Beyond the Two Sex/Gender System


Marilyn Frye  in her piece “Sexism” explores the relationship between sex identifying behavior and how society as a result has created a dimorphic sex system. She is critical about how the constant need to behave, dress and speak like a female or male is a way for society to justify and treat the females and males differently. She raises the obvious point that this is irrational because the actual difference between females and males do not justify the subordination of women and herald men as dominant. Think about a time when you came into contact with someone and could not indicate what sex or gender they were. One of the first things you observe is their clothing, body language, behavior, the tone and pitch of voice and other “sex marking behavior”. Frye delves into how this occurrence is normalized to the extent that it affects our behavior when one eliminates sex-marking behavior. This is found in the medicalization of intersexindividuals and the procedures taken to “fix” them into either sex category of male or female. In regards to intersex individuals, the constant sex marking behavior patterns that society regulates individuals to follow becomes problematic.

“Sex-identification intrudes into every moment of our lives and discourse…” (Frye 19). The linguistic and physical behavior we carry out is based on the sex of the individual we are encountering. As I mentioned earlier this becomes problematic in a society that only recognizes a two sex/gender system. The pressure to conform into either of the sex categories normalizes the false perception of the human sex/gender system. As a result, individuals who are intersex suffer the consequences of having an often termed ambiguous sex. Intersex individuals are people with “chromosome patterns other than XX or XY and individuals whose external genitalia at birth exhibit some degree of ambiguity,” (25).

Throughout medical history, doctors and parents have allowed intersex newborns and individuals to be surgically or chemically “corrected” into with one of the two sex dichotomies. Surgeries are commonly performed on newborns and in most cases remove the enlarged clitoris because doctors think it can be easily restructured.  Yet, the surgery often scars the tissue or mutilates the genitalia of the intersex individual which has psychologically and physically damaging effects. The alternative to surgery is hormonal therapies which work to aid in the “normal” development of the individual’s sexed body. These are examples of how intersex individuals are diagnosed with a disorder rather than the medical field recognizing that two sex system unreliable. We have created a binary sex system and we try to fit people in either category, but this system is clearly failing.


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