Gender binary

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Gender binary (also known as gender binarism, binarism, or genderism) [1] [2] [3] is the classification of gender into two distinct, opposite forms of masculine and feminine, whether by social system or cultural belief.


In this binary model, sex , gender , and sexuality may be assumed by default to align, with aspects of one's gender inherently linked to one's genetic or gamete-based sex, or with one's sex assigned at birth. For example, when a male is born, gender binarism may assume the male will be masculine in appearance, character traits, and behavior, including having a heterosexual attraction to females. [4] These aspects may include expectations of dressing, behavior, sexual orientation, names or pronouns, preferred restroom, or other qualities. These expectations may reinforce negative attitudes, bias, and discrimination towards people who display expressions of gender variance or nonconformity or whose gender identity is incongruent with their birth sex. [5]

General aspects

The term gender binary describes the system in which a society allocates its members into one of two sets of gender roles, gender identities, and attributes based on the type of genitalia. [6] In the case of people born with organs that fall outside this classification system (intersex people), enforcement of the binary often includes coercive surgical gender reassignment. [7] [8] Intersex people often identify anatomically as male or female; however, their innate gender identity may be different. Gender binary therefore focuses primarily on one's innate identity irrespective of their anatomical features. [9]

Gender roles are a major aspect of the gender binary. Gender roles shape and constrain people's life experiences, impacting aspects of self-expression ranging from clothing choices to occupation. [10] [11] Most people have feminine and masculine psychological characteristics. [12] [13] Traditional gender roles are influenced by the media, religion, mainstream education, political systems, cultural systems, and social systems. [14] Major religions such as Islam and Christianity, in particular, act as authorities for gender roles. Islam, for example, teaches that mothers are the primary care givers to their children and the Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination, only ordains cisgender men as priests. Christianity supports its adherence to a gender binary with the Book of Genesis in the Bible, where it is declared in verse 27 that "God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." [15]

Orthodox Judaism also forbids women to be ordained as rabbis and serve as clergy in their congregations. [16]

In English, some nouns (e.g., boy), honorific titles (e.g., Miss), occupational titles (e.g., actress), and pronouns (e.g., she, his) are gendered, and they fall into a male/female binary. Children raised within English-speaking (and other gendered-language) environments come to view gender as a binary category. [17] Studies have found that for children who learn English as their primary language in the U.S., adults' use of the gender binary to explicitly sort individuals (i.e. "boys" and "girls" bathrooms and softball teams), as opposed to just the presence of gender markers, causes gender biases. [17]

According to Thomas Keith in Masculinities in Contemporary American Culture, the longstanding cultural assumption that male–female dualities are "natural and immutable" partly explains the persistence of systems of patriarchy and male privilege in modern society. [18]

Hyde and colleagues suggest that gender being visibly marked makes it become unnaturally psychologically salient. [17]

In the LGBT community

Gender binarism may create institutionalized structures of power, and individuals who identify outside traditional gender binaries may experience discrimination and harassment within the LGBT community. Most of this discrimination stems from societal expectations of gender that are expressed in the LGBT community. But many LGBT people and many youth activist groups advocate against gender binarism within the LGBT community. Many individuals within the LGBT+ community report an internal hierarchy of power status. Some who do not identify within a binary system experience being at the bottom of the hierarchy. The multitude of different variables such as race, ethnicity, age, gender, and more can lower or raise one's perceived power. [19]

Worldwide, there are many individuals and several subcultures that can be considered exceptions to the gender binary or specific transgender identities. In addition to individuals whose bodies are naturally intersex, there are also specific social roles that involve aspects of both or neither of the binary genders. These include Two-Spirit Native Americans and hijra of India. Feminist philosopher María Lugones argues that Western colonizers imposed their dualistic ideas of gender on indigenous peoples, replacing pre-existing indigenous concepts. [20] In the contemporary West, non-binary or genderqueer people do not adhere to the gender binary by refusing terms like "male" and "female" as they do not identify as either. Transgender people have a unique place in relation to the gender binary. In some cases, attempting to conform to societal expectations for their gender, transsexual individuals may opt for surgery, hormones, or both. [21]

Limitations and rejection

Some scholars have contested the existence of a clear gender binary. Judith Lorber explains the problem of failing to question dividing people into these two groups "even though they often find more significant within-group differences than between-group differences." [22] Lorber argues that this corroborates the fact that the gender binary is arbitrary and leads to false expectations of both men and women. Instead, there is growing support for the possibility of utilizing additional categories that compare people without "prior assumptions about who is like whom". [22]

Scholars who study the gender binary from an intersectional feminism and critical race theory [23] perspective agree that during the process of European colonization of the U.S., a binary system of gender was enforced as a means of protecting patriarchal norms and upholding European nationalism. [24] This idea of a gender as a binary is thought to be an oppressive means of reflecting differential power dynamics. [25] Studies of Two Spirit traditions have shown that various indigenous cultures understand gender and sexuality in a way that directly opposes Western norms. [26] [27] [28]

Gender binarism also poses limitations on the adequacy of medical care provided to gender nonconforming patients. There is a large gap in medical literature on nonbinary populations who have unique healthcare needs. [29]

Anne Fausto-Sterling suggests a classification of 23 sexes and to move away from the classification of male and female. In her paper "The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough", she discusses the existence of intersex people, individuals possessing a combination of male and female sexual characteristics, who are seen as deviations from the norm, and who frequently undergo coercive surgery at a very young age in order to maintain the two-gender system. The existence of these individuals challenges the standards of gender binaries and puts into question society's role in constructing gender. [30] Fausto-Sterling says that modern practitioners encourage the idea that gender is a cultural construct and concludes that, "we are moving from an era of sexual dimorphism to one of variety beyond the number 2." [31]

See also

Nuvola LGBT flag.svg   LGBTportal

Related Research Articles

Gender Characteristics distinguishing between masculinity and femininity

Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, these characteristics may include biological sex, sex-based social structures, or gender identity. Most cultures use a gender binary, having two genders ; those who exist outside these groups fall under the umbrella term non-binary or genderqueer. Some societies have specific genders besides "man" and "woman", such as the hijras of South Asia; these are often referred to as third genders.

<i>LGBT</i> Initialism for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons

LGBT, or GLBT, is an initialism that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. In use since the 1990s, the term is an adaptation of the initialism LGB, which began to replace the term gay in reference to the broader LGBT community beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s. The initialism, as well as some of its common variants, functions as an umbrella term for sexuality and gender identity.

Cisgender is a term for people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth. For example, someone who identifies as a woman and was assigned female at birth is a cisgender woman. The term cisgender is the opposite of the word transgender.

Anne Fausto-Sterling American sexologist

Anne Fausto-Sterling is the Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Biology and Gender Studies at Brown University. She participates actively in the field of sexology and has written extensively on the biology of gender, sexual identity, gender identity, gender roles, and intersexuality.

Gender identity is the personal sense of one's own gender. Gender identity can correlate with a person's assigned sex at birth or can differ from it. Gender expression typically reflects a person's gender identity, but this is not always the case. While a person may express behaviors, attitudes, and appearances consistent with a particular gender role, such expression may not necessarily reflect their gender identity. The term gender identity was originally coined by Robert J. Stoller in 1964.

Third gender, or third sex, is a concept in which individuals are categorized, either by themselves or by society, as neither man nor woman. It is also a social category present in societies that recognize three or more genders. The term third is usually understood to mean "other"; some anthropologists and sociologists have described fourth, fifth, and "some" genders.

Heteronormativity is the belief that heterosexuality, predicated on the gender binary, is the default, preferred, or normal mode of sexual orientation. It assumes that sexual and marital relations are most fitting between people of opposite sex. A heteronormative view therefore involves alignment of biological sex, sexuality, gender identity and gender roles. Heteronormativity is often linked to heterosexism and homophobia. The effects of societal heteronormativity on lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals can be examined as heterosexual or "straight" privilege.

Pansexuality Sexual or romantic attraction to people regardless of gender

Pansexuality is sexual, romantic or emotional attraction towards people regardless of their sex or gender identity. Pansexual people may refer to themselves as gender-blind, asserting that gender and sex are not determining factors in their romantic or sexual attraction to others.

Non-binary gender Range of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine

Non-binary or genderqueer is a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine‍—‌identities that are outside the gender binary. Non-binary identities can fall under the transgender umbrella, since many non-binary people identify with a gender that is different from their assigned sex. Another term for non-binary is enby.

The following outline offers an overview and guide to transgender topics.

Gender variance, or gender nonconformity, is behavior or gender expression by an individual that does not match masculine or feminine gender norms. People who exhibit gender variance may be called gender-variant, gender-non-conforming, gender-diverse,gender-atypical or non-binary, and may be transgender or otherwise variant in their gender identity. In the case of transgender people, they may be perceived, or perceive themselves as, gender-nonconforming before transitioning, but might not be perceived as such after transitioning. Some intersex people may also exhibit gender variance.

The distinction between sex and gender differentiates a person's sex from that person's gender, which can refer to either social roles based on the sex of the person or personal identification of one's own gender based on an internal awareness. In some circumstances, an individual's assigned sex and gender do not align, and the person may be transgender. In other cases, an individual may have biological sex characteristics that complicate sex assignment, and the person may be intersex.

Transgender Gender identity that differs from sex assigned at birth

Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from the sex that they were assigned at birth. Some transgender people who desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another identify as transsexual. Transgender, often shortened as trans, is also an umbrella term. In addition to including people whose gender identity is the opposite of their assigned sex, it may include people who are not exclusively masculine or feminine. Other definitions of transgender also include people who belong to a third gender, or else conceptualize transgender people as a third gender. The term transgender may be defined very broadly to include cross-dressers.

Gender systems are the social structures that establish the number of genders and their associated gender roles in every society. A gender role is "everything that a person says and does to indicate to others or to the self the degree that one is either male, female, or androgynous. This includes but is not limited to sexual and erotic arousal and response." Gender identity is one's own personal experience with gender role and the persistence of one's individuality as male, female, or androgynous, especially in self-awareness and behavior. Gender binary is one example of a gender system. A gender binary is the classification of sex and gender into two distinct and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine.

Discrimination or prejudice against non-binary people, people who do not identify as exclusively male or female, may occur in social, legal, or medical contexts. Both cisgender and binary transgender people, including members of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities, can display such prejudice.

<i>Sexing the Body</i> 2000 book by Anne Fausto-Sterling

Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality is a 2000 book by the biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling, in which the author explores the social construction of gender, and the social and medical treatment of intersex people. She stated that in it she sets out to "convince readers of the need for theories that allow for a good deal of human variation and that integrate the analytical powers of the biological and the social into the systematic analysis of human development."

Outline of LGBT topics Overview of and topical guide to LGBT topics

The following outline offers an overview and guide to LGBT topics.

Intersex and LGBT Relationship between different sex and gender minorities.

Intersex people are born with sex characteristics that "do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies." They are substantially more likely to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) than the non-intersex population, with an estimated 52% identifying as non-heterosexual and 8.5% to 20% experiencing gender dysphoria. Although many intersex people are heterosexual and cisgender, this overlap and "shared experiences of harm arising from dominant societal sex and gender norms" has led to intersex people often being included under the LGBT umbrella, with the acronym sometimes expanded to LGBTI. However, some intersex activists and organisations have criticised this inclusion as distracting from intersex-specific issues such as involuntary medical interventions.

Homonormativity is the privileging of heteronormative ideals and constructs onto LGBT culture and identity. It is predicated on the assumption that the norms and values of heterosexuality should be replicated and performed among homosexual people. Homonormativity selectively privileges cisgendered homosexuality as worthy of social acceptance.


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