I was recently interviewed by freelance journalist, Bronwyn Katzke, for a local magazine (I’ll include the magazine name later once the article is published) on what it is to be a woman. The interview appears below, hope you find it useful. What are some of your conceptions of what it is to be a woman? Or a man for that matter?
1. What is the difference between gender
identity and sexuality?
It is the difference between socialisation
and biology. Or culture and DNA, our sex is determined by examining our
chromosomes, interior and exterior sex organs, and secondary sex
characteristics. All societies recognise a distinction between male and female
based on some of these features, the definition of male and female (or
masculine and feminine) or some other gender, varies considerably from one
society to another. The term ‘Gender’ means the culturally-based meanings that
define sex-based identities.
So gender identity is a person’s sense of
being a female or male and sexuality is determined by one’s anatomy,
physiology, psychology, etc and includes a person’s perception of being female
or male and thoughts/behaviours and feelings associated with sexual
2. What determines or influences one’s
gender identity? Is it as simple as how we are raised, or does the development
of a person’s gender identity go much deeper than that?
In most people gender identity develops in
early childhood and usually (but not
always) corresponds with a person’s biological sex. It develops from
numerous prompts or signals from our parents or primary care-givers and the
culture at large (which are in themselves reactions to the baby’s genatalia-
e.g. the feminisation of the colour pink).
I do not think it is 100% cultural
influence or upbringing, though. And the experience of many transsexual people
is evidence of this. Sometimes people have an unrelenting desire/insistence to be of the other sex (that is not based on a whim, but an ingrained sense of self) and have great discomfort with one’s assigned sex or gender role.
3. We all know the physical aspects that
differentiate man from woman, but what are the most prominent psychological
differences between the sexes? and 4. What qualities
or thought-process would you say make a woman’s mind unique?
books have been written based on the psychological differences between men and
women, for example ‘Men are from Mars,
Women are from Venus’
Sometimes it is dangerous to assume that
there are set psychological or behavioural differences between men and women,
because it becomes limiting for the individuals who break those ‘rules’. Some
psychological ‘differences’ between women and men are influenced by the organic
make-up of the brain, by environmental factors, by personal experiences. So for
example, it is said that the communication centre in a woman’s brain is larger
than a man’s, thus women are better at verbal fluency than men, women are more
sensitive to the nuances of reading between the lines, etc. This is then linked
to the way women and men problem solve differently. Men often prefer to work
things out on their own, in their own heads, whereas women find it more
beneficial to talk things out with others. Another area where difference is
identified is around aggression, men are seen to be more aggressive than women.
5. Do you think that with the way society
is changing and with the emphasis on gender equality that there is almost a
switch in gender roles? For example, men are being more emotionally expressive
and women are being more assertive. What are your opinions on this?
Not so much a switch in gender roles as a greater allowance for gender
roles to be broken or expanded on. What I mean is, for example, women don’t
have a monopoly on nurturance. Why should it be considered out of the norm for
a man to be more of a nurturer than a woman? Take for example what more and
more couples face in today’s society, in a heterosexual relationship the woman
being the primary breadwinner and the man having more time to raise the
children. While it is still considered unusual by many people, it is becoming
increasingly commonplace and acceptable than it would have been 100 years ago.
6. From the psychological perspective, what
do you think makes a woman, a woman?
makes a Woman a woman? The Feminine Mystique is a book by Betty Friedman
written in the 1960’s (granted, it was specifically aimed at American women,
but I think just as relevant today in other contexts). It speaks of how women faced (and still do) a
crisis of identity, that they are bombarded with images of women from the media
used to sell countless products, washing machines, cake mixes, deodorants,
detergents, face creams, etc. But the power of those images is based on the
fact that women are unsure of who they are. So with all these options being produced for
women, how does one embrace ‘woman-hood’? What makes a woman a woman? A number
of things, but most importantly I think it is how a woman makes sense of being
a woman herself, whether it is in
line with her cultural surroundings and familial beliefs, or if it goes against
and challenges those. It is how she finds
meaning in the clothes she wears, the make-up she puts on, the fact that she
gets her period once a month, her role as a partner/ mother/daughter, her power
as a citizen. It can encompass but not be limited by or to dress, role in a
family/community, her biology, etc.