*Note about grammar: There are parts of this article where I use "their/them/they" as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun as opposed to singular/plural third person. "They" is a widely used gender neutral pronoun for those who don't subscribe to him/her or he/she.
What the hell is gender and why the hell do we care? To find out, let’s refer to this drawing I like to call “I still have a PC and yes I used ‘Paint’ for this.”
Here’s another, significantly more helpful infographic that illustrates gender in relation to attraction, expression, and sex.
The Genderbread Person, simply put, helps us understand that gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and attraction all exist independently of each other. Biological sex does not dictate attraction, gender identity doesn’t necessarily dictate gender expression, and so on.
However, it’s also important to note that like most things in this world, this diagram is imperfect. It perpetuates a concept called the gender binary. The gender binary is a socially constructed idea that there are only men and women, and all males are masculine and females are feminine. Here are some examples of how the gender binary is perpetuated all around us.
You might be thinking, “HELP TOO MUCH!” Completely understandable. Here’s a summary of everything we’ve learned so far by supercute YouTube user lacigreen.
Here’s where this 101 article turns into opinion. People often ask me “so, if there are a million different genders, why should gender exist in the first place? Isn't gender just a social construct? Why is it even worth our time to talk about?” It’s usually their way of telling me to STFU and stop talking about gender because MEHAK IT'S FRIDAY NIGHT AND YOU’RE AT A PARTY, NOT THE TIME AND PLACE but I answer anyway because I’m a) an asshole or b) socially conscious and care about spreading awareness in order to help prevent discrimination and bullying and want to help tear down barriers (your choice, it’s about 50/50 right now).
Yes, gender is a social construct. So is race. And wealth. And politics. And legislation. And marriage. A social construct is an invented system of social interactions and hierarchies that allow for people to organize (or be organized) into groups. But the phrase social construct does not mean “fake” or “imaginary,” it just means artificial. Gender, wealth, and politics are not a result of biology, but they’re very real, and, to some people, very important. It’s ignorant to say that there is no such thing as gender because to many people, gender is a way of expression and a way to relate to others – and to some others, it’s not. Therefore, we cannot negate its presence and ignore its existence, but it’s entirely up to us how much importance we place on our own gender and other people’s. Though my brown skin may not be an important part of my identity to me, it will make a difference to someone who will discriminate against me because of it. Whether or not I like it, beliefs about my race have been constructed, and though the color of my skin does not biologically constitute discrimination, social constructions might. On a slightly more positive note, my identity as a cisgender women with both male and female gender expressions is quite important to me. I like being able to use those things as identifiers and I feel that I fit comfortably into those categories. In this case, I use the construct to my benefit.
Gender is everywhere, so, of course, we take it for granted. Sometimes that’s okay. If you exist in your comfortable, privileged bubble as a heterosexual, cisgender male or female, that’s wonderful, congratulations. That may sound sarcastic, but it’s not -- It’s important for everyone to feel like they belong and there’s nothing wrong with being born with body parts that correspond with the gender identity, expression, and sexuality society generally accepts. But it’s crucial to know that there are those who don’t exist in that bubble and those whose sliders combine to make for “unconventional” expressions. Differences are never to be feared or invalidated, and we must have an open enough mind to at least be receptive to the information that something different exists.
And now you know.
* There were corrections made to this article on Saturday, May 18th at 6:45 PM The line "A person’s sex has to do with their internal or external reproductive organs, chromosomes, and hormone levels" was switched to "In most, but certainly not all cases, a person’s sex has to do with their internal or external reproductive organs, chromosomes, and hormone levels."
* The author of this article and Isis Magazine do not endorse the views of the creators of any external aid (video, info graphic, image, etc) used in the article apart from the view expressed in said aid.