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What is the Gender Binary?

gender binary
The gender binary is a model that categorizes all people into one of two genders

The gender binary is a model that categorizes all people into one of two genders. In essence, gender is seen as a rigid binary under this model. In addition, it suggests there cannot be more than two genders. 

The gender binary is mostly an aspect of Western culture and thought. By contrast, Many cultures recognize various systems of genders. For example, Two-Spirit is an umbrella term used by some Indigenous North American people to describe individuals in their communities who fulfill a traditional third-gender ceremonial and social role. 

Western colonialism can pressure other cultures to conform to its rigid gender binary. When this occurs, it is a form of racism and sexism called binarism. 

What Does the Gender Binary Fail to Take Into Account?

The gender binary neglects individuals whose gender identity doesn’t fall within the gender binary. These people may not identify as just “female” or “male” but have a more gender-diverse identity. For example, they may identify as non-binary. When individuals are oppressive and discriminate against non-binary people, this is referred to as nonbinary erasure.

What Is the History Behind the Gender Binary?

Throughout global history, many cultures have subscribed to a model of gender roles, including female and male individuals. However, what is different from Western culture is that many other cultures recognize other gender identities. However, the gender binary itself is strictly limited to only two genders, even though it has not been the case for all cultures in history. In fact, the gender binary is a relatively new concept introduced in the European Christian Church. 

Earlier Abrahamic religions and European cultures acknowledged other genders and sexes. However, Western colonialism put pressure on cultures all over the world to conform to their standards. In essence, Western colonialism forced other cultures to take up its model of the gender binary and even had deadly consequences for those who didn’t conform.

Why Is the Gender Binary So Ingrained in Our Culture?

The gender binary is still so prevalent in today’s culture and an accepted concept. Many people assume people’s genders and pronouns, and gender reveal parties are still a thing in society, despite catastrophic consequences.   

Within Western cultures, there are even characteristics associated with one gender or the other. For instance, things like heels, wigs, makeup, and the color pink are typically seen as only for women and girls, when in the past, men and boys enjoyed them.

How to Dismantle 

The concept of the gender binary has come up more when discussing transgender and non-binary individuals and their rights. As a result, discussions of how to dismantle a binary view of gender are beneficial for everyone, no matter how you identify. Adopting a more progressive understanding of gender can make it easier to include and provide acceptance for transgender, non-binary and agender individuals. 

Here are some suggestions for dismantling the gender binary:

Normalize Pronoun-sharing 

Sharing pronouns doesn’t just have to be for transgender or gender non-conforming people. When everyone shares pronouns, then it stops people from assuming everyone’s pronouns based on their gender. Simply putting your pronouns in your email signature or social media bios is a good start. Normalizing this kind of sharing can be part of your everyday introductions, as well. However, it is essential to note that not everyone may be comfortable sharing theirs, so do not force anyone to do so if they are not comfortable. In many cases, the person may not be open about their gender and not feel safe enough to do so. 

Become an Advocate 

Advocacy can occur on various levels, whether it’s neighborhood and/or community efforts or national organizations. For example, your advocacy work for gender could look like leading discussions in various aspects based on gender in society. It could lead to social change and socialization, tackle gender-based discrimination, and more. In essence, advocacy aims to increase awareness and empower and increase the participation of marginalized people. Even simply educating people in your life or speaking up about these issues can go a long way. 

Address Implicit or Unconscious Biases 

Implicit or unconscious bias is where you have ideas that you may not consciously be aware of. However, when you address or reflect on these biases, it can help you better confront them and become a more accepting person, and better understand identities outside of the gender binary.

In Summary

As soon as children are born in our society, they are generally lumped into one of two categories. Many people think that biological sex determines gender when these are two entirely different concepts. As we learn more about the gender spectrum and break down the gender binary, it can improve the mental health of gender-diverse individuals.

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Billie Olsen

AUTHOR: 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.

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