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 humans and gender diverse people are all too common with far too many similarities.
The division is artificial and amounts to erasure of diversity 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 has no scientific basis.
- most individuals of any gender have a mix of traits and preferences that may be associated with both sides of the gender binary or neither.
- Gender identities exist on a continuum as is suggested by this guide.
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.
Some people use the term binary gender(ed) to refer to cis as opposed to gender diverse people. The usage is obviously distinct. We recommend that it would be better to use the latter terms.
Gender binary dynamics
- Prestige: activities and disciplines which are assigned a masculine identification very frequently are considered more prestigous than 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 construed as 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.
- “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.)"