What we are taught about sex and gender

Until last year I did not know there was a difference between the terms sex and gender. I feel foolish to say so now, but I’m wondering how many others were just as shocked to learn the two words were not synonyms? I was in a class on how to write history and we dipped our toes into gender and feminist criticisms of historical practices. At the time I was angered by the entire interlude of feminist criticism. Why would I want to learn about feminism? What could feminism teach me about being a woman that I didn’t already know just from being alive? In my mind at the time, women were not oppressed.

When my teacher asked us to define gender and sex I was amazed at how many people were able to contribute to two very distinct definitions. I was even more amazed that two definitions was nothing like I had been taught. Gender as a performance of cultural norms and sex as biology was a new concept. I was raised with such a strong aversion to the word sex that until that moment, it had no other meaning than procreation. Gender was the neutral word my family could say and use comfortably. We never referred to sex to refer to sex organs.

I can’t be the only one who was raised this way. Although I know that it is up the parents to decide when and how they will teach their children sex education, why is there such an aversion to the word sex? If it is more accurate to describe one’s sex then why do we substitute gender?

I wonder if my education on sexuality would have been different had I known that sex was not procreation. If I had known and had been less afraid to explore what sex and gender were, I might not have grown up wondering why I didn’t like men, but that I didn’t like women either. I might not have struggled to find a word to identify myself. I might not have waited until tenth grade to become a comic book fan and buy shirts from the boys’ section. My gender and my sexuality would have been mine to explore earlier in life.

When gender and sex have the same meaning dialogue between parents and their children can never be exact and the crucial stage of questioning sexuality becomes more difficult to reach.

I do not pretend I would have been comfortable if my mom or my brother had used sex as a term for biology, but I would have learned to accept it. I would have grown accustomed to adult language and adult ideas. I would have grown up around feminist ideas whether anyone in the house knew so or not. There is no greater gift to identity than the right words to use and a no-fear attitude toward approaching sexual differences.

Even Suicide is Sexist

I’ve been away at a Leadership Conference for the past few days so I have not had the chance to write as much as I would have wanted, but while at the Conference I learned a lot of interesting facts about how far sexism is ingrained in the world.

I also learned how sexism can skew the reasoning behind data.

Part of the Conference was a series of lectures. One of which, QPR (question, persuade, refer) dealt with suicide prevention.


A lot of data was talked about with what groups were most likely to complete suicide and a lot of statistics came up about the differences between male and female suicides. The most up to date information is the  data of 2009 (there is no up to date data for 2012 or even 2011 for the United States) but the information we were given at the Conference was from 2007. The data listed below is  from the conference.

  • Men are 4x more likely to complete suicide than women
  • women are 2-3x more likely to attempt suicide than men
  • women are more likely to attempt due to relationship problems are more likely to use less violent means of death (pills and poisonings)
  • men are more likely to use more violent means (hangings and firearms)

The leaders of the workshop asked us to insert our opinions as to why this data is so. It’s unfortunate but the information seems to be supporting classic stereotypes that women are the weaker of the species, have less conviction in the actions, and do not have testosterone so they are naturally less violent and aggressive. This is only surface level analysis and can barely be considered analysis at all.

Why are men more likely to complete suicide than women? They are less likely to talk about their feelings for one thing, being raised in a sexist society where men can never be feminine, and another is that if they use more violent means then of course they are more likely to succeed. How often do you shoot a bullet through your head and live?

Which makes the next question why are men more likely to use such violence? The answer is that it’s more culturally acceptable. When violence makes you a man of course it is going to impact every decision you make, even the decision to kill yourself. In addition, who is more likely to own a gun or know how to tie a noose, a man or a woman? A man of course. Men have the means to kill themselves in such a way and women do not. There is nothing biological about it.

The same goes for why more women attempt but do not complete suicide. When they do not have access to the aggressive means of men how can it be expected that pills will always finish the job? Also, of course if a woman does not complete then she has attempted, which explains why the attempts are so high for women. As for women killing themselves over relationships this is just as rooted in culture as everything else. Women are taught to value themselves based on their relationships whether with friends or with spouse and to place so much stock in their ability to maintain these relationships. When things go awry and those connections are all a woman is taught to value about herself what else does she have? According to data, not enough to live for.

There is nothing biology that makes women inferior to men. Women are equal. Society is not.

This blog is dedicated to anyone who has ever overcome suicide, or known someone who has killed themselves.