Topic: Politics & GovernmentGovernment

Last updated: February 6, 2019

Pamela Manarang, SOC 224, Short Paper 1, Prompt 2
Sex is a person’s physical or anatomical characteristic, such as penis, breasts, vagina, etc. Gender does not have a foundation in science, however, it is based on societal constructions. This binary classification puts those who do not identify their gender with their marked sex to be an outcast to the societal norm. The conventional notion of the male/female binary is argued when it comes to the intersex community, in which Georgiann Davis argues that terminology of DSD (disorder of sex development) affects a person’s life as an intersex individual at an institutional, individual, and interactional level. She frames her analysis by using Barbara Risman’s gender structure theory, in which she argues that gender should be conceptualized as a societal structure. Davis then discusses how intersex is seen as a problem because it disrupts the traditional gender order that the two-sex system “constrain all of us” (Davis 2015, p.43).

Intersex is a term that is used for people who are born with a sex characteristic(s) that does not fit with the societal definition of the female and male bodies. For example, someone who is intersex might be born to have a physical appearance of a male but has a female anatomy, and vice versa. Although the word intersex is an umbrella term, there is a variety of this condition that people have, such as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, where a person who is genetically male is resistant to the male androgen hormone,therefore, having some or all of the physical appearance of woman.
Furthermore, the ideology that sex and gender are natural binaries only affects intersex people negatively. Davis argues that the DSD terminology has “heightened tension within the intersex community” (2015:2). While some embrace the terminology, others see it as offensive because of the association with disorder, implying that it is abnormal to have an intersex trait. This terminology, she argues, can be very problematic in terms of medical care. Davis uses Barbara Risman’s gender structure theory to explain the argument that if gender weren’t tied to bodies and identities, intersex wouldn’t be as problematic. She explains this by exploring it at the individual, interactional, and institutional level, which are all influenced by gender. Risman (2004) argues that the relationship between these levels creates gender inequality in society.
In the individual level, Davis focuses on the biological citizenship at the level of the self (p.21). In other words, she discusses the relationship between terminology and intersex individuals’ choice to use biomedical language to describe or identify themselves. Individuals who accept the language as a disorder tend to hold the idea that gender is biological. This can, however, endanger intersex people from medical professionals to justify medically unnecessary procedures which in turn perpetuates the idea more. Those who reject the language tend to think their trait is not abnormal. Those who accept nor reject DSD as an identifier is helpful in creating terminology that is flexible and preferred within the community. Davis points out that these terminological necessities are socially constructed phenomena.
Additionally, in the interactional level, she explores how the medical field presents intersex trait to parents of intersex children and how parents react to the voices of medical professionals. She argues the misinformation that are given to parents about the condition is seen as a medical emergency, something that is in dire need to be fixed because of future complications. This information is continuing that mindset of the sex to gender system. Medically unnecessary surgeries only affect the children in later development (psychologically and physically).
Lastly, Davis focuses on social movement within the intersex community to discuss the institutional level of gender. By doing so, she labels the movement and transformation of rights as “collective confrontation to contested collaboration” (p.19). Organizations, activists, as well as internet usage allows people to be informed about the intersex community. The more it is being talked about, the more people are being informed of the stigma the intersex community faces. Furthermore, it challenges the medical field on how to approach intersexuality, whether it be by changing the terminology or how to better inform parents and intersex individuals. She calls this “collective confrontation”. She then labels “contested collaboration” as a means to explain how the DSD terminology that is being used in the medical field is so quick to use such a term that creates a hostile environment between them and the intersex community. If there is tension between both parties, how can collaboration work?
Binary understandings of gender are used as a primary cultural frame by “doing gender” (West and Zimmerman 1987). In other words, we act the way our gender should act. As sex is biological, gender is societal. Ridgeway (2009) argues that gender acts as a background identity that govern our behavior and that gender stereotypes are hegemonic beliefs. For example, she notes it has been institutionalized in social media, where it has an immense power in how people think and behave (p.150). This reliance on the gender frame seems to be normal since we are accustomed to following the “rules”. We have sex-segregated facilities such as bathrooms, we use it in government-issued IDs, and when assigning gender to colors. There is also an intersectionality between race and gender. Ridgeway points out that the gender beliefs are majorly representative of white, middle-class heterosexuals (p.150). Assertive females are seen as too aggressive, while assertive men are seen as confident. However, a black woman is stereotyped as assertive and confident while a white woman who shows these traits are seen as domineering (Purdie-Vaughns and Eibach, 2008). Not only are they not “doing gender”, their race also shapes this social construct.
Purdie-Vaughns, V. and Eibach, R. (2008). Intersectional Invisibility: The Distinctive
Disadvantages of Multiple Subordinate-Group Identities. online SpringerLink.

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Sep. 2018.

Ridgeway, Cecilia L. 2009. “Framed before we Know it: How Gender Shapes Social Relations.” Gender ; Society 23(2):145-160 ( doi: 10.1177/0891243208330313.

Risman, Barbara J. 2004. “Gender as a Social Structure: Theory Wrestling with Activism.” Gender ; Society 18(4):429-450 ( doi: 10.1177/0891243204265349.

West, Candace, and Don H. Zimmerman. 1987. “Doing Gender.” Gender and Society 1(2):125-151 (


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