Gender In/Sight: Examining Culture and Constructions of Gender
18 Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law (Geo. J. Gender & L.) 43 (2017)
38 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2016 Last revised: 19 Sep 2017
Date Written: August 10, 2016
To build supportive and inclusive communities, society needs to acknowledge gender and consider how gender dynamics influence daily interactions. Gender In/sight seeks both to provide deeper understandings of gender and underline the presence of gender in daily life, ensuring that gender is “in sight.”
According to Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary, “Gender is currently in the top 1% of look-upped words and is the 386th most popular word on Merriam-Webster.com.” These statistics suggest that many people are thinking about gender, yet past thinking most often considers gender an either/or binary with only two anatomical choices.
This paper begins by reviewing a brief evolution of the social construction of gender in U.S. society, followed by an elucidation of why the gender binary remains so problematic. It then introduces some frequently used and misused terms that comprise the cluster of “gender,” examining the question “What is Gender?” Sex has become synonymous with gender and gender with sex. Sex relates to biology, sex assigned at birth, genitalia, chromosomes, and hormones. Identity represents one’s innermost sense of self, whether male, female, both, neither, or any other identity. Most people develop a gender identity that comports with their biological sex. That person is cisgender. A transgender person’s gender identity does not match their assigned birth sex and often seeks to transition (socially or physically). Gender Expression describes the manner in which people outwardly demonstrate gender. A common misconception about gender lies in the belief that someone’s sexual orientation can be determined based on that person’s gender expression. Such an assumption is incomplete because it does not take into account culture, race, ethnicity, geography, and many other factors. A richer vocabulary provides a more holistic picture of the gender landscape including: drag, gender fluid, agender/gender neutral, sex assigned at birth, pansexual. The paper offers these terms not to be final and definitive, but rather to begin the gender conversation and to illustrate its complexity.
The paper next examines more closely recent attempts to expand understandings of gender and the barriers to inclusive gender equality. These barriers include a societal lack of familiarity with gender-expansive terms and language, resulting in the unintended exclusion of non-binary people as well as a rift between feminists and gender-expansive communities exemplified over the meanings associated with being genderblind. Deeper understanding of gender becomes further challenged by the failure to deconstruct binary definitions of gender and the absence of consistent identification of gender as a protected classification.
Finally the paper develops necessary elements for Gender In/sight, a daily practice of both seeing gender and making inclusive, community building decisions to broaden society’s understanding of gender minority people. This section introduces the elements of gender in/sight, which include (1) looking at context; (2) “asking the other question;” (3) examining privileges associated with gender and sexuality, such as male privilege, heterosexual privilege, and cisgender privilege, (4) “finding the me” in the gender conversation, and (5) rebuilding a gender framework that is inclusive while recognizing nuanced differences.
Keywords: Gender, Transgender, CISgender, Gender in/Sight, Genderblind, Race, Discrimination, Law
JEL Classification: K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation