Gender, Reproduction, Sex

Subject: Gender, Reproduction, Sex
From: TheCallan (
Date: Thu 30 Apr 1998 - 17:52:45 BST

Michael has made the point that gender and sex are conflated.

I look at this a bit differently. I believe that gender roles are connected to
reproductive roles, which are connected to sex. It is reproduction and child
rearing that a culture is concerned with, not sexual relations per se. That's
why conservative leaders speak of family values, values that engender
effective families.

Why this concern with reproduction and child rearing? There are lots of
reasons. A culture, a family, even a churches future depends on the next
generation. More people means more power, more resources, more clout. The
costs of unconsidered children are high -- children born out of wedlock, or
who don't have a stable environment to grow up in. A culture, any culture,
must be concerned with how many children are born and the stability of the
homes these children are born into, because this defines the culture in many

For me, looking at gender rules in the context of this reproduction and
rearing of children seems to make sense. In Japan, for example, women have
four distinct gender roles --- child, a girl who finds a partner, a mother who
keeps a home and raises children, and a grandmother who has more freedom.
Girls are sexually desirable, mothers are stable, and so on. There is of
course overlap in these roles, but they show the woman going though the
process of being a responsible and valuable person who reproduces in culture.

The Roman Catholic church holds Mary up as the ideal woman, a mother who
played her role in bringing new life into the world. Men in the church were
required to stay married, not because of desire, but because they had an
obligation to their family, a role to play in the child rearing function.
Women got home and children, men got money and property, and together they
made a big family that honored God and expanded the power of the church. Even
today, the agrument made against homosexuality is that it is inherently non-
reproductive, therefore it is wrong.

Anthopologist Gilbert Herdt, in "Third Sex, Third Gender" notes that
historically and cross culturally, gender deviation occurs when reproductive
pressure comes off in a culture. When population pressure is high, breeding
is not as required, and society becomes more tolerant of sex and gender
practices that can be defined as sodomy, or non-reproductive sex.

We have a very heterosexist culture. Even into the 1950s, the pressure to
breed was paramount, and that breeding was facilitated by a distinct division
of people based on reproductive status, which is most easily told by genital
status. This separation was designed to facilitate the family, to control and
encourage reproduction and effective child rearing -- family values.

Not every culture is so simplistic or binary. There are ways in many cultures
for people who will probably not be mommy or daddy to play a part in the
social structure of the band/village by assuming another social role, be that
females acting as men, as in Albania, or be that people acting as berdache who
play a valued role that is not in a binary.

The asumptions in this culture that everybody has to be a good mommy or daddy
-- which the women's movement and the high divorce rate have eroded -- are not
based on sex, but on reproductive status in the community. If we could tell
physically at an early age that certain people who appeared anatomically
female could not bear children, or that certain people who appeared
anatomically male could not impregnate women, would we train these children to
expect to perform other roles? Would they have been accused of "tricking" men
into marrying them even though they were barren?

For me, the role of the parent and the gender role are linked. Our definition
of a good woman is a definition of what we think a good mother is, a good man
is what we think a good father is.

To me, gender roles is are about reproductive roles, and gendered
communication is designed to both express and constrain the information we
need to understand how people fit into that structure, how they act relative
to us. To me,. "Harper Valley PTA" was a song about a woman who transgressed
gender roles by "wearing her dresses too high" and her rage at people she
thought violated gender norms that enforced social order and still claimed
power in raising the town's children -- the PTA.

I know that many queer scholars, especially those who came up in a gay or
lesbian model, find my focus on reproductive roles, on the role of parents to
be off the mark. They see things as about sex, everything as about sex. I
just argue that as long as a man is a good father, it doesn't matter to
society if he gives blow jobs on the fishing trip with his buddies, but what
does matter is if he abandons his gender role of man/father and his family in
the process.

I believe that gender is not simply about phsyical sex, but rather about
societies desire to manage reproduction and child rearing.




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