this case, the capitalist class is the center of attention. This is later extended to a family setting where the husband (male gender) becomes a tyrant (an autocratic ruler)  because he can’t be questioned due to the power the society has placed on his gender. 

4. The Symbolic Interaction Theory.

This theory emphasizes the importance of symbols and meanings in shaping human behavior. In the context of gender and sexuality, symbolic interactionism focuses on how gender and sexuality are socially constructed and how they are communicated through language, symbols, and nonverbal communication. The symbolic interactionist perspective looks at how individuals interact with others and how this shapes their understanding of their gender and sexuality.

A sociology scholar named Max Weber introduced the basics of this theory in his words which says that individuals act in line with how society defines their world. This means that society interprets your worth based on your gender. As a female gender, there is a limit to what you can do and achieve because your gender has limitations, unlike your male counterpart. 

Final note, gender, and sexuality are more than barely subjective identities but also social identities because they are coined from our lifestyle, and relationship with others through social dealing hence, they define our understanding while interacting with others.

Oseni Balikis Omolayomi (Quintessential)

My name is Balikis Omolayomi Oseni fondly called Quintessential. I'm a writer from Nigeria, I hold a bachelor's degree in English language from the prestigious National Open University of Nigeria. I've been a guest writer for Applied Worldwide since 2020 up till date. I'm an OAP, freelance writer, essayist, poet, and the brain behind QOB Cosmetics Palace. I'm a native of Oyo state, Ibadan precisely and a member of these great literary foundations: • Hilltops Creative Arts Foundation, Minna, Niger state, and the Chairperson of Oyo state branch. • RisingYouths19 • All Poets Network • Nibstears cave and many other prestigious organizations. I'm a positivity advocate, a lover of texts and adventures hence my passion for writing exclusively since time immemorial because writing to me has always been one way to change the world. I derive pleasure in helping and serving the humanities and my favorite quotes are as follows: • In whatever situation you find yourself, you're allowed to cry, shout, scream but, one thing you're never allowed to do is give up. • Success is not a destination but an endless journey. You're welcome!