On Challenging the Gender Binary

[Author's Note: I promised a post challenging cisnormativity in the past. Sorry for the long delay, but here it is!]

As I kid, my parents never kept me from doing or wearing “boy” stuff, if that was what I wanted. I grew up progressively more and more masculine. Most of my friends grew up masculine too, but without the same parental influence of open-mindedness.

The gender binary is the classification of sex and gender into two neat little boxes. It’s a social boundary, preventing the masculine and feminine from overlapping and keeping gender roles defined. And, like communism, it works great on paper.

It’s a very Western way of thinking. Through much of human history, the concept wasn’t even considered. Non-binary genders, gender identities that are not strictly masculine or feminine, date back to Mesopotamia and Egypt, infamously described as “Third gender”. Native Americans recognized it as two-spirit, and in India it’s called hijra.

Many historical examples of non-binary genders sound, in description, closer to intersex. To be intersex is to be born with genitals that are not strictly a penis or a vagina and uterus. There are many possible ways this can occur besides what is observable at birth, including infertility.

Modern non-binary genders are a similar story, however tend to be more about personal identity than divinity. There are lots of identity labels that people use. Agender, bigender, gender-fluid, and genderqueer are common. I’ve also seen demigirl/boy, genderpunk, and genderquoi (quoi means “what” in French). Many people consider non-binary genders to be under the trans umbrella. Some non-binary people, such as myself, choose not to use the trans label.

Some identities, such as genderquoi, are pretty self-explanatory. Others, like demigirl/boy, raise questions. Almost all non-binary people will hear the same comment regarding their gender in their lives:

“That’s not real.”

When people start challenging a long-used system, however arbitrary that system may be, it makes people angry. This has always been true. Granted, so have non-binary genders, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from disrespecting, ignoring, and erasing them in the name of, you guessed it, the gender binary.

And because the gender binary manifests itself in more ways than just identity, everyone can experience ridicule for even going against “traditional” gender roles. Children are especially open to this. Not necessarily from other children, but from their parents, other parents, and complete strangers. Parents who won’t let their children play with certain toys, participate in certain activities, because god forbid they grow up to be anything other than cisgender, heterosexual adults. Strangers and other parents who think that their opinion is so very important and should be considered because how dare these people let their son play with baby dolls, don’t you know your daughter won’t be right when she grows up if you let her think of anything but her appearance?

Most young people now don’t always take such commentary seriously, or outright ignore what people think gender roles should be. But even in LGBT+ communities, the idea of the gender binary is so ingrained that people don’t take non-binary genders seriously.

This has encouraged a lot of people, non-binary and otherwise, to talk to people about non-binary genders, and to teach them to question the binary wherever they see it. Gender, like everything else, is a spectrum. And sometimes people just need a push to think critically about and explore gender and their own identity. Some people who know they do not identify with their gender assigned to them at birth think that their only options are “boy” and “girl”, even if neither of them fit, and that they have to pick one. This line of thinking can be unhealthy and damaging. It’s important that people know and understand that there are more than just two genders, and more than just two sexes even, for this reason.

More on:

Non-binary identities

Intersex people

The non-binary experience

The gender binary

PSA by EchoCommaThe

I appreciate all comments on my blog. I love hearing what you have to say about my arguments as an outside perspective.

But if you’re going to argue with me, please keep your comments to the point and critical.

I recently had a spat with someone who tried to reword parts of my own arguments and use them against me. If in the future we could have a more mature discussion than that, I would appreciate that, too.

I really am glad people are taking interest in what I have to say and I’m trying to keep myself open to as many worldviews as I can.

However, I’m really good at picking out if an argument is valid or if my opponent is just trying to get my goat or confuse me and make me say something that negates or disproves what I’ve already said. I believe this is immature and a waste of everyone’s time, and I only have so much patience for it. I have no qualms with blacklisting anyone who stops being worthy of the time it takes to engage with them.

And again, thank you for taking the time out of your day to read, and my posts will always be open to a critical view. Fighting for the sake of it is not and will never be welcome here.

Thank you.

RE: On Women in STEM Fields

Another WordPress user, who shall remain anonymous, brought to my attention some of the areas I did not cover so well in my last post.

“Why is it that STEM fields are important? Why not focus on, or at least include, Nursing Teaching and other traditionally women’s jobs? There is only about 20% female participation in STEM but only about 2% male participation in Nursing and Teaching. Why not focus on the more gender segregated work places?”

I’ll go in order.

STEM fields are important in general because it is in literally every aspect of your life. Just by sending me this message you’ve utilized the T. Science and math are vital to our future – Everyone’s future. Not just the men that take up 80% of STEM jobs. Likewise, said men have the power to hire or not hire, and they are not hiring women.

“Between 1969 and 2009, the percentage of doctorates awarded to women in the life sciences increased from 15% to 52%.” Despite this gain, women only make up about 18% of full professors in biology-related fields, and 36% of assistant professors. Women are awarded less than 20% of Bachelor’s degrees in both physics and engineering, but more than 50% on Bachelor’s and Doctoral degrees in biology.

Gender preferences in STEM fields are most likely due to discrimination against women in science. This leads to women holding fewer positions. This is another reason why the lack of women in STEM fields is a problem that needs to remedied.

There are no “traditionally” women’s jobs. “Traditionally,” women do housework and raise children. “Traditionally,” men get paid. There was a time that nursing and teaching, along with every other position in the workforce (with a few special cases), were Men’s Jobs. I think the word you’re looking for is “stereotypical”.

And I am not focusing on these jobs because the lack of men in these fields does not hurt them. When men are teachers, nurses, or even single or stay-at-home fathers, they are praised, as if having a sense of sympathy is a No Boys Allowed club. Men in this world can do just about anything they want career-wise. Women on the other hand tend to be pushed away from any job that, by having it, would suggest they are not just a pretty decoration to look at, and that they have some desire to be respected and viewed as an equal. Men do not tend to have this problem.

I could stand to mention other gender-segregated workplaces, such as management (<40% women in 2009), business ownership (~36% women in 2007), firm ownership (~16% women in 2007), Fortune 500 CEOs (<5% women in 2012), 25 senior government jobs that have NEVER been held by women, and others. All of these figures are different when you segregate it again by age, race, and disability. So why not focus on more segregated workplaces? I would never stop. A subject that can be divided a hundred different ways is too broad of a topic for a <800-word article to cover with any completeness.

STEM jobs are significant in that without them, there would be nothing. With everything in the modern world somehow tying back into science, technology, engineering, or math, an 80/20 gender discrepancy is unjust in every conceivable way. These are important jobs that affect everyone equally in life. Turning girls off of STEM fields is unfair to them and to future generations.

More on:

Why STEM is Important
Male Faculty and the Employment of Fewer Women
Department of Labor Stats
Women in the Workplace
Diversity in Today’s Workforce
U.S. Census Bureau: Women in the Workforce (pdf)
Senior Gov. Jobs Never Held by Women

On Women in STEM Fields

[Author Note: This one's in the category of cisnormative articles I'm trying to avoid. This topic is an important one to me, but it's also pretty exclusive to the gender binary. I'll make up for it in a later article.]

It’s pretty well known that to be a woman in a STEM field is uncommon. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and it’s a generally male-dominated area. In fact, women make up less than a quarter of all STEM jobs.

This begs the question, why? Are STEM fields just too masculine for many lady-folk to take interest? It is a fact that men tend to perform better in spacial tasks than verbal, and women tend toward the opposite, but in most studies these differences are for the most part superficial, and can be overcome. This makes the “it’s just biology” argument pretty flimsy in my opinion.

At an elementary level, boys and girls have similar attitudes toward math and science. About 66% of girls and 68% of boys are interested. The difference only shows up around puberty. By 8th grade, about twice as many boys as girls are interested in STEM subjects.

The barriers that keep women uninterested in STEM fields have been researched. Lack of role models, reluctance to hire people who may also have to raise a family, and our good friend Gender Stereotyping are the popular choices.

There is limited support for women who are interested in math and science, and some of this lack of support may be in the infamous 200-level college courses. The joke goes that 100-level courses are to get you hooked on a subject and 200-level courses are to “weed out the weak”. Courses designed to do this tend to disproportionately “weed out” women, not because they are failing, but because they are less confident. Women with Bs deem their grades inadequate, and drop those courses. Men on the other hand will continue to pursue a subject with grades as low as Cs.

Classroom gender biases go well beyond college courses. Many teachers interact more with male students. When girls ask for assistance, teachers are more likely to just do the problems for them, rather than teach them how to do it themselves. This leaves girls just as clueless as before. Studies show that when actions are taken to involve female students, the whole class is better for it.

Even as young as early elementary school, students start to have some gender biases already ingrained into them. Ask a 2nd grade class to draw a scientist and you’ll probably end up with 25 crudely drawn pictures of Albert Einstein; a middle-aged white man in a lab coat is what kids will picture before Dr. Mae Jemison or Ada Lovelace. This kind of stereotyping turns girls off of STEM fields more and more as they grow up.

Many girls just find that there aren’t any good role models in STEM fields for them. This isn’t true, but most good role models get buried under their male colleagues. Most people could probably count all the female scientists they can think of on one hand. Women like Jane Goodall and Marie Curie are well-known. Rosalind Franklin died of ovarian cancer that she gave herself discovering the double helix structure of DNA, but James Watson and Fancis Crick tend to get the credit. Hedy Lamarr (yes, that Hedy Lamarr) is known mostly for her face, but she also invented the transmission technology that makes your WiFi possible. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin is the reason we know that hydrogen is the most abundant atom in our universe. Even Cleopatra invented cold cream.

Women are interested in science and math. We just need to remind them every now and again that it’s OKAY for them to be interested in science and math. Encouraging girls to continue to pursue their interests, telling them that they are allowed to be smart, will build up their confidence to not settle for just being pretty, but will also push them to be pretty intelligent.

More on:
Women in Science – Why so Few?
Myths about Girls and STEM subjects
Why so Few? Study
U.S. Dept. of Commerce: Women in STEM
Talk Nerdy To Me
Mae Jemison
Ada Lovelace
Rosalind Franklin
Hedy Lamarr
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

On Comprehensive Sex Ed

Today we’ll be talking about sex, a few myths commonly associated with it, and some of the numerous faults in the American public education system’s idea of how sex ed should be taught.

Myth #1: Your first time is supposed to hurt.

People with vaginas hear this all the time; your first time is painful. You might even bleed a little when “he pops your cherry” which is a myth to itself that we’ll get to later.
First times can hurt. If you go too fast, if there’s not enough lube involved, or even if you aren’t aroused enough. When someone possessing a vagina becomes sexually aroused, their vagina will lubricate itself, and loosen up a little. This makes penetrative sex easier and more pleasurable. People often say that if their partner’s vagina was “loose”, they must be lying about it being their first time. This is untrue and in no way backed by science. Vaginas always go back to their original size.
It’s a belief held by some that this myth is propagated by those who are uninformed of these bodily functions, or who simply do not feel the need or desire to make sure their partner is comfortable.

Myth #2: Virginity.

Virginity is a purely non-medical social construct. Before Christianity bastardized the term, a virgin woman was a woman who was not owned by a man. This was often associated with sexual independence, rather than sexual chastity.
There is no tangible value in being a virgin or not. Any value placed in virginity was so placed by oneself and/or one’s culture. Some may argue that when a person with a vagina has sex for the first time, their hymen is supposed to tear. This is otherwise known as “popping your cherry” and goes along with Myth #1. Hymens can tear, but it’s important to remember they are not supposed to.
Virginity as a social aspect often assumes all sex is heterosexual or at least penetrative. This is not necessarily true. Since virginity is not medical or measurable, it can only be defined by oneself. Hand jobs, oral, and anal sex can also count to some as a loss of virginity.

Myth #3: People with vaginas do not orgasm.

This again may or may not be caused by inconsiderate sexual partners.
The Technology of Orgasm: ‘Hysteria’, the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction by Rachel P. Maines is a “history of medical mal(e)practice” regarding female sexuality. In it, Maines discusses a study done regarding female hysteria, which is most known for the medical use of vibrators and the subsequent discovery and dismissal of female orgasms.
There is a small glimmer of truth in this myth. About 75% of people with vaginas do not reach orgasm through penetrative sex alone (sex without use of hands, tongues, or toys), and more than 10% do not reach orgasm at all. It’s definitely something to be discussed with all sexual partners. Communication is important.

Myth #4: Men initiate sex.

While this certainly can be true, it is not always. This myth plays again on the idea that all sex it heterosexual sex. Really, anyone can initiate sex as long as they are considerate of their partner.
And remember: If it involves coercion, trickery, drugs, alcohol, or force, it’s not sex. It’s rape. Sex is a continuous, sober, enthusiastic “yes”. Anything else is rape, and you are better than that.

Myth #5: The “Morning-After” Pill is abortion.

Sometimes unprotected sex happens. Emergency contraception that can can be used to prevent pregnancy for up to five days. The Morning-After Pill (Such as ella or Plan B) delays ovulation so that when the sperm hit the Fallopian tubes, there’s no egg to fertilize. This means no abortion would be necessary.

In America, Abstinence-Only education is a popular method of teaching sex ed. In states where this system is taught to the letter, teen pregnancy rates tend to be higher than states where comprehensive sex ed is taught. In my own experience, and the experience of my peers, the way sex ed is taught now versus how it was taught up to 20 years ago is absolutely mortifying.

“Once in my health class, we had genital maps to label, and a cis girl asked the teacher what the clitoris was. She got sent out of the class because that was an inappropriate question.” Charlie, sex ed 2012

“We were taught everything. Our teacher told us that it was supposed to feel good and if it didn’t feel good make it stop. We talked about masturbation.” Shannon, sex ed 1988-’89

The American Public Ed system has room for improvement. Changing the idea that teaching kids that sex is scary and bad will stop them from having sex would be as good a place as any to start.

More on:

The Technology of Orgasm: ‘Hysteria’, the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction

Female Orgasm Statistics

Female Orgasm Statistics (cont.)

Emergency Contraception

Emergency Contraception (infographic)

On Straight Pride

July is Heterosexual Awareness month and all I can think is who thought this was necessary.

From heteroawarenessmonth.weebly.com, “Heterosexual Awareness is about more than just being aware that we are straight. We are one of the only groups who no longer have a respected voice in this modern world. Speaking up for traditional heterosexual values or lifestyle we have been mocked, ridiculed and called things like bigot… for nothing more than being part of a majority and having an opinion; You might not have felt this form of discrimination yourself but many many heterosexuals have and from all walks of life. Everyday we get messages that thank us for having the courage to speak up.”

Also I wet the bed until I was 13 years old and require that everything be about me 100% of the time.

I have a lot of questions here. First and foremost being, have you gone outside recently? The only place majority groups ever go ignored or “disrespected” is on the internet.

What I think this person is trying to get across is that they feel they are not allowed to be straight. They feel “oppressed” because their opinions on LGBT+ issues are not always listened to, and as an Ally (if they are one), they feel like they deserve more respect.

Allow me to indulge you, Anonymous Straight Person, and give you the attention you so crave.

If you, or any of your straight, cisgender friends have been ignored by the LGBT+ community, it’s because you are not part of it. You are not queer. The space you are trying to nose your way into is not welcoming you with open arms because you do not belong to it. Similarly, congresspeople are not especially welcomed into homeless shelters because they are not homeless.

You are not the minority, and therefore have no right to speak for the minority.

And because you are not the minority, you do not need a whole month devoted to you. You do not need rallies or events held in your honor. You have your privilege. You have your rights. You are in the same position of power that you have always been and you have no right to ask for “pride” or “awareness”. We are all aware of you, trust me.

There are LGBT+ awareness and pride events because the community needs them. This is a group of people who have been discriminated against since the ancient Romans. This group of people risk hate crimes ranging from harassment online to disownment to rape and murder.

Your gender identity and sexuality, Anonymous Straight Person, does not put you at risk of this. IT actually puts other people at risk of it. Hate crimes faced by the LGBT+ community are committed pretty exclusively by straight, cisgender people. Especially those who think they are entitled to space in a community they have no reason to belong to.

You are not being discriminated against. People are not calling you a bigot for fun, or because they are “heterophobic”. People call you out because they are probably right. And rather than yell about the “oppression” you face as a straight person, it may prove beneficial to you to actually take a step back and think about your behavior. Ask yourself if you are invading a space you don’t actually need to be in. Ask yourself if you’re being a bad ally.

If the LGBT+ community is rejecting you, it’s probably not because they think your hair is funny or that your music taste is bad. It’s probably because you are doing something you ought not be doing.


On Gender Bias

A study was done in 2000 by three women not actually looking to do a study on gender bias.

The study was done by taking 23 mother-child pairs (12 daughters, 11 sons) or different races, similar socioeconomic status and age, and had similar college experience. All children were between 11 and 11.5 months old, and all were experienced crawlers.

The study began by testing the mothers’ expectations of their infants’ crawling abilities and what they believed their infants would attempt on a sloping walkway. An experimenter demonstrated the walkway to the mothers and asked them to estimate the steepest slope their infants would be able to successfully crawl down, without assistance or sliding, and then to estimate the steepest slope their child would attempt. The angles were measured on a protractor that was hidden from the mothers and recorded.

The second part of the test session was to determine the actual level of crawling ability and crawling attempts of the infants. The experimenters determined the steepest slope each infant could crawl down successfully. This measure was used as a crawling boundary – a general point of estimate for ability. The accuracy of the infants’ motor decisions was then tested. A third trial was done to test the accuracy of the mothers’ predictions. Each trial was recorded on video as well as online. There was 98.6% consistency between the data taken from the video and the data recorded online in real time.

The crawling ability and crawling attempts varied greatly. Both the crawling ability and crawling attempts of the girls and boys were not significantly different. There was also no significant difference between the accuracy of their motor decisions.

The mothers’ expectations were consistent and inaccurate on every measure. There was no significant relationship between the mothers’ estimations and the actual abilities and attempts of the infants. Mothers of girls tended to underestimate both crawling ability and crawling attempts, whereas mothers of boys tended to estimate crawling ability more accurately and overestimate crawling attempts. The mothers of girls tended to accurately estimate their infants’ motor decisions, and the mothers of boys tended to overestimate their infants’ motor decisions.

Several possible reasons for the mothers’ differences in estimations were hypothesized. One, there could be subtle physical differences that were generalized to include motor differences. Two, the mothers generalized behavioral differences they knew of between girls and boys. Three, the mothers had limited knowledge of their infants’ motor development and relied on stereotypes.

Four and finally, the mothers based their estimations on anticipated differences that reflect prominent social stereotypes.

The study was concluded in speculation of socialization agents, reflecting on the lack of difference between the boys and girls, and yet the mothers expected and predicted one.

This gender-based expectation potentially plays a role in a parent’s encouragement or restriction of their child’s abilities and activities they take part in, thus perpetuating the stereotypes that we started with in the first place, and causing perfectly ordinary pastimes to become unnecessarily gendered, with physical activities being labelled “masculine” and more passive activities such as sewing and other homemaking trades being labelled “feminine”.

The question is, how did these trends and stereotypes start? Getting to the root of the problem could potentially lead us to a way to uproot it.

Read the full study here


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