French writer Simone de Beauvoir has said, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” What she means by this quote is that, while physical, anatomical sex is a concrete reality, the idea of gender is a socially-constructed fabrication. This paper agrees with Beauvoir’s assertion. A woman is born with the anatomy of a female, but she learns to be a “woman,” and to live within the parameters set by society, normalized through generations and generations of socially-gendered interactions between males and females. When a woman grows up, she encounters the different social spheres of life that shape her self-identity and inform her conceptions of gender. These include the family, peers, educational institutions, the media, religion—especially, religion. Each of these spheres informs the female on how to act, dress, talk, walk, date, etc. Gender is a learned experience, not a biological function. It is perhaps most profoundly reinforced through religion.
Consider the biblical story of Adam and Eve, which is, for many millions of women, the very basis of gender norms in society. In this parable, Eve is tempted by Satan to eat of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and she, in turn, tempts Adam to eat as well. Having defied the laws of God, the pair are cast out of the Garden of Eden and are cursed with mortality. What must a woman feel when reading this tale? Surely, she cannot think she was born into this paradigm. This idea of Original Sin and the female’s role in the downfall of man is not intrinsic to her physical being simply because she has the anatomical parts of a woman. No, this is a socially-gendered construct taught to women from as early an age as they would be able to comprehend. The guilt of Original Sin and woman’s subordinate status to men is a learned behavior first proposed and further reinforced by the Christian orthodoxy. This is merely one example illustrating how gender can be a learned behavior and not a biological function. Of course, there are many more ways that gender norms are reinforced than through religion; however, this aspect is perhaps its most obvious and profound support.