“We need to move beyond male and female.” So argued my cisgender Sociology/Gender Studies professor in my Gender and Work course last week when we were discussing occupational segregation (the trend of men and women tending to work in different occupations and industries). How refreshing, I thought, how great to finally hear a professor go beyond discussing people as simply male or female and acknowledge that there are transgender and genderqueer people who may not fit neatly into these labels. Unfortunately, my optimism was premature and my professor was simply discussing the intersectionality of race and gender (also incredibly important)—not the fact that we should rethink the socially enforced gender binary.
If we want to achieve true equality for all people regardless of gender, we need to stop reinforcing the categories of male and female day after day, even in supposedly progressive and feminist spaces. While there are some sharply distinct issues facing male and female queer people, the labels “lesbian” and “gay” simply reinforce sex categories by forcing people to choose to identify fully as male or fully as female, rather than acknowledging that everyone has some masculine and some feminine traits. By constantly trying to adhere to masculine or feminine roles, both men and women are hurting themselves. One of the reasons why men have a shorter life expectancy than women is because they’re more likely to participate in risky, “masculine” behavior such as drinking heavily and not going to the doctor while feeling ill; one of the reasons why women earn 80 cents for every dollar men make in the workplace is because they’re more likely to take a significant amount of time off work to take care of children, a quintessentially feminine chore. Each one of us should take the daunting step of following gender roles slightly less…for the good of ourselves and others.