Gender VS Sex Why Do We Keep Mixing Their Meanings? The Impact of Terminology Misuse

On November 1st, I read an article on about Germany’s new decision to allow parents who give birth to babies with characteristics of both sexes to write “indeterminate” gender on the birth certificates. I felt very upset by the misuse of terms by BBC. The fact that they don’t differentiate between sex and gender is something that makes us think twice about how much we can believe in this globally trusted and read website.

The title of the news should’ve been “Germany to allow indeterminate sex birth certificates”. Apparently, it’s not only people who don’t usually differentiate between the two different in meanings terms.

Sex refers to the biological status of a person, and it is typically categorized as male, female or intersexual; the last one means that a person have characteristics from both other sexes which is what is referred to by BBC as “third gender”. Sex is not socially constructed; it is determined before a person’s birth.Gender on the other hand refers to the attitudes, behavior and feelings. It is socially constructed and is affected by many factors including, the traditions, culture and the way a person is raised. People might be heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals or any other name/label/category they want to use or not use to describe their genders.

The gender of a person might not be an expression of their sex. According to most communities’ concepts about gender, a male should be attracted to a female, and his sexual practices should be with females as well, and vise versa. But in reality, a male could be attracted to females, males, both or neither! The sex of a person doesn’t control their feelings and orientations. Sexual practices and feelings are socially constructed, and are formed throughout the life a person. So in another term, a male human being is not necessarily a man, and the same thing can be said about females; they are not necessarily women or feminine. Judith Butler who is an American philosopher says, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

Now the question is, why do people keep confusing the meanings of these two terms? Well, one reason can be that most societies don’t accept non-heterosexual groups/individuals. These topics are considered as “Taboo” in the community, and people usually tend to act like these groups don’t exist; which is a reason for giving both of the words “Sex” and “Gender” the same meaning, to diminish the existence of other groups and identities. The use of the word “Gender” for what it really stands for can be very disturbing and insulting for a large number of people and communities. In a recent training we had for a group of journalists from around the country, while we were talking about rape and homosexuality, a journalist said, “Why would a gay person mind if he was raped? Isn’t that what they usually do?”, and another one replied “For us, in our local communities, homosexuality is the worst thing that any person can be, it’s even worse than rape”. The fact that any person would think that it’s acceptable for a person to be raped, or to have the idea of considering someone as the worst thing to be because of who they choose to sleep with says a lot about our community. A community that is afraid of everything they are not used to. A community built on violence and hatred. When did we change?

I also want to emphasize on the role of media and the importance of the words writers share with their audience. Journalists should think twice about the responsibility they have towards their readers. They need to realize that the articles they publish will impact people’s lives. It can help some people and present them with new ideas, but it can also promote a culture of violence and might damage someone’s life.

I’m not trying to promote a certain ideology, and I’m not releasing a public statement about how a person should be or what’s right and what’s wrong.
What I want to promote and focus on here is the importance of respecting each other, and treating each other well, simply because we are all human beings. We need to look beyond other things, things that are private. It’s none of anybody’s business how somebody defines him/herself, it’s none of anybody’s issue whom somebody chooses to be in a relationship. And it’s certainly no one’s right to diminish the existence of a human being, not matter how different they were from the ideas we grew up or came up with. And it’s our responsibility as individuals in the community, as news agencies, researchers, journalists or whatever else we are doing to deliver the news with accurate information, and in a respectful way.

By: Amir M. Ashour
From: Sulaimany, Iraq