The difference between sex, gender and sexuality explained 💥💥💥

These positive steps follow history being made at the Tokyo Olympics last year that featured more out LGBTQ+ participants than any known previous Olympics, at least 186 to be precise — a groundbreaking moment in the history of the representation of marginalized sexualities and gender identities in the sporting world.
As Beijing 2022 looks to follow this progress, it is important to understand the distinction between sex, gender and sexuality.
Sex is the term that describes a person’s physiology and is assigned at birth — male, female or intersex — usually based on their external anatomy.

What is gender?

The World Health Organization defines gender as the “characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed.” It is a broad spectrum and includes roles, behaviors and other social norms that are associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy. One’s gender can be in line with or different from one’s sex assigned at birth as it is based on a person’s deeply felt sense of identity.

In a nutshell, sex is more biological and gender more social.

What is non-binary?

Non-binary is when a person does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Someone who is non-binary might identify as both man and woman, neither or somewhere in between.

What is sexuality?

Sexuality is often used interchangeably with sexual orientation, but it covers more than that. Sexuality is a term for someone’s behaviour, attraction and identity, as well as their likes, dislikes, pleasures, fantasies, intimacies, preferences and more. It’s complex and has many layers to it.

Why does it matter that figure skating has ditched the term “ladies”?

After almost a century known as the “ladies” category, a 2018 gender equity review by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) led to the International Skating Union announcing that women and girls figure skaters competing in Beijing would be competing in the “women’s” category. The review recommended the use of equivalent terminologies by international sport federations in reference to men’s and women’s events.
It is a move that has been applauded. The 2014 Olympian Ashley Wagner praised it as “a big moment” for gender equality. Another Olympian, Kaitlyn Weaver, also welcomed the change saying, “The term ‘ladies’ takes away our power, our athleticism, our sexuality.”

Story of the week

The British government recently added a clause to its Health and Care Bill that would make hymenoplasty — or “virginity repair” surgery — illegal in England and Wales. In November 2021, “virginity testing” also became a criminal offence. However, the UK has so far failed to adequately acknowledge or apologize for the trauma caused to hundreds of immigrant women who were made to undergo the same tests in the 1970s as a means of immigration control.

Women Behaving Badly: Fredrika Bremer

Engraving depicting Fredrika Bremer (1801-1865), Swedish writer and women's rights campaigner, circa 1840. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images)

The Finnish born Swedish writer and women’s rights activist Fredrika Bremer ((17 August, 1801 — 31 December, 1865) knew from a very young age that she did not fit society’s expectations of how a woman should behave.

As an upper-class woman, society expected her to marry and bear children. Furthermore, laws in Sweden at the time dictated that a woman cannot manage her own finances, attend higher education institutes, marry without permission or take part in politics. But Bremer knew all too well that family life would make her claustrophobic. Instead of marrying and conforming to society, she expressed her feelings about a woman’s place is in the world through her writing.
In 1827 when she was just 26, she challenged the sermon of Sweden’s archbishop, wherein he maintained that a woman could only marry and be a mother — and do nothing else. She wrote two responses to the sermon, sending the first one anonymously. In the first, she asked the cleric to provide a description of “the man in his domestic setting and the way in which he should behave there.” In the second less tactical one, she asked him what had clouded his vision and his sense of truth and fairness.
Bremer also wanted to travel — to have a full-blown American experience that would provide her with a view of the future. In 1849 she embarked upon a two-year trip to the U.S., where she met Americans who inspired her concept of womanhood. . In awe, she wrote candid letters to her sister Agatha of her life-changing travels.

She wanted to write a novel about her experiences in the New World but felt they “could not be compressed into a novel” as written in the forward of her 1854 collection of letters to her sister, The Homes of the New World: Impressions of America.

In 1856 she wrote a novel called Hertha, that challenged the traditional roles of women. The main character, a Swedish feminist, lobbies for women’s financial and legal independence and education.
In the decade that followed the publication of Bremer’s book, Sweden saw massive improvements in women’s rights. In fact, by 1842, girls were allowed to be educated in schools that used to be restricted to males only. While the reforms cannot be completely credited to Bremer, she is widely thought of as being influential as a trigger for change. And in 1914 Sweden’s largest women’s organization adopted the name Hertha in honor of Bremer’s novel.

Today, Sweden is ranked among the top countries in the European Union’s gender equality index.

Other stories worth your time

“I am too intelligent, too demanding, and too resourceful for anyone to be able to take charge of me entirely. No one knows me or loves me completely. I have only myself.”

French writer Simone de Beauvoir

The difference between sex, gender and sexuality explained

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