Home Gender Biology = identity?

Biology = identity?

I’m taking a break from thesis writing to throw a question into the Interweb and see what answers fly back at me.

I have had a few interesting thought-provoking readings/writings/conversations recently regarding gender, identity, and biology:

(1) My thesis is about Marcia’s identity statuses and various religious variables, and Marcia’s work on identity is rooted in Erikson.  Erikson once wrote a book chapter about a woman’s “inner space,” essentially disagreeing that women defined themselves by lack of a penis (as Freud would have it) and positing, instead, that women’s identity stemmed from the presence of a uterus.  This has had feminist criticism, of course, but others have said what Erikson said in his time has been somewhat misunderstood in ours…  Regardless, it was said.

(2) Also for my thesis, the life domains relevant to identity development have sometimes seemed to be different for women vs. men, but that has also changed to some extent over time.  Additionally, the timing for identity development has sometimes seemed to differ, particularly for women who postpone a career to stay home with children.

(3) I recently had to write a reflection paper for my gender & sexuality class, in which I had to describe my relationship with gender in terms of biological sex, gender identity, and gender roles.  I was reminded of a time when a mentor once asked me what it meant to me to be a woman, and my answer that it meant I had experienced sexism did not seem to satisfy her.  Working on this paper was interesting and challenging.

(4) In light of all of these things, I asked my husband a bit about how he understands his own identity, and in many ways, I think that identifying as male for him is both more significant and positive for him than identifying as female is for me.

So in light of all of this… What do you think about your own gender identity?  Is biology a significant piece of that identity for you? What else is it based on?  Is thinking about gender and identity easy for you or a struggle?  Do you think your larger identity development (in realms like ideology, occupation, the interpersonal realm, etc.) has been affected by your gender?


5 Responses

  1. [...] 13, 2011 by Ashleigh As I mentioned recently, I’ve been thinking a fair amount lately about gender as relates to identity.  In [...]

  2. JL

    I just started following your blog yesterday, so I’m a bit late here.
    My initial reaction was that gender was just biology, and gender didn’t play a role in my identity. Were I to have my brain/consciousness transplanted into a man’s body, I would still be the same person; I’d just happen to be male now (I wouldn’t consider myself a woman in a man’s body). I don’t think there are any uniquely masculine or feminine personality traits/innate differences between genders.
    That said, my life would be quite different if I weren’t female. Gender plays a big part in how I’m treated, for better or worse, and affects what is expected of me–far more so than any other physical characteristic. I may not think my status as female has anything to do with who I am, but it has a big impact on my interaction with others.

  3. Ashleigh

    JL, I think that’s very, very similar to how I understand my own gender. It has shaped me, but mostly in terms of how either experiences more explicitly related to being physically female and in terms of how other people relate to me and I relate to them. I get very frustrated by gender essentialism, and I very much relate to your comment about feeling like the same person even if switched into a different body. I’d experience my body differently, and there would be social implications which would further shape my experiences. But as for the core of who I feel I am, I see myself as “me,” rather than a woman, specifically.

    Sometimes this sort of understanding of gender feels inadequate to me—I mean, it feels fine for my own purposes, but I can get insecure about it because it doesn’t seem like it’s how many other people understand themselves as men and women. Even many other feminists seem a lot more excited about being female than I am. To me it seems rather incidental, aside from the fact that my husband likes that I’m a woman, and I like him, so I’m glad things worked out this way.

    I’m curious—do you feel like you’ve always related to being female in a similar manner or has it changed over time? I can probably see some of both in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever fit in particularly well with certain aspects of “female culture.”

  4. JL

    When I started kindergarten, I thought the girls in my class were annoying, and I wished I were a boy. I didn’t like pink, and I thought girls screamed too much. The boys started chasing the girls at recess (and I, too clueless to understand that the girls didn’t mind, would try to chase the boys in their defense). Boys would also stomp on worms after the rain. So, I judged girls to be rather stupid and boys to be mean. (Between my ignorance and snobbery, it’s no surprise I lacked friends.) Those assumptions only held up for about a year.

    After that, I didn’t see an inherent difference between males and females, so I was content with my gender (not that I would have worded it that way in 1st grade). I don’t think most stereotypes about women (how they communicate, what they need/want, etc.) are true for me. As far as fitting in with aspects of female culture, I’m such a geek that I would be surprised to fit in anywhere…

  5. Ashleigh


    Sorry for the delay. We’re in the process of moving, so things are a little crazy around here!

    I loved your story about rescuing the girls from the mean boys chasing them, haha. I remember things like that from when I was little. In fact, in many ways, I think at various points of my childhood and adolescence I could relate pretty well to your girls=dumb, boys=mean worldview. I was bullied by some boys when I was young because I was really small, but I also had lots of friends who were both boys and girls. I was always irritated by the gender segregated birthday parties and gender-based clumpings on the playground. I just wanted us all to be friends, ya know? As I got older, I increasingly saw the girls as stupid, too, all preoccupied with make-up and flirting and whatnot. And the boys only seemed ruder because now they knew their position of power and could get away saying or doing whatever they wanted, including making terribly objectifying remarks, which were never silenced by teachers…

    Anyway, yes, I can relate. Never feeling like I fit in with all the other girls or feeling particularly “feminine” (whatever that was supposed to mean) and yet never feeling I would be accepted or included or would even WANT to be buddy-buddy with the boys either. A weird place to be!

    On being a geek: I wish there were more such women in the world so we could all be friends. :-)

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