The gender binary unfairly marginalizes those outside of it

outdated gender roles and assumed identity can lead to underlying physical and emotional damage

Madison Miller, Copy Editor

DSCF2667 It seems today that most of society views gender through the lens of the gender binary; this means that, generally, sex and gender are falsely classified by society at large into distinct, opposite and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine. This classification should be reconsidered and ultimately dismantled and is being challenged, due to the fact that it marginalizes individuals who do not conform to its polarizing strata.

Gender roles begin to be pushed on children at an early age. Case in point: just the other day, I was asked by my five-year-old sister why men cannot wear skirts or paint their nails, and why pink is a girl color while blue is meant for boys. I informed her that colors are neither masculine nor feminine, and told her that boys should be free to adorn their bodies however they like. Still, society has a pervasive tendency to treat positively individuals who adhere to standards of hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity, while discriminating against those who deviate from the norm.

The effects of this tendency are most damaging in regards to intersex and transgender individuals. Intersex individuals are people either having what is considered both ‘male’ and ‘female’ gonadal tissue or having the gonads of one sex and external genitalia that is ambiguous or of the other sex, whereas transgender individuals are people whose gender identity is different from the sex they were coercively assigned at birth.

As children, intersex individuals are often subjected to medically unnecessary genital surgeries and hormone treatments to which they did not consent. These surgeries can cause both emotional and physical life-long harm. According to the Intersex Society of North America, in many instances, adult patients and parents of minors are actually denied medical records, and children are not told that they are intersex. Should they find out about their condition later on in life, the fact that people went to such lengths to keep it hidden can be a source of shame. Lying to patients is both unethical and bad medicine. Adult intersex patients who were lied to and figured it out often stopped getting medical care they needed to stay healthy, out of distrust for their doctors.

For example, some stopped taking hormone replacement therapy, which is critical after gonadectomy, and wound up with life-threatening osteoporosis at an early age. There is something incredibly destructive about the fact that our society prizes the gender binary so much that it forcibly alters those who do not conform to it, often causing them harm in the process and giving them no choice in the matter.

As for transgender individuals, in 33 states there are no laws preventing them from being fired from their jobs simply because of their gender identity. In addition, according to a 2011 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, transgender women make up 44 percent of anti-LGBTQIAP+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual and pansexual) murders, and transgender people of color are three times more likely to be victims of hate violence by the hands of police than other members of the LGBTQIAP+ community.

In addition, nonbinary individuals do not identify with a gender inside the gender binary. They often face stigmatization because of this, and are often told that in order to appear androgynous they must look masculine. This should not be the case, however, both because masculine is not the default and because it is not anyone’s place to tell them how they should present their gender identity; that should always be a personal choice.

The importance placed on adhering to rigidly defined gender roles hurts everyone, even cisgender men and women, or those who do identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. This is because they feel pressured to conform to standards of gender expression that may not suit them. Men are typically associated with being loud and opinionated while women are thought more along the lines of being meek and quiet, and there are certain standards of dress associated with both masculinity and femininity. In many cases, individuals will find that these standards of behavior and dress, while expected of them, do not necessarily suit them. They should be able to pick and choose the traits that are the best fit for them, instead of feeling boxed in by traits stereotypically associated with their gender.

For example, the emphasis society places on hyper-masculinity and phrases like “be a man,” which encourage boys to toughen up, teach men to use violence and aggression in order to solve their problems. Otherwise, they are thought to be effeminate and called words like “sissy,” a term which devalues femininity. This is problematic not only because it prioritizes more masculine traits over more feminine ones, and is therefore inherently misogynistic, but also because of the harmful consequences it causes, such as increased violence among boys.

Society needs to stop trying to police people’s gender and their expression of it. Gender and one’s expression of it are very personal, and rather than forcing people into an inaccurate model of gender, i.e., the gender binary, society needs to change the way it views gender. After all, it makes more sense to tailor the system to suit everyone’s needs than it does to try and change people so that they conform to it. Think about it: a scientist is not supposed to change the results of an experiment to support a failed hypothesis. Similarly, people’s identities should not be undermined in deference to a faulty view of how gender works.