Unpopular Opinion: “Gender” produces “Sex”

She addresses the issue that there are people who are born outside these sex binaries which most people do not recognize.

Anne Fausto Sterling’s in her work has talked about the misinterpretation of the binary of the two sexes- male and female. She addresses the issue that there are people who are born outside these sex binaries which most people do not recognise. She argues that instead of the two sexes, male and female, five sexes should be accepted which include male, female, herms, merms, and ferms. She states that medical investigators have recognized the concept of inter-sexual bodies but the standards that medical literature uses are such that it uses the term “Intersex” to encompass the other three sexes. She describes “Hermaphrodites” or herms as the children that are born with both male and female characteristics. However, western culture is deeply committed to the idea of the two sexes. She manifests that after the coming of modernity in Europe, the other three sexes came to be looked upon as diseases and something which is not culturally intelligible. Language here plays an important role in refusing the possibilities of these intersex bodies. She holds the view that language constructs the world and it constructs the gender-sex binary in the other way. Nevertheless, this can be changed and that is the reason why the constructivist theory put forth the view that Gender produces sex.

American philosopher Judith Butler has also explained this problematic understanding of sexes in her works. In her writing, “The gender Trouble”, she elaborates the statement of Simone de Beauvoir that “one is not born a woman but one becomes a woman” and then, explains how gender produces sex. She puts forth the notion that gender is assigned at birth on the basis of the body having specific genitals. And in the case of intersex bodies too, intersex children are medically disciplined to retain the gender binary. The intersex bodies are disciplined in a manner that would fit the binary of male and female which Butler says is an example of how biology is being transformed by culture. Taking into consideration the statement of Simone, one becomes male or female which means that anyone can become masculine or feminine by learning and so, there is no assurance that a body marked male will acquire masculinity. There is a cultural discontinuity between the two. Thus, she says that there is a radical difference between sexed bodies and culturally constructed gender. She talks about the “Heterosexual matrix” which designates the grid of cultural intelligibility through which bodies, genders, and desires are naturalized. This hegemonic discursive model of gender intelligibility wants the differently sexed bodies to fit into the binary through a stable gender that is either being male or female. This is carried out through the compulsory practice of heterosexuality. In her text “Bodies that Matter”, she says that gender as a concept pre-exists the sexed bodies and that gender produces sex through repetitive practices of gender i.e. performativity. She states that gender performance is the repeated practice that continuously produces the binary model of sex in which each one of us has participated. Sexed bodies are forcibly made to match what the heterosexual matrix lays down as intelligible gender. And even in cases of inter-sexed bodies, they are still medically disciplined. This performative is still incomplete as we perform our gender every single day until the day we die and at no point in time is our gender identity too secure or too comfortable to let go of the performance. She concludes by saying that gender performance is what makes sexed bodies legible which explains the point- how gender produces sex.

In the Essay “Understanding Patriarchy”, Bell Hooks has talked about how gender roles are assigned to the sexed bodies right from birth so that they could fit into the binary of sexes and anything that does not fit in, attracts shame and is also criminalized. She says that girls are taught to behave in a certain manner, wear a particular type of clothes, talk in a certain way, play a particular type of game so that they could acquire the feminine, submissive, delicate characteristics that are what society associates with a girl or woman. Similarly, boys are taught to suppress all the other feelings except that of anger and rage so that they are taught how to be protective of the family and especially the females in the house. Even for boys violence is positive. She points out to this ideology by using the term “Politics of toys”. To elaborate further, I would present a small example. We as a habit gift our children things keeping in mind the social construct of gender. We gift our boys toy guns and cars and certain types of toys that are supposed to invoke violence. When they play with certain toys, we do not look at it in a wrong way- a 5 year old playing with a toy gun is always so fun to watch. But this way, we are supporting him to be a little less gentle and normalizing the fact that for him it is acceptable to be violent and he can be violent at times, and if not then he will be considered weak. Similarly, the way we dress our girls and make them play with dolls and utensils is about teaching them that this is how they are supposed to be and home is where they would be operating in the future. We want them to be gentle and also submissive to the men that surround them just for the sake of protection. This is how the politics of toys shape the way a boy and girl look at the world.

This is how the sexed bodies through performing gender every day follow the binary of sexes. Any single day a man decides to dress up in a way that the women are supposed to or a man does what women are considered to do, it puts a big question on his sexuality. In a similar manner, if a woman does not agree to being restricted in the sphere assigned to her by society, she is looked upon as a disobedient woman and is shamed in multiple ways. And as far as the other three sexes are concerned, they suffer discrimination, are disowned, and also punished just for the mere fact that they do not fall into place with the conservative binaries of the sexes that gender has created. To develop and evolve as a better society, we most certainly need to get rid of these binaries.


  1. Sterling, A., 1993. The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are not Enough. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/239657377_The_Five_Sexes_Why_Male_and_Female_are_not_Enough
  2. Butler, J., 1999. Gender trouble. New York: Routledge.https://www.britannica.com/topic/Gender-Trouble-Feminism-and-the-Subversion-of-Identity
  3. Butler, J., 1996. Bodies that matter. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bodies-That-Matter-On-the-Discursive-Limits-of-Sex
  4. Bell hooks, n.d. Understanding patriarchy.

Preeti Patil is a post graduate student of Politics with specialization in International Relations, at School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Born and brought up in Nagpur, Maharashtra Preeti has done BE in Electronics Engineering from Nagpur University. Preeti has a keen interest in International Relations and Diplomacy. Her research interests are Asian Studies, Feminist IR theory, Asian International Relations theory, Peace and Conflict Studies. She also aspires to join the Indian Foreign Services. Preeti has a passion for cooking and also enjoys reading books and writing poetry and short stories.

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