Karoumpalos Ioannis, Educator & Project Coordinator Cyclisis, Patras, yiannisk@cyclisis.gr

When we hear the word sex, we usually think of the division of the two sexes (male and female) according to their reproductive organs. Genetic factors determine the sex of a person. Men have 46 chromosomes containing X and Y, while women have 46 chromosomes containing 2 X’s. Equally, sex is also associated with the division of physical and physiological characteristics between the male and female sexes. These characteristics are also shown in the types or levels of hormones. In many people gender not only has a biological basis but also has a psychological role as many people are born with gender characteristics that both sexes have influenced. For example, some women are born with one Y chromosome and some men with two or three Xs. These individuals are called intersex and their sexual anatomy conflicts with the terms male or female. Therefore, gender is not only about biology but we have to look at it from other angles.

Human beings, as free beings, can determine their gender of their own free will. Gender identity is understood as the internal and individual way in which gender is perceived by individuals, which may or may not coincide with the gender determined at birth and includes the individual experience of the body. This may involve changes in body appearance or changes through pharmacology, surgery or other means if freely chosen. It also includes other gender expressions such as clothing, manner of speech and expression. Several anthropologists and sociologists question the existence of a dominant gender schema and oppose the ideological framework that supports the binary division into men and women.

In the context of feminist anthropology, gender is treated as a complex and politically charged category, which is shaped and reshaped in the context of social agreements and power. Judith Butler, in her work “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity,” points out that gender is not a fixed entity or biological truth, but is understood as a set of ongoing practices and performative discourses that sustain and reproduce different forms of identity and power. According to Butler’s approach, people’s actions, their performativity, are critical to the maintenance and reproduction of distinct genders. In this way, individuals construct alternative identities, create ruptures in the dominant principles of heteronormativity and subvert sanctioned regimes. Sex is not a natural condition, but a result of social gender. This is accomplished through the disintegration of the dichotomous distinction between social and biological sex. According to her theory, predestination is not determined by biology, but by culture. The biological expression of gender may function as a basic ideology, but social practices must transform gender differences into social reality. Butler (1993) expresses concerns and opposes the common view that the body is a perceived material entity, shaped by culturally specific ways and processes.

Gender is contested beyond its binary character, with a central argument arguing that the distinction between biological and social gender derives from the Western conception of nature and culture. Nature is seen as the original matter, while culture is seen as the end result. The challenge to this co-construction between biological and social gender stems from a broader challenge to this conception of nature and culture.


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  • (1993) Bodies that matter: on the discursive limits of ΄sex΄ (London: Routledge).
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