Sex vs. Gender: What’s the big deal?

Many of us have gone to, seen a video, or at least heard of a gender reveal party/event. The most frequently asked question parents-to-be hear is “Is it a girl or boy?” or “Do you know the gender yet?” Everyone wants to know whether to get pink or blue presents.

There is just one small issue with these questions and with the “gender reveal” thing. We should be asking for the sex of the baby and it should be called a sex reveal. Some may be asking you, “Aren’t they the same thing?” The answer is no. That’s right, sex and gender are different.

Let us break this down. Sex refers to chromosomes, internal and external organs and other biological differences. Gender is a lot more complex.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines gender as: “Referring to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men, such as norms, roles, and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed.”

Gender can be further broken down into gender roles and gender identity. A gender role, or sex role, refers to behaviors and attitudes that are considered acceptable, appropriate and desirable of a man or a woman as stated by society. Gender identity is one’s internal and personal sense of being a man or a woman (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD).

Biologically assigned sex does not always match gender identity. These individuals often refer to themselves as gender-nonconforming, non-binary or transgender.

Now, here is an interesting fact about the whole, pink is for girls, blue is for boys thing. There is nothing underlying or fundamental that makes pink a girl color or blue a boy color. Colors can be described as cool, warm or neutral. Who goes to a store and asks “Where are the girly paints at?” or “Do you sell a manlier tone?”

Also, until the 19th century, babies were dressed in white, since color garments had not yet been introduced. Once colors were introduced, pink was originally used for boys and blue was used for girls.

A quote from a trade publication called Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department, published in 1918 stated, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

A hundred years later and it is hard to find a baby boy dressed in pink.

So now everyone should be saying that they are going to a “sex reveal” party right? Actually that sounds weird, it probably won’t catch on. Maybe we should stop trying to decide a baby’s gender before they are even born, let them decide.

Sex and gender have been used interchangeably for many years, but their uses are becoming more distinct. It is important to learn the difference.

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