The Sex Map of Britain is a very interesting recent documentary series which ‘meets people for whom sex, sexuality and having children is far from straightforward.
The series covers the following topics:
The reality of being a ‘cheap prostitute’ – selling sex for as little as £4.
Why some people choose a career in porn.
Asexuality – why some people just don’t want sex.
Transgender escorts and parenting urges.
The journey of freezing eggs and ‘alternatives’ to IVF.
And a trip behind the scenes of a sexual health clinic.
Unfortunately the episode on polyamory has disappeared.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is a terrific series to get students to explore the wonderful diversity of relationships and sexuality in postmodern society, and taken together, this collection clearly illustrates the postmodern view of modern family life – that there’s no longer such a thing as a ‘normal’ family or relationship!
There are nine available episodes available on iplayer for the next 10 months, and, suitably for a documentary series which explores the diversity of family life in postmodern society, they are all nice and short, so perfect for postmodern students with postmodern attention spans (i.e. short ones).
This ruling overturned the previous ‘section 377’ colonial-era law which outlawed certain sexual acts as unnatural, including homosexual sex. Breaking that law meant a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Relevance to A-level sociology
From a broadly functionalist point of view, you could interpret this as a move towards universal global values. There has been a general trending towards greater sexuality-equality around the globe in recent decades, and this ruling brings another billion people into step with this trend.
HOWEVER, it’s also important to realize that not everyone accepts this in India… many religious groups are opposed to this, and so this is also a potential source of conflict.
From an Interactionist point of view, this is yet another excellent illustration of the social construction of crime…. all of a sudden gay sex is legal and not illegal!
While this is huge positive progress towards LGBT rights, there’s still a long way to go as there are several countries in which homosexuality is illegal.
It’s a movie about a girl who gets sent to a Christian Conversion Therapy Camp where she is subjected to various forms of psychological manipulation to avert her from being gay.
It’s definitely time for a movie like this – apparently 700 000 people in the USA have undergone Christian Conversion Therapy, and 50 000 is the base point for those likely to undergo some form of it in the next five years
It’s Illegal in 14 states for America, but only for minors…. For adults, it’s legal in every single state.
The lead actress, Chloe Grace Moretz, discusses the movie on that most excellent sociological resource: The One Show – (available on iPlayer until mid September!)
In the interview she outlines how the film focuses on the micro interactions between the various ‘inmates’ in the centre, and how they still manage to hold on to their true identities and find their chosen families despite the enormous barriers put in their way by the oppressive system.
The movie has clear relevance to religion, sexuality and identity, as well as to theories of social change.
My concern is that the overall message of the movie might be that all you need to do to ‘fight anti-gay oppression’ is to be yourself, focus on developing your close relationships, and the oppressive institutions will just whither away around you.’
The Movie closes with the main protagonists disappearing on a road trip – which kind of reminds my of Bauman’s concept of the individualized utopia… the never ending journey, with no real thought about where we are going, society abandoned.
The aim of this post is to provide a very brief introduction to the very complex topic of sex, gender and gender identity.
Sex, gender and gender identity: basic definitions
Sex refers to the biological differences between men and women
Gender refers to the cultural differences between – it is to do with social norms surrounding masculinity and femininity.
Gender Identity is an individual’s own sense of their own gender. Their private sense of whether they feel masculine, feminine, both or neither, irrespective of their biological sex.
Biological differences between men and women
At first glance, there appears to be some fairly obvious biological differences between men and women – most obviously:
Reproductive organs – women have eggs and wombs and men produce sperm which fertilizes eggs – no need to go into the joys of exactly how this is done at this stage, suffice to say that in terms of the physical reproduction of the species men have a fairly easy time of it, women are the ones who have to carry the babies inside of them, and suffer the physical trauma of childbirth.
Women can lactate, men can’t, meaning women are the only sex who can produce food for their young offspring.
On average men are physically stronger, and can run faster than women.
Women typically cannot reproduce over the age of 50, while men can perform the reproductive function until much later on in their lives.
On average, women live longer than men
There are also hormonal differences – most obviously men have higher testosterone levels – which some scientific studies have linked to their higher levels of aggression.
Traditional Gender Roles and Norms
In the 1950s Functionalist sociologist Talcott Parsons argued that these biological differences meant there were ‘natural’ social roles that men and women should fulfill in society –
women should perform the expressive role, or caring and nurturing role.
men should perform the instrumental role, or the ‘breadwinner’ role – going out and earning money.
Such ideas formed part of the common sense’ way of viewing relations through much of the 20th century, with most people seeing maleness and masculinity and femaleness and femininity as a binary relationship – with men being seen as the opposite of women.
Criticisms of the male-female gender divide
Successive Feminists movements have spearheaded criticisms of traditional gender roles in society, arguing that stereotypical ideas about the roles men and women should occupy, and the norms they should subscribe to, have systematically disadvantaged women.
One of the key Feminist ideas is that gender is socially constructed, that gender roles and norms are not determined by biology, but are shaped by society, and some of the best evidence of this fact lies in the enormous variation in gender roles between different cultures – simply put, if you can find just a handful of examples of men and women occupying different roles, having different amounts of power, and acting differently in different cultures, then this disproves the theory that there is some kind of ‘natural’ link between biological sex and gender.
Feminists have effectively spearheaded campaigns for greater gender equality and diversity of gender roles, and the last century has seen a blurring of boundaries between male and female roles and norms surrounding masculinity and femininity.
And, of course, the fact that gender roles and norms have changed so much so rapidly adds further weight to the fact that gender is socially constructed rather than biologically determined.
Criticisms of the binary opposition between male/ masculine and female/ feminine
Contemporary Feminism has criticized the binary opposition between male and female, arguing that every aspect of sex and gender are in fact sliding scales rather than opposites – as illustrated by the Genderbread person:
The genderbread person was developed by Sam Killerman, who argues that gender identity incorporates not only one’s biological sex, but also one’s sexuality, one’s sense of social-identity and how one feels about one’s self – gender identity is thus fluid and complex, rather than static and binary binary, as explored further by Sam Killerman in the TED talk below.
Hegemonic masculinity and femininity in contemporary society
Of course just because we are more accepting of gender diversity in contemporary society, this doesn’t mean that the old stereotypes have disappeared – biological males are still ‘called upon’ to act in a typically masculine way, and biological females are still called upon to act in typically feminine ways, which at least in part explains why there are still clear gender inequalities in society today.