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home > sex & society > the sexual system > distinction between male and female
Until about two thousand million years ago, the only living creatures were single-celled organisms. They replicated by dividing themselves, a process that is known as cell division or cloning. The cells that result from such a division, the daughter cells, are practically identical to the mother cell. At present, most single-celled organisms, for instance bacteria, as well as the cells of our body, still replicate in this way.
Then, more than a thousand million years ago, a new form of reproduction came about. It is called 'sexual' reproduction because it requires two sexes, male and female, to come together and combine their genetic material to make a new individual. These sex cells are called male or female depending on the function they fullfil. Female cells contain the necessary nourishment for the offspring. They are usually relatively large, immobile and small in number. Male cells, on the other hand, have to find their way to the female cells, sometimes over a great distance. Therefore, they are small, mobile and numerous.
Equality between the sexes
The distinction between male and female is so fundamental that we tend to forget that it plays such a big role in our lives. The way we look, think, talk, and behave, nearly every aspect of our nature and culture shows this distinction. We realize this most clearly when we try to change patterns that are considered to be typically male or female. Over the past 200 years changes have been made in our outlook on sexual equality in many areas of social and private life. In many countries men and women nowadays have, theoretically, the same legal rights, and many in the middle and upper classes of society have benefited from the changes. However, the reform is by no means complete. In fact, it has only just begun, and at present there is a strong tide of sexual conservatism in the world, which prevents further progress.
The distinction between the sexes is connected with biological reproduction, the family, and the control of sexual desire. The real equality between the sexes will not come about until this whole sexual system is overturned. So we must begin to imagine what it would be like if there were no sexes at all.
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