First of all, a little piece of background information for you all: today I attended a conference which involved a 30 minute talk on gender and sexuality, hence the perceivably unprovoked content of this post - it's okay, there's a method to my madness.
Foucault and Freud
French philosopher Foucault believed that gender is something forced upon you by the world, or people, around you. This belief falls under the idea of Freud's invention of the unconscious mind. Both these men essentially said that your character is formed through the storing of information in the unconscious part of your brain. Little confused? It's okay, stick with me.
Gender falls under an attribute formed through the unconscious mind according to philosopher Foucault. Society presses certain characteristics onto different sexes unconsciously through the media and through each other, I'm sure that as a child your parents either bought you barbies or car toys in alignment with your sex. If I'm wrong, please correct me, but most children I'm sure are raised this way. Without ever truly being aware of this indoctrination, children slowly become moulded into their typical gender without a single moment of doubt or debate. I hear your scream of horror at my use of the word "indoctrination" because of course, you have not exactly been deliberately raised to hate an entire race of people similar to the children of Nazi Germany, but the process is arguably similar.
Natural or social construct?
So I bring us back to the question - is gender real? Or, is it a social construct formed over the millions of years of humanity? As brought up today in my conference, gender norms originate from our caveman days where humanity was a lot more animalistic i.e. men hunted and brought back the food while women were gatherers and looked after their children. It's shocking to think that millions of years later, humanity has only slightly altered or developed itself from its original heritage.
Of course, over the past hundred years there has been a huge increase in movement towards gender equality; however, there are still a lot of basic thought-processes instilled in us through hundreds of years that have not changed. For example, the undeniable conclusions we make when thinking of people of authority or servitude, the undeniable assumption that a girl isn't good at sport, the undeniable presumption that if a boy wears makeup he must be gay. Part of the reason these assumptions are there is because through society these ideas are enforced through media, drama, advertisement, education, family.
Genders and sexes
There is a prominent argument that there are merely two genders, male and female, one of these will be assigned to you at birth and for the rest of your life you will follow a certain path laid out for you by people from previous generations which dictate which toys you should play with as a child, which clothes you should wear, the length of your hair. With an external point of view, it seems quite outlandish, preposterous even, to think that the shape of ones body can change the entire path of your life.
As discussed today at my conference, there is a distinct difference between "sexes" and "genders". Your sex is your body, how you were born at birth, your internal and external body. But gender? Gender is a lot more complicated: gender is what you associate yourself with, how you present yourself, how you feel. As far as I'm concerned, the way a person chooses to present themselves is all that matters, it is certainly not anybody else's place to say whether or not that person is right about themselves.
Except, a lot of people do take it upon themselves to decide whether or not a person is right about their gender. This leads to bullying and increase in stigmas against transgendered people because people are afraid of the unusual, of what is not like them, resulting in defensive behaviour.
Conclusion - Is gender real?
So is gender real? Perhaps, there is certainly evidence to show that it is natural to label and categorize people into different groups. After all, animals are male or female and there is no questioning the gender of horses or puppies, are we not mere animals? On the other hand, humanity has evolved from simple animal characteristics into creatures with complex minds and personalities which certainly have capability for release from perhaps unnecessary labels.