Embracing Transgender Will Save Us All

A Case for Gender Fluidity in the Face of Stagnant Problems

Kaylie Ann Pickett
Apr 16, 2016 · 5 min read

In recent years, women have made considerable advances in the workplace. In 2014, the Department of Labor averaged women make up 57% of the labor force, contrasted to just under 40% in 1970. In higher education, women earn more bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees than men, with 53% of bachelor’s degrees overall awarded to women.

The headway can be attributed to national efforts made in the last thirty-years to increase the achievements of girls in primary education. The mission has undoubtedly succeeded in its objectives, but there has been an adverse effect on boys. Now on the wrong end of the gender gap, boys perform worse than girls, scoring lower in advanced curriculums, reading and writing, and subsequently, are projected to attain lower educational and occupational levels in the future.

So, how did we improve the educational system for girls and simultaneously corrode it for boys? Some professionals accuse school environment of being partial toward the learning style of girls. William S. Pollack, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School, says, “when boys aren’t engaged, they become discipline problems.” Pollack recommends, “guy-ifying certain aspects of schools,” and tapering academic exercises to the hands-on learning style of boys.

Without ostracizing girls and undermining the progress made, executing Pollock’s suggestion is problematic. Some experts endorse same-sex schools — segregating learners into separate spaces based upon gender — claiming single-sex education increases success as teachers can customize their methods to gender.

Children begin to build their identities during early education. It’s where they learn roles, expectations, and societal norms. Their understanding of gender roles is strikingly notable in studies defining factors that determine levels of popularity. For boys, athleticism, toughness, and defiance proved determinants of social status. The better they play sports and the more they rebel against authority, the more popular they are regarded. Unfortunately, these macho requirements mean that those who super excel in academia are considered obedient good-boys, i.e., “nerds,” the opposite of their perceived ideal masculinity.

The determinants of popularity for girls were quite different. Physical attractiveness, advanced communicative skills, mature social concerns (romantic relationships and makeup), and girls with uppermiddle-class parents who could afford fashionable clothing are among some of the factors deciding girls’ level of popularity. However, high academic achievement is not a status determinant, as macho rebellion against authority doesn’t play a role in their social statuses.

But modern psychology says gender is not a reliable predictor for effective learning approaches. Psychologist Janet Shibley Hyde, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, says from birth to death, males and females are more similar than dissimilar on nearly all psychological characteristics, and what differences do emerge vary from one person to the next — regardless of sex at birth. According to Hyde and the American Psychological Association, boys and girls do equally well in math and science until a little after puberty. And when those performance differences do set in, the data suggests social constructs and gender rules play a much larger role than biology.

It’s not that education is now tapered for girls or that it was once tapered for boys, education stifles boys and girls because gender is more complex than we are currently treating it. So education segregated by gender is not the answer because gender differences aren’t uniform. Instead, people fluctuate along a gender spectrum, and all-girl and all-boy learning institutions only reinforce gender stereotyping and sexism — problems serious enough in their current state.

The problem isn’t boys and girls learning together, the problem is gender stereotyping. Placing children in classrooms segregated by gender doesn’t prepare boys and girls to live and collaborate with the opposite sex in an adult world full of diversity. Instead, this spirit of exclusivity only perpetuates these stereotypes and excludes those who don’t play by the gender rules. Some experts have recommended “gender-sensitive education,” one that focuses closely on gender and praises those differences in order to thwart sex biases and advance equality. But this seemingly progressive approach is still too simple for the complexity of human gender.

Gender-sensitive education favors the notion that there exists only two genders, a purely theoretical idea inconsistent with modern science. Neglecting children who don’t fall into those binary categories disregards quiet and sensitive boys, and boys comfortable with emotional expressionism such as poetry and fashion. It labels assertive, hyperactive girls aggressive and bossy, as leadership qualities are traditionally associated with masculinity. And finally, it leaves out the homosexual and transgendered.

The answer is to abandon dichotomous cataloging of gender. A gender-complex education recognizes and applauds gender as a fluid concept. It scrutinizes how traditional male and female attributes are mere social constructs, encouraging an individualistic approach to self-identification. If we teach our children to abandon those strict determinants of boy/girl popularity, and instead take up factors embracing diversity, then cisgender and transgender children can all freely define for themselves where they exist on our gender spectrum without fear of social exclusion.

Under a gender-complex curriculum, children would be taught to think critically about everything, instead of unconsciously digesting the gender norms provided by Disney. Class discussions could be encouraged so that students would learn to see for themselves how Disney princesses are portrayed helpless, meanwhile their princes are capable heroes. Students would readily notice the lack of strong female and transgender characters in entertainment, the objectification of feminine female bodies, and find it curious that not one of Disney’s princesses pine to marry a woman.

A gender-complex approach would have extraordinary implications for society. If teachers waited to use gender specific pronouns until students were old enough to decide for themselves, when children met someone new, that person’s gender would be the last of things ascribed to them. Gender could no longer be a sign of privilege. Gays and lesbians would no longer be treated differently because gender would be flexible, and the gender of their partners subsequently unrelated.

Men and women could communicate freely and effectively because men would no longer be concerned with seeming vulnerable (an attribute of the weaker sex), and women wouldn’t concern themselves with seeming clingy, allowing the anxiety that they’ll misspeak to guide their language.

The gender wage gap couldn’t exist.

There would be no more excuses for men to abandon childcare and domestic responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning. Dads would no longer joke in poor taste that they had to “babysit.” Women could pursue sex without fear of ruining their reputation and being labeled sluts. And young men could wait as long as they wanted to have sex without the pressure of peers and illusory masculinity at their backs.

And embracing transgender and gender-fluid concepts might even color racism, making the shade of one’s skin as irrelevant as their genitals.

Though some societal changes have been slow relative to others, in all our overall arching history, humans have never remained stagnant. Embracing transgenderism and gender fluidity has the power to save us all. Because the thing is, without intolerances or bigoted obstacles or prejudices or limitations, when everyone can live freely a life in pursuit of their own personal happiness, everyone wins.

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