Yes. Gender is a Social Construct, but it’s not a Spectrum | Jess Gill
Gender identity is simply just a categorisation of certain traits, usually related to sex. It is used to describe the social and cultural differences, rather than biological ones. In recent times, there has been a push to define gender as a spectrum. My argument is not that it’s impossible to call gender a spectrum, my argument is that it is not useful, and that it could be potentially harmful for society to determine that gender isn’t binary.
It is common for those who support the idea of gender being a spectrum to make the argument that their conception of gender is new. Throughout history and in different cultures the gender binary has been rejected. This is not a compelling reason for modern western society to treat gender as a spectrum. For one, just because other cultures and times in history have done a certain thing does not entail that said thing is useful or good. Other cultures and times in history have embraced atrocious acts which would not be accepted in modern society. However, it is useful that gender being a spectrum has been tried throughout other cultures and points in history since we are now able to study the results.
For example, feminist scholar of Ancient Roman civilisation, Mary Beard, in the book Women and Power shows how in Ancient Rome, women who did not fit the patriarchal stereotype of what a woman should be, and were thus classified as androgynous. For example, a woman called Maesia successfully defended herself in the courts because “she really had a man’s nature behind the appearance of a woman”. In addition, males were often summed up by their oratory skills. As Telemachus said: “to become a man was to claim the right to speak”, whereas women’s natural condition was to keep silent in public forum. Nowadays, women do not have to be seen as androgenous in order to speak in public. This was not done by women rejecting their gender in order to speak, it was done by women embracing their femininity, showing that women and oratory skills are not seen as contrary to each other.
This can be seen in the modern day where those who do not conform to stereotypical ideas of gender. Instead of embracing that men and women come in all shapes and sizes without making them any less of a man or a woman, choose to identify as non-binary; which does nothing but validate those stereotypes by disassociating themselves. As a young non-binary individual states in a GLAAD article, “Being non-binary is to embrace ambiguity. To strut the confidence of a red collar and a flat chest. To own the beauty of a gown worn with a necktie”. Notice how this individual’s experience of being non-binary is based on stereotypes. It is the assumption that wearing a “necktie” and having a “flat chest” makes someone less of a woman – something that any feminist should be arguing against.
Hardly anyone is one hundred percent masculine or feminine. Especially since everyone has individual interpretations of what masculinity and femininity are. They are not what defines what it is to be a man or a woman. Is a camp gay man less of a man because he does not conform to societies standards of masculinity? I’d argue it is homophobic to say so.
This attitude is seen to come from a rejection of stereotypes. Oftentimes, those who do not conform to masculinity and femininity do face societal exclusion. As a society, we should accept that men and women often do not conform to stereotypical ideas of gender. However, making gender a spectrum because individuals do not fit into certain boxes only enforces that the boxes are still there.
The most common way that this change in the idea of gender will impact society is through our language. For example, Gender is used for categorising certain statistics to show trends in issues such as domestic violence and sexual harassment rates. In addition, it is used for sexual preference. Those only attracted to the same gender are homosexual and those only attracted to the same are heterosexual. This would have to be considered when changing language to fit the spectrum and it would lead to unnecessary complications.
Pronouns are another hot topic in this debate. Whilst they/them pronouns have been used throughout history in both its singular and plural forms, the use of they/them to refer to gender identity is a relatively new concept. However, making they/them a gender identity may lead to the exclusion of those who do not identify as non-binary. In Caroline Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women, she explains how the use of the gender neutral pronouns of “he/him” in the past has led to women not identifying with it because the “generic masculine is read so overwhelmingly as male that it even overrides power stereotypes”. Which meant that women were less likely to apply and perform well in interviews for jobs advertising using generic masculine, even with stereotypical feminine jobs like beautician. By using they/them pronouns as gendered and gender neutral simultaneously, the same effect may happen as those within the binary may not relate to those pronouns, leading to disparities.
The current discourse around gender politics is extremely vague and based on emotions. Oftentimes when a person disagrees, their intention is assumed to be hateful. Instead of explaining their perspective, those defending gender being a spectrum are often aggressive. However, the notion that gender is a spectrum needs to be questioned since it has real world consequences. It is becoming normalised and unchallenged in today’s society, which is shown by Instagram adding a pronouns-in-bio feature and including a wide range of pronouns (including per/pers, cos/co, and mer/mers). It’s ironic that gender Queer Theory which has encouraged gender being seen as a spectrum was brought about to stop stereotypes and help people’s mental health considering that in practice, it society rejecting the gender binary is only worsening these issues.