Gender Diversity Crosscultural Variations by Serena Nanda; Chapter 6 & Chapter 7 Notes

Chapter Six

Sex/Gender Diversity in Euro-American Cultures

The current view of gender/sex and its division into only male/female, man/woman is reflected in pop culture, biology & social science. Apart from scholars or gender variants themselves the historical knowledge of alternatives is not realized

Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries

Northern European culture identified three sexes-male, female & hermaphrodite-two genders-man and woman. All three biological sexes could have sexual relations but gender switching could be treated as committing the crime of sodomy. State & church upheld patriarchal sex/gender system, hence prosecution of intersexed gender switchers

Up until early seventeenth century:

  • Men could have relations with women and men without question of masculinity although adult men accepting penetration (submissive role) and behaving in a feminine manner were classified as hermaphrodite. Unlike today, hermaphroditism, was a quality of the mind not a biological quality
  • Females wearing masculine clothing and not interested in same-sex relations termed hermaphrodite. Those women interested in same-sex relations were believed to be anatomical hermaphrodites and often examined for evidence of masculine biology such as large clitoris.

By around 1700:

Male same-sex acceptance declined

System of four genders (man & woman legitimate) and two sexes (male & female)

  • Molly-illegitimate third gender category; effeminate man that takes the passive sexual role with adult males (sodomite)
  • Sapphist-illegitimate fourth gender category; women that prefer same-sex partners

By 1800:

Gender defined by sexuality masculine or feminine. Male desire for other males due to corruption of the mind early on in experience, not any biological or anatomical deficiencies

By mid-nineteenth century:

Darwinian evolution helped cement the definition of “normal” sexuality as the attraction of opposites. This combined with Victorian culture combined to shape European sex/gender ideology. Sexual reformers attempted to naturalize homosexuality that was seen as an “interior androgyny” a hermaphroditism of the soul or an inversion consisting of “a female soul enclosed in a male body”

  • Psychiatry-accepted homosexuality as a gender inversion
  • Homosexuals-associated homosexuality with masculinity and virility

Homosexuality as a gender inversion remained in place until the mid-twentieth century. Homosexuals doubly stigmatized by shame of “abnormal” leanings & lowered status as women

European female gender variants defined by renunciation of sexuality

Transvestite Female Saints –Europe Early 1700’s

Women dressed and passed for men to gain employment. They would also marry women under false pretenses. If found out tried & punished in court.

  • Middle Ages-Transvestite female Saints were accepted as they were seen as serving Christ. By dressing as a man or named as men they were accepted as men. Some were said to have had beards. Identity is revealed after death or in some cases after being falsely accused of sexual misconduct by the opposite sex.
  • This acceptance of women dressing or becoming men is representative of a patriarchal society where higher status is gained by women becoming men but men lost status by dressing or behaving as women. There are no cross-dressed male Saints.

Sworn Virgin of the Balkans-Since early 19th century

  • Balkans had a warrior culture with continual feuds that may have diminished the supply of men. Sworn virgins were biologically women that behaved as men with the approval of families & the community. They vowed to abstain from marriage and motherhood instead holding male occupations where they were recognized as men. A sworn virgin may have been stoned to death over a violation of chastity.
  • Male virtues of purity and strength were represented by virginity so similar to the Indian sadhin the role of sworn virgin prevented children born out of wedlock. Since the sex of many sworn virgins was not known fear of pregnancy restrained heterosexual relationships. The possibility of some attracted to other women is likely.

TRANSEXUALISM -Euro-American culture

  • Solution to individuals that do not fit the two sex/gender categories since transsexuals may be described as having the conviction of being or becoming a member of the opposite sex. Transsexuals are in a transitional or temporary state
  • “Gender identity” describes the inner psychological conviction of a biological male or a female that want to be the opposite sex. The organs from birth are viewed as an error
  • Sex-change surgery offers relief to the state of gender uncertainty as transsexuals anatomy becomes aligned with “gender identity.”  Through this change the gender system set in place is upheld
  •  Male and female transsexuals gradually come to the point of this transition, which can be identified as a rite of passage or moving from one state to another. Not only transitioning anatomically but in gender roles as well moving from one status to another

1960’s-1980 is in the United States:

  • Most services were offered from male to female. Pre-op conditions of therapy, hormones for two years possibly disqualifying those exhibiting uncertainty
  • Transsexuals reinforced and reflected dominant Euro-American sex/gender ideology by choosing to be a man or a stereotypical woman. Since this cultural dominant view enforces the idea that genitals represent the defining feature of gender medical, mental health professionals and transsexuals themselves place an emphasis on sex-reassignment surgery.


  • Transgenderism, which has its foundation in androgyny, has emerged within the last twenty or so years. (It is like a playful, performed androgyny. Or you might say it’s a deliberate, ironic androgyny)
  • Unlike transsexuals, tansgenderists are not limited to two genders; choices range from those that want sex reassignment surgery to those that live life androgynously These individuals vary from those who are on hormones awaiting surgery to those who gender-cross on occasion but do not wish to under-go sex-reassignment surgery
  • Transgenderism is an inclusive term able to validate a range of gender roles and identities that vary widely


  • A result of transgenderism is re-visitation of biological intersexuality since an individual may be born with ambiguous genitalia
  • Early intervention for boy/girl sex assignment is practiced since medical & psychological opinion holds that gender identity is learned early, permanent once learned and that a gender identity consistent with one’s anatomy is a basic condition for mental health
  • Medical alterations have become a subject of debate on who has the right to make determinations when it comes to such procedures; whose interests are served and is it worth putting an infant through pain for genital cosmetic/aesthetic purposes
  • Instead of challenging the sex/gender system of the Euro-American culture, transsexuals upheld it by becoming members of the “opposite” sex. In turn, transsexualism began destabilizing connection between gender and anatomy. Transgenderism may be the most revolutionary challenge to the current gender system since it creates much doubt.

Chapter Seven Variations on a Theme



 Criteria for constructing sex/gender roles vary among cultures


  • Central in Euro-American cultures
  • Not a determinant in traditional Philippines, Native Americans or Polynesia


  • Important criterion but varies across cultures
  • Male sex/gender variants are assumed to take receptor role
  • A specific sexuality may emerge from a male sex/gender role
  • Females must renunciate their sexuality that redefines their gender
  • Association between sexuality and sex/gender diversity must be examined within specific cultural/historical contexts

Institutionalization of gender diversity varies among cultures

  • American Indians offer their gender variants autonomy that is gained through public ritual
  • Hijra’s from India go through formal rituals for initiation that sets them apart from the other gender roles

Less Institutionalized are the gender variant roles in Brazil, Polynesia, Thailand and the Philippines


Most extreme is sex-reassignment surgery of the Euro-American transsexual

  • Although close to Euro-American in their desire to be part of the opposite sex Mohave hwame & alyha sex/gender transformations are physiologically imitated therefore not culturally acknowledged and to some extent ridiculed
  • Brazilian travesties do not remove the penis but go to great lengths to achieve feminine aspects through silicone injections; at times they are shamed by being referred to in masculine form
  • Filipino bakla aim at perfection in appearance but admit to not being able to bear children therefore impossible to become a woman

The possibility of complete sex change of a transsexual is because of improvements of medical technology but many transgender & intersexuals prefer androgyny

Gender differentiation refers to the extent to which gender roles in a society are well defined, specialized and hierarchical as opposed to fluid, over-lapping and egalitarian

Androgyny, which combines or mediates between two categories is a powerful symbol in many cultures and often connected with the origin of human beings


Both men and women are raised by females so both can easily identify with female gender roles. Therefore, the development of male gender roles require separation from the female which is not compelling for development of the female identity

 In patriarchal societies women gain power by acting like men; men lose social status by acting like women; female to male makes social sense

“Anthropology makes its contribution to this debate by joining theory to the observed richness and variety of the human experience across cultures as this is documented in the ethnographic record”


About Kris Rais

I have decided to start living instead of to merely exist after years of care giving. I am currently working towards my university degree and reaching higher consciousness through my practice of yoga.
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5 Responses to Gender Diversity Crosscultural Variations by Serena Nanda; Chapter 6 & Chapter 7 Notes

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