STEREOTYPES and “Gender Identity”

Gender Identity

The issue of Gender Identity has taken a prominent role in discussions, organizations, and activism supported by the Gay and Lesbian community. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear that we have the same thing in mind when we talk about this issue. Feminist opposition to Gender Identity has been widely misconstrued by those who don’t fully understand our concerns. This pamphlet will explain our objections and help readers engage in more productive discussions about Gender Identity that do not reinforce stereotypes or erase the legal importance of biological sex.

What Gender Identity means

GLBT Organizations have asked state and local legislatures around the country to take up the cause of discrimination against people of trans experience. To do so, GLBT Organizations have offered up “Gender Identity” to protect trans people. Though familiar to people in the center of the debate, the concept has caused a lot of confusion because it’s too broad.

Prominent GLBT organizationsincluding the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)support a definition of Gender Identity similar to this one from Washington, DC:

“Gender identity” means a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.

As of March 2012, at least fifteen American states have passed Gender Identity legislation modeled after this definition (the “Stereotyping Definition”).

Feminist objections

1. The Stereotyping Definition does not define “gender.” If one doesn’t know what a “gender identity” means, how could one know what a “gender-related identity” means?

2. The Stereotyping Definition of Gender Identity is phrased in such a way that it intentionally overrides Sex:  “regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth.”

No other class of persons seeking protection under anti-discrimination legislation has attempted to literally disregard another protected class.

Feminists object to the Stereotyping Definition because Sex has objective physical, reproductive, and experiential consequences for the overwhelming majority of women assigned-female-at-birth. Sex exists in its own right and requires unique legal protections that Gender Identity cannot explain or represent. Gender Identity cannot replace the legal concept of sex without a significant loss of legal protections for females.

3. Understanding the Stereotyping Definition depends on understanding how traditional sex roles and stereotypes operate. Enduring sexist assumptions about women create stereotypesthat we’re softer, gentler, and more emotional than men; that we’re all inclined toward “femininity,” nurturing children, and wearing certain clothing. These stereotypes act as major stumbling blocks to women’s social equality. They especially damage women who don’t conform to them.

The Stereotyping Definition elevates gendered “appearance, expression, or behavior” over bodily reality. Framing gender identity—specifically, femininity—as that which fundamentally constitutes “woman” will not improve women’s social status. On the contrary, this definition of Gender Identity legitimizes as natural the social order created by traditional sex roles. This will ultimately make it more difficult for women to combat the Sex stereotypes that prevent our advancement in employment, education, and political office.

Narrowing the class

We propose this alternative:

“Gender identity” means a person’s identification with the sex opposite her or his physiology or assigned sex at birth, which can be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of a transsexual medical condition, or related condition, as deemed medically necessary by the American Medical Association.

This definition maintains a clear distinction between sex and gender. It also protects transsexual people from discrimination without legislatively prioritizing Gender Identity over Sex; and without falsely presuming that Gender Identity exists independently of sex roles and stereotypes.

Stereotyping

Stereotyping is the act of making an assumption about an individual based on her membership in a specific class or group. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1989 landmark employment decision, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (490 U.S. 228), held that sex stereotyping is sex discrimination:

“[i]n forbidding employers to discriminate against individuals because of their sex, Congress intended to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women resulting from sex stereotypes.”

Internal citations omitted.

An employer who objects to aggressiveness in women but whose positions require this trait places women in an intolerable and impermissible Catch-22: out of a job if they behave aggressively and out of a job if they do not. Title VII lifts women out of this bind.

Feminists do not believe that women are naturally bad at math, but good at cooking and cleaning. We do not believe that women are neurologically, biologically, or genetically programmed to behave in certain “feminine” ways. To support women’s full and equal participation in society, women need strong legal prohibitions against these persistently damaging stereotypes.

Gender Identity protections must not come at the expense of Sex

Feminism supports every individual’s right to be gender non-conforming and to have legal protection from sex stereotyping discrimination in employment, housing, education, credit, and access to public accommodations. However, advocates who frame Gender Identity as more important than Sex actually reinforce stereotypes about women that feminists have fought against for decades. GLBT organizations are, in effect, undermining critical civil rights legal precedent by developing a theory of Gender Identity that values gendered “appearance, expression, or behavior” more than biological Sex.

No other class of persons seeking protection under anti-discrimination legislation has attempted to intentionally disregard another protected class— until now.

Feminists are deeply invested in maintaining hard-won protections against Sex stereotyping in the form of legally actionable Sex discrimination. Feminists seek to preserve this precedent without having the same harmful assumptions about women’s appropriate “appearance, expression, or behavior” paradoxically privileged under the guise of Gender Identity.

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6 comments

  1. sorry for this long post · ·

    Dear authors,

    I beg and pray that my identity stays anonymous, because I am a trans women and I agree, in principle, with most of the things you say. Even admitting this makes me very ashamed, because most if not all of my friends have the kind of views about gender and sex that you, and I with you, think have gone too far, and if they found out I actually agree with folks like you a great deal, I would probably suffer consequences.

    That said, I would like to make a comment about this document. I think it makes your ideas pretty clear. However, I find issue with one part of it. You are not speaking the same language as the people you are trying to convince. It makes sense that it is easier to convince people when you speak their language. In this document, if I understand it correctly, you use the word “women” to refer to humans of the female sex, i.e. females. However, in ‘Gender Identity Land’, that is not what the word “women” means – instead, there it means people who identify as women, people with the gender identity “woman”.

    I can understand if you are reluctant to ‘sacrifice’ the word “woman” to the ‘enemy’ by using it as they do in their parlance (I use these terms loosely because I understand that you are in fact not enemies at all); however, I think that in this case, speaking like them might actually benefit the greater good because it gets your ideas across more readily to people who are in, or sympathetic to, ‘Gender Identity Land’ and will allow them to understand your viewpoint without fretting over linguistic differences.

  2. […] want to share sex-segregated spaces with Male-bodied people. Lesbian Feminists are not bigots for rejecting sex stereotypes. Regular people aren’t bigots for wanting a more objective standard on which to make […]

  3. Brunhilda · ·

    You should do a part on neurosexism. If you think about it, the concept of female vs. male brain is exactly what trans argue for, and it is utterly and completely sexist. Plus it reduces women to a singular group, with no individual identity (same for men, but with a different identity than the women).
    http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/the-gender-myth-20100908-151d3.html

  4. anonymous · ·

    I would like to comment on your proposed definition:

    “Gender identity” means a person’s identification with the sex opposite her or his physiology or assigned sex at birth, which can be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of a transsexual medical condition, or related condition, as .
    deemed medically necessary by the American Medical Association

    There a number of things wrong with your definition
    1) It implies that natal women do not have a gender identity, only transgender people do.
    2) It may not allow for the existance of intersex individuals who may or may not have had their sex correctly identified at birth to have a “gender identity”.
    3) It would require “proof” of your gender identity and exclude anyone without this “evidence” from inclusion.
    4) It relies on the phrase – “as deemed medically necessary by the American Medical Association”, a reliance on one (albeit well establish medical association) to define it and relies on defining “medical necessity”.

    This definition of “gender identity” is simply another definition of transsexuality and not of gender identity itself.

    The definiton:

    “Gender identity” means a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.

    does not have these problems and is intended to add additional individuals to and not remove any individuals who are natal females. It does not promote apperance, expression, or behavior as the sole basis for gender identity, but as possible aspects of it.

  5. Thank you for your comment. The proposed definition is not “wrong,” all of the things you have pointed out are intentional. It is meant to protect transsexuals, not cross dressers who lay claim to womanhood with zero respect for the suffering that women have endured *as* women.

    There a number of things wrong with your definition:
    1) It implies that natal women do not have a gender identity, only transgender people do.

    Response: that is correct. I do not believe humans have a “gender identity” compass kind of thingy in their soul. And since “gender identity” has as many definitions as there are individuals, I have no idea how the concept has proliferated. For example, I do not identify with the woman social role as if it were programmed by the physical cells of my body. That is sexist bullshit. The woman social role is externally sourced and then internalized from there. Try this.

    2) It may not allow for the existance of intersex individuals who may or may not have had their sex correctly identified at birth to have a “gender identity”.

    Response: Don’t confuse disorders of sexual development with “gender identity.” That’s appropriation of other people’s experiences. No. Rude.

    3) It would require “proof” of your gender identity and exclude anyone without this “evidence” from inclusion.

    Response: Correct. Walk the walk or don’t talk to me about your “womanness.”

    4) It relies on the phrase – “as deemed medically necessary by the American Medical Association”, a reliance on one (albeit well establish medical association) to define it and relies on defining “medical necessity”.

    Response: Correct. Evidence based medicine is the standard. Self-diagnosis and self-determined treatment is irresponsible anarchy.

  6. anonymous · ·

    Believe it or not I am feminist too and agree with your opinion about “sexist bullshit”. Conforming to social role expectations based solely on sex is wrong and I believe all people have the right be who they are whether that choice is to adopt a traditional or less traditional role. I agree with you that the inequeties that women face in the workforce, in daily life, and in so many other ways are completely unfair. I am now experiencing those things firsthand as I am in fact “walking the walk” in that I am in transition and under the care of a doctor who follows the WPATH standards of care. I may very well also have a undiagnosed mild intersex condition (I meet most of the criteria, but being tested has never been a priority). I have experienced unfair treatment in maintaining my old job and finding a new job because of my new appearance and experienced male sexual harassment in a few social situations (like being hit on blatantly and followed to the point of fearing for my safety).
    My main point is that there is already a perfectly good word – “transsexual” for what you are describing and if you believe that the term “gender identity” is a meaningless social construct then simply say that and suggest that “transsexual” be used in its place. The problem with this word is that has been superceeded by the term “transgender” as being more socially acceptable even though this not as specific at you would prefer.

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