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The Gender Equation

What’s Your Birthright?

Gender roles. It’s a simple concept, right? Women don dresses and stay at home; men go to work in suits and return home just in time for their wives’ homemade casserole. Yes, this is an old-fashioned example, but it gets the point across--men are men, women are women. Of course, we’re beyond this 1950’s model of gender norms, but the old images still live in our minds, forming the backbone our cultural subconscious.                                               

We live in a society founded on the gender binary. When we were born we were assigned a sex, either male or female, and as we mature and move through our lives, we’re expected to embody the traits and behaviors associated with our sex. So, if you’re male, you’re masculine (sports, muscles, toughness) and if you’re a woman, you’re feminine (dresses, makeup, daintiness)--these are the rules that are many times laid out for us at birth. The “gender binary” is just a term that explains the categorizing of sex and gender into the masculine and feminine.

It’s obvious that, in practice, the gender binary isn’t so strictly abided by--the lines between masculine and feminine have blurred in many areas; all throughout society, we can find examples of men embodying “feminine” traits and visa versa with women. Parenting practices have changed, and some parents sign their sons up for ballet or let their daughters play in a co-ed football league.

Though men and women often share the same spaces and interests, the idea of “opposite genders” still plays an influential role in how we think of our identity and our worth. Yes, we’re way beyond the gender stereotypes of the 1950s; both men and women go to college, have careers, play sports, make music, take care of children. But despite all the blurred lines, our society in many ways still insists that we call ourselves either “men” or “women,” even though most people (knowingly or unknowingly) express themselves as somewhere in between. The question we must ask is this: Why does there still exist such a strict categorization of gender when in our modern world, being a man isn’t that different from being a woman? Yes, men and women experience vastly unequal levels of privilege in society--(in 2018, women have been paid, on average, 80 cents for every dollar paid to men)--and an individual’s ability to resist gender stereotypes depends on location and circumstance (a woman growing up in a metropolitan hub will probably understand gender differently than a woman growing up in a rural southern town), but as a society, we have reached a place where no person, no matter how hard they might try, is able to perfectly embody the ideal masculine man or the ideal feminine woman.

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Our concept of gender is evolving over time, but much of society is hesitant to embrace anything outside of the gender binary. We live in a world where many people do not adhere to the gender binary or even to the gender spectrum. Individuals identify as transgender, genderqueer, agender, gender non-binary and so much more. But as more people push the boundaries of gender, our society responds by putting up its defenses to protect the privilege and certainty that the traditional gender binary ensures. If we continue to define and express ourselves in terms of the gender binary, if we communicate our identities merely through femininity and masculinity, we will not overcome the bind that traditional gender roles holds us in. To start to untangle this web of oppression we must learn to express ourselves based on our personal values and interests--not just based on the widespread “values” associated with femininity and masculinity.