Why is it so hard to understand that gender isn't a binary?
Last Updated: 10/28/2019 at 2:15am
Hannah Caradonna, MSW, RCSW (RCC #11330)
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It's hard for most people to understand that gender isn't a binary because people are conditioned to believe what we see. From birth we are shown the gender binary in our households, on tv, in books even in the way we are treated. Gender roles and the binary is forced upon us. Most people do not even hear the fact that gender isn't a binary to later on in life. It can take a long time to deconstruct what has already been conditioned in your brain.
Because gender is a social construct. It exists, as a concept, within human societies. And each society, with its own specific history, tradition, social values and norms may have unique way of understanding and use of the term 'gender'. Some societies view it as binary, other might have an idea that there are more than two genders, and there are even notions both in sociological theory, and works of literature, of genderless society. When we consider this term from sociological standpoint, there are different theories that have unique approaches to explaining the concept of gender, its origin, function within society and also the nature of the concept itself. And each one of these theories has some firm arguments. So, it is quite a challenge to justify and rationalize any absolutistic or extreme view of the 'nature of gender', regardless of which view this is - that gender is a binary, or that it isn't. The fact that there is so many alternative ways to define and explain this concept, and that each one of us has been socialized within specific social environment that has influenced formation of our attitudes towards it, are some of the things that can serve as explanation of why it is hard for people to understand this concept.
In our culture, this binary has been heavily enforced and deeply engrained in our society. Simply put, many do not take kindly to change (which truly is the required respect and visibility of non-binary individuals and the spectrum of gender, rather than any sudden "change.")
It's a matter of cultural construction. We've been taught to believe certain things and to make everything and everyone fit in certain categories. It's not easy for people to let go of their socially internalized beliefs, so dialogue in very important in order to spread awareness of different realities. There are people who would be willing to listen and broaden their horizons, so it's worth trying!
I think it's a hard concept to grasp because the construct of gender being binary has been passed down for generations. Sometimes, it's hard for people to accept that what they've learned isn't the full truth.
I think its because we are not taught about the different genders that there are. Most people believe and are taught about the 'two genders', male and female. When in reality there isn't a 'gender box' that we fit in perfectly. There are people who have no gender, or two, or their gender changes frequently. It doesn't make yo any less of a person because of what you identify as, and we should start learning and teaching more about the different genders that there are!
It's hard to conceptualize non-binary gender in great part because most societies reinforce that binary system as the norm - when in fact there are many more options for us as human beings. Many people confuse sex with gender or see gender as something that is unchanging as static throughout life. You'll find a significant portion of this community believes otherwise and have the experience to back it up. When discussing the limitations and fallacies of the gender binary system I often begin with definitions then move on to cultural hegemonic gender ideals then personal anecdotes. Let me know if you want to talk about this further, I'd be happy to share our understandings.
Due to lack of expressiveness of gender in the past, many structures including educational and media favour the binary system. Although gender is non-binary, people tend to conform and are unable to realise that gender is a social construct and is not determined by your biological sex or chromosomes. In fact, poor education can be one of the main reasons, and many cisgender people would not know of issues regarding gender expression, people who are born intersex, and the non-binary spectrum.
Some people are very narrow-minded. Gender has been looked into over the years and people have realised there's more to gender than just the two, traditional binary genders. Gender is a spectrum and some people classify as both binary genders, no gender or a fluctuating gender. Sometimes it's hard to accept something when you've been told otherwise for the majority of your life.
We're raised in such a way that everyone acts as though everything is either black or white. Or I suppose in this case you could say pink and blue. Most of us aren't brought up on the thought that there's more than just male and female, so it seems odd to us. It's a process to understand it all.
Everyone else did a great job of explaining that gender is a social construct. And really, the gender binary feels safe--it's what people know and understand. To challenge this idea makes people question how they live, identify, and interact with others. Sometimes, that's too scary and people refuse to change. Change is definitely possible though! I know a lot of people who at first didn't understand people who were trans, genderqueer, etc, but they were open to learning. I think the way our culture is moving, at least in America, people are getting more exposed to the idea that gender isn't a binary, which is helping. Usually, there is pushback when that kind of social change happens, which is why there is still such a struggle for people to get past the binary. And hey, some people feel threatened by it--if someone benefits somehow from the gender binary, they aren't thrilled to have that idea challenged.
People don't like when others are different. They like things to be basic and restricted. Or they all have their own opinion.
It really depends on the culture you're from. In American society, we grow up with the typical thought of a gender binary, boys and girls. It's only once we get older that some people discover that gender isn't all black and white, or... Pink and blue, I suppose, and sometimes it's hard for people to get used to.
Many people haven't experienced not being m/f so they can't comprehend it. Though it puzzles me how many religious people can't understand because there is 'no proof' or they can't see it. Surely of all people they should be understanding of the indescribable.
People tend to fear the unknown. If it doesn't make sense to them they automatically assume that it is wrong. Anything that isn't considered normal by societies standards is usually rejected. This is why hopefully in the future we will have a more open minded and accepting environment. This way everyone will feel welcome despite what they choose to identify as! :)
We are raised, in western societies at least, to think that there is only two genders. Because people are trained into that, basically from birth, it is hard for them to change something that ingrained in their minds.
Because there isn't enough education on sex and gender and most importantly acceptance! I feel that the education system is very flawed and needs to catch up with todays society.
Some people don't understand that definitions of things can change, and then when you constantly hear things growing up, you tend to believe them. Odds are most people heard about "the only two genders: male and female" growing up, and now they think there are only two genders.
Gender non-binary is a very new concept in our mainstream culture; we all have to go through a lot of assimilation and accommodation just to start understanding; gender isn't about you genitals and there's more than 2. Everyone has their own idea of gender and of where they fit (or where they don't fit). When I try to explain gender to my friends I explain it like a spectrum (like sexuality) just as a wide statement. For most people I'll use their preferred pronouns (it costs nothing to change a pronoun to make someone more comfortable in a space) and their gender, how they came to their conclusion of their identity, isn't really any of my business or interest- but if the situation is right you could always ask a none cis person- learn to be a better ally.
because people mainly know about the binary system of gender and aren't getting the education they need to move from that to a system for all genders.
Its all down to labels which we've construed all the time. Once we remove these labels and live life according to our own personality and self without being pressured into fitting the mold then the understanding will come. People struggle to understand what they have no expereince with its common place in this world, its about educating and discussing practical and correct ways to move forward with the world
Probably because the human is an 'animal of habit'. People who have lived their life around people who were all either male or female tend to have problems with understanding it. I've asked myself the same thing a lot though, it's actually really not hard to understand.
Most people learn off of experience. Gender isn't something that people can do that with though, which makes understanding gender hard for some people.
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