The 8th of March is International Women’s Day and it had me thinking about if we’re really all that different. As science has enhanced our understanding of biological differences it’s becoming clear that whilst through development the majority show differences in physiological, sociological and psychological development, we’re not as different as we once thought.
As someone who lives in-between, I’m intersex, I wanted to write a quick article to explain that we all started out the same and we develop in different ways. The following article can be difficult for some to read, if you’re of a nervous disposition please consider whether you should continue. If however you’re still curious, let’s go on an interesting journey together.
Oh, I’ll also need to start by confessing that the explanations below are a simplification of what happens, it’s meant for a broad audience. Please don’t take offence if you’re a medical expert in this. Or, for that matter, if you’re a firm believer in creationism, you really will want to stop reading now.
Anyway, here we go.
During the first seven weeks post conception a foetus shows no differences in sexual characteristics, we are in essence a blank slate waiting to develop our individual characteristics. In male early-stage development the foetal testes produce testosterone which causes the urogenital swellings to swell, come together in the middle, and fuse, forming the scrotum and the underside of the penis. We can see evidence of that through what is known as the ‘penile raphe’, a line down the underside of the penis and around scrotum. This is a remnant of the joining of what becomes the vaginal entrance for females. In a male the testes drop into the scrotum and for females the ovaries rise into the body. Males go on to develop a penis and in females, this develops into the clitoris. Hmm, not that different then after all.
You see, we all start out as female and after seven weeks our development typically follows one path or another and we end up as the atypical male or female. (if you’re curious about the ‘penile raphe’, please be discreet and don’t check it out when in the office)
As an intersex female I’m scientific evidence that this is, regardless of how some activists want us to think, true, that we are not just this or that. Intersex takes many forms; some have a micro-penis whilst others develop an enhanced or long clitoris for example. I’m ovotesticular, I developed elements of both male and female reproductive organs, I have a variation in the 47th Chromosome that goes against the this or that or the binary notion theory.
Our development and identity develop along three mutually exclusive measures, that of sex (our physical representation), our gender (our male or female identity), and our sexuality (our gender and/ or sexual attraction). Instead of thinking of this as three separate lines with male on one end and female at the other, we can see this instead more accurately as three concentric circles as shown below,
A lot of individuals fit somewhere in the middle where they identify as a specific gender, their physiological development aligns, and they are attracted to the opposite sex however that is not the whole picture. A gay man for example will identify as male, his physiology aligns but they have a same-sex attraction. A transgender female will have a female gender and male physiology whilst an intersex female such as myself has both male and female physiology, my gender is female, and I’m happily married to my wife. It’s a complicated picture, it’s actually ok to be a little confused by it all at times.
As the illustration and the explanations above show, the old theories of males being somehow superior to females is a remnant of an old notion of a binary world, that you are this or that. That notion stems in part from the early stories of Adam and Eve and was shared by missionaries across the globe. Where this theological viewpoint did not become the prevalent theory, we can see evidence throughout history of variations in the binary male or female theory.
Men see themselves as the dominant gender however that is a cultural status, there are alternatives where women were the traditionally patriarchal influence. Examples include the Gharo’s in India, the Chambri’s in Papua New Guinea, the Mosuoa’s in China, the Bribri in Costa Rica, the list goes on.
We can also see throughout history that the binary notions of male or female are not indicative of how everyone has developed an understanding of one’s identity as being black or white. The indigenous cultures of North America had the Two-Spirit individuals, Indonesia had the Waria, Angola had the Chibados, Oman had the Xanith, Mexico the Muxe, we can see this throughout the globe and indeed throughout history. The binary notion that drives the idea of male superiority can be said to be a remnant of nothing more than an invention driven by the theories of the likes of Adam and Eve.
So, if we all start off in the same format and nature takes us on a journey that is not ruled by the artificial binary notions that one must be this or that, then the idea that men are better than women is simply utter nonsense and an entirely man-made (no pun intended there) concept. Now I’m not going to go all radical feminist on males, insisting that women are in fact better than men and instead I want to stand by the theory that men and woman are equals. We started off that way in our mother’s womb’s and that does not change despite the physiological differences.
The above article was interesting to put together, I’ve thrown a multitude of different concepts at you, the reader and given myself a headache in the process. Why the headache? I guess because I struggle with the idea of gender superiority when both science and sociological examples argue against male superiority. I also struggle with the concept of gender imbalance as we know that our gender and sexual development are mutually exclusive, and one does not equal the other. Having a penis in one’s physiology does not make one male, it’s not that simple. If you’re reading this help me out, I hate taking Brufen for headaches, can we not instead agree that we are all equal and just start helping each other to get along instead? Thank you.