The gender binary is the artificial division of the world into things that are "masculine" or "for men" and things that are "feminine" or "for women". One of the starkest ways to think of this is to consider the phrase "opposite sexes/genders" (as opposed to "different sexes/genders"), when both men and women are human beings with fundamentally many more commonalities than differences.
The division is artificial in several ways:
- much of it is very clearly socially constructed. For example, the association of pink with girls and blue with boys is of comparatively recent origin and is purely a fashion, albeit a very pervasive one.
- the division of people into two genders is also artificial
- most individuals of any gender have a mix of traits and preferences that are associated with both sides of the gender binary
The strong history and presence of the gender binary in our society plays into essentialism about people's choices with regard to their gender role.
Note that the term binary gender(ed) is related but a little different: it refers to people who identify as a woman or as a man, rather than genderqueer or another non-women/man binary identification.
Gender binary dynamics Edit
- Prestige: masculine-identified activities and disciplines very frequently are more prestigous than closely related feminine ones. See Importance, Value and Androcentrism.
- Gender binary fractal: within any activity or discipline already identified as "masculine" or "feminine", subparts will have identifications too. For example, in geekdom (broadly masculine), there's computer geeking (more masculine) and fandom (more feminine). Within computer geeking there's programming (masculine) and interface design (feminine) and within fandom there's 'hard' sci-fi fandom (masculine) and media fandom (feminine).
- Revisions: over time, the identification of something as "masculine" or "feminine" may change. One particularly common dynamic is that something is seen to have become "feminine", at which point both prestige and male participants very quickly dry up. One noted non-geek example is the case of given names: once a sufficient number of girls are given a name that was previously considered androgynous or even masculine, parents swiftly stop using that name for boys.
Further reading Edit
- “We’re Only Protecting Them From Themselves”: "In a patriarchy, masculinity is considered superior to femininity. Requiring women to perform that denigrated identity is one way that they are subordinated. But the flip side of that is the requirement that men must eschew everything tinged with femininity, lest they, too, be denigrated. This means that men’s daily lives are absolutely filled with things they are not supposed to do. (Whereas women can do masculine things, as long as they balance that behavior with feminine things, because masculinity doesn’t carry the same polluting effect.)"