Why Sex And Gender Are Not Two Different Things

Why Sex And Gender Are Not Two Different Things

It cannot be stated strongly enough. There is no, not one, not even a wisp of a scientific discovery that requires we now understand sex and gender as two different things.
Glenn T. Stanton
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Last week, the Supreme Court took up hearings on three cases in oral arguments that all came down to the definition of the word “sex.” Does it refer to male and female, as it always has in all cultures without the slightest question or debate? Or does it now include the ever-expanding rainbow of all these new gender identities and sexual orientations that people can apparently be, those we are told are totally normal and natural to human experience, but only now are recognizing and making up words for?

Such silly questions have now made it all the way the highest levels of our justice system. This is indeed concerning.

This has its roots in the larger debate of what words “sex” and “gender” signify. An extreme and radical minority has been trying to tell us for the last few decades that they are two very different things.

The new gender orthodoxy pounds its secular pulpit with this embarrassingly reductionist little ditty: “Sex is what’s between your legs. Gender is what’s between your ears.” But this new understanding exists only in the wild and wishful imaginations of its proclaimers as a wholly new conception of reality. They do not signify two different things.

Words matter. If they get stripped of their meaning for mere ideological reasons, then a people’s language fails. I’m not referring to pop culture adaptations of words with otherwise clear and uncontested meaning, like “That guy’s hot!” or “That motorcycle is sick.” I’m speaking of words appropriated by radicals to take on wholly different, self-assigned “literal” meanings to undergird their manufactured ideology.

It’s worse when they falsely imply that some new scientific discovery demands we must adjust our understanding and use the word as they dictate. Worse still is when they employ public shame and personal destruction to force us to use their hijacked meaning.

This is precisely the case with the words “sex” and “gender.” They are indeed, not two wholly different things, and the great conviction and confidence with which we are told they are, even recently by seemingly authoritative professional groups, cannot change the fact. Since these words are so fundamental to understanding what it means to be human, it’s worth addressing precisely how wrong this assumption is and why. Let me address this in three fundamental points.

The Meaning of Words

The word sex has not really been in contention until the Supreme Court deliberations. Few contest that it refers to biological male and female as well as to the act itself. Gender is where most of the excitement is. So let’s start where any reasonable discussion of the real meaning of a word must start, looking at its specific etymology. In doing so, we find gender has everything to do with the first, most basic, and natural fact of being human.

From the 14th century, gender has referred to the essence of what male and female are, issuing from the Proto-Indo-European root gen- or gene-. It fundamentally references the creation, birth, and begetting of new human beings, as in, to generate or engender.

This root is also interestingly associated with the Latin gonos, from which we get our English word gonad. Of course, these are the uniquely determinative, wholly binary parts of our anatomy that cannot do what they do without their cooperative union with the body of the other gender. Gender refers to that which is inherently heterosexual.

Thus, gender’s grammatical root—gene/gen—is also associated with such words as genesis, generation (both in terms of being generated as well as the historical time-frame one was generated) and yes, of course, genitals, those two unavoidably binary parts of the human anatomy that help our gonads and associated cooperative parts do what gonads do: generate. Finally, gender also derives from the Latin genus meaning race, kin, family, kind, order, and species, that generative line from which another comes and thus belongs to.

If anything is the furthest thing from being a mere social construct, gender is. So the words “sex” and “gender” are indeed two objective sides of the same coin. Anyone who says differently is just making stuff up. This is precisely what the gender theorists are doing. Next we must address gender theory’s “creative” relationship with science.

Ideology, Not Science, Asserts the Change

It cannot be stated strongly enough. There is no, not one, not even a wisp of a scientific discovery that requires we now understand sex and gender as two different things. It is based purely in ideology stemming from a wish for how these people think reality ought to be. It is 100 percent sophistry, 0 percent science.

Of course, the primary distinction between sex and gender in general use as well as academia has largely been linguistic, merely to make it clear when male and female are meant and not the act of coitus, i.e., “Sex involves the two genders.” As such, the use of the word “gender” has always been, until very recently, extremely rare, as demonstrated in this sophisticated Google computation of the two words’ appearances in English language books.

Its usage started skyrocketing nearly vertically in the late 1970s through today, reaching near parity with its partner “sex.” It’s a very new thing emerging not from science but the mere ideology of tenured gender and women’s studies professors.

A very interesting study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior shines even more light on science’s view and use of the word. More than 30 million academic journal article titles from 1945 to 2001 were digitally analyzed, tracking how various scholars in academia where using the word over this period.

Like the Google analysis above, nearly no one employed the word until the late 1970s. But the surprising finding was what academic disciplines did and did not adopt it. Only the softer sociological, humanities, and psychiatric disciplines started using “gender” in the late ‘70s and in immediately increasing numbers. The harder, natural sciences were far less likely to use the word and not likely to attach any new meaning to it.

When asked, those scholars working in the biological and natural sciences who did use the term in greater numbers reported doing so for the following three reasons: 1) to “signal sympathy with feminist goals,” 2) to use a more in vogue, academic-sounding term, or 3) linguistically to avoid the connotation of copulation.

This article notes, “However, the major expansion in the use of gender followed its adoption by feminists to distinguish the social and cultural aspects of differences between men and women (gender) from biological differences (sex).” This scholar notes that, as of 2004, “This distinction is now only fitfully respected” among those working in the natural sciences.

Professor J. Richard Udry’s presidential address to the distinguished Population Association of America conference in the mid-1990s was entitled “The Nature of Gender.” He was not shy in observing that “[T]oday we use gender to indicate endorsement of a theory of gender as a human social invention.” He had great fun with his august audience by opening his remarks this way: “I welcome my colleagues of the feminine gender, the masculine, and the other genders yet to be constructed.” Today, he would have been called worse than Hitler and lost his job with such fun-poking.

Only the softer sociological, humanities, and psychiatric disciplines started using ‘gender’ in the late ‘70s and in immediately increasing numbers.

So, if not through some scientific discovery, how did this new use of the word develop? In the mid-1950s, the ultimately disgraced gender theorist from Johns Hopkins, John Money, declared that sex referred to what one’s body was and gender what a person did. He declared in 1955, “The term gender role is used to signify all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman, respectively.”

Boy or man, girl or woman. Apparently Money failed to realize the vast array of how many genders there actually are. Feminists alone propelled the vertical rise of this gender/sex dichotomy beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, complaining that sex was a biological fact while gender marked what men expected of and forced women to do. Ironically, feminist resistance was found in the strategy of women needing to become more male in their societal roles: working outside the home, refusing feminine undergarments, becoming more sexually aggressive and opportunistic, not to mention violent and angry. Essentially, “Ladies, in the name of feminism, deny your feminine essence!”

Now, in its newer iteration, it can—even if this was never part of its origin—refer to how men and women, boys and girls demonstrate and telegraph their masculinity and femininity to those around them. That is not troubling. Even Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his dissent in a 1994 case: “The word ‘gender’ has acquired the new and useful connotation of cultural or attitudinal characteristics (as opposed to physical characteristics) distinctive to the sexes. That is to say, gender is to sex as feminine is to female and masculine is to male.”

The problem is when gender ideologues stretch it in ridiculous ways beyond reasonable recognition to normalize the idea that one’s sex does not determine one’s gender, that the two can be as different as oil and water.

A Disingenuous Defining of Gender Roles

Women’s and gender studies adherents demand every one of us understand gender as plastic, because that’s the only way they can set us all free from the so-called tyranny of rigid and oppressive “gender roles.” Boy are blue, girls are pink. Women’s work is in the kitchen. Men’s work is what is really important and exists out there in the marketplace. Men earn and eat the dinner. Women cook and serve it. Everyone knows their proper place and never the twain shall meet. These folks see this as established as black and white and the great original sin of culture.

Here’s the problem, though. Hardly anyone actually lives this way. And I work at Focus on the Family. If anyone is huge on “gender norms,” it’s us. But the rigidity with which gender theorists present these lines are largely unrecognizable to us.

While we and most all other people across the fruited plains believe that men and women, on average, enjoy doing different gender-based things, we all agree that women have tremendous power and it is found precisely in their femininity. It is the extremely rare male colleague here at Focus on the Family who does not work cooperatively with his wife in making life decisions for himself and their families. I don’t know of one who comes close to “ruling his home with a firm hand.”

The rigidity with which gender theorists present these lines are largely unrecognizable to people who believe sex is fixed.

Most of the husbands and fathers here are very involved in doing the laundry at home, helping preparing meals, doing dishes, changing diapers, and cleaning bathrooms. And they do so precisely because of their manhood, traditional faith, and beliefs. Any one of them who boasted to his peers that he didn’t participate in such ways at home would not be respected.

Consider this dramatic example. A woman named Sarah Palin exploded onto the national political stage in 2007. She became the absolute darling of the reddest and most traditional parts of our national electorate. Was she a dutiful housewife serving her husband and making sure the house was always tidy and dinner was on the table at 6? Hardly.

She was a governor of a massive state. She ran for the vice-presidency of the most powerful nation on earth alongside one of the manliest men who ever sought that office. She was unapologetically outspoken. She was strong as steel, not intimidated by anyone.

She could (and loved to) shoot the highest powered guns she could get her hands on. She fished, hunted and could single-handedly field dress a moose. She was the feminist dream, save for she chose, by her own womanly self-determination, not to worship at the altar of abortion and be a political conservative.

It is certainly ironic that the people who believe there are rigid, never-to-be-broken, gender boundaries are the gender theorists themselves.

And get this. There was not one person among the ranks of the most faithful family traditionalists who complained she needed to get back home to her proper place. Her gender-role non-conformity was not just tolerated, but actually celebrated by that constituency.

In the 1990s, Promise Keepers was all the rage among Christian men—and their wives. If middle-America gender roles were so clear, distinct and oppressive as the women’s studies advocates claim, then Promise Keepers would certainly be the place where men would have unmistakably been instructed in such things. But they were not. Quite the opposite.

Even the most obtuse attendee could not miss that the message constantly thundered from the Promise Keepers stage was all about making sure men understood they are not the supreme authority in their homes or society. The good man is subject to the God who calls all husbands to sacrifice themselves for their wives just as Jesus sacrificed Himself for us. Message No. 2 was for husbands to love and serve their wives and their children. Elevate your wife. Make her the queen of your home. Never, ever belittle her or demand that she serve you. Apologize if you do. Make sure you and your children honor her, for that is what a good, manly man does.

It is certainly ironic that the people who believe there are rigid, never-to-be-broken, gender boundaries are the gender theorists themselves. But their assumptions are actually a caricature that doesn’t really exist. Any man who does live according to such a distortion in his home will be strongly denounced and corrected by most Christian men.

Sex and gender are no more two different things than a so-called gender non-binary person can refer to himself or herself as “they.” If he insists on doing so, he should have the intellectual integrity and honesty to admit he’s just making stuff up. Such people should certainly not insist the rest of us play along in their illusion. It’s madness and should be denounced as such in any sane and rational culture.

Glenn T. Stanton is a Federalist senior contributor who writes and speaks about family, gender, and art, is the director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family, and is the author of the brand new "The Myth of the Dying Church" (Worthy, 2019). He blogs at glenntstanton.com.

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