The social construction of gender is a theory in feminism and sociology
about the operation of gender and gender differences in societies.
According to this view, society and culture create gender roles,
and these roles are prescribed as ideal or
appropriate behavior for a person of that specific sex.
The extent to which men conform to stereotypical masculine behaviors and interests and the extent to which women conform to stereotypical feminine behaviors and interests can be described as gender conformity.
The very notion of gender non-conformity is predicated upon a concept known as the gender binary.
The gender binary refers to the notion that gender comes in two distinct flavors: men and women, in which men are masculine, women are feminine, and, importantly, men are of the male sex and women are of the female sex. Much of the world around us is based upon this binary understanding of sex and gender.
In fact, one of the first things new parents often learn about their future child is their sex, based on a grainy ultrasound image of tiny little genitals. From this point forward, a parent’s idea of who their child will grow up to be is significantly shaped by the sex, represented through the color of the nursery room, the types of clothing purchased, and of course, the list of potential baby names. Our expectations based on gender do not stop there. When we find out that a baby is a boy, we are more likely to describe him as strong, tough or handsome, whereas we will view baby girls as sweet, gentle and kind.
Yet, while the gender binary is certainly well anchored within society and our social mores, there is actually a long history of gender not being viewed in such a black and white manner.
Indeed, many indigenous cultures around the globe held more fluid and dynamic understandings of gender before encountering Western theories of gender.
Even within Western cultures, the characteristics associated with one gender or the other have changed stripes so many times through history that it is almost surprising how adamantly we now argue that heels, wigs, makeup, and the color pink are only for women and girls, when all of these things were previously reserved only for men and boys.
Thus, while it may seem like discussions about non-binary understandings of gender and acceptance of gender nonconforming behavior are new additions to the daily dialogue, there is perhaps more in our collective past to point us towards a more diverse understanding of gender than there is to keep us focused on rigidly defined, binary gender roles.
While these topics seem to come up most frequently when discussing transgender and non-binary individuals and their respective rights, as well as the controversies that surround their ability to access those rights, the concept of dismantling a binary view of gender is actually one that applies to everyone, whether you identify as cisgender (someone whose gender identity and expression is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth), transgender (someone whose gender identity and/or expression is different from the sex they were assigned at birth), non-binary (someone who does not define their gender based on the binaries of men and women) or agender (someone who identifies as not having a gender).
Adopting a more open and fluid understanding of gender certainly makes it easier to accept transgender, non-binary and agender individuals, but it also makes it easier to be accepting of anyone who possesses, expresses, or desires qualities that have previously been earmarked as being the prevue of only one gender or the other.
Gender in Chinese Philosophy:
Yin and yang, core elements of Chinese cosmogony, involve correlative aspects of “dark and light,” “female and male,” and “soft and hard.” These notions, with their deeply-rooted gender connotations, recognize the necessity of interplay between these different forces in generating and carrying forward the world. The major thinkers of China’s first philosophic flourishing—traditionally referred to as the Hundred Schools, c. 500s-200s B.C.E.—inherited and further developed this comprehensively gendered view of the world. These concepts continue to shape contemporary Chinese thought, as well. Historically, the most influential Chinese perspectives on the issue of gender come from what are commonly referred to as Confucian and Daoist traditions of thought, which take somewhat opposing positions.
Many texts associated with Confucianism emphasize yang’s dominant, male-related characteristics, whereas those linked to Daoism, especially the Laozi, reverse this view, finding value in yin’s subordinate, female characteristics. However, it should be noted that Chinese thinkers, regardless of their classification as Confucian or Daoist, generally see the opposing qualities of yin and yang as integral parts of a whole that complement one another. Accordingly, the closest word to “gender” in modern Chinese is xingbie, which can be quite literally understood as a difference (bie) of individual nature or tendencies (xing). The word generally, however, refers to the physiological characteristics that then provide the basis for corresponding social identities. The genders, in terms of social roles, are not defined absolutely or theoretically, but rather through the mutually reciprocal, physical, generative relationship between male and female. They are understood correlatively, and determined by their context and dynamic tendencies as they interact with one another.
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