Unpacking the Concept of Gender

The Modern Survival Guide #117

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Old Concepts of Gender

Let’s start with a point that seems obvious now, but lots and lots of people will fight tooth and nail to deny — gender is a complicated subject and it’s not as simple as a male/female dichotomy.

  • Women should stay home and keep the house
  • Men should be the primary breadwinners
  • Women should raise the children
  • Girls are bad at math
  • Women are more emotional
  • Men should like sports
  • Only men should be soldiers
  • It’s only “natural” for men to be sexually attracted to women and women to be attracted to men
  • Gay men are all effeminate
  • Gay women are all butch

The Realities of Gender

So let’s break this down into a couple of categories. First let’s talk about the realities of gender from a scientific perspective. Then let’s talk about what that means for gender capabilities, and how that impacts our assumptions.

Appropriate Gender Expectations

So what does this mean in terms of our actual life and survival? Well, mostly, it means that we should be taking the whole gender stereotypes thing a lot less seriously, and taking the promotion of gender equality a lot more seriously. I’ve broken this down into a handful of helpful categories, and I think they fall into the traditional lines of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not.”

  • Stop skewing pay. The idea that men should automatically be paid more because they are primary breadwinners is outdated and no longer accurate. Everyone’s involved in the workplace now, and everyone should be paid according to their contributions on an equal field.
  • Stop assuming sexual attitudes. It is simply not accurate that all men are horndogs, and it is just as inaccurate that women aren’t interested in sex, and that’s just for starters. Assuming anything about someone else’s sexual preferences is a universally bad idea.
  • Stop assuming that there are only two acceptable gender alignments. This is a big one — not all men are going to conform to the dominant “masculine” stereotype, whatever that is, and not all women are going to conform to the dominant “feminine” stereotype, whatever that is, and that’s just fine. Because, and this is very important to recognize, those are literally things that your society just made up, and that is the limit of their importance.
  • Stop assuming that gay people will conform to an “opposite” stereotype. Gay men are not required to act “feminine” and gay women are not required to act “masculine.” These labels don’t mean much anyway, and a person’s sexuality has little actual impact on their personality or presentation in the absence of a cultural push.²
  • We should assume that household chores are everyone’s problem. It’s 2020. Everyone is involved in the workplace. Everyone should be involved in the home life. If your masculinity is preventing you from doing dishes, it’s time to grow up. If your femininity is preventing you from mowing the lawn, it’s time to get real. Just admit you don’t like doing these things and come to an arrangement with your partner.
  • We should assume that sexual orientation is a spectrum. It is god-dang 2020, people. If you haven’t figured out that what people like in bed exists as a range of options, preferences, and natural inclinations, it’s time to make that realization. Being male or female makes it more likely that a person will have a particular orientation, but that’s about it.
  • We should assume that sexual abuse happens and is bad. It is our responsibility as moral persons to ensure that our neighbors are not suffering, and that extends to protecting them from sexual abuse. Go forth with the attitude that sexual abuse is not good, and prepare for some of your friends, family, and colleagues to disappoint you. Defend the victim, not the perpetrator, while keeping in mind that people are innocent until proven guilty. And yes, men can be sexually abused too.
  • We should assume that work culture ought to accommodate both sexes. We should push for things like equal paid maternity and paternity leave, pumping rooms, flex hours, and affordable childcare services.
  • We should assume that positive attributes are positive, irrespective of gender. If a dominant attribute is a good thing for a particular role, then it’s a good thing no matter who holds that position. If a passive attribute is a good thing for a particular role, then it’s a good thing no matter who holds that position, and so on, and so forth. Let’s stop being trapped by the bold vs. bossy problem.³

Repackaging Gender

At this point, I’ve spent a lot of time breaking down what gender is and pointing out how I think we ought to be looking at it in particular areas. So how do we sum all this up? What is an appropriate role for gender in a modern, educated, enlightened society? Or is there one at all?

Searching for truth in a world focused on belief.