Women/men, affects every one of us because, since the

Women/men, female/male or girl/boy. The
discourse surrounding the difference and between men and women (gender) and
male and female (sex) and how to achieve equality has been one of the most controversial
issues since the beginning of civilisation. Perhaps, for most of the population
it is easy to implement to the terms and find their application unquestionable.
However, what if this easiness is really just an illusion. For example, does
being a woman necessarily mean that only the feminine side should dominate, or
if she dresses in a feminine way does it immediately indicate her
heterosexuality? In this essay, I will discuss that the terms of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’
are not interchangeable and how society has imposed on us the perception about
who we are today and the position we hold in it. It is something that affects
every one of us because, since the day we were born or even before our birth, a
label has been inserted on us by society that we are supposed to carry for the
rest of our lives and ‘obey’ to its rules. Considering the feminist
perspective, until today, the word woman and female are facing a lot of
judgment as to how they should act and ‘fulfil’ societies’ requirements and
ideas. The real questions thus should be what is a woman or more specifically
are you born or become a woman and lastly are men and women really that
different in achieving equality? ‘A man
is in the right in being a man; it is the woman who is in the wrong.1’

 

To
begin with, in order to progress further into the subject, it is important to
make the distinction between sex and gender. Normally we can easily identify
ourselves as males or females thus the ticking of the box in a questionnaire
with the options male or female hardly poses any difficulties. Nevertheless, if
we assume that we are all born either male or female the classification of sex
is affected by the interaction of the classification of a different term- that
of gender. Sex is referred to the individual’s reproductive system and primary
and secondary characteristics whereas gender is a socially constructed concept.
Firstly, concerning the differences between the sexes, one of the main debates
surrounding the term ‘sex’ is whether it is indicative or not. Simone de
Beauvoir through her astonishing book ‘The
Second Sex’ examines the reasons why women, even though they constitute
half of the population, have been positioned secondary in society behind men. Influenced by Jean Paul Sartre’s existentialism
who urged her into the realisation that she grew up as a girl in boy-made
world, Simone de Beauvoir became very interested into the matter that she gave
up projects to concentrate to this new revelation of hers.2 She begins with the phrase
‘Tota mulier in utero’  which means ‘woman is a womb’. This implies
that all females should identify themselves as women since they are supplied with
a uterus, but several women can disagree on that declaring that they are not
women. Yes, women have ovaries and a uterus but this distinctiveness traps her
in her own subjectivity and slows down the evolution of her nature by
forbidding her to explore her limits. In the mind of a man the words ovary and
womb are enough in order to formulate a superficial definition of what is a
woman. It is clear that biology illustrates the distinction between male and
female however science cannot conclude this type of differentiation just by the
form of cells. We cannot infer that there are two types of sexes basing it on
the creation of two gametes, the sperm and the egg. To be more precise a sperm
and an egg can be produced by a common singular entity like the hermaphroditic
species.  For what is certain is that the
achievement of the continuation of life requires both gametes and its
production is purely coincidental. Nevertheless, Hegel made the distinction of
the two sexes as one being active and the other passive. He obviously
classified the male as the active since the female remains underdeveloped in
her consensus.3
To elaborate more, even though later on the egg has been acknowledged as
active, the movement of the sperm and the inactivity of the egg has been the
main abstention for the egg to be considered as passive by men. Nonetheless, by
now we should add that neither gamete can be seen as more inferior to the other
because when they combine they both surrender their originality to the
fertilised egg. They both play the same role in the creation of a living being
and are both lost and surpassed in the process which signifies that,
considering the biology, they are both equal in their primary objective of
producing life.

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Regarding another important aspect of
biology, is the subject of the human body. It is evident that the male body is
larger and much stronger, the male is also more inclined to have a more
independent life and be more open to adventures, in general it is he who directs
power. A woman is more fragile and more inclined to pain and danger which makes
her different from the male. However, the two sexes have different obligations
to fulfil in the world. The woman goes from puberty to menopause having
incredible changes in her body. The Anglo-Saxons used to link the word ‘curse’
with menstruation since the woman goes through painful unnecessary changes in
her body every month.  Her body becomes
physically agonizing and she has to go through hormone fluctuations that
irritate and disorder her inner core. Each month the body of the woman prepares
for the ‘expected’ child and then interrupts everything in a flow. Considering
also pregnancy and childbirth which is also painful and dangerous, in
unfortunate cases the female body cannot entirely support the birth of a child
which can lead to death of the infant or even the mother. Lastly once she
reaches her fifties, women must face another crucial state which is that of
menopause, it is called the inverse puberty and the woman can experience signs
such as high blood pressure and nervousness. Thus just like man, a woman has
her own body but this body is something other than what she is.4
These biological characteristics of the female, like puberty, pregnancy,
childbirth and menopause should not be neglected. The way we envision to ‘hold’
the world using our bodies as a tool can be interpreted in different manners
and we cannot base the ranking of sexes based on biological studies because
they do not provide for her an established and certain destiny. Heidegger,
Sartre and Merleau-Ponty believed that the body was the tool needed to seize
the world and also a restriction for our plans. Undoubtedly, woman is
physically weaker, she does not have the same strength capacity as man, her
lungs are not as firm, she will not perform as well as man in sports and she
cannot overtake a man during a fight. Her fragility and weakness are limiting
her chances of ‘holding’ the world the way she imagines, thus her opportunities
in this world are restrained. Equality is therefore difficult to be achieved if
we only consider the body as a physical representation completely ignoring
changes the female body goes through. However, Hilary Rose comes to turn this
point around saying that woman’s competence of caring makes female corporal
activity, like menstruation, more tolerable and burdensome.5
She wants to imply that woman was made in such a way that she can handle the
adjustments happening to her in a tolerable way.

1 Beauvoir,
S. (1949). The second sex.

 

2
https://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n03/toril-moi/the-adulteress-wife

3
Hegel, G. (2015). Hegel’s Philosophy of
Nature. Taylor and Francis.

4
Merleau-Ponty,
M. (1945). Phénoménologie de la
perception.

5
Rose, H. (1983). ‘Hand, Brain, and Heart: A Feminist Epistemology for the Natural

Sciences’.
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 9, no. 1, 73-90