Problems with the Gender Binary System

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Across the globe, gender systems vary in ways that often exclude individuals who don’t identify within their realms. From the binary structure of the West, to the ternary system of India, there are many ways in which societies conceptualize gender. Gender systems are generally considered inherent to humanity, and are seldom questioned or altered. This has led to the marginalization and discrimination of individuals who diverge from the implemented structure.

The gender binary of Western culture dichotomizes disgendered females and males, categorizing women and men as opposing beings and excluding all other people. Former professor of Gender Studies Walter Lee Williams argues that gender binarism “ignores the great diversity of human existence,” (191) and is “an artifact of our society’s rigid sex-roles” (197). This social structure has proved detrimental to a plethora of people who fall outside the Western gender dichotomy. And while this gender-exclusive system is an unyielding element of present day North American culture, it only came to be upon European arrival to the Americas. As explained by Judith Lorber in her essay “Night to His Day: The Social Construction of Gender”, “gender is so pervasive in our society we assume it is bred into our genes” (356). Lorber goes on to explain that gender, like culture, is a human production that requires constant participation (358).

Prior to 15th century colonization, indigenous peoples of North America enjoyed a gender system that included not only women and men, but also a third gender known as Two-Spirit. In Native American culture, individuals who identified as Two-Spirit were revered by society and held important roles among tribes. In their article “The Way of the Two-Spirited Pe...

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... Michael Anhorn. "The Way of the Two Spirited People: Native American Concepts of Gender and Sexual Orientation” Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society. N.p., 2008. Web. 03 May 2014.

Lorber, J. "Judith Lorber (1987-1990)." Gender & Society 25.3 (2011): 355-59. Print.

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade, “Feminism Without Borders” Feminist Frontiers 8th Edition (2009) 97-103

Nibley, Lydia, “Two-Spirits Documentary” PBS Channel 2011

Singer, Phoenix “Two-Spirit Identity and the Logics of White Supremacy” Academia Journal 2011

Stryker, Susan, “Transgender Feminism: Queering the Woman Question” Feminist Frontiers 8th Edition (2009) 83-89

Williams, Walter L. "Persistence and Change in the Berdache Tradition Among Contemporary Lakota Indians." Journal of Homosexuality 11.3-4 (1986): 191-200. Print.

Wheeler, Mark, “The Damaging Effects of Discrimination,” Medical News Today, 2010

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