Sex and Gender: Born with it or perceived to be it?

Sex vs Gender | Credit:

Sex vs Gender | Credit:

Often, society misunderstands the difference between sex and gender. El Sheila Kanavathi tells you why you are so much more than the sexual organs you are born with.

Many times I have heard people talk about Sex and Gender interchangeably like it is one and the same. Is it the same?

Sex = You are born either as a male or a female. You have :

1. Male/female sexual organs and body fluids (sperms and eggs);

2. Male/female-related hormones; and

3. The possibility (mind you, not ability) of being pregnant and breastfeed your child.

All the above categorizes you either as a male or female. It does NOT automatically mean that if you are a girl, you must be/do the following :

1. Wear skirts/dresses whenever possible. Pants would indicate that you are a “tomboy”;

2. Speak softly in public;

3. Wear your hair long till the end of your life;

4. Limit laughter especially in public areas. To only do so when permitted and in a feminine manner;

5. To get married before you turn 30 and have plenty of children; and

6. To be able to whip up a meal everyday even after a long, hard day at work.

It also does NOT automatically mean that if you are a boy, you must be/do the following:

1. ONLY wear pants, period;

2. Speak loud in public especially in the presence of beautiful women (to indicate masculinity);

3. The more crew-cut the hair, the more “macho” the man;

4. Giggling not allowed;

5. To marry any one (or two, or three, or four) woman of their choice at any point in their lives; and

6. To never enter the woman-section of the house, i.e. the kitchen.

Did God make these rules for us when he made us men and women? I don’t believe so. These are what we call Gender Roles. How the society perceives us to be. In an ever changing world, why is it that we cannot get our minds around the fact that people are ever changing too in terms of our likes/dislikes/preferences. Are we merely finding fault in them because we are too much of a coward ourselves to accept the differences?

Please read this story about transgenders in Malaysia that talks about how tough it is to go against the perceived gender roles of our society. If gender roles are created by society, then can society be willing to change its perception of such? After all, the only thing in life that is constant is change.

So put on your Gender Lenses and make a change first in yourself and then in others.

Ed’s note: Further reading on LoyarBurok:

A valuable lesson from a Mak Nyah by Derek Kok

El Sheila Kanavathi is what you would call a potpourri of Malaysian Culture (you name the race, I have it in my blood – well, almost everything). She loves working with, & for young people and actively promotes Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Adolescents. She blogs at

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Posted on 10 April 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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4 Responses to Sex and Gender: Born with it or perceived to be it?

  1. A.Elisa

    That is why we have courses like 'Gender and Law' in certain IPTs.

    The issues on Gender has been long debated about, but still to no avail.

  2. RK Boo

    While gender roles are usually society-prescribed as compared to sex organs that one is born with, we can't totally separate our bodies from our gender roles, ie: women have reproductive capabilities, and these tend to make them naturally more nurturing than men. Having said that, of course, reproductive capabilities should not be used to ban a woman from becoming a CEO or prime minister. The world now has moved beyond simplistic sexual and gender categories. Not uncommon to see men visit spas or women holding top positions nowadays. The problem is despite that, there's still a glass ceiling, gender discrimination and whathaveyou. And personally, I love skirts and dresses and getting dolled up, but I still consider myself a feminist. :)

  3. With all due respect Sheila, sex itself is ambiguous. For example, point 1 on what is sex. What if the person is born without either sex organs, or intersexed, what sex would the person be? Or if a man is born with two penises, does that make him a double male? Or point 2, does woman going on Hormone Replacement Therpy make her a hyper female? And does that not prove that transsexual females on hormones are in essence female? Or even point 3, does that not invalidate transsexual male, as females? And for transsexual females on steady stream of hormones equal to pregnancy levels are able to breastfeed, so does that not make them females? As you can see, there are more markers to sex than just the points you gather above. Just sharing. Please study more on sex and gender before coming to such conclusions. On another note, Malaysia is still not ready for the science of sex yet. So good simple effort by the way.

  4. Doris Louis

    Dear Sheila,
    That wasa good article and an eye opener to lots of people who have not put on the gender lenses. People need to learn to accept people as and how they are .Bravo Sheila