WTF Is Gender?

WTF Is Gender? April 12, 2017

I just wrote a definition of gender that I’m pretty proud of (for a conference paper) and thus I thought I’d share it here. Please, feel free to quote and share!

Creative Commons image from Wikimedia.
Creative Commons image from Wikimedia.

So, I’m working on (yet another) project on gender and sexuality in fairy tales. Surprise, I know! This one is feeding into a conference paper and later a book chapter on gender, sexuality, and fairy tales in contemporary American literature. Now that I’m frantically trying to get the conference paper done in time to deliver it, I’m trying to make sure I have a good working definition of gender to use in that paper.

This is what I came up with:

I define gender as the composite of culturally constructed characteristics of masculinity and femininity, viewed on a spectrum rather than as a binary. Gender encompasses one’s internal sense of identity, one’s external expression, the roles one inhabits, and the norms and ideals one should – societally speaking – aspire to. Gender is of course distinct from one’s anatomical, bodily, or genetic traits, often glossed as “sex,” as well as from one’s sexuality, or the constellation of desires and experiences that orient us relationally to others (and ourselves).

It’s short and sweet, but I think it does the trick. I’d also recommend checking out the Gender Spectrum website’s page on understanding gender, as their definition is more expansive than mine. But then, they have the space for it.

And, before I leave this post to work on my paper some more, here are some links to things I’ve written where I have a LOT more to say about gender:


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