A dichotomy is often defined to be a division into two mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities. In Judith Butler’s, Bodies That Matter, she presents a group of dichotomies that range from nature/culture to body/mind. Within this grouping lies the dichotomy of sex and gender. The common notion is that sex is the biological matter and the matter of body, whereas gender is socially and culturally constructed. In earlier gender classes, I was taught to distinguish the two, in that sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women, while gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers ‘appropriate’ for men and women. In other words, male and female are sex categories, whereas masculine and feminine are gender categories. It seemed to make sense at the time the professor taught it, but as I took upper level gender courses and read Bodies That Matter, I soon realized its not that simple.
After having taken more gender studies classes and read some of Judith Butler’s work, such as Bodies That Matter, I became aware that sex can also be socially and culturally constructed, just like gender. With a background that was strictly science-based knowledge, this understanding did not come easy to me. How was it that sex and gender could be socially and culturally constructed? In all of my four years at Indiana University, not once was I told this in a science class, and trust me, I have taken plenty. The first time I really understood how this could be so was when a classmate presented an example during lecture. When one commonly thinks of a female, XX comes to mind, and XY comes to mind for a male, being that this is their chromosomal makeup. However, what would one call a male with an extra X chromosome? It happens to be a condition called Klinefelter’s syndrome or XXY syndrome, with a common effect of reduced fertility. Because of this, it may be that in some cultures, this individual is perceived as less of a man in comparison to a male that has an XY chromosomal makeup. From this, one can begin to understand why sex, according to Butler, is also socially and culturally constructed.