5. Male/female binaries?

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    Do institutions of education address the needs of those who reject the binaries of male/female? If not, why not?


    There is a huge difference between addressing the needs for those who reject the binaries of male/female and raising awareness for it. At first, when I saw this question, I was ready to answer, “Yes, educational institutes do address this.” However, I mixed up the idea of teaching about non-binary individuals and actually doing something for these people. At many universities, there are countless classes which explain that there are not just two genders, and that not everyone conforms to the masculine and feminine identity. They may discuss the struggles these people face every day, and how there are specific pronouns that we can use if the individual identifies with them. Despite this, why are there mostly just two types of bathrooms available on campus – male and female? There are some places with single unit, unisex bathrooms, but that is not the norm. Also, there are very few universities which provide housing for non-binary people. Are there options on applications which ask if a person is comfortable housing with a specific gender? Do the majority of school applications and questionnaires provide a pronoun option that is not limited to he/she/him/her? The reason why these things happen is because although there is a budding awareness across the nation, it is not considered the norm, and thus is not as prevalent as it should be. Society has been divided between girls vs. boys, whereas those options are limited and close-minded.


    Nonbinary people, as well as those who are genderfluid, agender, transgender, etc. deserve to feel safe and included in educational environments. That being said, I’m not sure how learning about these people can be incorporated into schools. It’s comparable to our society’s evolving view on homosexuality. Years ago, gay people were widely rejected by the social norm. Nowadays, they are more accepted. Being gay in today’s society is less taboo, especially with new legislation being passed allowing gay marriage. This progress was achieved over time, with arguably no help from educational institutions. Women’s studies, gender studies, and sexuality classes exist to educate about marginalized groups, but the people who seek them out do so usually because they can relate to oppression. The privileged and ignorant would have little interest in taking such courses. Furthermore, there is not a mandated political correctness class at any school of which I’ve heard. We as a nation did not unlearn homophobia in school. We learned through protests and movements, through stories being told. I predict that acceptance of all genders will be learned the same way.


    To me it has always been unnatural to view male and female as strict binaries. To me the concept of Yin and Yang is much closer to how we are as humans: a combination of both. Fluidity of gender has existed throughout human history; the Judeo Christian traditions have a more rigid view of gender, partly due to procreation, but also to the need for control. It is hard for institutions of educations to fully and effectively address the needs of people who do not believe in strict categories of gender because our society has for so long insisted on a non-fluid concept of gender with very specific characteristics assigned to each one. We are taught to assume certain behaviors and attitudes to assert our femininity or masculinity. According to Michael Kimmel men in particular are under scrutiny all the time, and that they are being assessed, by other men, as to whether they are male enough. Education serves many purposes, but one of its main goals is to prepare children to be participants in our society and culture. Until male dominance is dismantled, education institutions will propagate the values of that culture, even when some departments and disciplines work towards changing perspectives. We are in an transition era of significant cultural transformations, and education institutions, like the greater society in which they reside and which they support, will change gradually, and not all at once. Therefore, their ability to help those who have a concept of gender fluidity will be only partial, at least for near future. Still, change is happening, and as long as there are people willing to explore and share ideas, change will continue towards a reality that is defined as less rigid, more open, less constraint, and more diverse. Just don’t underestimate the force of resistance; it can be mighty and ruthless.


    I do not think that our institutions address the needs of those that do not identify with their biologically defined gender. I think that this is explained in part by Michael Kimmel with Linda Stein when he describes how racism works. Kimmel talks about societies tendency to aggregate or disaggregate. This means we either identify a problem by aggregating and saying that it is “their” fault, putting one persons actions on the group as a whole. Or, we disaggregate and view the problem as being isolated to an individual part. As a society, because we have not accepted those that do not identify as male or female as a part of the larger whole, we will continue to see the needs of those people as individual issues that should be dealt with on a lower, flexible, and less noticeable level. In addition, I think that we don’t address the needs of these people because it would require changes in building planning that schools do not have the funds to complete. Most school facilities have bathrooms, locker rooms and certain classes that are split male and female. To appropriately integrate this third group of people would require more space. It would also change the language that teachers and administrators use. Over all, I believe that one of the reasons that we have not begun to address these needs is because we don’t know how to and because we are afraid of change.

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