Biology of Sex and Gender: Chromosomes, Hormones and Body Shape

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I will now investigate the biological and physical differences between the sexes in an attempt to find out if ideas surrounding gender identities and roles are truly the result of these ‘natural’ elements.

From a biological perspective a person’s sex and gender are determined entirely by the appearance of the external genitalia, chromosomes and hormones.  People come in two sexes, male and female, depending on their endowment of sex chromosomes, XX for a female or XY for a male. The primary female hormone is estrogen, for males’ testosterone. Females are born with vaginas and males with penises and testicles. These physical and ‘natural’ attributes to the male and female human, from a scientific view, inevitably impact their gender and behaviour. Of course, cultural, societal and other nurturing factors intertwine with the development of a person’s gender. However, it can be argued that everything: gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexuality, derives from our biological and genetic make-up.

Whilst we may romanticise that every human being is different and diverse, there do exist some universal attributes to the male and female human as investigated in documentary, ‘The Human Animal: Biology of Love” by Desmond Morris which I will write about in detail later. In general, males have broad shoulders; V shaped bodies, is taller and has greater physical strength compared to females. These physical attributes denote health, vigor and power, all of which are sexually arousing to females. They act as signals and present the male as a good protector, worker and potential father, a source of healthy sperm, which will ensure healthy and safe offspring with good genetics.

In general, females are rounded, her body a source of self mimicry whereby the shoulders, breasts, knees and hips all resemble the roundness and softness of the buttocks. The curves to the female form are sexually appealing to the male, which will ensure mating so the species will continue. Physically females are usually smaller in height, have small waists and are weaker then males. This denotes vulnerability and submissiveness, which results in the male feeling protective of the female and taking on more dominant roles to ensure her safety. Physical attributes, which are attractive to both males and females, are a clear complexion, youth and health, which arouse sexual appeal to ensure mating as well as a signal that the persons produce either sperm or eggs are healthy ensuring for easy fertilization and healthy offspring.

In summary, as females are in general physically smaller and weaker whilst males are bigger and stronger, ideas surrounding what is considered masculine and feminine are inevitably impacted. As a result of the physical differences between the sexes we as individuals and society/culture alike have formed ideologies of ‘normal’ gender identities. Having been born and raised in Western culture, I will give examples of what are considered ‘normal’ within my culture, which is also the main one explored in the documentaries by Morris. Of course, we have already witnessed changes within our culture of what is a ‘normal’ relationship between the sexes as well as a ‘normal’ identity, however, I will just reflect the supposed ‘innate’ normality’s of our culture: masculine strong male meets feminine supportive female, thus producing ‘normal’ offspring and the species continues efficiently.

A ‘normal’ masculine identity is considered to belong to a biological male who is large and strong in stature, accentuated through masculine, sharp edged clothing such as work suits. He will follow masculine pursuits, such as engineering, sports and science. He will produce offspring and have sex with a female mate. He will be dominant, efficient and provide for his family. It is accepted and expected for a male to have heterosexual desire, produce offspring and act as the provider and protector.

A ‘normal’ feminine identity will belong to a biological female who is petite, curvy and physically weaker then a male. Her shape may be accentuated through fitted dresses. She will follow feminine pursuits such as cooking, sewing and arts. She will produce offspring, rear her children and support her male partner. She will be submissive, polite and caring. It is accepted and expected for the female to have heterosexual desire, to ensure the human species continues and act as the supporter and protected.

All of these ideologies can be linked to the clear physical differences between the sexes, which are the result of the biological differences between males and females. Of course, what are considered ‘normal’ male and female identities can vary culture to culture, but the existence of there being universal attributes to human males and females provides proof of there perhaps being universally accepted and ‘normal’ gender identities across the globe. For example, being female, and being physically weaker then the opposite sex, it’s logical to think she will desire someone who signals strength and vigor, who will provide protection and security. Perhaps, gender, behaviour and sexual arousal truly are results of biological innate tendencies, as Morris has so far convinced me to believe. Or could they be result of the existence of patriarchy within culture and society?

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