Tag Archives: sex roles

He Dresses, She Slacks: Transgender Sex Roles

I notice when people complain about weak sex roles. “Women should be women, and men should be men. “If we didn’t have rigid sex roles, might we all be “people” instead of “male” and “female”?

a "feminine" Barbie Doll contrasts with a "masculine" Lieutenant Worf action figure

Last month, the highest court in Australia decided to recognize some people as being of a non-specific sex. If we didn’t have rigid sex roles, would we all be “people” instead of “male” and “female”?

If we didn’t have rigid sex roles, what might be a reason for being transgender?

Let’s take a look at some of our ideas about sex roles, and think about what we want and expect from men and women, and from ourselves.

Transgender and Sex Role Considerations:

Social Sex Roles
Sex Roles in the Workplace
Clothing
Value of Each Gender
Body Language
Mannerisms
Social Expectations
Emotion
Relationships
Transgender Psychology Issues
Sexual Preference
Biology
Physical Characteristics
Conclusion

Social Sex Roles                            

Awkward moments occur when a woman holds a door open for a man.

Some women like to shovel snow, load the back of a pickup truck, and carry groceries into the house. Many women dig in the garden, and enjoy watching action movies and sports.

Many men like ballet dancing, quilting, and taking care of young children.

What do you think about men who like to design clothing and living spaces? How do you feel around men who enjoy artistic endeavors like hair styling, lyrical poetry, and weaving? What about men who prefer to watch “chick flicks”?

Sex Roles in the Workplace                            

How do you feel when you watch the Mark Morris Ballet production of The Hard Nut? Women play some of the “men’s” roles, and men play some of the “women’s” roles. The Mark Morris Ballet Company cast dancers, not men or women.

 

How different are men’s and women’s roles? How reasonable are these differences?

Women sew Men are tailors
Women in restaurants are waitresses Men are maitre d’s
Women tend gardens Men farm and landscape
Women care for the elderly and young children Men guard
Women in business are receptionists, secretaries, and administrative assistants Men are managers and administrators
Women drive cars Men drive trucks and pilot airplanes
Women in schools are school teachers Men are professors and school administrators
Women make meals Men are chefs
Women handle money as cashiers Men are financial advisors
Women sell luxuries at home parties Men sell cars and home entertainment equipment
Women make crafts Men are mechanics, builders, masons, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, welders, and tradesmen
Women in the medical field are dental hygienists and nurses Men are surgeons
Women use appliances Men use power tools
Women are homemakers Men build homes

Arguments in favor of hiring women to top leadership positions emphasize women’s collaboration, listening skills, focus on development, and valuing differing opinions. The traditional male business model values individual competition, aggression, and advancement. Do these differences explain the employment differences?

How do you feel about people who show up to work on a road construction crew in tattoos, coveralls, and work boots? Does it matter which sex they were born? Or the gender that they express? How do you feel about a person who shows up to work in an office wearing false eyelashes, nail polish, and high heels? What if she was born with male genitals?

Sex Roles in Clothing                          

Who is more conspicuous: a transgender male or a transgender female?

Who wears more colorful, expressive clothing: masculine or feminine people? Women’s clothes are lovely colors, shapely and flowy. Why are most males of other species more colorful than females, yet we’re not?

When you enter a store and see colors and lace, and sparkle and delicate doodads on one side of the store, and drab colors and chunky accessories on the other side, do you feel free to choose which side of the store to shop, and which clothes to wear? Do your neighbors and family members?

Have you noticed that store lighting often mutes the colors of men’s clothes, and highlights the colors of women’s clothes?

Are you attracted to the men’s clothes that are made of beefy fabrics with rugged seams? Men’s accessories like gloves, watches and scarves that work better and last longer than women’s? Are the sleeves and inseams the right size for your arms and legs? Are the shoes and socks a good fit for your feet?

Do the most masculine of men always prefer to shop for themselves in the Men’s Department? When do women hesitate to wear men’s clothes?

At what age do these differences show up?

Value of Each Gender                      

Why would a transgender man want to cultivate his masculinity in such a restrictive environment?

Where misogyny exists, why would transgender women exist?

Why might someone exhibit extreme characteristics of their gender?

Body Language

Women sit with crossed legs. Men stand with their bodies looking larger, with their hands on their hips, and legs apart.

Women use curvy hand movements. Men’s are angular.

Mannerisms

How rough and aggressive can women be, compared with men, before being denigrated?

How often are men admired for being delicate?

Social Expectations

You might be familiar with the children’s rhyme that I grew up with:

“What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and everything nice
That’s what little girls are made of.
What are little boys made of?
Rats and snails and puppy dogs’ tails
That’s what little boys are made of.”

Do other children’s rhymes like this one come to mind?

Medical records that specify physical characteristics like sex organs make sense, but why do identity documents (birth certificates, church records, drivers licenses, passports, marriage licenses) divide people into two sexes? How does that complicate matters for people who are transgender?

Emotion

Men cat call and brawl. Girls giggle and cry. Are these expectations taken to the extreme?

Sex Roles in Relationships

Women connect intimately with others, and discuss feelings and perceptions. Men provide information about status and actions.

Women ask questions. Men give statements.

When a transgender woman is working hard to grasp at her femininity, how well does she warm to women who cultivate their own natural femininity? And vice versa?

Why is it hard for men to be attracted to trans women?

Transgender Psychology Issues

What kinds of challenges do people face when going through puberty? How is this different for people who don’t fit the cultural stereotypes?

What kinds of challenges do people face when they are born looking masculine, and prefer to be feminine in certain ways, and vice versa?

Up to 1/3 of the people studied around the world who identified themselves as transgender had attempted suicide. I couldn’t find how this compares to the general population, but this sounds like a severely high rate.

Can you imagine, or have you experienced, a transgender person being a victim of discrimination, harassment, or violence?

Sex Roles in Sexual Preference

With men so restricted to sex roles, what attracts liberated women to them? What attracts gay men to them?

Biology

Most people are born with either male or female genitals. Some people find that genitals don’t accurately indicate identity, aka, gender. This situation is common in history and many cultures.

Sex roles are partly neurological. Women’s brains tend to be better at verbal memory, social cognition, and combining intuitive and analytical thought. Men’s brains tend to be better at motor and spatial skills.

Sex roles are also hormonal. Increased levels of estrogen makes women more motherly and sexually active, while testosterone makes men more aggressive.

Men’s bodies and brains are larger. They have more muscle. Women give birth to, and feed, babies.

Yet, these biological differences seem to be overstated. The similarities between men and women are much stronger than the differences. In other words, there is more variation between individuals of the same sex than there is between the sexes.

Physical Characteristics

Have you spent any time trying to figure out whether a person is a male or female? What difference does it make?

We use our voices to express ourselves. Vocal chords differ, in accordance with sexual characteristics.
Men sing bass to tenor.
Women sing soprano to alto.
Are men as expressive with their voices as women?

Do you expect women’s bodies to be shapely, smooth, and curved?
Do you expect men’s bodies to be muscular, athletic, and angular?

A young woman shaves her body. A young man looks forward to being hairy.

Which physical characteristics do you want for yourself? Which do you want for your sex partner?

Why would a heterosexual trans woman like her masculine body? Why would a heterosexual trans man like his feminine body? What’s the difference between having a certain sex’s body, and being a certain gender?

Conclusion

Social, psychological, and biological considerations affect our identity. Characteristics of transgender are identity, or an internal sense of maleness and femaleness. Gender is a continuum, not a binary state: masculinity and femininity are points on an infinite scale, not two categories that divide everyone into one extreme or the other. However, with the rigidness of sex roles, imagine how difficult being transgender might be.

I am not an academic expert in Social Justice issues. I hear and have many questions, and I value discussion. Each article that I write is an attempt to broaden your perspective on issues, as I broaden mine.

Photo Credits:
“Madonna” by Daniel Kruczynski, via Wikimedia Commons
“Lieutenant Worf Action Figure” by Olga Nohra
modified by Grace Buchanan
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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