The Sex/Gender Dividing Line

Ever since the dawn of the human species, there has been division by gender. Men hunt, women farm. Men fight, women have babies. Men run businesses, women stay home and look pretty.  Now, as we move through the 21st century, so many areas of life are equal.  We have women in politics, in boardrooms, in the pilot’s seat.  There are men who stay home, who knit, who garden.  People of all genders and sexual orientations are becoming more and more open and accepted in our society.  We think we are so evolved. Why then do we still divide so much of our lives on gender?

I’ve never really understood this.  Gender is used as a proxy for so many things: strength, aptitude, sex appeal, morality, etc.  Why do we need this proxy, especially as more and more people exist outside or between the age-old duality?  I can remember looking at all sorts of things as a child, from bathrooms to the front lines, and I never understood.  I will state up front that I stand on a boundary line here, as a cisgendered pansexual woman who has often had an interest in historically all-male pursuits. Sometimes, though, it is those of us who walk the line or stand outside it who can actually see the problems inside.

An easy example to attack is the use of gender as a proxy for physical ability.  Sports teams and events are segregated by sex, and many professions (particularly military specialties) are completely closed to women. We are told this is because women are weaker.  In order for women to be able to compete in sports at all, we must provide them separate teams. We can’t allow women to try for those military jobs at all.  What do we do, then, for the men who are weaker, or the women who are stronger?  What do we do for those who are transgendered? This has already caused problems in places like the Olympics, where it seems every round has one or more athletes whose gender is being questioned.

Wouldn’t it be more reasonable, then, to simply segregate by the actual characteristic instead of the proxy?  We already have a tiered system in baseball, where you have minor league and major league teams.  Do the same for the other sports, like basketball, instead of setting up separate “women’s” leagues, and allow everybody to compete and settle down into whatever level they are physically suited for.  Let women take the same training and tests as men for military-style positions (this is already being done in some places for firemen and police, I believe).  Don’t lower the standards, don’t change the obstacles, just allow the women who can to compete and try and be evaluated on the same standards as the men.

A more difficult and touchy subject in sex segregation is locker rooms and restrooms. The only valid reason I have ever heard given for segregation in these places is sex.  (Things like body comparisons and seeing unusual body parts really don’t hold water to me, because everybody looks different. Are we going to segregate circumcised and uncircumcised boys, or large-breasted women from those who have almost nothing to show?)  Apparently, being naked or half-naked can induce sudden sexual action between opposite sexes, even when the people in question are sweaty, smelly, defecating, bleeding, urinating, etc.  Also, according to this logic, the people who would become suddenly sex-crazed in gender-inclusive restrooms and locker rooms also would suddenly lose all concerns about privacy or witnesses, and there would never be any defense against sexual congress or even assault in these environments.

Really?  Forget about alternative sexual lifestyles and identities, just think about the attitude this reveals toward ourselves and others.  It’s like believing that we all turn into animals in the locker room and bathroom, or the idea that a rape victim deserved it if she dressed slutty because the man just couldn’t help himself.  I can’t wrap my brain around the concept.  It sounds as crazy to me as the Victorian idea that the legs of tables and chairs must be covered, lest the men in the room become excited by the vision!

It’s not like people don’t take advantage of every other opportunity to get it on.  I’ve lived in several co-ed teenage living environments, from Texas to North Carolina, and even where there were no obvious opportunities, we found them.  If you want to talk about assault, people get raped everywhere, from offices to back alleys.  We don’t segregate every possible facet of life by sex on the off-chance that it might stop a sexual assault.  What makes restrooms and locker rooms so special?  As a woman who can remember being interested in seeing other girls naked all the way back to age 8 or 9 at least, I can say that in restrooms and locker rooms, I’m not interested in anything except getting in and getting out. I think most of us are the same way.

Privacy can be provided by stalls and curtains, just as it is now in most women’s locker/rest rooms today.  Those who want privacy can have it.  Those who would rather get in and out fast and don’t care who watches can stick it out in the open, just like they can now.  Any heebie-jeebies would be cured in a decade or two, maybe less, once the social conditioning caught up.  Drawbacks? Very few.

The positives to eliminating sex and gender dividing lines? An elimination of exclusion for a whole swath of people, from cisgendered women who have the ability to be strong and fast, to transgendered people who don’t have to choose a place and face backlash no matter their choice, to those of us who are not straight heterosexuals but are left wondering what we’re supposed to do with an environment that is supposed to be sanitized of sexual attraction.

I welcome discourse on this, especially if anybody has points that I may have missed here.

One thought on “The Sex/Gender Dividing Line

  1. While we’re at it, what is up with urinals, anyway? Why is standing elimination a semi-public event? If we got rid of open urinals, would we get rid of most of the “ick” factor in shared public spaces? Not to mention, I’m sure there are guys who are or have been uncomfortable with the whole urinal setup.

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