SPCM 335 Gender and Communication: Rethinking the Relations between Sex and Gender

By Lindsay McNeish

This semester Communication Studies special faculty Dr. Carolin Aronis gave her SPCM 335 Gender and Communication students a simple assignment: take a piece of paper and visually describe a definition of sex and its relation to gender. She explains that while usually medical language would define our biological sex as female or male, our identities as women, men, queer, transgender etc. open up an unlimited opportunities of “doing” gender. Her assignment requested from the students to think how to describe the relations between our bodies and our gender we perform and do. 

“My original intention was to discuss of the impossibility of this kind of description, as these visual descriptions always perform a reduction of the rich reality,” Dr. Aronis said. “However, I was surprised to see such great thinking and creativity, much more than I expected. Each little piece of paper has its own point of view and its own meaningful message to the world.”

SPCM 335, Gender and Communication, is designed to increase students’ understanding of relationships between gender, communication, and culture. It is also designed to develop awareness, academic thinking and research skills concerning gendered issues in personal and public life.

One of Dr. Aronis’s goals for the course is to enrich her students’ views about what is gender and what is the relation between gender and sex. “I want to show them how the difference between sex and gender is very fluid, diverse, and performative too. Gender is something we create and something that we decide to create,” said Dr. Aronis.

“I want my students to finish the course feeling confused and enriched with a lot of points of view. I want them to feel overwhelmed–that sounds negative, but in a positive way,” said Dr. Aronis. “I want them to understand that the relationships between gender and communication are much more complicated, rich, and diverse than what they thought before the course.”

“I think that publishing this project, not only shows subversive and creative thinking–but also will challenge people, from the wide community, to think about the relations between our bodies and our performed and expressed gender. Two good things all at once,” said Dr. Aronis.

Claudia Quiroz, a student in SPCM 335 has really been enjoying it. “It has surpassed any expectations I had before I entered the class. I am now coming to the realization as to how gender and other aspects like this play a part in society. Professor Aronis is extremely passionate about her work and encourages everyone in her class to think critically,” said Quiroz.

The following drawings and quotes are by a few students in SPCM 335 describing the relationship between sex and gender in their own, creative ways:

Core Identities

adrienne-theune-croppedI would say this drawing represents how a person’s sex and gender identity influences each other. When I think of myself, a cis-woman, my sex is at my core and therefore my gender is represented in relation to that. However, in some cases the core is hidden and the gender that person presents is the opposite. I decided to indicate that there is a “core” to these ideas because they are identities. Identities define us in so many ways and shape our world. –Adrienne Theune


A Changeable Spectrum

4-sean-kennedy-page-001While simple, I believe this sketch represents the fairest interpretation of the relationship between sex and gender. In my view, sex exists on a changeable spectrum ranging between male and female, whereas one’s gender identity exists in a sphere that can go beyond the strict male-female spectrum. Gender identity can change and develop in a fluid manner at any point during a person’s life because it is a strictly human invention and not a natural phenomena. Learning about gender and communication allows myself and others to confront these ideas and these spectrum as they relate to our own lives. –Sean Kennedy


Gender Fluidity

1-claudia-quiroz-page-001As you can see I drew a human body with emphasis on the mind and the genital area. I did this because I always had the idea that gender lives in one’s mind while sex is between your legs. The box stemming from the brain shows the dominantly accepted symbols for female and male swimming in water. I did this to portray how gender is fluid and constantly changing. The box stemming from the pelvic area shows the two of the normal sexes (I did not include intersex). If you look closely one can see the arrows going between the two because in my opinion just because you are born with one set of organs does not mean you should be forced to live with them. If your sex does not match your gender there are options to change them to fit your identity. This is an important concept to remember.
Gender and sex are personal identities that one is not stuck with despite what dominant culture or society states. This image reinforces the idea that these identities are capable of change. –Claudia Quiroz

Small Differences

The picture I drew stemmed from the most basic idea I have of sex and gender. The bodies are different but only by a small margin, and the way we view gender and sex are narrowed to those small differences. It is true that male and females are different, but in the end we have the same minds and the same experience of consciousness. The bodies shouldn’t matter because minute differences do not define who anyone is, the entire person is who that person is. I have really enjoyed this course. It has widened my understanding of gender from the binary positions they once were, to a more advanced thinking that two categories do not define 7 billion people.  -Tommy Kaiser