Introduction to Beyond Femininity and Masculinity: Perspectives on Gender and Sexuality

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Introduction to Beyond Femininity and Masculinity: Perspectives on Gender and Sexuality

When asked to define what makes one feminine or masculine, many people would respond with examples of dress, mannerisms, desires, or biological features. People may describe one man as more masculine than another, or a woman as less feminine. A man may also be described as more feminine and a woman more masculine. In this way, masculinity and femininity is used to describe and compare a person's mannerisms and features based on social expectations. For example, a girl may be said to be feminine if she wears a dress and plays with dolls. Alternatively, a girl may be described as a "tomboy" or more masculine for wearing pants and playing with toy cars. However, masculinity and femininity are more complex than stereotypes. They are cultural attributes of the intersection of one's sex, gender, and sexuality.

Sex is a biological determination. Our sex is male or female based on anatomy and genetics. Intersexed individuals, those born with reproductive organs of both sexes, are discussed in the chapter on Gender and Sexuality Issues in Medicine and Public Health.

Gender is a socially constructed idea of what is male and female, masculine and feminine. It is independent of sex; a biological male can choose to express a "female" gender (known as transgenderism). Furthermore, gender is evolving and culture-specific. The Chinese practice of foot binding, for example, was a marker of femininity and class status. The practice was unique to parts of Asia, and fell out of favor as notions of beauty, femininity, and the social status of women changed. Many cultures have very specific and sharply divided genders. Presented in this chapter are selected commentaries on femininity. Each represents a snapshot of gender and sexuality within a particular culture, at a particular time. Certainly, Western notions of femininity, womanhood, and women's gender roles have changed dramatically over the past two centuries. Though briefly addressed in this section of the book, this transformation is covered in depth in the Women's Rights Movement chapter.

Overall, most societies are gender divided. Most recognize two genders, male and female. Yet many cultures also recognize a fluidity of gender or even a third gender. A discussion of the hijras of India, individuals alternately thought of as men who became women or a distinct third gender, appears in the chapter Transgendereds and Transsexuals.

Sexuality is composed of our sexual activities with, and attractions towards, other individuals. It is possible for one individual to have dual sexualities or sexual behaviors. For example, one can be heterosexual (attraction) and celibate (activity). Sexuality issues appear throughout the book. Often, they are inextricably intertwined with issues of gender. Which sexualities are normative, and which are deviant, can be a social construct. Homosexuality, for example, is treated differently across cultures.

This chapter is an introduction to many of the issues more thoroughly discussed in subsequent chapters. International and historical perspectives on masculinity and femininity, gender, and sexuality illuminate the timelessness and globality of gender and sexuality issues in society.

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Introduction to Beyond Femininity and Masculinity: Perspectives on Gender and Sexuality

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Introduction to Beyond Femininity and Masculinity: Perspectives on Gender and Sexuality