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Gender is a Social Construct

Since June is LGBTQ+ Pride month, this is a great time for uplifting the voices of the transgender community. It is important to hear trans voices, because the trans community is under so much attack right now in the political sphere.

It is unfair that the transgender community has come under so much attack, when people are just trying to be true to who they are. Sometimes, the way we feel inside is different than what other people see on the outside.

In college, I had a moment when I was thinking about being a sex therapist, so I took a Sociality class called "Social Constructionism of Sexuality." It was a class all about how sexuality and gender are interpreted in society. Over time, gender roles change. This determines the way that people interact with each other based on sex and gender.

According to the World Health Organization,

Gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviours and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy, as well as relationships with each other. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.

The way we interpret 'traditional' gender roles in society can lead to inequalities in society based on the way gender hierarchies are formed. Currently, we are still in a male-dominated society, so all of the other genders can feel some sort of social persecution.

Traditionally, men are seen as being the provider of the family and going out into the work world. Women are seen as being in charge of the home and the family. However, since the industrial revolution and WW2, these roles have changed somewhat because women are more and more in the work world.

Although gender roles are constantly changing and evolving, women are still expected to do more work at home and carry the mental load of the family. Women still don't make as much money as men for the same jobs, and inequality continues in modern society.

According to The Other Sociologist,

Gender norms (the socially acceptable ways of acting out gender) are learned from birth through childhood socialisation. We learn what is expected of our gender from what our parents teach us, as well as what we pick up at school, through religious or cultural teachings, in the media, and various other social institutions.

Children are socialized into traditional gender roles from a young age by parents, other adults in their lives, and things that they see in the media. Often, the media presents overly exaggerated versions of traditional roles. However, with some cartoons in recent times women have been allowed to have more autonomy in the roles that they play.

There are stereotypes that are quickly internalized by children from a young age. For example, boys are supposed to like blue and girls are supposed to like pink. Boys are supposed to play with trucks and girls are supposed to play with dolls. Boys are supposed to wear pants, and girls are supposed to wear dresses. Women are supposed to be nurturing and men are supposed to be strong. And, so much more.

But, Gender isn't a Binary

During Pride month, I have seen people in the Transgender community raising their voices, asking to be heard and understood in their journeys of self-determining their gender. Many feel that they are assigned the wrong gender at birth, and don't identify with the stereotypical roles that they are cast into. Later in life, they change their bodies and the way that they present to society so that their gender can match with how they feel inside.

What I see missing from the dialogue around gender is Intersex people. When someone is Intersex, it means that they are biologically somewhere between male and female. They may be born with sex organs that are both male and female.

According to Planned Parenthood,

Being intersex is a naturally occurring variation in humans, and it isn’t a medical problem — therefore, medical interventions (like surgeries or hormone therapy) on children usually aren’t medically necessary. Being intersex is also more common than most people realize. It’s hard to know exactly how many people are intersex, but estimates suggest that about 1-2 in 100 people born in the U.S. are intersex.

In recent decades, when a child is born intersex, they are assigned a gender, either male or female, at birth. There are often surgical interventions performed on them to make them biologically either male or female. These medical interventions are performed at birth without the child's consent. It is decided based on opinions of the doctors and the parents.

These interventions are invasive, and can cause harm to these individuals growing up and accepting the identities that have been chosen for them.

According to NBC News,

“Gender normalizing” surgeries have been performed on intersex babies and children since at least the 1950s, often in secrecy, without ever telling the children. In the following decades, some people who underwent these surgeries as children began to speak out against them as human rights violations. Some said they had been assigned the wrong gender, while others had endured severe complications, including sexual dysfunction and infertility.

By forcing parents to fit their children within the gender binary, many individuals have been harmed by having surgeries that weren't medically necessary. This can cause both psychological and physical distress for them throughout their lifetimes. If someone 'needs' to choose a gender, they should be able to do so themselves when they are old enough to understand the consequences of such a choice, instead of having parents and doctors choose for them.

Surgeries on intersex babies are still legal today in the United States, although there are more and more people speaking up against them. Some doctors are still recommending this type of surgery to parents of intersex children, who will have to grow up and live with the consequences.

Being able to self-determine your own gender isn't only a question that is determined by intersex people. Today, there are people who identify as transgender, non-binary and genderfluid. These are people who feel as though their biological gender doesn't fit with the way that they feel inside.

By attempting to force everyone into a gender binary from childhood, society makes it difficult, and even dangerous in some cases, for people to be who they want to be when it comes to their gender expression.

Gender Stereotypes are Hurtful

We live in a society that, historically, has been patriarchal. Gender has been used by men as a way to control women. The institution of marriage was developed to give men rights over their children, so that property could be passed down through the male lineage.

Men have historically had all of the political and social power over women. The man was considered the head of the household, and the wife and children were his property. Although women aren't considered property today, this archaic usage of gender as a basis of control still hasn't faded from our collective psyche.

Since there are so many prevalent gender stereotypes in society, it is hard to break free of the roles that we are cast in as children. This is something that can be hurtful towards everyone, but more than that, it is especially hurtful towards people who don't conform to a typical gender.

People who identify as transgender, intersex, non-binary or gender fluid can especially struggle to contend with socially constructed ideas of gender in society. If you feel like you can't fit into the role that society casts you in, it can cause you to have a crisis in your identity. This can lead to mental health issues if people feel like they won't be accepted if they express the gender that they feel they are in their hearts.

As the patriarchy is losing steam, men are losing some of the control and privilege that they have held for centuries over society as a collective whole. Individuals who are gender non-conforming further challenge the patriarchal worldview by challenging stereotypical gender roles head on.

Cisgender men still have positions of relative power in society. Men are still seen as the head of the household and financial providers. Women weren't allowed to have their own credit cards until the 1970's, and still make less money than men.

Women also hold less political power than women. According to the Pew Research Center,

Counting both the House of Representatives and the Senate, 144 of 539 seats – or 27% – are held by women.

There has yet to be a female president of the United States, and most of the presidential candidates are still men even though it is 2023. Kamala Harris is shattering the glass ceiling though, as the first female Vice President of the United States.

As a society, gender has been used for far too long to persecute people who aren't Cisgender men. We need to learn how to be more inclusive and accepting of people as they are. Gender shouldn't be used as a tool to persecute people with.

We are currently in the process of redefining gender itself, and the way gender is socially constructed in society. You can see this in our language as people are starting to identify as nonbinary in recent years. There are many people who identify this way, and they are expanding the ways that we think about gender and the way we use pronouns to speak about gender.

While we are in this transition period of beginning to look at gender in a new way, you can see that younger generations are more accepting of a full rainbow of identities. Gen Z and younger are more likely to take people coming out as a different gender in stride and rapidly accept the ways that their friends identify.

Hopefully in the future we can see gender itself redefined, as the patriarchy comes to an end. One day, history will look back and see that people living in these times helped to create a better world where people are free to be themselves and to self-determine how they express their gender.

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