Male or Female?

In the opening pages of Dawn, one of Lilith’s initial questions posed to the alien is whether he is male or female.  As per the norms of our society, we typically gender someone upon meeting them.  We look at their physical appearance- their clothing, facial hair, and such- in order to assess whether we have just met a woman or a man.  If the person is more androgynous, and we are unable to fit them into one of these categories and the social interaction can leave one feeling awkward.

In Dawn, the alien claims that he is not a sex that she is familiar with, but he is male.  Lilith’s first reaction is of relief.  She can now think of him as a “he” rather than an “It”.  “Less awkward.” She automatically assumes that because his sex is male, he genders himself as male.  That he uses the pronoun “he”.  This assumption, while a habit for most of us, does not always hold up.

Fairly recently, our society has separated the ideas of sex and gender.  Sex is the biological aspect.  You are biologically male if you have a Y chromosome.  That’s the only requirement.  You can have genetic abnormalities where you have two X’s as well, but that one Y dictates that you are biologically and physiologically male.  However, from a perspective of gender, the distinction between men and women blur.  Gender is a sociological construction.  It is dictated by the norms of our society.  You can be biologically male, but you can gender yourself as female, playing the role and following the societal norms for women.  Gender is deeply affected by time and place.  Biological notion of sex transcends all cultures, but the idea of gender norms do not.

Gender has two parts, gender identify (how you identify yourself within your own mind) and gender expression (how you portray this identification to society).

In the minds of the majority of society, there are only two options for gender.  Male and female.  Circling back to the discussion of how our society engrains the ideas of opposites in us (whats the opposite of a dog? most likely, the first response will be cat), females as seen as the opposites to males.  And this  opposition needs to be deconstructed.  The boundary is already showing leaks.  For many, the binary system of male and female doesn’t describe who they are, who they identify as, or who they express themselves to be.  New terms have been made for those who do not identify with one or the other (Agender, Trans, Transgender, Third Gender etc.) but is only one step.  The notion that new terms are necessary does acknowledge the separation, but does not take action towards integrating the binary into one entity (a cyborg- if you will).  It only further distinguishes the binary and isolate those that do not fall into place as either male or female.

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