Column by Talera Jensen
Gender, in its etymology, is a fairly recent term—the emergence of its English usage is dated to about a century ago. Before “gender,” most people defining others or themselves in sociosexual terms would use “male” & “female,” along with “man” & “woman,” as entirely equal. Being a man, socially, was considered naturally occurring in those deemed “male” while the same relationship happened between being a woman and “female.”
Recent popular connotation of these terms hasn’t changed much since then. The average American (especially if from or raised by the baby boomers generation) does little to distinguish the biological attributes of a person from their social presentation. I’ve even heard fellow college students using the words “sex” and “gender” interchangeably in class discussions as well as in casual conversation. This is careless and nonconstructive, as gender is not always the same thing as biological sex.
What is gender then? Why would it be different from biological sex, considering that’s the paradigm we’ve been taught to believe our whole lives?
Basically, if sex is purely biological (induced by a combination of genetics and fetal development), gender is its non-biological counterpart. Gender is the expression of one’s sex role, the social interpretation of one’s determined sex. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that the heteronormative interpretation of gender—the feminine female to foil the masculine male—reigns supreme, as it is expedient for the heteropatriarchial American culture.
Gender is a global institution, its function varying from place to place. It works both for and against people’s best interests, so it is a complex one. However, it is undeniable that a striking majority of the benefits of embracing heteronormative gender are bestowed upon males. Males are socialized as aggressive and unsympathetic. The male sex role is ordained “masculine” and “neutral” traits. Females, on the other hand, have a very limited availability of action, and most of the acceptable feminine qualities render her essentially invisible. If a female takes visible action or makes a name for herself in some way, she will be looked down upon by society no matter what she does. The heteropatriarchial system described earlier is especially harmful to intersex individuals, for if they cannot be society’s definition of a “man” or “woman” they are either forced to choose or endure ridicule for their entire lives.
The denial of gender’s existence is yet another function of gender as a harmful institution. It’s the logical fallacy of “this won’t be a problem anymore if we just don’t think about it.” Unfortunately, that heightens the problem and erases the experiences of those negatively affected by it.
I ultimately strive for gender abolition, a radical concept entailing the eradication of social expectations based on sex. This would provide a society where everybody is free to express themselves however they want, without constraints of gender. Biological sex would be reduced to medical terms only, as it has no bearing on how a person should be able to live their life.
A world free of gender would benefit not only individuals but also society as a whole. The pressure for males to exercise their aggression against females (and each other) would no longer exist. The ability to receive an education and be respected as an adult intellectual would not be hindered by gender. While abolishing gender would not solve all of the injustices in society, populations already conducive to change have been proven to accept further revolution.
This is my stance on gender: it exists, it’s harmful and we would be much more productive without it.
It’s not an easy process to change a custom so central to the human race as a whole for millennia, but it is possible. Small (but effective) steps to promote gender abolition include understanding the difference between gender and sex, educating others about it and exercising a lifestyle aware of gender constraints. Not everybody has the liberty to be subversive to gender, so those who do have such a privilege should be mindful of this.
Before all else, we must consider the disparity between social expectations and individual experience. From that point, we can progress towards a more just society.