Women/men, poses any difficulties. Nevertheless, if we assume that

   Women/men, female/male or
girl/boy. The discourse surrounding the difference and between men and women (gender)
and male and female (sex) and how to achieve equality has been one of the most controversial
issues since the beginning of civilisation. Perhaps, for most of the population
it is easy to implement to the terms and find their application unquestionable.
However, what if this easiness is really just an illusion. For example, does
being a woman necessarily mean that only the feminine side should dominate, or
if she dresses in a feminine way does it immediately indicate her
heterosexuality? In this essay, I will discuss that the terms of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’
are not interchangeable and how society has imposed on us the perception about
who we are today and the position we hold in it. It is something that affects
every one of us because, since the day we were born or even before our birth, a
label has been inserted on us by society that we are supposed to carry for the
rest of our lives and ‘obey’ to its rules. Considering the feminist
perspective, until today, the word woman and female are facing a lot of
judgment as to how they should act and ‘fulfil’ societies’ requirements and
ideas. The real questions thus should be what is a woman or more specifically
are you born or become a woman and lastly are men and women really that
different in achieving equality?

 

To
begin with, in order to progress further into the subject, it is important to
make the distinction between sex and gender. Normally we can easily identify
ourselves as males or females thus the ticking of the box in a questionnaire
with the options male or female hardly poses any difficulties. Nevertheless, if
we assume that we are all born either male or female the classification of sex
is affected by the interaction of the classification of a different term- that
of gender. Sex is referred to the individual’s reproductive system and primary
and secondary characteristics whereas gender is a socially constructed concept.1 Firstly, whether sex is
indicative or not is one of the main points we should clarify in order to understand
the extent of the sex in which the person is inclined to be. Simone de Beauvoir
through her astonishing book ‘The Second
Sex’ examines the reasons why women, even though they constitute half of
the population, have been positioned secondary in society behind men. Influenced by Jean Paul Sartre’s existentialism
who urged her into the realisation that she grew up as a girl in boy-made
world, Simone de Beauvoir became very interested into the matter that she gave
up projects to concentrate to this new revelation of hers.2 She begins with the phrase
‘Tota mulier in utero’  which means ‘woman is a womb’. This implies
that all females should identify themselves as women since they are supplied with
a uterus, but several women can disagree on that declaring that they do not
identify as women. Yes, women have ovaries and a uterus but this
distinctiveness traps her in her own subjectivity and slows down the evolution
of her nature by forbidding her to explore her limits. In the mind of a man the
words ovary and womb are enough in order to formulate a superficial definition
of what is a woman. It is clear that biology illustrates the distinction
between male and female however science cannot conclude this type of
differentiation just by the form of cells. The two gametes, the sperm and the
egg, cannot be used to assume that there are actually two types of sexes. We
cannot infer that there are two types of sexes basing it on the creation of two
gametes, the sperm and the egg. To be more precise a sperm and an egg can be
produced by a common singular entity like the hermaphroditic species.  For what is certain is that the achievement
of the continuation of life requires both gametes and its production is purely
coincidental. Nevertheless, the terms passive and active have been placed
amongst the two sexes by Hegel. He obviously classified the male as the active
since the female remains underdeveloped in her consensus.3 To elaborate more, even
though later on the egg has been acknowledged as active, the movement of the
sperm and the inactivity of the egg has been the main abstention for the egg to
be considered as passive by men. Nonetheless, by now we should add that neither
gamete can be seen as more inferior to the other because when they combine they
both surrender their originality to the fertilised egg. They both play the same
role in the creation of a living being and are both lost and surpassed in the
process which signifies that, considering the biology, they are both equal in
their primary objective of producing life.4 Therefore, touching the
angle of biology and more specifically the process of creation of life the two
sexes are equivalent in their purpose.

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   Regarding another important aspect of
biology, is the subject of the human body. It is evident that the male body is
larger and much stronger, the male is also more inclined to have a more
independent life and be more open to adventures, in general it is he who directs
power. A woman’s physique is weaker and feebler, physical suffering can easily
be inflicted on her which makes her more prone to vulnerability and insecurity.
However, the two sexes have different obligations to fulfil in the world. The
woman goes from puberty to menopause having incredible changes in her body. The
Anglo-Saxons used to link the word ‘curse’ with menstruation since the woman
goes through painful unnecessary changes in her body every month. Her body
becomes physically agonizing and she has to go through hormone fluctuations
that irritate and disorder her inner core. Each month the body of the woman
prepares for the ‘expected’ child and then interrupts everything in a flow. Considering
also pregnancy and childbirth which is also painful and dangerous, in
unfortunate cases the female body cannot entirely support the birth of a child
which can lead to death of the infant or even the mother. Lastly once she
reaches her fifties, women must face another crucial state which is that of
menopause, it is called the inverse puberty and the woman can experience signs
such as high blood pressure and nervousness. Therefore the body of a woman is
not just her tool for survival, like the male body, but it is something more
than that, a sacred anatomy that has the ability to bring life into the world
but also cause disruption and chaos in her everyday life.5 These biological
characteristics of the female, like puberty, pregnancy, childbirth and
menopause should not be neglected. A woman should be valued as much as a man
since the physical and psychological changes, or even trauma, she goes through can
affect the flow of her balance and turn her world upside down. In the end she
manages to control this imbalance of things because of her stamina persistence and
patience. She doesn’t feel the need to prove to anyone, especially men, that
she can make it on her own in this society so she stays humble and discreet of her
actions something that deceives men into believing that since she is not
capable of demonstrating her ‘fight’ openly she is automatically being
neglected as a secondary entity.6 Hilary Rose through her
journal writes that during the beginning of the eighties more women were
entering the d  comes to turn this point
around saying that woman’s competence of caring makes female corporal activity,
like menstruation, more tolerable and burdensome.7 She wants to imply that
woman was made in such a way that she can handle the adjustments happening to
her in a tolerable way. Nevertheless, the internal and constant battle a woman experiences
within herself in order to endure and remain relevant in civilisation should be
acknowledged in order to achieve the so called equality within the two sexes.

The
way we envision to ‘hold’ the world using our bodies as a tool can be
interpreted in different manners and we cannot base the ranking of sexes based
on biological studies because they do not provide for her an established and
certain destiny. Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty believed that the body was
the tool needed to seize the world and also a restriction for our plans.
Undoubtedly, woman is physically weaker, she does not have the same strength
capacity as man, her lungs are not as firm, she will not perform as well as man
in sports and she cannot overtake a man during a fight. Her fragility and
weakness are limiting her chances of ‘holding’ the world the way she imagines,
thus her opportunities in this world are restrained. Equality is therefore difficult
to be achieved if we only consider the body as a physical representation and completely
ignoring changes the female body goes through.

   

   Scholars
like Shulamith Firestone and Alison Jagger have also emphasized the increased power
of the male dominance in our society. Through their works ‘The Dialect of Sex’ and ‘Feminist
Ethics’ respectively, they try to highlight the reasons we perceive the
male sex as superior of the two sexes. Firestone commences her reasoning by
saying that the male domination in our society and social problems such as
racism are established through this division of the two sexes. This sexual lack
of balance is a state that has been implanted in our world before the beginning
of time of the animal kingdom. Unlike Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Firestone
has a more dialectical approach and she disagrees with their propositions
saying that they were unsuccessful to taking into account the basis of the historical
dialectic. Shulamith Firestone contradicts Engels by affirming that biology is
the one to blame for male domination. It doesn’t matter whether the society is
governed by women or men, women and children, as they grow, will always depend
upon the father or the male to provide support for the family. Thus she implies
the concept of male domination has been the outcome of the ‘biological family’.
Moreover, a male is also required to give support to the woman during her pregnancy
hence making him the dominant sex. Firestone wants to put an end to this ‘biological
family’ saying that as reproduction is taken by technology women will be able to
escape this oppression of the male. Firestone also adds that men are incapable
of love, because of the Oedipus complex and the prohibition of inbreeding, in
consequence intercourse will still exist between the two sexes in order for
women to give to men the necessary love they don’t receive from the world and
provide them with emotional identity and encourage cultural creativity. Men
downgrade and demote women they make love to in order to avoid an association with
the mother which is the primary prohibited love commodity. Sexual attraction
thus omits the respect and appreciation of men towards women.8
Consequently, according to the arguments of Firestone, there is a contradiction
between sex and biology and  to achieve
equality the perception that men have of women needs to be moderated. Moving on
to Alison Jaggar and her book ‘Feminist
Ethics’ which come to contradict Firestone
implying that a correlation between biology indeed exists and that society can
actually change biology. In five ways she explains that established beliefs are
the cause of the negligence of woman.