The Future of Gender?
In my Sociology of Gender class, we’ve been discussing what gender might look like in the future, should we achieve true gender inclusion and gender equality. As we learn more scientifically based information about gender and we do better with accepting gender-fluid and non-binary gender categories into our culture and society, what will it look like when we’ve achieved a more equal society, in terms of gender?
Some say we’ll have a gender-less society, as the extremes of binary sex, “masculine men” and “feminine women,” are made obsolete due to an increased understanding of the ways people define themselves and live their lives. Without society dictating you have to be either a “man “or a “woman,” and all that means for how you live your life, the standards of masculinity and femininity and the gender regime might disappear (eventually).
Is it easy to change something that is so much part of the very structure of society?
Power defines the gender hierarchy, thus the powerful group (men) and society’s high value for its (masculine) characteristics is unlikely to disappear solely due to individual preferences for identity opening up. It is more likely that hegemonic masculinity will retain its power and all other forms of gender identity and expression will continue to be subordinate.
On the other hand, rather than either a genderless or a dominant masculine society, what might it look like if all gender identities and expressions were given equal standing, no matter how we get there?
Would our language change? Our language has gender, binary gender! He and she, him and her. We are thinking more about pronouns and how we need to either always use generic genderless pronouns or have an alternative to just the two we already have. “Them” and “they” are frequently used for referring to a single person, although their grammatical usage has long been debated and they are more accepted in Britain than in the U.S., historically. However, in 2017, the Associated Press approved the usage as gender-neutral replacements for news stories.
Would our language be totally genderless? A quick look at languages that are considered gender-neutral shows that those societies do not necessarily show more gender equality.
More likely would be a language that has more gendered pronouns, based on the identified gender categories the society recognizes. Historically, in cultures that have more than two genders, the other categories do have names and are liked to social roles.
This presents a conundrum of sorts, how to more precisely define categories like “gender-fluid” (or is “gender fluid” sufficient?) and give names to other categories of gender – and then to link them to social roles!
“Man” and “woman” are not just about gender identity and expression; they are tied to social expectations about what those genders do in society. And, of course, to a power structure. How will we define those roles for all gender categories? Will we accept that individuals could choose their social roles based on skills and interests to do the various roles society needs enacted? How do we raise children to prepare for those roles? The structure of how we educate people will no longer exist as it is.
And how will power be involved? The gender power structure is intertwined with the racial power hierarchy, even as they are based on different assumptions about who people are. Both, however are socially constructed, thus there is a potential for changing how we do things.
Should we be successful, what else would change? The gendered patterns in domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual violence and other forms of victimization could be nonexistent. The pay gap, the achievement gap, the glass ceilings, cellars, and escalators could cease to exist. Girls wouldn’t drop out of math and science and other pursuits when they approach puberty, as they tend to do now. Boys could play with dolls and learn to be nurturing people who then would father their children differently than they do now. Bullying and homophobia would cease to exist as diversities of sexual orientation and expression would also be part of the outcome of toppling gendered power structures. One gender would no longer dominate political power positions, thus government resources would most likely flow in a multitude of diverse directions.
Government, business, education, safety and security, life chances, and many other things would not be differentiated by gender categories. This sounds utopian; it is the rare society that has no stratification based on something. Thus, we will continue to have some form of stratification, but what will it be based on? Left and right-handedness?
Using a sociological perspective, what are your thoughts on what a gender inclusive and gender equal society would look like?