Discussion Provocation #3
In the simplest terms, gender is a social construct. That is an irrefutable fact that only gains credence as time progresses. But what are the origins of gender; more specifically, why is gender mainly viewed as a binary and its respective roles? It helps to define what gender binary is first and what it enforces. Karen Blair from Psychology Today summarizes what the gender binary is: “The gender binary refers to the notion that gender comes in two distinct flavors: men and women, in which men are masculine, women are feminine, and, importantly, men are of the male sex and women are of the female sex” (Blair). But, back to the question of where the gender binary and its role originated from. Like many things in today’s society such as race, the social construct of the gender binary and gender roles came from European settlers as they colonized roughly eighty percent of the world. Gender binary was then perpetuated by society’s institutions such as education, politics, economics, and religion.
Although gender is a complex spectrum, when focusing on the gender binary in the colonial context, it is obvious that it served to hold men as superior to women. Because most countries still foster post-colonial societies, this narrative persists. Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo iterate many facts in their book Is Everyone Really Equal? that illustrate that this colonial gender constructs continue to oppress women such as one in four women in the United States has experienced domestic violence, one in three women has been a victim of rape, a woman is beaten every 9 seconds in the United States, and fifty-one percent of Canadian women report having experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence (pp. 126 –127).
Understanding how the gender binary and gender roles are maintained by institutions and how they serve to oppress women, it is obvious that this narrative must be disrupted. Without any action, women will continue to be silenced, consistently abused, and be outcasted to the fringes of society. But, how does one disrupt the gender binary narrative? Personally, I believe there are two battles here to fight. There is a battle to fight the constrictive gender roles that men and women are expected to satisfy, and there is a battle to fight systemic sexism.
From personal experience, it is easier to fight constrictive gender roles. Since my junior year of high school, I have worn clothing that is usually typified as being feminine, worn makeup, and participated in “feminine” hobbies. These habits came rather easily to me, but I understand that this is not the case for all people. The ideas of masculinity and femininity are engrained in everyone’s education and upbringing and to go against one’s beliefs creates resistance (ideological incongruence). It is a gradual change to challenge one’s ideology, so a sudden change shouldn’t be expected. With the establishment of new morals and values, it becomes easier to break free of the gender binary and its roles.
The battle to dismantle systemic sexism is more difficult to comprehend. I believe that just like dismantling constrictive gender roles, dismantling systemic sexism requires evaluation of oneself. For an individual to fight systemic sexism, they require a deep understanding of how they participate in its perpetuation. From there, an individual can properly have courageous conversations with others to make others understand the injustices that play out today. This is a rather simple approach to battling systemic sexism, but it begins a steady sphere of influence with the mission to end it.
Blair, Karen. “Has Gender Always Been Binary?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 16 Sept. 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/inclusive-insight/201809/has-gender-always-been-binary.
Sensoy, Özlem, and Robin J. DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal?: an Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education. Teachers College Press, 2017.