TW Viewpoint | Sex, Gender, Gender Identity and the Patriarchy Paradox

March 4, 2022 | Javid Khan

Subscribe Today! If you would like to receive weekly emails informing you when new commentaries and Tomorrow's World Viewpoint videos are uploaded, please subscribe to our e-newsletter.


Our world is changing around us. While some think it is ultimately for the good of all, others are hesitant. As this social paradigm shift occurs, and the views of a more liberal society takes over, ideas and concepts that were considered definitive are now fluid. The definition of sex and gender has changed with gender no longer being confined to biology, but is there really a difference between the two? And, where does gender identity fit in all of this?

In June 2021, CNN took to twitter to announce that Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world holding several Olympic records, welcomed the birth of his twin sons. What was seemingly a harmless post, received negative feedback with one person lashing out at CNN for endorsing the idea of predetermined gender. This retaliation comes from the idea that gender cannot be identified at birth, or by a determined trait, and that sex and gender are different.

According to Psychology Today:

"There is a difference between 'sex' and 'gender.' Sex is 'biological' while gender is 'psychological,' 'social,' or 'cultural.' A person's gender can be different from a person's sex. Gender is thus 'socially constructed'…"

When the claim is made that gender is socially constructed, what does this really mean? The article offers the following explanation:

"… in the sense that, unlike biological sex, gender is a product of society. If society determines what is masculine or feminine, then society can change what is considered masculine, feminine, or anything in between."

Gender identity on the other hand, according to the American Psychological Association (APA) is defined as:

"A person's deeply-felt, inherent sense of being a boy, a man, or male; a girl, a woman, or female; or an alternative gender (e.g., genderqueer, gender nonconforming, gender neutral) that may or may not correspond to a person's sex assigned at birth or to a person's primary or secondary sex characteristics. Since gender identity is internal, a person's gender identity is not necessarily visible to others."

Based on these definitions, gender and gender identity are contradictory. If gender is defined by society, how can gender identity be simultaneously defined by an individual? Additionally, if gender identity is not necessarily visible, how can it be socially verifiable? Both gender and gender identity would need to be defined by society and this definition applied by the individual. For, as we mentioned, it is a product of society.

If a society, then, is able to break down the psychological barriers between what is considered masculine or feminine, then this egalitarian society would likely see a convergence of the two. Men and women should become more similar rather than different; however, recent data has shown this is actually the opposite. The more egalitarian a society is, the greater the difference is between men and women. This is now referred to as the patriarchy paradox.

Erik Mac Giolla from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden lead the research that presented the data. Mac Giolla conducted a survey of 130,000 individuals from 22 countries which looked at the state of the society and the individual’s personality, which can be split between different traits - openness, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism. While these traits always overlap between men and women, the degree of the overlap varies based on the society. Mac Giolla states:

"It seems that as gender equality increases, as countries become more progressive, men and women gravitate towards traditional gender norms… Why is this happening? I really don’t know." (Patriarchy Paradox, TheTimes.com)

The research shows that in China, where the society is ranked low on gender equality, the personality overlap was about 84% between men and women, in comparison to 64% in the Netherlands which is seen as one of the most gender equal societies.

Dr. Steve Stewart-Williams, associate professor, in the School of Psychology, at the University of Nottingham added:

"It's not just personality…The same counterintuitive pattern has been found in many other areas, including attachment styles, choice of academic speciality, choice of occupation, crying frequency, depression, happiness and interest in casual sex." (Patriarchy Paradox, TheTimes.com)

This begs to reason, if gender is defined as a social construct and if the social construct is becoming more egalitarian, which ultimately determines that men and women are in fact different as per traditional gender norms, shouldn’t the conclusion be simple?

The difference between male and female is a growing confusion in our society today. While it may not be accepted, the definition of gender and gender identity cannot co-exist. Gender has to be defined from a single source. From this single source, the social construct, it seems clear that men are simply men and women are simply women, regardless of the psychological labels we slap on ourselves.

Watch Sex, Gender, Gender Identity and the Patriarchy Paradox on YouTube at Tomorrow's World Viewpoint