The Gender Binary
Written by: ANNALISE WINTZ, B.A.
Society as a whole has deemed there to be two genders: male and female. These two genders make up the gender binary, with binary meaning “of two parts.” An example is black and white or male and female (two opposite ends of a spectrum). But what if I told you that gender doesn’t really exist? You would probably say I’m crazy because everyone has a gender (supposedly!) Before we dive into that idea, let’s break down some overall terms that often get confused:·
Gender identity: how you think about yourself·
Gender expression: how you express your gender in the way you dress, act, behave, converse·
Gender role: a set of behaviors, attitudes, or gender-specific responsibilities that are typically deemed appropriate or acceptable based on your assigned sex at birth·
Biological sex: what you were born with and is traced to biology – organs, chromosomes, hormones·
Sexual orientation: physically, spiritually, and emotionally attracted to.
Many people say, “I was born female and I identify as a female; therefore, my gender is female and I know this” (or vice versa for a male). But really take a moment and reflect on what it means to be a female. Are you a female because you are feminine? Because you wear dresses/skirts? You wear makeup? You are empathetic or sensitive? What does it mean to be a female? How do you know you are one? If you say because you have female genitalia, then you are referring to your biological sex, which is not the same as gender. What I am getting at is this idea that gender is a social construct and doesn’t actually exist. Society has made up these ideas that certain characteristics belong to women while others belong to men, when actually these characteristics or behaviors are genderless in general. Think about how people associate pink with girls and blue with boys. Society has even made colors gendered, when in fact they are just plain colors that anyone can wear or associate with. It’s extremely difficult to grasp a concept that gender does not exist, because it is quite the opposite from everything we have ever learned. We are socially “gendered” from the time we are babies with many parents making everything pink for a girl and everything blue for a boy. Girls play with dolls while boys play with trucks. Girls can cry but boys are often told to toughen up. It is a cycle that is so difficult to break because it’s all we know and society continues to reinforce it!
When you identify your gender as female or male, you are simply identifying with what society thinks a female or male consists of – and that’s okay! It takes a great deal of reflection to really consider “why do I identify my gender as male/female and what does that really mean?” Is it based on societal constructs or is it something else?
Someone may identify as a male but wear more “feminine” clothing (gender expression), and maybe that same male is a stay-at-home father while the mother works (opposite gender role expectation). And perhaps that same male sees himself as both feminine and masculine and likes to partake in both traditionally female and male activities. Gender is a continuum with a lot of blurred lines because gender is complicated and not exactly one way or the other. That being said, there are also individuals who identify as non-binary, which is neither man or woman since men and women are what make up the gender binary in the first place.
As Alok Vaid-Menon once said, “Gender is not what people look like to other people; it is what we know ourselves to be. No one else should be able to tell you who you are; that’s for you to decide.
”References: Vaid-Menon, Alok. (2013). BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY. PENGUIN WORKSHOP.
Written by: ANNALISE WINTZLead Clinical Case ManagerBachelor of Arts in PsychologyRegistered Substance Abuse Counselor