Article

Sex and Gender

Joan C. Chrisler and Alexandra Nobel

in Psychology

ISBN: 9780199828340
Published online November 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0054
Sex and Gender

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Sex and gender are fundamental to the understanding of human behavior. Perhaps the first thing people notice when they are introduced to someone new to them is that person’s sex. From an evolutionary perspective, sex is so important to humans because it signals whether or not other people are potential mates. However, sex (i.e., biological aspects of physical bodies) is generally associated with gender (i.e., personality and behavior styles). From a social psychological perspective, gender is important because it is one of the variables that signals a person’s social status. People also rely on what they know about gender roles and stereotypes to make assumptions about how others will act; what their abilities, interests, and preferences might be; and what roles are most important to them. The assumption that women and men are very different from each other is built into the metaphors we use in our everyday language. The ubiquitous phrase “opposite sex” suggests that whatever men are (e.g., strong, aggressive), women are not (i.e., weak, passive); whatever women are (e.g., kind, gentle), men are not (i.e., mean, rough). Bestselling books such as John Gray’s Mars/Venus series and Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand suggest that women and men are alien species who cannot even communicate with each other. The search for sex differences has a long history in psychology, but recent research shows far fewer (and generally smaller) differences than were reported in the past. Societal changes caused by the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s–1970s have resulted in greater educational, athletic, and economic opportunity for girls and women. Gender roles have become less strict over time, although men and boys have changed less than women and girls have. The gay rights movement has resulted in changes in social attitudes and cultural portrayals of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people, and this has also contributed to changes in gender roles. In fact, transpeople and intersexuals have demonstrated the possibility that sex and gender can be separated in daily life, that people can choose their gender, and, in some cases, their sex as well. Changes in culture and society mean that the psychological study of sex and gender is a vibrant, active research area that crosses all subdisciplines in psychology. Researchers who specialize in the psychology of women; the psychology of men and masculinity; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) psychology all contribute to our understanding of sex and gender. Much of the work in this area is conducted from a feminist perspective because feminist psychologists interested in the psychology of women were the primary founders of the study of gender as we know it today.

Article.  11934 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology ; Developmental Psychology ; Health Psychology ; History and Systems in Psychology ; Educational Psychology ; Social Psychology

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