The Complexities of Gender



By Emily Wilton


Society had a system. It was pretty straightforward, the men made the money while the women made the meals - or at least that's how it once was.


Fast forward over a hundred years through the rise of feminism, women working, studying and voting, all which were once a male dominant normality, and you’ll see how our gender norms throughout Western society have shifted. As time has passed people have evolved. The very idea of gender itself has vastly changed. No longer is it a strict two tick type binary box but rather men, women, gender fluid, nonbinary or transgender.


Gender is complex, more so than the sex you are born whether it’s male, female or intersex. It’s not just a physical thing but also internalised within your identity and sense of self. Not everyone fits within the confines of gender that have been in place for so long.


This ideological presumption fails those who do not fit the supposed ‘one-sizefits-all box’ of either male or female. Western society has and still to this day continues to shame, ignore and wrongly label anyone who says otherwise. Regardless of this, there have been great leaps of progress happening to right the wrongs of past injustices, such as legalising transgenders to change their birth certificate to the correct gender they identify as.


Now for most people, this issue doesn’t affect them as they fit the box and go about their day with no questions asked. However, those that don't fit the premade mould to exist without struggle in Western society, often get abused, bullied, and banned from occupations and activities, most recently by the current president of the United States banning transgender people from the army.


Alice Dreger, historian of science and medicine asked in a Ted talk “Is anatomy destiny?” The advancements made in science directly show that there is so much more to gender then we first thought. Gender isn’t a stagnant two type code. These simple and stable ideas that we had once been so sure of using in society are actually a lot fuzzier than we first thought.


We present ourselves to the world each time we step outside and interact with one another. This web of relationships and socialisation that builds and grows over time influences how people are perceived in society. Location, religious beliefs, family and attitude have all been noted as key points that can set the building blocks for a person's perception of gender which goes on to shape their identity. Essentially, our external environment is key not only in establishing who we are as individuals, but how well we are supported in trying times.


If you find yourself in an uncomfortable environment you are less likely to say anything that could potentially warp, damage or change said relationships regardless of your own feelings on the matter. Whereas if you find yourself in a comfortable environment, you become more inclined to speak your mind and have a sense of peace knowing the roots of your relationships have fostered positive support for you and your well-being. Environment is a big part of whether or not you present yourself to the world truthfully or if you just show them what they expect to see.


This shift in perception of gender and identity over the decades has been shaped by the reiteration of positive language and the breakdown of misconceptions on the matter. Older generations have rather pushed the topic toward the shadows of society, unspoken and not openly addressed due to the negative culture surrounding anything differing from the idea of a set gendered system. The unique nature of gender mirrors the strengthening of societal change and positive acceptance in the Western world.


With most young adults being naturally welcoming towards the complexities of gender, the road blocks often found in the way stem from people of different generations of opinion. It is through this generational breakdown of derogatory terms and societal constructions where we can continue to work to educate the differing opinions on the matter of gender, starting within our own web of relationships, whether that be a parent, a cousin, a colleague or a friend.