Sex and gender roles are the anticipated behavior patterns that one acquires with regards to his/her sex. They vary across cultures, time, geographic location, society and politics. Individuals get accustomed to various social categories and gender roles through interaction and socialization. The pressure to fulfill these socially expected gender roles are harmful because people are demanded to live lives not of their choosing.
Why Socially Expected Gender Roles are Potentially Harmful
West and Zimmer initially introduced the idea of gender as an accomplishment, rather not as a social role, trait or societal representation. According to the sociologists, gender is a product of the everyday social behaviors and practices manifest and codify femininity of masculinity. Basically, the product is an end product of social structures which are intended to strengthen them. The "doing" of gender legitimizes social structures therefore, establishing the male and female dichotomy as natural (West & Zimmer, 1987 p. 137).
Traditionally, the perceptions of gender view man and woman as unequivocal and natural groupings. Evidently, these alleged principal distinctions amid sexes are strengthened by the division of labor illustrated by the behaviors of male and female. These have great social and psychological repercussions. According to the two sociologists, gender is established and displayed through interaction. While the same seems natural, it is an issue that is generated by a structured social performance (West & Zimmer, 1987 p. 137).
The fundamental nature of viewing nature as an accomplishment is abstracted inherent for features and traits to something which is sovereign on social contexts and interactions. Besides, gender is a result of the society’s institutionalized functions (West & Zimmer, 1987 p. 137-138). In essence, it is the individuals who are doing gender. However, they do it in imagined or actual presence of others.
West and Zimmerman use the terms gender, sex, and sex categories in a unique way. They have replaced traditional sex and gender difference with a triadic division of three notions. According to them, gender is a response and consequence of an accomplishment in definite circumstances, as resolute by normative and conventional expectations with regards to an individual’s assignment of sex category. Sex category on the other hand is a classification which is based on socially requisite indemnificatory displays that declare an individual’s masculinity of femininity. Sex classifications infer sex. However, they are not essentially resolute by it. Lastly, sex is a resolution which is based on conventional biological decisive factor distinguishing female from male (1987 p. 139).
Individuals are recognized based on their physical characteristics, implying that they need to be fit in a specific sex category. When persons fail to fit into a certain category or accomplish their gender roles, then issues crop up. This is based on the fact that individuals believe that a particular gender is essential in categorizing one as human. This has made most transsexual and intersexual persons to reconstruct their bodies in order to be categorized either as male or female. However, Butler undermines this believe and argues that gender is a diverse kind of identity. She affirms that“Justice not only or exclusively is a matter of how persons are treated, how societies are constitute, but also emerges in quite consequential decisions about what a person is, what social norms must be honored and expressed for personhood to become allocated, how we do or do not recognize animate others as persons depending on whether or not we recognize a certain norm manifested in and by the body of that other” (Butler, 2001 p. 140). Basically, the measure used to judge an individual as being gendered is one that portrays rational gender as a conjecture of humanness. According to Butler, it justly or unjustly preside over the ability to recognize the human, as well as informing the ways we certainly not or recognize ourselves at the point of desire, feeling and body when standing before the mirror, the window or when one has visited a psychiatrist, psychologists, the legal and medical experts to deliberate what it would feel like not recognizing one’s gender and consequently one’s personhood (140).
As pointed out by Butler, in discussions of transsexuality and intersexuality, there is the use of sharp machines and technology of knife (2001 p. 141). If John’s case is a fable or has such implications, then it appears to be the spot where discussions on transsexuality and intersexuality unite. The body turns out to be a point of indication for an account that does not concern the body. However, that takes hold of the body, to induct an allegory that cross-examines the restrictions of the imaginably human. That which is not conceivable is envisaged over and over through allegory means. Butler shows that the public media employed John’s case to provide evidence that masculinity and femininity may be changed, as these are just cultural terms that lack internal destiny or a fixed meaning (Butler, 2001 p. 140). The case is also cited by Kate Millett and she argues that biology is not destiny (139).
According to the initiator and director of the Intersex Society of North America, Chase, even if a child ought to be provided with a sex role with the intention of setting up a firm social identity, the society should not take part in coercive surgery with an aim of reconstructing the body to reflect the gender required (Butler, 2001 p. 140). Such alterations, in addition to violating the child, back the perception that gender needs to be backed up in normative and singular approaches at the point of sovereignty. Butler argues that gender is a diverse kind of identity, and its linkage to sovereignty is multifaceted (140). Once children grow up, they may opt for surgical intervention in order to change gender. This is a justified decision since it is founded on one’s choice. Without a doubt, current study has confirmed that the operations to change gender have been executed when children are extremely young to offer their consent, and without the consent of the parents. Besides, when they become of age, such truths are hidden from them and this becomes traumatizing when they learn of it later in time. These operations, which are performed with an aim of ‘looking normal’ leaves bodies with mutilations and then illogically restructured. Medical practitioners campaign for such operations by arguing that children would be abnormal if they fail to go through surgery, in spite of the fact that the operation might deny them sexual pleasure and sexual function (Butler 140).
Walker’s article talks about Bruce Reimer, born in 1965, who went through a bungled circumcision at the age of eight months. The practice saw the largest part of his penis being burned off, a condition that could not be restored through reconstructive surgery as it was deemed too primitive (Walker, 2004 par 2). It is Reimer’s condition that made his parents agree to have him totally castrated, thus changing his gender. Certainly, Reiner was too young to make consent regarding the operation and his parents were only persuaded by the medical practitioner to do so. This act can be linked to Butler claim that persons are not recognized as people except when they are initially placed at a strict gender category, a weakness that makes transgender and intersexual persons to be ill-treated in both in the medical institutions and in society. The society according to Butler should not take part in coercive surgery with an aim of reconstructing the body to reflect the gender required (2001 p. 140).
The parents decision to change their son’s gender was potentially harmful on his later life. This can be evidenced by the fact that right from the beginning, Brenda, as she was referred to after the operation, resisted being categorized as a girl. It is evident that her first time she wore a dress she attempted to tear it off. She valued the toys of her brother more than her own. She had a toy sewing machine which she never touched and which she dismantled to see what comprised it. Brenda got herself into fights, was adamant of peeing while squatting and got herself into problems at school. As a result the other children recognized her as not part of an ordinary sexual classification. By her tenth birthday she was insisting that when she grows up she would want to marry a female and not a male (Walker, 2004 par 7). Current study has confirmed that the operations to change gender have been executed when children are extremely young to offer their consent as indicated in this case (Butler, 2001 p. 140).
After going through all the surgeries and became a man as he wished, David Remier choose to end his life (Walker, 2004 par 13). He was faced by a number of depressing events such as losing his job, his investment failed, the marriage broke up, and he lost his brother. In spite of these difficult circumstances, his death is linked to the ‘therapeutic’ abuse he went through. “It figured heavily, after all, in almost everything else that happened in his life” (par 13).
Gender as defined by sociologists is a product of the everyday social behaviors and practices manifest and codify femininity of masculinity. This paper has encompassed a deliberation of the claim socially expected gender roles are potentially harmful. This has been achieved using the writings of Judith Butler "Doing Justice to Someone", West and Zimmerman "Doing gender", and Walker "The Death of David Reimer". West and Zimmer initially introduced the idea of gender as an accomplishment, rather not as a social role, trait or societal representation. Butler, in his discussions of transsexuality and intersexuality, there is the use of sharp machines and technology of knife, and it appears that the body of John (a character in his story) is the spot where discussions on transsexuality and intersexuality unite. He also claims that persons are not recognized as people except when they are initially placed at a strict gender category, a weakness that makes transgender and intersexual persons to be ill-treated in both in the medical institutions and in society. this can be evidenced by Walker’s article which talks about Bruce Reimer who underwent bungled circumcision at the age of eight months and lost his penis thus changing his gender.