Recently, Facebook introduced the option of choosing a gender for your profile outside of the previous binary option of male or female. This include things like “non binary,” “transgender male/female” and “cisgender male/female,” among many others.
The change marks a fairly progressive move for Facebook, who also added the option of choosing the gender neutral pronoun of “they,” which many people who identify outside of the gender binary use as their preferred, and, by preferred, I mean mandatory, pronoun.
This is a great step, and I think it is a great opportunity for all of us to pause and think about how we conceive of gender. Doesn’t that sound fun? If it doesn’t, this should probably be the paragraph where you get off. Nice to see you, though. Check back next time.
Personally, I took this change as an opportunity to list my gender identity as cisgender female. I’ve been working to make sure that the way I view gender is not as black and white as it used to be and the introduction of the word cisgender into my life is a big part of that.
By using it more and normalizing it in my speech and everyday actions, I hope that I’ll be less wont to exclusively include cisgender women in my conversations about issues within feminism by limiting the concept of women to specific body parts or attributes. I’m guilty of doing this, because it’s something that we have hammered into us constantly.
I don’t want to do a 101 lesson in this article, because I know that a Maryville College education has probably both provided you with the knowledge that gender and sex are two different things and the ability to research issues you don’t know about.
Yeah, sorry, this is probably one of those columns that requires you to Google if you’re not already following. If you get bogged down, shoot me an email and I’ll send you some resources.
Even with the knowledge that sex and gender are different, though, we still constantly use language that exclusively links women to uteruses, vaginas and breasts.
For example, I just recently started to question a quote that I used to find funny from the show “Parks and Recreation,” where one of the characters parodied the phrase “bros before hoes” with “uteruses before duderuses.” It’s just a joke, but it shows how naturally we connect the concept of womanhood to gendered bodies.
One step towards questioning how we view gender is to start to analyze the use of this language and, eventually, to eliminate it. Some women have penises. Some men have vaginas. There’s a little 101 for you.
Of course, these are facts that we are pretty much all aware of, no matter how some people choose not to accept it, but our actions and our language do not reflect it.
Actually, feminism rarely reflects it, too. Coming out of the 1970s in particular, mainstream feminism has had a strong history of being transphobic, denying the legitimacy of transgender women’s identities in particular. It is a history that has stuck.
Many so-called “radical feminists” today claim similar beliefs and base a lot of their activism on keeping transgender women out of the picture or out of existence.
They are oppressive and dangerous and I want my feminism to stand in opposition to people like them and to transphobia in general. It is the only way that I can see feminism as a belief system and as a movement operating successfully in the years to come.
So, take this change from Facebook as an opportunity to critique what you know about gender and how it impacts your daily life, especially if you are cisgender. There’s a good chance that you are reinforcing the gender binary, and who wants to do that?
Facebook made a step towards change, and so can all of us. Try to be more aware of the different ways that people identify and of the knowledge that humanity is amazing and vast and unable to be quantified into two tiny check boxes. For some people, it’s not that easy. For others, those check boxes have “cisgender” heavily implied, to the point that it’s unmistakably considered the default.
There should never be a human default. We are all confusing, beautiful, mystical creatures made of blood and bones, and we all deserve the right to feel comfortable in our skin, in our names and in something as basic as our social media profiles.