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p. xiIntroductionlocked

p. xiIntroductionlocked

  • Laura Erickson-Schroth
  •  and Benjamin Davis

Gender is all around us. Beliefs about gender impact our jobs, families, schools, religions, laws, politics, relationships, sports, clothes, and so much more. Gender permeates almost every aspect of our lives as humans.

Although this book is part of a series called “What Everyone Needs to Know,” it would be impossible to cover everything known about gender in one book, and since gender is something we all have in common and at the same time all experience differently, a consensus on the “most important” parts of gender differs based on personal experience and interest. In this book, we’ve tried to give you the highlights, so that you can dig deeper on your own if you hit a topic that’s interesting to you.

With a book like this, there is always the question of what to include. Given space limitations, by making a decision to cover a topic, we have also made a choice not to cover another topic. And who are we to decide? Inevitably, we have left things out that authors from a different social or political background might have included.

Because gender is omnipresent, it is intertwined with so many other facets of our identities and lives. We cannot talk about gender without talking about race or class, for instance. Although we are not the experts on these intersections, we p. xiihave attempted to identify the most crucial conversations so that readers are aware that they are happening.

Gender, and the words we used to describe it, depend on where we live and who we interact with. They are also constantly evolving. Still, there are terms that are important to know to have a common language to start from.

Gender is an individual and social experience, as opposed to sex, which is determined by chromosomes and hormones. To complicate things, there are overlaps between these two concepts, and there is evidence that gender may be biologically influenced. An individual’s sex may be male, female, or intersex. Those who are intersex may have chromosomes or hormones that vary from expected binary combinations.

Gender identity is a person’s inner sense of their gender as male, female, or something else. Gender roles reflect societal expectations for behaviors based on gender. A person’s gender expression involves their mode of demonstrating gender to the world, through clothing, hair style, and mannerisms.

Transgender, or trans, people are those whose gender identities are different from their genders assigned at birth. Those who are cisgender have gender identities that match their assigned genders. Some people identify as nonbinary, meaning that they do not see themselves as either a man or a woman, but something outside of or in-between these. Binary transgender people typically use traditional pronouns such as he/him or she/her, while nonbinary individuals may use other pronouns, including they/them or ze/hir.

Sexual orientation is separate from gender identity and reflects the genders or sexes of the people someone is attracted to. The acronym LGBTQ is typically expanded as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning and may have additional letters added depending on the situation.

Lesbians are those who identify as women and are attracted to other women. Gay is a more gender-neutral term and can apply to anyone who is attracted to those with the same gender identity as themselves. Straight people are men attracted to p. xiiiwomen, or vice versa. Bisexual refers to those who are attracted to more than one gender. Pansexual is becoming a more popular term to describe similar attractions and, for some, signifies a less binary approach to sexuality. There are also those who identify as asexual and may have relationships but do not feel sexually attracted to others.

Queer is a complicated term that was reclaimed after originally being used as a slur. In some contexts, it is political—signifying a resistance to traditional expectations—while in other situations, it is more of an umbrella term to describe those who are not straight, and sometimes, those who are not cisgender.

Gender roles across time and throughout the world are varied and diverse, although most societies are patriarchal, elevating men above women by giving them more power. Patriarchal systems are typically based in sexism, discrimination based on gender. Most cultures are also heterosexist, biased in favor of heterosexual (straight) people; heteronormative, centered around straight culture; and homophobic, biased against homosexual (gay) people. They are also cissexist, biased in favor of cisgender people; cisnormative, centered around cisgender culture; and transphobic, biased against transgender people.

The United States, along with many other countries, has a history of colonization, where one group has come in by force and taken over another, affecting every aspect of the colonized community’s existence, including their gendered lives. Many in the United States face oppression based on more than one aspect of their identities. Oppression can also weave together with privilege, which is the advantage afforded to certain groups based on identities such as gender, race, class, religion, and ability. Intersectionality is an approach that allows us to explore these experiences, keeping in mind the many interdependent systems that affect our lives.

p. xivThis is not an exhaustive list of terms, and those included here are bound to change over time, but they may allow you to familiarize yourself with key concepts related to gender as you move forward to the pages that follow. It is our hope that this book inspires you to explore the world of gender wherever it may take you.