To quote author and science content creator Hank Green, “Gender is one of the oldest systems for controlling groups of people…” Green is absolutely correct. Gender, like money and borders, is a social construct and the history of gender throughout society quickly reveals just how far the gender rabbit hole goes down.
Firstly, I want to make sure we’re on the same page. “Gender” is a set of characteristics related to someone’s presentation of masculinity and femininity. This can be one of those two, both, or neither. Theoretically speaking, gender doesn’t even have to be about masculinity and femininity, because those concepts in and of themselves are socially constructed. Gender differs from “sex” in that sex is about external primary and secondary sex characteristics. It can be hard to tell if someone saying “gender” actually means “sex,” but that’s precisely my point.
Gender in the modern era, despite much ado about something, is still a massively controlling force in all aspects of our lives. We may not even realize how much gender influences the way we think or the way we act.
Probably the most sinister way that we are conditioned to be obsessed with gender is simply how we interact with new people. Everyone has an ingrained idea of what is masculine (read: a man) and what is feminine (read: a woman). Some of us have unlearned these ideas (or at the very least, work towards unlearning those ideas), but for most of the world, we categorize based on a sliding scale of masculinity and femininity.
We, as humans, love to group things into categories. We see something and immediately our brains go to work defining exactly what it is. What happens when we see a person and our brain can’t make the choice subconsciously? The conscious mind takes over and that’s where problems can often occur. This isn’t an easy thing to navigate, I will admit. Making assumptions is not a sin, so to speak, on its own. It’s how you react to someone correcting you on your assumption that is the true test.
When someone that you assumed their gender incorrectly tells you that their gender is something else, the only thing you should do is apologize, and immediately correct yourself in any future conversation. Bar none, that is the bare minimum. If you mess up, that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it isn’t your responsibility as a member of humanity to treat everyone with respect. If for some reason you can’t bring yourself to be decent to people who don’t meet your assumptions, that is your problem, and you must fix that.
Gender is a social construct that developed out of contrived gender roles, and they have changed over time. As they continue to change, we all need to realize that there isn’t anything that any one gender is supposed to do, and that the others aren’t. This ends up being limiting and harmful to everyone. Tackle your own biases and assumptions and be kind to your fellow person.