Sex and gender distinction

The sex/gender distinction is a concept in feminist theory, political feminism, and sociology which distinguishes sex, a natural or biological feature, from gender, the cultural or learned significance of sex. Taken to its limit, the distinction maintains that gender is totally undetermined by sex.

The distinction is strategically important for some strands of feminist theory and politics, particularly second-wave feminism, because on it is premised the argument that gender is not biological destiny, and that the patriarchal oppression of women is a cultural phenomenon which need not necessarily follow from biological sexual difference. The distinction allows feminists to accept some form of natural sexual difference while criticizing gender inequality. Some third-wave feminists like Judith Butler, French feminists like Monique Wittig, and social constructionists within sociology have disputed the biological-natural status the distinction imputes to sex, arguing instead that both sex and gender are culturally constructed and structurally complicit.

As popularly used, sex and gender are not defined in this fashion. There has been increased usage of the word "gender" to refer to sexual differences, because of the dual meaning of the word "sex" as a biological feature as well as meaning the act of sexual intercourse.

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