21. What Does It Mean to Have an Assigned Sex?

From: The 7 Sexes

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21 What Does It Mean to Have an Assigned Sex? Long before birth certificates existed, babies were assigned their sex by examination of their external genitals: a penis and scrotum defined a male; a vagina and female pudenda defined a female. Children were then raised as infant boys or infant girls. They were assigned roles expected of their community. These varied. Some societies had both sexes involved in the same activities (e.g., butchering, farming, making tools) and some had one sex specialized in a division of labor. For almost all societies, until late in the twentieth century, raising infants was primarily and necessarily a female role, because women nursed babies. Things changed as the child got older. Fathers may have played significant roles teaching boys how to hunt if that was an assigned male role in that community . Some groups heeded the advice of older men and others heeded the advice of older women. Women in general were midwives delivering children until the eighteenth century in industrialized countries. Each society had a response to exceptions to the expected roles and sexuality assigned at birth. The larger the group was, the more these unusual events occurred, and the more society had to find explanations for them and ways to accommodate them. Those responses varied with religion and other traditions. It is characteristic of humans to generalize from a relatively small sample size. Talmudic literature (particularly for the observant orthodox Jews) provides a rich source of Jewish response to homosexuality (forbidden), menstruation (numerous rules on uncleanliness, touching, isolation, refraining from intercourse), and ambiguous genitalia (limited options for occupation, marriage, and release from parental control).1 A Turner What Does It Mean to Have an Assigned Sex? 155 adult must have a certain number of pubic hairs to be elevated to adult female status. Otherwise, she remains a girl bound to her father. Clothing for the two sexes is very carefully regulated: women cannot wear male clothing (e.g., pants) and men cannot wear female clothing (e.g., a dress). There is a bias for males and against females. Men offer a prayer of gratitude that they were not born female. In many Moslem societies, females are required to cover all their body except for their eyes. They are restricted on when they can go out in public and with whom. Many such women are not allowed to go to school. This is an extreme that most people who were raised in Western culture or in industrialized countries cannot understand.2 They may wish to be tolerant and respectful of the customs of other countries, but these rules strike them as discriminatory against women. A similar divide exists between Roman Catholics and most Protestant Christians over the way sexes are regulated by religion. For Catholics, birth control is tightly regulated. Only unprotected intercourse is allowed, but couples are allowed to abstain during times when they are most likely to achieve fertilization (and that was not known until the 1930s). For most Protestants, regulating reproduction is a private matter. A couple makes that decision and may use mechanical, surgical, chemical, or hormonal means to prevent fertilization. Ever since 1913, when Margaret Sanger introduced the birth control movement in the United States and shortly thereafter, when Marie Stopes introduced it in Great Britain, there has been a worldwide movement to regulate family size in industrial nations .3Today,havingtwochildrenoratmostthreeisconsiderednormal. A family with five or more is looked upon as unusual, and sometimes associated with a religious piety most people do not desire. It could be argued that the introduction of the germ theory by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch in the 1870s and 1880s forced the rise of birth control, because until the germ theory about half of all children born did not survive past the second year of life. The elimination of most infant mortality led to very dramatic increases in world population, and a movement by women to find ways to limit the number of children they had. In industrial nations, income, available housing, and the rise of the nuclear family (where grandparents and other relatives did not live with the family) determined the desired number of children. 156 The 7 Sexes Industrial society also forced a change in gender roles, as women after the 1960s found it was increasingly difficult to cover the costs of housing, clothing, education, and other household and quality of life expenses with only their husband’s wages. Women, once given a sense of liberation and opportunities to...