An Analysis of Sex and Gender as a Social Marker

This week’s readings focused on a different social marker of difference – sex and gender. While they introduce new concepts and examples, the themes are similar to those found in previous readings. Categories such as race and sex are socially constructed, and it’s important to understand the consequences of this categorization.

Foucault begins with the Victorian repression of sexuality in the public sphere. This was supposed to hush up discussion about sex and sexuality, but ironically it opened up discussion for certain people – doctors, psychiatrists, religious figures, etc.

In essence, this transferred power from the people to those specific individuals. Foucault’s repressive hypothesis is a subtle example of social control. An important question to ask is to what this power has accomplished. Have there been positive or negative consequences (or is it even possible to designate such consequences as positive or negative?)

Butler discusses sex as a “regulatory ideal,” not a “static description” or something one has. It’s a category similar to race, but it seems to be a more taboo topic, mostly due to the Victorian repression of sexuality and its consequences.

While the issue of race in America has been somewhat addressed – i.e. Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights movement, etc., the issue of gender and sex is a budding discussion. I wonder what caused the issue of gender and sex to be brought up later than race? Perhaps it’s a consequence of the Victorian repression, which took away the ability of the people to question the experts.

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Or maybe sex was considered a biologically concrete category until recent years? Gender identity disorder actually did not appear in the DSM until its third revision in 1980. What other social and cultural factors could be causing the delayed discussion of sex and gender compared to race?

In her chapter titled “Undiagnosing Gender,” Butler brings up the diagnosis of gender identity disorder in the DSM. She discusses the merits and disadvantages of this diagnosis. The diagnosis for GID can offer certification for reassignment, which would relieve a huge financial burden, but it also strengthens the stigma associated with certain people. At the same time, the diagnosis itself is a test that must be passed – those who wish to be diagnosed have to practice cross-dressing, undergo therapy sessions etc. Essentially these people are forced to accept the labels and stigmas associated with transsexuals to get the diagnosis. Butler poignantly describes this as purchasing the freedom of being who you are with the freedom of the truth.

Her arguments seem highly theoretical and up-in-the-air. I wonder if her arguments would be strengthened through ethnographical stories and examples? This would create a stronger emotional connection for readers and make her points more relatable. Butler does include one story about a woman with breast cancer who wanted to give up both of her breasts to ensure the cancer did not reoccur – I found this example very helpful and a welcome break from her long, cyclical arguments.

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An Analysis of Sex and Gender as a Social Marker. (2022, May 14). Retrieved from

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