Men and women, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Do these dualities really matter in today’s times? It’s all about performativity after all, as Judith Butler boldly declared back in the nineties. Does this mean that in our individualistic, neo-liberal world, we’re free to choose who we want to be and which gender to “perform”? Not so fast.
Society has progressed significantly in the realm of gender politics. We see this progress everywhere – transgender rights are finally being addressed, non-binarism is becoming a mainstream concept, and gender power struggles are being discussed on the world stage. Many who were forced to be silent in the past are finally being given a voice. However, it seems like we are not yet fully ready to acknowledge the varied nature of gender. For example, strongly opinionated public figures, such as Jordan Peterson and Piers Morgan, have suggested that gender binarism is “utter garbage” (Morgan), and that finding your place as a non-binary within our society is too complicated. Labeling oneself as either male or female obviously makes our system function in a smoother way but none of these people seem to be questioning our society and their textbook knowledge.
Governments around the world are launching ground-breaking initiatives in order to be more inclusive and less discriminating. In Australia, the Tasmanian government is currently working on removing gender from birth certificates. The Canadian government passed legislation in 2016 that protects any form of gender expression and gender identity against discrimination. These measures spurred heated debates in both countries – further proving that many reject the idea that gender goes beyond the binary.
So, is gender non-binarism just another way of perplexing people, being edgy, and pushing social boundaries? The confusion and potential embarrassment that people find themselves in when wondering about how to approach non-binary people and which adjectives to use, reveal a lot about their social conditioning. The truth is, if it makes you reflect and push your boundaries, then we are collectively on the right track. It’s all about questioning your own beliefs, instead of jumping to conclusions. Unfortunately, we are all subjects of social conditioning – our worldview was virtually cemented the day we were born. It is hard to dismantle everything we have learned and associated with gender throughout our lives. We follow the stereotypes that are presented to us almost instinctively. We express them in our sense of style, our career choices, and even our physical behaviour. As our society becomes more receptive to ideas like gender fluidity, it gives us all the opportunity to rethink and address our potential misconceptions.
Gender is one of the foundational blocks of our existence. There is no other characteristic that dictates our path more. Shifting to gender-neutral birth certificates and pronouns will indeed create a lot of chaos in our social system but with the right education, this change can take us a step closer to equality and less discrimination between humans. What the future holds for gender binarism is a mere speculation at the moment but things are being stirred up and while this still a subject of debate, I think humans, in essence, are all non-binary.
Kate Shylo is a master student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.
- Columnist (Fall 2018)