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The Lexicon Series: What Does Gender Policing Mean?

Gender policing is any behavior that tries to correct or control a person's actions due to their gender or physical body. This policing occurs most often when someone expresses their gender or their appearance and mannerisms in general.

One term that affects the LGBTQ+ community is gender policing. Gender policing is any behavior that tries to correct or control a person’s actions due to their gender or physical body. This policing occurs most often when someone expresses their gender or their appearance and mannerisms in general. Gender policing can indirectly or directly impact a person, as well as intentionally or unintentionally. 

Defining Gender Policing 

Gender policing is the enforcement of normative gender ideals. In most cases, people reward and encourage more normative gender performances, like “masculinity” or “femininity.” When gender performances are non-normative, some people may punish them or inflict violence or negative responses. 

How Do Others Police Gender?

Other people can police gender in various ways. They can do so through disapproving reactions or physical assault. The methods of gender policing can also vary depending on the perceived gender of the targeted person. According to research, people police boys and men more often and in harsher ways. Slurs are also a significant contributor to gender policing. 

How Do Others Impose Gender Roles?

Imposing gender roles can include dressing girls in stereotypical “feminine” colors (like pink) and boys in stereotypical masculine colors (like blue). People can also impose gender roles through emotional or physical abuse. Young people who defy gender norms, and are transgender and gender-nonconforming, can be bullied and harassed by peers. 

Another way that gender policing is forced upon gender non-conforming folks is through washrooms. Trans and gender non-conforming people experience the most violence in public restrooms. This abuse occurs because some people believe there is a connection between genitals and gender, even though sex at birth is different from gender. Bathrooms are therefore segregated by genitalia. This can be harmful to trans and gender non-conforming folks. Some people think that trans people are just deceiving others and will even blame them for the violence.  

When a person questions trans or gender non-conforming people in a washroom setting, many people’s reactions will be to remove them from the area violently. Using a public washroom is a complex issue for gender non-conforming folks. Gender policing can be a way to enforce traditional gender roles. 

How Does Gender Policing Impact Others?

Parents, teachers, other youth, or others can force gender roles by shaming the individual. No matter who enforces binary gender roles, the impact is damaging. It can impact a person’s mental health and lead to issues later in life like substance use.

Forcing gender roles can include sexist ideals, leading further to a culture of violence. Some of these sexist beliefs include ideas that boys/men have to be “strong” and girls/women have to be “weak” and protected by men. Since gender policing can have such a negative impact on the lives of LGBTQ+ people and the community at large, it is essential to work towards ending gender policing.

Related: What is Non-binary Gender Identification: A Brief Explanation

Why Is Understanding Intersectionality Within Gender Policing Important?

To challenge traditional gender norms, it is essential to fight against power structures rooted in sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and moreEvery society has a dominant culture that favors and rewards certain groups over others. Members of these favored groups are known as “acceptable.” In essence, these prioritized groups do not have to consider their identities daily or regularly. Also, people who benefit from our culture ultimately have something to lose, including wealth, power, and more. In North America, this culture prioritizes heterosexual, cisgender, and white men and their needs. 

A necessary part of ending gender policing is understanding that sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are all different things. People can confuse them or lump them together. All in all, every person experiences gender and sexuality differently. People should instead celebrate these differences instead of pushing people for them. 

It is also vital to understand how gender policing impacts different social identifications in various ways. Race, ethnicity, gender identity, class, sexual orientation, age, religion, and disability all interact with each other. They are affected differently when it comes to gender policing.

To understand the intersection of these social categories (known as intersectional theory), you can refer back to history. The idea of race came about from European capitalist colonialism; these colonists deemed that people who weren’t “white” were primitive and needed to be dominated and “civilized.”

In essence, global colonialism imposed European ideals and traditions onto the people they were colonizing, including a patriarchal and radicalized notion of gender. Colonists viewed “black” people as inhuman, and they were excluded from classifications of gender. As a result, in western society, being “white” and the middle class continues to define gender norms, causing people of color to be unable to perform “accepted” femininity or masculinity. 

In essence, nowadays, intersectionality discusses how other forms of human characterizations can affect marginalized people in various ways. For example, how a white transgender woman experiences gender policing will be very different from how a black transgender woman experiences it.  

Unlearning Traditional Notions of Gender

Now that you know how big of an issue gender policing is within communities, people must educate themselves more about it. That way, they can stop it from happening. It can be tricky to unlearn these roles since our culture has encouraged traditional gender roles and expressions for a long time and continues to do so. However, more education is now available about gender. We have enough resources to put in the work to challenge and question these outdated ideas.

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Billie Olsen

MODEL: Billie Olsen

Billie Olsen (she/they) is a lifestyle writer, disability justice advocate, and cozy femme located in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Their works have appeared in Metro News, Discorder, Sophomore Magazine, the Post-Feminist Post, DINE Magazine, and NerdReader.