Beyond the Label, Towards Equality

“Labels aside, We are all unique. We are all valid.”

The 21st century has seen a lot in terms of the efforts being made towards gender equality. The acknowledgement and understanding of the various social aspects of the LGBTQIA+ community has evolved throughout the years but it’s still a long way to go. But before we take our steps towards equality, we first need to understand the current demographics of the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that gender is a social construct that people typically describe in terms of femininity and masculinity. Westerners attribute femininity to women and masculinity to men, but this social construction varies across cultures. A person’s gender is how they identify internally and how they express this externally. Clothes, appearances, and behaviors are some ways in which people express their gender identity. A growing number of people refuse to be classified based on their gender, either because they do not label themselves as men or women, or because they transition from one gender to another. Gender is not neatly divided along the binary lines of “man” and “woman.” Our perceptions of gender identity constantly change. The term “gender identity” first appeared in the 1960s. It referred to a person’s sense of inner belonging to a certain gender. Over time, it came to include people who identify in other ways too. Regardless of the sex assigned to them at birth, a person’s sense of gender determines who they are.

Even though in our society the genders that are most recognized are man and woman, there are many different gender identities. Gender is a spectrum which includes cisgender, transgender, gender neutral, non-binary, agender, pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, third gender, and all, none or a combination of these. Gender can be complex and people are defining themselves in new and different ways as we gain a deeper understanding of identities. It is very important to note that gender identity may not fit into a category. While labels may help people better understand their identities, gender identities cannot always be classified in this manner. As people come to perceive their gender identity, they may find that no single term defines it. Or, that they may identify in several ways.

Ignorance towards the different gender identities leads people to set some gender roles and stereotypes unknowingly. A person’s socialization starts long before birth and gets influenced by their parents and the environment in which they live. As soon as the parents learn their child’s gender, gender roles get imposed on them. Events like revealing showers, baby showers, and decorating the nursery with a particular theme begin to affect the child and position them in a gender role. Gender roles play a significant part in socialization, affecting all. However, many of the gender stereotypes we are familiar with now are recent tendencies in human culture due to the societal expectations for each gender evolving through time. Gender stereotypes, such as the color blue being associated with boys and the color pink with girls, are relatively modern ideas. Pink was perceived as a manly hue between 1918 and 1940, whilst blue was seen as delicate and gentle, making it best suited for females. High heels were only worn by males in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, depending on their height, they were considered a “sign of manhood.” This demonstrates that the characteristics people associate with “traditional” gender divisions were substantially different only a few centuries ago, and cannot be utilized to determine roles today.

Gender inequality has been a raging issue for centuries. After decades of lobbying against this societal phenomenon, we have still not been able to eradicate it from our lifestyle. Queer people have historically been treated unequally and denied civil rights. Gender equality is a human right first and foremost. It is the notion that all people, including gender and sexual minorities (LGBTQIA+ community), should have equal rights and opportunities to reach their full potential. The absence of gender equality affects people of all ages and from all walks of life. We urgently require gender equality as it protects gender minorities from abuse, and has positive repercussions for economic growth (for the freedom to be one’s own self has a direct impact on boosting morale, as well as productivity). There have been many consequences of the harmful gender roles that placed one gender atop a social pedestal, while demeaning another. Wage gap is a major problem of the corporate sector, and many ciswomen and transgender individuals are paid less than their cishet men counterparts, for the same work. Promotions are denied and there’s a huge discrimination in terms of giving opportunities. Historically, education was often also only focussed on boys — girls did not have the same support in the past.

However, achieving gender equality is not a lost cause. It is possible to curate a more accommodating, accepting environment that doesn’t aim to fit people in a box and that understands the weight of each individual’s gender identity. For starters, one should avoid assuming gender just from stereotypes — rather than simply assume someone’s gender from their appearance or behavior, it is always better to politely ask, or allow to be corrected when made aware of someone’s preferred pronouns. Instead of prodding and poking someone over their gender identity, one should always try to understand, and not question someone’s identity in a way that is meant to be harmful. Doing small things, such as simply stating one’s pronouns on social media platforms can help normalize the practice and make it less stigmatized. Society as a whole should learn to not limit itself to the concept of two genders, and realize that there is nothing that is wrong in identifying with a queer identity. Those of us who are in a position of privilege should show solidarity with the people who struggle with their gender identity, and try to help them in situations that work against them. Educational curriculum and awareness programs should include imparting knowledge about gender identities and their importance, ensuring that people understand the depth of gender identities early on in life itself. Affordable and accessible counseling programs and mental health support for those struggling with understanding or coming to terms with their gender identity should also be encouraged and promoted. Hopefully, with positively reinforcing actions like these we can generate a support system that eases the burden of discrimination and trauma faced by people due to their gender, and allows them to be express themselves openly and live comfortably.

A general glossary :

Genderqueer: A gender identity built around the term “queer”. Refers to a gender that may or may not fit into the binary category of man or woman, and can even fluctuate between both.

Agender: Someone who does not identify themselves as having a particular gender

Pangender: Someone whose gender identity is not limited to just one gender, and can encompass several genders.

Genderfluid: When the gender identity is not fixed, i.e., it can change from day to day, and so on. This is a relative term which can have different meanings for each individual.

Cisgender: Describes a person whose gender identity conforms with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Transgender: A transgender person is someone whose gender identity does not match with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Non-Binary: A gender identity that is not solely male or female — i.e, an identity that exists outside of the conventional binaries.

Two spirit: It is an umbrella term that is used by Indigenous people to describe those in their communities that embody both a masculine and feminine spirit. It has deep cultural, spiritual and historical roots and reflects a complex indigenous understanding of gender roles, their history and their diversity.

Written by Aditi Jain, Megha Shruti and Tisha Chawla

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