ZU Magazine is a publication of ZU Media. The following is an article from Issue 5: Revolution.
ZU Magazine Editor-in-Chief | Cynthia Arroyo
We’ve grown up with the textbook definition of what defines us at our most basic level. That is, X+X is female, and X+Y is male. It’s simple, black and white — pink and blue, if you will.
But, times are changing. From Miley Cyrus to “Orange is the New Black” star Ruby Rose, Jaden Smith to Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, society’s idols have openly described themselves as “non-binary,” “agender” and living “between genders.”
They represent the shift that the college-aged generation is making in terms of considering identity as it relates to masculinity and femininity. Millennials, the generation most often categorized as people between the ages of 22 and 37, have been called the “gender-fluid generation.”
According to a December 2017 Pew Research Study, “On Gender Differences, No Consensus on Nature vs. Nurture,” 24 percent of millennial men agree that they are “very masculine,” while that number jumps to 36 percent for the previous generation of men, Gen X. Women identifying as “very feminine” drops to a low 19 percent for female millennials; the numbers climb higher for each previous generation, eventually hitting 53 percent for the Silent Generation.
The shift is undeniable. The way we think about and represent gender is changing.
First, let’s distinguish between sex and gender as we will use it here. “Sex” refers to genitalia while “gender” refers to each person’s unique identity.
The Oxford Dictionary defines gender as, “Either of the two sexes (male and female), especially when considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones. The term is also used more broadly to denote a range of identities that do not correspond to established ideas of male and female.”
By this definition, gender is divided by sex, as traditionally thought; but, it also refers to “social and cultural differences,” which is a more modern consideration.
GenderSpectrum.org, an organization of professors, psychologists and authors dedicated to increasing gender-inclusivity in the world, defines gender as a “complex interrelationship between three dimensions,” which might better reflect the college-aged person’s understanding.
These three dimensions are body, identity and expression. Body is defined as society’s understanding of us based on our appearances. Identity is our personal understanding of ourselves as traditionally male or female, neither or both. Finally, expression is how we present that identity to the world and how the world, in turn, shapes it.
STUDENTS TALK IT OUT
There’s no question about whether or not society sets standards for how men and women should act, what they should wear and what their priorities should be; both ends of the political spectrum acknowledge this, as does an overwhelming majority of society, according to the recent Pew Research study. These standards are often referred to as “gender roles,” and many individuals have begun to reject their normalization.
APU junior cinematic arts and humanities major Nolan Croce describes his understanding of gender as a “journey” that began as a child.
“When I was little, and teachers and parents would ask me what I want to be when I grow up; I’d say the average boy would answer ‘firefighter, policeman,’ but my answer was ‘princess,’” he said. “Society told me that that wasn’t ok. Nothing on TV showed me who I am could be a princess.”
Croce sees his childhood desire to be a princess as evidence that gender roles are enforced by society. As a young boy, his hope to become a princess was an expression of his identity; it does not align with what many people believe young boys should want.
Courtney Fredericks, APU sophomore psychology and criminal justice major, commented on this phenomenon.
Fredericks describes herself as cisgender and pansexual, meaning she is a woman who identifies as a woman and she is attracted to men and women.
Fredericks hypothesized that the shift in gender expression could be influenced by parents encouraging their children to pursue gender-neutral roles.
“Women are being told more now than ever, ‘Don’t be satisfied with what society tells you to be.’ Men are being encouraged to be more emotional,” she said.
The same Pew Research study of 4,573 adults showed that a majority (72 percent) said it’s a “good thing” for parents to “encourage young girls to play with toys/participate in activities typically associated with boys.” When asked the same question, significantly fewer (56 percent) said it was a “good thing” for boys to participate in stereotypically “girly” activities. Still, both of these numbers represent a majority of parents who are raising their children with much more gender-neutral ideologies than the previous generation.
Eleanor Stelter, APU senior and art major, reminisced on her own childhood, saying, “I refused to wear pink … My mom had really wanted a girly girl. And so she was kind of ticked that she had a daughter who didn’t want to wear a bunch of lace and ruffles.”
Stelter has since become more comfortable with femininity.
“I choose to present myself in a feminine way a vast majority of the time because it’s a lot easier, and I genuinely like doing it now. But, when I do that, it’s like I’m putting on a costume almost,” she said.
According to Stelter and many other college-aged students, gender is complex. It is a tool for expressing different aspects of oneself.
Jennie Elliot is a Pasadena City College student art major who identifies as “queer” and “nonbinary.” Simply, they are not heterosexual and they do not view themselves as exclusively feminine or masculine.
“Still, in my mind … I just consider myself a human. Sometimes I’m more masculine leaning and sometimes I’m more feminine leaning,” Elliot said.
For Croce, Frederick, Stelter and Elliot, gender is an aging concept created by each cultural group, and a person’s sex does not define their gender.
“People are finding that you don’t have to be the extreme of either end … We all get repressed in different ways when we have to stick to different boxes,” Fredericks explained.
This discovery of self and the growing use of gender-fluid terms can in part be attributed to the creation of words that give definition to people’s personal experiences. These words help people articulate what has long been difficult to explain, thereby allowing for better understanding of self and others.
“I am a strong believer that the concept of gender is slowly dissolving … I’m a personal example of someone who doesn’t fit either mold,” Croce said.
Stelter, who identifies as queer, focused on the expression of gender as a performance of identity.
“No matter what type of body you have, you can still perform gender in whatever way you want. It’s about exploring how you can feel comfortable and more like yourself,” Stelter said.
Elliot, who’s considering going on small doses of testosterone to look the way that they feel, said, “I believe it’s largely a social construct … mainstream stigmas for grouping people into their designated places in society. “We’ve grown so much to where we don’t need those specific roles.”
BRAIN MATTER, INTERSEX, WE’VE GOT IT ALL
Many agree that gender lies on a spectrum, but fewer claim that biological sex also belongs on a spectrum.
“Sex is biological and gender expression is societal. I would describe both as being on spectrums, because biologically you do have male and female on different ends, but you also have people who are intersex and transgender,” Fredericks said.
Sex on a spectrum? The idea may sound radical. There is, however, scientific information that supports the belief.
The hypothalamus, which is a part of the brain that helps control things like body temperature and emotional activity, and gray matter, which includes the regions that coordinate things like muscle control, speech and memory, usually differ between genders. It’s been found that transgender individuals, for example, tend to have brains that reflect their identities, rather than their sex.
For instance, National Geographic’s “How Science Is Helping Us Understand Gender,” claims, “It’s possible to be XX and mostly male in terms of anatomy, physiology, and psychology, just as it’s possible to be XY and mostly female.”
Stay with me. We’re getting technical.
When an embryo is in the womb, it has a pair of proto-gonads that have the potential to be turned into male or female genitalia. At six to eight weeks, this embryo is either set in motion by the SRY— this is on the Y Chromosome— to develop male genitalia, or it is not acted upon by the SRY gene, meaning it develops female genitalia. Simply put, if the SRY gene gets you, you have male anatomy. If you escape it, you have female anatomy.
The trick is that this gene is sometimes missing or dysfunctional, meaning an XY chromosome (a “male”) is born without male genitalia and the doctor announces, “It’s a girl!” It can also be vice versa, where the XX (“female”) develops male genitalia.
This is called “intersex.” In a study of 50 years of medical literature by Brown University, it is approximated that one in 100 people have bodies that differ from the approved definitions of male or female.
Stelter is among a growing number of people who disagree with defining “womanhood” and “manhood” by body parts.
“Being a woman is not a lot more than saying, ‘I’m a woman,’” she said.
When it comes to the research, Americans are split on whether or not gender differences are biological or defined by culture. For example, 42 percent of people who said that men and women are different when it comes to expressing emotions believe that this difference is biological, while the remaining 58 percent cite “societal expectations.”
For those who see basic differences between men and women’s approach to parenting, 47 percent believe that these differences are biological.
SEXUALITY AND CHRISTIANITY
For many, gender is wrapped up in sexuality.
Nolan Croce is pansexual, meaning he is attracted to both, or “all,” sexes.
When asked about his faith, Croce reflected on his experience coming out to his mother last year.
“I’d say the hardest part about coming out was coming out to yourself … especially for someone who comes from a conservative, Christian background who’s been told from a young age that ‘you do need to be a certain way,” he said.
Noce, like many people, is walking the journey of reconciling his sexual orientation with his faith.
“There are people in this world who do believe in God and who want to live that out, but who just don’t fit what the Church has constructed,” he said.
Elliot attends New Abbey Church in Pasadena. The pastor, Brit Barron, is a gay, African-American woman and APU alumna.
Elliot commented on their church saying, “I think that’s a really great step in the right direction for unity in the Church, especially people who are excluded from the Church … [We’re] defining faith and religion with ways of life that aren’t according to the binary.”
The current generation has taken on the work reconciling their faith with their gender identities and their sexual orientations.
For the time being, the gender debate is here to stay, but each new generation is venturing to express their personalities in ways that shift and derail cultural expectations.
In response to the question of gender and the journey that his sexuality has taken him on, Croce said, “I just believe that God is bigger than male or female anyway.”