scilogs Gender is not sex(y)

The End of Gender?

16. August 2012, 12:59

Occasionally, feminist scholars have been imagining "a world beyond gender". 


I do not believe that such a world is possible, that gender can come to an end. So, although is coming to an end, this blog will continue to exist. From now on, my post can be found at:

Hope to see you all there! 

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Sexual Objectification

26. June 2012, 08:00

Do we need to get infuriated when Liz Hurley is called "hot" by New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key, or by anyone else for that matter? Quite a few people would dismiss such remarks as being completely innocent, but sexual remarks never are. Such remarks reduce people (mostly women but increasingly also men) to their bodies—bodies that exist for the sexual pleasure and use of others.
Coleen, famous because she is the wife of football star Wayne Rooney.
This has serious consequences because the felt experience of actively being sexualized leads to the internalization of this external perspective. So such remarks contribute to women's self-perception and self-understanding as a "sexual object". No less than 20 percent of all women have a strong tendency to this kind of self-objectification, which elicits many negative effects. A number of different scientific studies have shown that self-objectification has various negative psychological and physical consequences such as increased body shame, body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, and even decreased mathematical performances (to find out more, see the Youtube video below).


Furthermore, empirical research lends support for the assertion of philosopher Martha Nussbaum that 'objectifying women leads others to perceive them as less competent and less fully human.' Given that it doesn't take much for the negative consequences of objectification to bump in (merely focusing on a woman's appearance, for example, is already sufficient to induce objectification), such sexual remarks are clearly a much bigger problem than many people (mostly men) are willing to acknowledge.
So what can we do about it? First and foremost, we need to make people aware of this problem. Recent research shows for example that encouraging men to take objectified women's perspective (in order to avoid underestimating the negative impact women may be facing) may motivate them to refrain from further objectification. Awareness truly is the first step to change!

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Sex Differences in Risk-Taking

12. November 2010, 16:37

After reading the second part of my plog post 'On sex and gender', someone remarked to me that "the prosperity to take risks has been shown to have biological undepinnings". (I considered the case of risk-taking as an example to illustrate that the fact that we observe different behaviours, preferences, and so on, for females and males can be attributed to the fact that they often appear in different social situations.) That person was absolutely right in pointing that out. The propensity to take risks has indeed been linked to biological things (more precisely, to genetic variation [1-6], endogenous steroids [7], and testosterone [8-9*]).

Such findings do, however, not refute the claim that risk-taking is also linked with gender, or even that it is solely linked with gender. Although incorrect, people often assume that biological differences reflect only innate factors, whereas, in fact, biological measures are influenced by many additional factors, including behaviour and experience. Thus, there is no dispute between biological and socio-cultural causes. (I will certainly come back to this issue, but there is simply no such thing as a nature-nurture dichotomy [10*]. At the recent EMBL/EMBO Science and Society Conference 'The Difference between the Sexes', Anne Fausto-Sterling specifically addressed this topic but in fact all speakers endorsed and expressed this view—I will try to come back on some of the topics that were addressed at this conference as soon as possible). 

Numerous studies have shown that (some) women are more risk-averse than (some) men (e.g. [11-12], see [13] for an overview). There are, however, various problems associated with the bulk of this research, making it impossible to conclude for sure that there is indeed a (universal) sex difference in risk-taking; let alone, to conclude that there is such a sex difference because of (innate) biological differences between male and female human beings. 

Just like most research in the behavioural sciences in general [14-15] most studies on risk-taking have been conducted with (American) undergraduates. Taking undergraduates as behavioural representatives of Homo sapiens is, however, not good science [16]. A recent (but already influential) review [15*], provocatively entitled, "The Weirdest People in the World", convincingly warns against generalizing about human beings based upon findings from particular human populations (such as undergraduates). 

With regards to risk-taking, it appears that studies using undergraduates report greater sex differences in risk preferences compared to studies in which non-college adults are used (see [13]). Moreover, such results may have more to do with the fact that sex is confounded with more direct explanatory factors, such as exposure to opportunities [17]—sex is not consistently related to risk-taking [13, 17]. It has also been noted [18-19] that the claim that women are more risk-averse is not verified for managers and professionals; such women appear willing to take just as much risks as their male counterparts (e.g. [20-21]). 


Now, what is interesting is that many of the findings from research on sex differences in risk preferences can be explained by focussing on gender instead of sex [22*]. To be more precisely, by focussing on the fact that (at least in our contemporary society) risk-taking is associated with masculinity [23]; the willingness to take risks is an important component of prescriptive stereotypes about agentic, masculine behavior [24]. 

Firstly, the observation that sex differences in risk-taking have grown smaller over time [13] can arguably be explained by women's increased endorsement of masculine-stereotyped traits [25]. Identification with masculine-stereotyped traits tends to increase risk-taking – whether the individual is a man or a woman ([26], see also [27]). Secondly, the fact that people – both men and women – overestimate the risk preference of men [28-29]. As a result men are, for example, offered high-risk assets more often than are women [28, 30-31]—in this instance people's sex-category clearly functions as a stimulus variable. Thirdly, the fact that women take fewer risks in some tasks but not in others. More specifically, women take less risks when a task is perceived as typically male (and therefore, women are stereotypically expected to perform worse than men) while they do not take less risk than men in gender-neutral tasks or female tasks. It is well-documented that the activation of gender-based stereotypes can result in stereotyped task performances and preferences (e.g. [32], see [33*] for a detailed review of the effect of stereotype threat on performance). A very recent study [34] published in the October issue of Psychological Science shows how stereotype threat indeed affects financial decision making: In the absence of stereotype threat no sex difference was found; when gender was made salient, however, women became more risk-averse (while men became less so). 
[1] Cesarini, D., C. T. Dawes, M. Johannesson, P. Lichtenstein & B. Wallace (2009)Genetic Variation in Preferences for Giving and Risk Taking. Quarterly Journal of Economics 124 (2): 809–842
[2] Kreek, M. J., D. A. Nielsen, E. R. Butelman & K. S. Laforge (2005) Genetic influences on impulsivity, risk taking, stress responsivity and vulnerability to drug abuse and addiction. Nature Neuroscience 8 (11): 1450–1457
[3] Kuhnen, C. M. & J. Y. Chiao (2009) Genetic Determinants of Financial Risk Taking. PLoS ONE 4 (2): e4362 
[4] Roe, Brian E., M. R. Tilley, H. H. Gu, D. Q. Beversdorf, W. Sadee, T. C. Haab & A. C. Papp (2009) Financial and Psychological Risk Attitudes Associated with Two Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms in the Nicotine Receptor (CHRNA4) Gene. PLoS ONE 4 (8): e6704
[5] Zhong, S., S. H. Chew, E. Set, J. Zhang, H. Xue, P. C. Sham, R. P. Ebstein & S. Israel (2009) The Heritability of Attitude Toward Economic Risk. Twin Research and Human Genetics 12 (1): 103–107
[6] Zyphur, M. J., J. Narayanan, R. D. Arvey & G. J. Alexander (2009) The genetics of economic risk preferences. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 22 (4): 367–377
[7] Coates, J. M. & J. Herbert (2008) Endogenous steroids and financial risk taking on a London trading floor. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 105(16): 6167–6172
[8] Apicella, C. L., A. Dreber, B. Campbell, P. B. Gray, M. Hoffman & A. C. Little (2008) Testosterone and financial risk preferences. Evolution and Human Behavior 29 (6): 384–390 
[9] Sapienza, P., L. Zingales & D. Maestripieri (2009) Gender differences in financial risk aversion and career choices are affected by testosterone. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 106 (36): 15268–15273
This study has been heavily criticized by Joel and Tarrasch (2010) for not providing evidence to support its conclusions.
Joel, D. & R. Tarrasch (2010) The risk of a wrong conclusion: On testosterone and gender differences in risk aversion and career choices. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 107 (5): 19
[10] This has been acknowledged by many authors such as Philip J. Corr, Diane Halpern, Shu-Chen Li, Gerald E. McClearn, Eric Turkheimer, and many others. There can be no nature without nurture; and vice versa.
[11] Fletschner, D., C. L. Anderson & A. Cullen (2010) Are Women as Likely to Take Risks and Compete? Behavioural Findings from Central Vietnam. Journal of Development Studies 46 (8): 1459–1479.
[12] Jianakoplos, N. A. & A. Bernasek (1998) Are Women More Risk Averse? Economic Inquiry 36 (4): 620–630
[13] Byrnes, J. P., D. C. Miller & W. D. Schafer (1999) Gender Differences in Risk Taking: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin 125 (3): 367–383
[14] Peterson, R. A. (2001) On the Use of College Students in Social Science Research: Insights from a Second-Order Meta-Analysis. Journal of Consumer Research 28 (3): 450–461
[15] Henrich, J., S. J. Heine & A. Norenzayan (2010) The Weirdest People in the World? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33 (2/3): 61–135
This review received attention in both Science and Nature.
[16] Nettle, D. (2009) Beyond Nature versus Culture: Cultural variation as an evolved characteristic. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15 (2): 223–240
[17] Boyer, T. W. & J. P. Byrnes (2009) Adolescent risk-taking: Integrating personal, cognitive, and social aspects of judgment. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 30 (1): 23-33
[18] Basso, F. & O. Oullier (2009) When organization meets emotions, does the socio-relational framework fail? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32 (5): 391–392
[19] Croson, R. & U. Gneezy (2009) Gender Differences in Preferences. Journal of Economic Literature 47 (2): 448–474
[20] Atkinson, S. M., S. B. Baird & M. B. Frye (2003) Do Female Mutual Fund Managers Manage Differently? Journal of Financial Research 26 (1): 1–18.
[21] Master, R. & R. Meier (1988) Sex Differences and Risk Taking Propensity of Entrepreneurs. Journal of Small Business Management 26 (1): 31–35
[22] Most researchers have not been very interested in explaining observed sex differences in risk preferences. The existence of such differences is most of the time examined presumably because it would be of interest to the reader. 
[23] Wilson, M. & M. Daly (1985) Competitiveness, risk-taking, and violence: The young male syndrome. Ethnology and Sociobiology 6 (1): 59–73
[24] Prentice, D. A. & E. Carranza (2002) What Women and Men Should Be, Shouldn't Be, Are Allowed to Be, and Don't Have to Be: The Contents of Prescriptive Gender Stereotypes. Psychology of Women Quarterly 26 (4): 269–281
[25] Twenge, J. M. (1997) Changes in Masculine and Feminine Traits Over Time: A Meta-Analysis. Sex Roles 36 (5/6): 305–325
[26] Meier-Petzi K. & E. Penz (2008) Sex or gender? Expanding the sex-based view by introducing masculinity and femininity as predictors of financial risk taking. Journal of Economic Psychology 29 (2): 180–196 
[27] Raithel, J. (2003) Risikobezogenes Verhalten und Geschlechtsrollenorientierung im Jugendalter. Zeitschrift für Gesundheitspsychologie 11 (1): 21–28
[28] Roszkowski, M. J. & J. Grable (2005) Gender Stereotypes in Advisors' Clinical Judgments of Financial Risk Tolerance: Objects in the Mirror Are Closer than They Appear. The Journal of Behavioral Finance 6 (4): 181–191
[29] Siegrist, M., G. Cvetkovich & H. Gutscher (2002) Risk preference predictions and gender stereotypes. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 87 (1): 91–102 
[30] Eckel, C. C. & P. J. Grossman (2002) Sex Differences and Statistical Stereotyping in Attitudes toward Financial Risk. Evolution and Human Behavior 23 (4): 281–295
[31] Schubert, R., M. Brown, M. Gysler & H. W. Brachinger (1999) Gender and Economic Transactions - Financial Decision-Making: Are Women Really More Risk Averse? American Economic Review 89 (2): 381–385
[32] Spencer, S., C. Steele & D. Quinn (1999) Stereotype Threat and Women's Math Performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 35 (1): 4–28
[33] Wheeler, C. S. &R. E. Petty (2001) The Effects of Stereotype Activation on Behavior: A Review of Possible Mechanisms. Psychological Bulletin 127 (6): 797–825
The concept of 'stereotype threat' refers to being at risk of confirming (as self-characteristic) a negative stereotype about one's group. For further information, see also:
[34] Carr, P. & C. M. Steele (2010) Stereotype Threat Affects Financial Decision Making. Psychological Science 21 (10): 1411–1416

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On Sex and Gender (part 2)

16. October 2009, 10:00

As stated in part 1 of this blog post, "sex should not be used interchangeable with gender". In this second part, we quit sex and start doing gender.


The term gender became widespread after its adoption in the 1970s by feminist scholars as a way to refer to the social organization of the relationship between the sexes, as opposed to the socio-biological view that accounted differences between the sexes solely to biological roots [1-2]. Thus, gender refers to the idea that there are (apart from biological origins) cultural determinants in human behaviour. In short, gender refers to socially, culturally, or psychologically attributed differences between men and women. To be more precisely, gender is not about man/male versus woman/female, but about masculinity/maleness versus femininity/femaleness. Notwithstanding the fact that this seems like feminist nagging about linguistic futilities, this is an essential difference for two reasons. First, it hints to a more continuous classification than the simple man/woman-dichotomy. Second, it illustrates the dynamic nature of these differences: they are subject to change. Especially the latter is of paramount importance to understand why it is problematic to confound sex and gender. As we will further explain below, gender is not a 'constant', it is "a social interactional accomplishment" [3]. "Nothing is more clearer than that gender is a matter of learning and continuous 'work', rather than a simple extension of biologically given sexual difference" [4]. Thus, gender should be understood as something that one does rather than something that one is, like meant by the expression "doing gender" [3, 5, 17]. This draws our attention to the significance of context (i.e. situational and personnel aspects) and makes clear that gendered behaviours are variable according to the situation.


While sex is a biological category (see part 1), the categorization of people as male or female (sex categorization) is not a biological given, but a social decision: a social decision with tremendous consequences. In human societies, the sex of a baby is usually judged by the genital morphology at birth, the presence of a penis or vagina. Based on this judgment, the baby is categorized as being male or female, and, depending on its sex-category it is treated differently for the rest of his life [6].
There is a longstanding tradition, especially in psychology [7], to treat gender as a set of functional roles. According to this view, in a given social group or system, gender is the enactment of a well-learned set of perceived behavioural norms particularly associated with males or females (resulting from heredity and early socialization experiences). The development of these gender roles, primarily takes place in the family setting [8*], with parents passing on, both overtly and covertly, their own beliefs about gender [9-11]. And while parents do not always enforce gendered expectations for their children [12], as a whole, the literature documents definite parental tendencies toward gendered treatment of children [13]. Parents emphasize stereotypical behaviour in, for example, play-activities and household chores, and shape in this way the child's gender-stereotypical behaviour [12, 14*]. It would, however, be wrong to interpret gender as a simple enactment of roles. Human beings are not passive creatures that internalize anything and everything they encounter; at least to some degree they select their environmental inputs, including the parental inputs they attend to [11*]. Furthermore, children learn a range of different attitudes and behaviours, and they learn when one or the other type is appropriate to display (thus, the type of behaviours and attitudes displayed is dependent on social circumstances). It has convincingly been argued (see, e.g., [1, 15-16]) that one should not try to answer the question "What are the gender differences", but instead ask "What difference does gender make". That is, not to see gender as something that one is, but as a social interactional accomplishment, as something that one does [1-5]. What this in fact means, is that one should take context into account when trying to explain observed differences (e.g. different behaviours, preferences, or practices) between sex-categorized males and females. Such an analysis would not understand gender as a set of traits, nor as a variable, nor as a role, but as the product of social doings of some sort [5, 17].


Societies prescribe particular characteristics for males and females on the basis of assigned sex (e.g. men are - and should be - competitive, women are - and should be - nurturing). This has enormous impact since sex is one of the primary categories that define a person in a society [3].

In any encounter with other human beings, we categorize them in order to define what one must know about someone to render that someone sufficiently meaningful to relate to him or her. The categories used as the primary categories of person perception in a society are simple (so that they can be quickly applied as framing devices to virtually anyone in any situation), and small in number (around three) [18]. It cannot be a surprise that sex-category is virtually always one of a society's primary categories. Sex-category is a line of difference that is relevant to what matters the most for our genes: sexuality and reproduction. Moreover, sex category is highly visible. When we encounter others, much of our attention is directed towards the face. Faces capture a disproportionate amount of our attention compared to other visual stimuli [19] because the face conveys a great deal of socially relevant information. Even when additional cultural cues to sex (e.g. hairstyle, facial hair, clothing, or make-up) are not visually available, human beings are able to reliably interpret sex cues in human faces [20]. Thus, not surprisingly, we sex-categorize automatically and nearly immediately any specific person we encounter [21*]. The impact of this cannot be overestimated since our interactions with others are influenced by our initial perceptions of them. Social categorization has implications for stereotype activation. When we identify someone as being male or female, their sex-category functions as a stimulus variable [1]; it influences reality in the eye of the observer by priming gender stereotypes [3, 22*]. The mere categorization of a person into a social group activates associated stereotypes (i.e. stereotype activation) [23-24], which can influence social interaction (i.e. stereotype application) [25]. Stereotypical beliefs relate personal characteristics to sex (so that men are rather masculine and women rather feminine) and such stereotypes are not only descriptive in nature (i.e. what we think males and females are and do), but just as much prescriptive (i.e. what we think males and females should be and do) [26-27]. Gender stereotypes (e.g. boys are better at math than girls) our omnipresent in our contemporary societies, and are perpetuated throughout childhood and on into adolescence [28]. Moreover, given the omnipresence of sex-categorization, a person engaged in virtually any activity may be held accountable for performance of that activity as a woman or a man [5, 17]. Furthermore, since we all know these stereotypes as cultural knowledge (as, for example, in 'men are from Mars and women are from Venus') we must take them into account in our own behaviour [3]. Even if we personally do not endorse these gender stereotypes, we need to take them into account because we think that 'most people' endorse them and, thus, we think that we will be judged by them. Therefore, we always frame and are framed by gender (i.e. gender influences the way we see things) [29*]; other categorizations (e.g. employer) are nested in our prior understandings.


The degree to which a particular situation is framed by gender is, however, dependent on the interaction of this background gender frame with the situational context (in which there is always much more going on than just gender). Thus, the extent to which our behaviour is actually shaped by gender can vary from negligible to substantial depending on the nature of the particular situation and our own motives or interests. A person may manifest an attribute under particular conditions and not under other conditions (because the same behaviour may be interpreted differently in different settings). People may display gender congruent behaviour when situations demand it, and not in situations in which they are not subject to controls (i.e. when punishment for deviation is absent). Such situational dependency of sex-typed behaviour can not (solely) be explained by sex, but it can be explained by gender – women can be seen as unfeminine, but that does not make them 'unfemale'.

Thus, the fact that we observe different behaviours, preferences, and so on, for females and males can be attributed to the fact that they often appear in different social situations. Consider for example the case of risk taking. It is widely believed that women are more risk-averse than men [30-31], and, as a result, men are, for example, offered high risk assets more often than are women [31-32]. The difference in risk-aversion between males and females may, however, be an artefact. Risk-taking is related to self-perceived masculinity [33], and differences between males and females may have more to do with the fact that males are more often confronted or seek out risky situations than females [34] than with anything else. Note also that, the same social context may be experienced differently by males and females. Thus, it is naïve to believe that examining men and women in the same gender-skewed context places them in an identical social context [16]. It is, thus, perfectly compatible with this view that even among financial experts women sometimes appear to be more risk-averse than their male colleagues [35].


To sum up, gender is not some essential property of our selves (a trait, variable, or role), but something that we do. It is our social accomplishment of the socio-cultural prescribed essentialities of male and female nature. The influence of gender can vary from negligible to substantial, depending on the context. It is confusing and unnecessary to use the term sex in cases were one is clearly talking about gender (for example when describing the practice of  a woman to allow men, rather than other women, to light her cigarette, or the fact that contemporary Western societies have public bathrooms for 'ladies' and 'gentlemen'). It is just as foolish to use the term gender in cases were one should talk about sex (for example when you ask somebody if their baby is going to be a boy or a girl; see part 1).

Let me conclude by stressing the importance of gender in the shaping of social life. Laws, business codes, and informal norms promoting gender equality all are useful, but gender inequalities stay alive because unacknowledged status beliefs produce unequal outcomes in many situations [36]. Can things change? The existence of differences between males and females is often much smaller than assumed (see, e.g., [37]), and the magnitude of such differences can be erased or even reversed, depending on the context. Stereotypical gender beliefs are, however, not decreasing (let alone disappearing) [38]. Males as well as females can display masculine and feminine behaviour, the behaviour that actually is displayed by them gets however, in many occasions, biased in gendered directions. One of the most durable and consequential gender structures of industrial societies is the sex-segregation of occupations [39]. Some of the societies that have achieved the lowest levels of material inequality between men and women (e.g. the Scandinavian countries) have some of the most sex-segregated occupational structures of advanced industrial societies [39]. It is not hopeful to know that: (a) information about the stereotypical gender associated with occupations and roles is typically incorporated into people's mind immediately, and (b) such information is also difficult or impossible to suppress [40]. Nevertheless, the effects of gender can be downplayed by introducing additional status information (e.g. dressing professional, let people know she is a college graduate with a high-level job, use educated grammar and vocabulary, and the like) [41]. As long as a society is organized on the basis of gender differences, however, women cannot do much more than "helping them to forget that they are women".

Further reading

West, C. & D. H. Zimmerman (1987) Doing Gender. Gender & Society 1 (2): 125-151
Ridgeway, C. L. (2009) Framed Before We Know It: How Gender Shapes Social Relations. Gender & Society 23 (2): 145-160 
Unger, R. K. (1979) Toward a Redefinition of Sex and Gender. American Psychologist 34 (1): 1085-1094


[1] Unger, R. K. (1979) Toward a Redefinition of Sex and Gender. American Psychologist 34 (11): 1085-1094
[2] Unger, R. K. & M. Crawford (1993) Sex and Gender - The Troubled Relationship between Terms and Concepts. Psychological Science 4 (2): 122-124
[3] Ridgeway, C. L. (2009) Framed Before We Know It: How Gender Shapes Social Relations. Gender & Society 23 (2): 145-160
[4] Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and self-identity: self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity
[5] West, C. & D. H. Zimmerman (1987) Doing Gender. Gender & Society 1 (2): 125-151
[6] Becker et al. (2005) Strategies and Methods for Research on Sex Differences in Brain and Behavior. Endocrinology 146 (4): 1650-1673
[7] Stewart, A. & C. Mcdermott (2004) Gender in Psychology. Annual Review of Psychology 55: 519-544
[8] A surprising finding from quantitative genetics is that shared environments (i.e. being raised in the same family) contribute little to individual differences. This, however, does not imply that the family-level is not important in understanding the etiology of personality because heritability estimates probably underestimate the influence of shared environments due to its used methodology (i.e. based on twin and adoption studies it estimates variability – the heritability of being born with two eyes, although entirely genetic, would be computed as zero in a twin or adoption study since it is a characteristic that does not vary within the population studied).
Krueger, R. F. et al. (2008) The Heritability of Personality Is Not Always 50%: Gene-Environment Interactions and Correlations Between Personality and Parenting. Journal of Personality 76 (6) 1485-1522
Turkheimer, E. (2000) Three Laws of Behavior Genetics and What They Mean. Current Directions in Psychological Science 9 (5): 160-164
Perrin, A. J. & H. Lee (2007) The Undertheorized Environment: Sociological Theory and the Ontology of Behavioral Genetics. Sociological Perspectives 50 (2): 303-322
[9] Witt, S. D. (1997) Parental Influence on Children's Socialization to Gender Roles. Adolescence 32 (126): 253-260
[10] Tenenbaum, H. R. & C. Leaper (2002) Are Parents' Gender Schemas Related to Their Children’s Gender-Related Cognitions? A Meta-Analysis. Developmental Psychology 38 (4):  615-630
[11] Parenting variables have typically accounted for 20% to 50% of the variance in child outcomes.
Maccoby, E. E. (2000) Parenting and Its Effects on Children: On Reading and Misreading Behavior Genetics. Annual Review of Psychology 51: 1-28
[12] Lytton, H. & D. M. Romney (1991) Parents' Differential Socialization of Boys and Girls: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin 109 (2): 267-296
[13] Kane, E. W. (2006) "No Way My Boys Are Going to Be Like That!": Parents' responses to Children's Gender Nonconformity. Gender & Society 20 (2):  149-176
[14] Girls do, for example, more housework, and girls do more feminine chores like cooking while males do more masculine chores like household repairs
Raley, S. & S. Bianchi (2006) Sons, Daughters, and Family Processes: Does Gender of Children Matter? Annual Review of Sociology 32: 401-421
[15] Riger, S. (1992) Epistemological Debates, Feminist Voices: Science, Social Values, and the Study of Women. American Psychologist 47 (6): 730-740
[16] Yoder, J. D. & A. S. Kahn (2003) Making Gender Comparisons More Meaningful: A Call for More Attention to Social Context. Psychology of Women Quarterly 27 (4): 281-290
[17] West, C. & D. H. Zimmerman (2009) Accounting for Doing Gender. Gender & Society 23 (1): 112-122
[18] Brewer, M. & L. Lui (1989) The primacy of age and sex in the structure of person categories. Social Cognition 7 (3): 262-274
[19] Bindemann, M. et al. (2005) Faces retain attention. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 12 (6): 1048-1053
[20] de Waal, F. B. M. & J. J. Pokorny (2008) Faces and Behinds: Chimpanzee Sex Perception. Advanced Science Letters 1 (1): 99-103
[21] We do this not just in face-to-face encounters, but also over the Internet and even imaginatively.
[22] Stereotypes distinguish a particular group from other groups; they need not be negative or inaccurate.
Judd, C. M. & B. Park (1993) Definition and Assessment of Accuracy in Social Stereotypes. Psychological Review 100 (1): 109-128
[23] Bargh, J. & M. J. Ferguson (2000) Beyond Behaviorism: On the Automaticity of Higher Mental Processes. Psychological Bulletin 126 (6): 925-645
[24] Devine, P. G. (1989) Stereotypes and prejudice: Their automatic and controlled components. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56 (1): 5-18
[25] Kunda, Z. & S. J. Spencer (2003) When Do Stereotypes Come to Mind and When Do They Color Judgment? A Goal-Based Theoretical Framework for Stereotype Activation and Application. Psychological Bulletin 149 (4): 522-543
[26] Rudman, L. A. & J. E. Phelan (2008) Backlash effects for disconfirming gender stereotypes in organizations. Research in Organizational Behavior 28: 61-79
[27] Prentice, D. A. & E. Carranza (2002) What Women and Men Should Be, Shouldn't Be, Are Allowed to Be, and Don't Have to Be: The Contents of Prescriptive Gender Stereotypes. Psychology of Women Quarterly 26 (4): 269-281
[28] Martin, C. L., C. H. Wood & J. K. Little (1990) The Development of Gender Stereotype Components. Child Development 61 (6): 1891-1904
[29] The term framing refers to the phenomenon that arguments, data, and empirical observations are interpreted differently depending on the way they are presented.
Koehler, J. J. (1993) The Influence of Prior Beliefs on Scientific Judgments of Evidence Quality. Organizational behaviour and human decision processes 56 (1): 28-55
Kahneman, D. E. & A. Tversky (1979) Prospect theory: an analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica 47 (2): 263-291
Kahneman, D. E. & A. Tversky (1992) Advances in Prospect Theory: Cumulative Representation of Uncertainty. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 5 (4): 297-323
[30] Siegrist, M., G. Cvetkovich & H. Gutscher (2002) Risk preference predictions and gender stereotypes. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 87 (1): 91-102
[31] Roszkowski, M. J. & J. Grable (2005) Gender Stereotypes in Advisors' Clinical Judgments of Financial Risk Tolerance: Objects in the Mirror Are Closer than They Appear. The Journal of Behavioral Finance 6 (4): 181-191
[32] Eckel, C. C. & P. J. Grossman (2002) Sex Differences and Statistical Stereotyping in Attitudes toward Financial Risk. Evolution and Human Behavior 23 (4): 281-295
[33] Meier-Petzi K. & E. Penz (2008) Sex or gender? Expanding the sex-based view by introducing masculinity and femininity as predictors of financial risk taking. Journal of Economic Psychology 29 (2): 180-196
[34] Boyer, T. W. & J. P. Byrnes (2009) Adolescent risk-taking: Integrating personal, cognitive, and social aspects of judgment. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 30 (1): 23-33
[35] Olsen, R. A. & C. M. Cox (2001) The Influence of Gender on the Perception and Response to Investment Risk: The Case of Professional Investors. The Journal of Psychology and Financial Markets 2(1): 29-36
[36] Rashotte, L. S. & M. Webster Jr. (2005) Gender status beliefs. Social Science Research 34 (3): 618-633
[37] Hyde, J. S. (2005) The Gender Similarities Hypothesis. American Psychologist 60 (6): 581-592
[38] Lueptow, L. B., L. Garovich-Szabo & M. B. Lueptow (2001) Social Change and the Persistence of Sex Typing: 1974-1997. Social Forces 80 (1): 1-36
[39] Charles, M. & D. B. Grusky (2004) Occupational ghettos: The worldwide segregation of women and men. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press
[40] Oakhill, J., A. Garnham & D. Reynolds (2005) Immediate activation of stereotypical gender information. Memory and Cognition 33 (6): 972-983
[41] Webster, M. Jr. & L. S. Rashotte (2009) Fixed Roles and Situated Actions. Sex Roles 61 (5-6): 325-337

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On Sex and Gender (part 1)

04. September 2009, 10:30

I apologize for the long wait, but I was to busy with sex to be doing gender.

There were however some interesting things in the news lately, like South Africa's gold medal winner Caster Semenya, and Swedish parents who keep it a secret if their two-year-old is a boy or a girl.


Before discussing stories like these however, I think that it is necessary to start this blog with some explanation about what I understand under terms like 'sex', 'sex differences', 'gender', and 'gender differences'. Notwithstanding the fact that the word gender has become standard scientific jargon, most of the time, when someone uses the term gender he or she does not actually talk about gender. More often than not gender is just used as a simple synonym, perhaps a euphemism, for sex [1-2]. The terms sex and gender are, thus, most of the time used interchangeable [3] – and even if they are not, it is usually not clear what someone exactly means by them. This is, however, quite problematic since the term gender became widespread after the adoption in the 1970s by feminist scholars as a way of distinguishing 'socially constructed' aspects of male–female differences (gender) from 'biologically determined' aspects (sex). 


Human beings are, like all known living organisms, build up out of cells (something of a 100 trillion cells in the case of humans). Human cells have 23 pairs of chromosomes (on which our genes can be found). These chromosomes are transmitted to us by our parents (by the recombination of their sex cells, the gametes, which synthesises into a zygote). Unlike other types of cells these sex cells contain only 23 chromosomes, not 46. Thus, we receive 23 chromosomes from both of our parents. Twenty-two of these chromosomes are matching (homologous) autosomes; they are the same whether they come from our mother of our father. The 23rd chromosome, however, is the so-called sex chromosome and comes in two forms: X and Y. Although these sex chromosomes comprise only 5% of the genome (males and females are thus genetically quite similar) they have some major phenotypical consequences.

46 chromosomes. There are 23 pairs of chromosomes in the cells of the human body (except in the sex cells, where there are only 23 single chromosomes). Each chromosome is twisted with its partner, at the centre. Genes are identified by their location on the strand (p = upper half; q = bottom half), and their position on the strand. The 23rd chromosome is responsible for sex determination: the male Y is much smaller than the female X.

In humans (and most other mammals) one group of individuals has (few) large gametes and the other group has (many) small gametes. The group that has large gametes is conveniently called female and always passes true an X chromosome to their offspring, the group that has small gametes is conveniently called male and passes true an X or a Y chromosome to their offspring. The paternally contributed Y chromosome contains the sex-determining region of the Y (Sry) gene, which induces the undifferentiated gonads to form as testes (rather than ovaries), regardless of how many X chromosomes are present. The sex chromosomes differ in three main ways in the zygote: (1) only males have Y genes (very few genes are however Y-linked; the Y chromosome is small, it has only 60 million base pairs out of the total 3 or so billion of the entire human genome, and has approximately only 70 coding genes, 10 times less than the X chromosome), (2) females have two copy numbers of X genes (sex-specific effects of this kind are, however, largely eliminated by X-inactivation), and (3) females receive a parental X imprint that is lacking in males. Consequently, some traits are sex-limited (genes are only expressed in one sex), sex-linked (they appear more often in one sex; e.g. X-linked recessive traits appear far more commonly in males than in females since females possess two X chromosomes and males possess only one), and sex-influenced (these traits are not carried on the sex chromosomes, but their phenotypical expression depends on the interaction with the sex chromosomes [4]).
In normal development [5], genetic sex (XX vs. XY) goes hand in hand with other sex differences. A major consequence of chromosomal sex is the differentiation of the gonads. Females (XX) develop ovaries. Males (XY) on the other hand develop testes that secrete hormones that 'masculinise' the rest of the body. Foetuses of both sexes are exposed to both androgens (e.g. testosterone) and estrogens (e.g. estradiol) from their gonads as well as other sources, such as the adrenal gland, the placenta, and the maternal system. There are, however, dramatic differences in the amounts of various hormones produced by the testes vis-à-vis the ovaries. Adult males produce, for example, approximately 20 times more testosterone per day than adult females (on average, approximately 7 mg versus 0.35 mg). The differential hormone levels between genetic sex differentiated beings can be labelled 'hormonal sex'. 
Gonadal hormones are also essential to the sexual differentiation of the brain, mainly as a result of the testicular secretion of testosterone. The classic view of sex differences in the brain begins with differential development of the gonads. Testicularly derived testosterone and its neuronally aromatized end product, estradiol, impact on the development of the brain (organizational effect) and consequently behaviour, through endocrine actions in adulthood (activational effect). However, lately [6] this classic dogma of sexual differentiation has been nuanced since it has been found that the brain is also sexually differentiated as a direct result of chromosomal sex. Thus, genes on the sex chromosomes probably determine the sexually dimorphic phenotype of the brain in two ways: by acting on the gonads to induce sex differences in levels of gondola secretions that have sex-specific effects on the brain, and by acting in the brain itself to differentiate XX and XY brain cells. Since the sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place much earlier on in development (in between 6- and 7- week of pregnancy) than the sexual differentiation of the brain (starting in the second semester of pregnancy and becoming overt upon reaching adulthood), the sexual differentiation of the brain and the body may also be influenced independently of each other. Genetic sex and brain sex are, thus, not necessarily corresponding. Furthermore, the morphology of the brain may be sexually differentiated because of epigenetic mechanisms [7] Mouse data have shown that approximately 650 genes (~ 14% of all genes in this tissue) are expressed differentially in the brains of males and females, around half of which are expressed more highly in females and half of which are expressed more highly in males [8].

Cartoon male vs. female brain. Thousands of studies have reported sex differences in the brain in practically any parameter imaginable. Nevertheless, the brains of males and females are more similar than different, there are no big anatomical differences.


In discussing sex and sex differences, it should be noted that there is actually too much stress on sex differences (in academia and in popular culture and media). It is true that thousands of studies have documented sex differences in the brain in practically any parameter imaginable [9], but it has also been noted that the male and female brain are in large part the same, that they are more similar than different [10-11]. When an X gene is expressed at a higher level in females, it is not clear whether the sex difference has significant functional consequences [12]. Furthermore, there is the problem that we still know very little about the brain circuitry and how it controls behaviour (despite the progress in molecular and cellular biology) [13] and, thus, in most cases we do not understand how, or even whether, sex differences in brain morphology contributes to sex differences in behaviour [14]. Moreover, it may even be the case that sex differences in the brain precisely exist to prevent, rather than create psychological sex differences [15].


To conclude, sex is a biological category. Females have XX chromosomes, males XY. Normally this goes hand in hand with hormonal sex and brain sex differences. The relationship between sex and behaviour is much less clear, to say the least. It is confusing and unnecessary to use the term gender in cases were one is clearly talking about sex (for example when you ask somebody if their baby is going to be a boy or a girl, or when talking about rats). It is just as foolish to use the term sex in cases were one should talk about gender (for example when one is discussing baby names, or colours for baby clothing and shoes; more on this in part 2)

Much of the confound of sex and gender is probably due to the fact that much gendered behaviour is sex-correlated (but not sex-related), i.e. the behaviour is correlated with a person's sex because sex functions as a stimulus; the behaviour is, however, not caused by underlying biological processes [16]. It is a dreary thing that most of these things were already clear thirty years ago, but still it is true that "the major problem seems to be the use of sex differences as an explanatory rather than a descriptive term" [17].

As I will further explain in the second part of this blog-post, sex should not be used interchangeable with gender, and some things are 'sex differences' while other are 'gender differences'. The obvious differences in reproductive physiology (females ovulate on a periodic and regular basis, get pregnant, deliver, and lactate, and males do not) are sex differences. Woman's better sense of smell [18] is also a sex difference. The better scoring of males on mathematical tests and the differences in clothing style between men and women are, however, not.

Further reading

Jones, S. (2003) Y: The Descent of Men. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Morris, J. A., C. L. Joran & S. M. Breedlove (2004) Sexual differentiation of the vertebrate nervous system. Nature Neuroscience 7 (10): 1034-1039
Plomin, R. et al. (2001) Behavioral Genetics. New York: Worth.


[1] Haig, D. (2000) Of sex and gender. Nature Genetics 25 (4): 373
[2] Haig, D. (2004) Archives of Sexual Behavior 33 (2): 87-96
[3] Some (biological) things are uniquely addressed with the term sex (i.e. gender is never used as a synonym in these instances). This is the case when one refers to things such as sex chromosomes, sexual behaviour, sexual intercourse and related behaviour.
[4] The genetic influences that determine, for example, whether a person will have a high singing voice or a low one are autosomal, but the effects of the alleles are opposite in the two genders. The same allelic combination which produces a high soprano in a woman causes a male to be a low bass, and the combination that producers a high tenor in males produces a low contralto in female.
[5] Fausto-Sterling (1997) claimed that 1.7% of human births are 'intersex' (e.g. XXY), but according to Sax (2002) this is a gross exaggeration which resulted from a too broad definition. According to Sax (2002) intersex occurs in fewer than 2 out of every 10,000 births, making more than 99.98% of humans either male or female. Whatever the precise number may be, the product of normal chromosomal recombination is male or female.
Fausto-Sterling, A. (1997) Beyond Difference: A Biologist's Perspective. Journal of Social Issues 53 (2): 233-258
Sax, L. (2002) How Common is Intersex? A Response to Anne Fausto-Sterling. Journal of Sex Research 39 (3): 174-178
[6] See for example Arnold, A. P. & P. S. Burgoyne (2004) Are XX and XY brain cells intrinsically different? Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism 15 (1): 6-11
[7] Murray, E. K. et al. (2009) Epigenetic Control of Sexual Differentiation of the Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis. Endocrinology 150 (9): 4241-4247
[8] Yang, X. et al. (2006) Tissue-specific expression and regulation of sexually dimorphic genes in mice. Genome Research 16 (8): 995-1004
[9] Cahill, L. (2006) Why sex matters for neuroscience. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 7 (6): 477-484
[10] Hines, M. (2004) Brain Gender. Oxford: University Press.
[11] Halpern, D. F. (2000) Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities. London: Erlbaum.
[12] Arnold et al. (2004) Minireview: Sex Chromosomes and Brain Sexual Differentiation. Endocrinology 145 (3): 1057-1062
[13] Peng, W. (2009) Dawn on the mice. Nature Methods 6 (5): 319
[14] de Vries, G. J. & P. Södersten (2009) Sex differences in the brain: The relation between structure and function. Hormones and Behavior 55 (5): 589-596
[15] de Vries, G. J. (2004) Minireview: Sex Differences in Adult and Developing Brains: Compensation, Compensation, Compensation. Endocrinology 145 (3): 1063-1068
[16] Consider the following example. Most genetically male babies are dressed in blue so 'wearing blue clothes' is in our contemporary society clearly correlated with sex (that means that if you know the sex of a baby you will, all other things being equal, be able to make a statistically more accurate prediction as to the colour of the clothes of that baby than an observer ignorant of that baby's sex – or vice versa, knowing the colour of the baby's clothes would give you greater chance in guessing if it is a boy or a girl). It is, however, just as clear that it are not biological process, but social custom that underlie this relationship (boys do not wear blue clothes because they are in possession of an Y chromosome or because they produce more testosterone than girls).
[17] Unger, R. K. (1979) Toward a Redefinition of Sex and Gender. American Psychologist 34 (11): 1085-1094
[18] Dalton, P., N. Doolittle & P. A. S. Breslin (2002) Gender-Specific Induction of Enhanced Sensitivity to Odors. Nature Neuroscience 5 (3): 199-200

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Welcome to the World of Gender

27. May 2009, 11:21

From time to time researchers go to congresses and conferences where they meet with colleagues from their field of research (although I am not sure if that is auditing/accounting or gender for me). Researchers go to such meetings to present to one another the interesting (and not so interesting) things they have discovered (or things they think they might have found), and (not in the least) for social networking (a necessity in the modern scientific world of 'publish or perish'). (More)

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