Letter to the Editor: A letter from Brian Chervitz, president of MU Triangle Coalition
Men aren’t from Mars, women aren’t from Venus, and hey, none of the other genders are from space, either.
Oct. 07, 2015
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To Elane Edwards and the editing staff of The Maneater:
I want to thank Elane Edwards for starting a conversation about gender, gender roles and gender expectations with her last opinion piece published Sept. 30 on her column Elationships. Gender is a very important and complicated issue that has lasting impacts on every student at MU, and I’m glad to see it being talked about.
I’d like to offer my views on the relationships between genders and gender itself, and I want to address and refute an underlying assumption about the piece: that there are only two genders. From my own experiences and daily interactions with fellow students, I have come to understand that a man/woman gender binary is quite limited and actually harmful to all of us. Many students at MU (and people on Earth) identity as neither a man nor a woman, may identify as both a woman and man, or identify as something completely different from a woman or man. I believe there are as many genders as people on this Earth.
As Ms. Edwards wrote, “always keep your mind and heart open and listen to what others have to say,” which is excellent advice in many, many circumstances. We must acknowledge the existence, and nurture and appreciate the diversity, of many different gender identities, listening to our fellow humans (sometimes spelled humyns) with open minds, ears and hearts, and hearing what they say. We must believe them when they tell us who they really are, because they are experts on themselves.
I am not trying to call anyone out on their current beliefs, but I was struck by Ms. Edwards’ words to “make every experience a learning experience” and so I felt it necessary to reach out to the editors so that I can hope to teach more people about the dangers of thinking in a gender binary.
The gender binary harms everyone. It creates and maintains unhealthy, unrealistic and unyielding stereotypes about women, men, transgender women, transgender men, bigender people, agender people, genderqueer people and everyone else. Firstly, the gender binary leads to segregated gender bathrooms, housing, shelters and public spaces in which gender nonconforming or transgender folks can feel invalidated, threatened and put in immediate physical danger.
Secondly, the gender binary strengthens other harmful binaries in our society, like a binary of sexual orientation. There are more sexualities than just gay and straight: bisexual, pansexual, asexual, fluidsexual, demisexual, etc. A gender binary may strengthen a binary of gender expression. There is more to express than masculine and feminine. And who defines what is masculine and what is feminine? What makes something feminine? Masculine? Why must men strive to achieve a certain masculine, and women a certain feminine? Why can’t we just let people be whatever they want to be and express themselves however they want? Identities are complex, so why do we only allow two choices?
Thirdly, the gender binary perpetuates the idea that gender manifests itself in only a few certain ways and never changes, when in reality gender can change, shift, slide and be distorted any time during one’s life or even during the course of one’s day.
And fourthly, and this is a point I believe Ms. Edwards was trying to make, people of different genders are not even that different to begin with. There is as much diversity of experiences, thoughts, beliefs and viewpoints within groups of people of the same gender as groups of people of different genders. So why create a binary that perpetuates the idea of opposite, distinct and disconnected genders, when it’s just not true that they are opposite, distinct and disconnected?
Our society, especially our media and economy, loves to simplify life, as Ms. Edwards illustrated with her fragrance advertising example. But simplification means cutting corners and marginalizing and ignoring complications. And when we ignore complications, we take away all opportunities to deviate from the norm, to express our unique selves fully, to learn about each other comprehensively, and to better understand the lives of others and ourselves.
“Men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus. They are both from Earth.” And not only them, but so is everyone else of all others genders. We are all from Earth, we all must live together on Earth. “If the goal is to feel accepted, valuable, unique, loved and important, then treat others with respect.” And if we want everyone to feel those ways, then the first act of respect we must make is to acknowledge everyone’s existence. There are more than just women and men in our society. They work, feel, love, learn and live alongside us every day, and we are better off because of it.
He/Him | President of MU Triangle Coalition