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What Is Gender Expression?

Gender expression refers to the ways that people present their gender identity to the world. This may be through clothing, haircuts, behaviors, and other choices. For many people, there is a "mismatch" between what society expects from their gender and how they choose to present.

Buzz cuts, for example, are seen as masculine hairstyles, while wearing dresses is seen as feminine. This expression may vary from what might be expected of one's gender identity. For example, a cisgender woman may have a very masculine expression but still identify as a woman.

This article looks at how gender expression differs from identity, orientation, and other ways of describing sex and gender. It also looks at discrimination on the basis of gender expression.

The Meaning of Gender Expression

Gender is a concept with many dimensions. When talking about whether people are cisgender or transgender, what is meant is whether a person's gender identity does or does not match their sex assigned at birth.

Gender expression, though, is something else. It refers to how people present themselves, in ways that a wider society may think of as being aligned with one gender or the other. For most people, gender expression affirms their gender identity.

Gender expression usually aligns with a person's gender identity. But it may be different from what the wider culture defines as masculine or feminine behavior.

In other words, people with masculine identities speak, dress, move, or wear their hair in generally "masculine" ways. People with feminine identities make these style and behavior choices in "feminine" ways.

Gender expression is very much a cultural construct. That means there may be a shared social expectation about gender. But it also may mean that the same feminine style of hair or clothing in one setting might be thought masculine in another time or place.

Society will sometimes regulate expression by making women wear certain kinds of clothes, and men other kinds, in order to participate in school, work, and public life. Rules about hair may reflect beliefs about gender too. When cultures enforce gender norms it is known as gender policing, which can range from dress codes to physical and emotional violence. Creating a safe space for all genders requires being aware of these explicit or implicit gender norms so gender policing can be prevented.

Gay men and bisexual cisgender women may be more likely than their straight or lesbian cisgender counterparts to have expression that departs from the expectations about their gender identity.

Research suggests that there are higher rates of discrimination against transgender and gender-nonconforming people compared with the bias against those who are LGBTQ.

Some transgender people use a highly feminine or masculine expression to address their gender dysphoria . This may also lower their chances of being misgendered by others, meaning they are called by a gender or pronoun that does not match their identity.

Gender Expression and Health Care

Gender expression itself does not always need to be addressed by healthcare workers. But it can affect access to and quality of health care. People with an expression that differs from what is expected for their assigned sex at birth may see greater levels of bias and harassment from providers.

This is true for transgender people, but also for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. It's also true for people with a gender expression that is not what their provider expects.

Gender Expression, Pronouns, and Health Care

Gender expression is often what causes a doctor to ask for a patient's pronouns and/or affirmed name, but it is not best practice. In an ideal world, health workers should ask everyone what name they prefer to be called and what pronouns they use.

One approach that may be more affirming is for the doctor to introduce themselves first, using their own pronouns. This simple act invites the patient to share their own without putting anyone on the spot.

In 2020, Lambda Legal released a report about discrimination in health care, called "When Healthcare Isn't Caring." It included those with different gender expressions. Some 30% of respondents feared health workers would treat them differently because of their expression.

The report called for better training for health workers. It also called for broad policies to prohibit discrimination—not just on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but also gender expression.

Blatant discrimination is not the only threat to some patients' gender expression. When doctors and other providers allow their own perceptions and biases around gender to guide their practice, it can create trauma for those in their care. Because medical professionals have authority over their patients, it is especially important that they acknowledge the nuances of gender expression.

Keep in mind that doctors do need to know a person's sex that was assigned at birth. They need to be able to do proper screening tests, such as screening for prostate cancer or cervical cancer.


Minority stress has been shown to play an important role in health disparities. Research suggests that gender expression is a part of the minority stress described by cisgender sexual minorities and gender minorities. This may reflect both a person's expectation that discrimination will happen, as well as the actual bias directed at them.

The effects of gender expression are different depending on a person's sex, gender identity, and the setting they are in. For example, some communities may accept a broader range of gender expressions from people who are seen as female than from those who are viewed as male.

It's a relatively new concept to use human rights law to protect people from discrimination on the basis of gender expression. In 2012, however, Ontario, Canada, passed legislation that forbids discrimination because of it.

A similar law was passed in New York in 2019, and other places have also passed protections. U.S. federal law does not explicitly protect people on the grounds of gender expression, but it does protect against discrimination in health care on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Resources like The National Center for Transgender Equality and the Movement Advancement Project equip people with information about their state's laws and initiatives so they can advocate for themselves and others.

Everyone has a gender expression. If a person's gender expression is what would be expected for their gender identity and/or recorded sex, it would be unusual for anyone to comment on it. But each person chooses how to present themselves to the world, and society views those choices as gendered. Despite growing awareness about gender expression, this still may lead to discrimination in public settings, including health care.

A Word From Verywell

Gender expression is not always static. It can change with time. While some people's gender expression is consistent with society's connotations of masculinity or femininity, others' is more nuanced. This is known as gender fluidity . Some may present as highly masculine one day and highly feminine another. This may or may not have anything to do with their gender identity.

Greene DW. A multidimensional analysis of what not to wear in the workplace: Hijabs and natural hair . FIU Law Review. 2012;8,333.

YWCA West Michigan. Gender Policing .

Sandfort TGM, Bos HMW, Fu T-C (Jane), Herbenick D, Dodge B. Gender expression and its correlates in a nationally representative sample of the U.S. adult population: Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior . The Journal of Sex Research . 2020:1-13. doi:10.1080/00224499.2020.1818178

Kiebel E, Bosson JK, Caswell TA. Essentialist beliefs and sexual prejudice toward feminine gay men . Journal of Homosexuality . 2020;67(8):1097-1117. doi:10.1080/00918369.2019.1603492

Human Rights Watch. "You Don't Want Second Best"—Anti-LGBT Discrimination in US Health Care .

Lambda Legal. When health care isn’t caring: Lambda Legal’s survey of discrimination against LGBT people and people with HIV .

Puckett JA, Maroney MR, Levitt HM, Horne SG. Relations between gender expression, minority stress, and mental health in cisgender sexual minority women and men . Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity . 2016;3(4):489-498. doi:10.1037/sgd0000201

Horn SS. Adolescents’ acceptance of same-sex peers based on sexual orientation and gender expression . J Youth Adolescence . 2007;36(3):363-371 doi:10.1007/s10964-006-9111-0

Ross MW, Kashiha J, Mgopa LR. Stigmatization of men who have sex with men in health care settings in East Africa is based more on perceived gender role-inappropriate mannerisms than having sex with men . Global Health Action . 2020;13(1):1816526. doi:10.1080/16549716.2020.1816526

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD Boskey has a doctorate in biophysics and master's degrees in public health and social work, with expertise in transgender and sexual health.

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Pride Month

A guide to gender identity terms.

Laurel Wamsley at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., November 7, 2018. (photo by Allison Shelley)

Laurel Wamsley

what is your gender expression essay

"Pronouns are basically how we identify ourselves apart from our name. It's how someone refers to you in conversation," says Mary Emily O'Hara, a communications officer at GLAAD. "And when you're speaking to people, it's a really simple way to affirm their identity." Kaz Fantone for NPR hide caption

"Pronouns are basically how we identify ourselves apart from our name. It's how someone refers to you in conversation," says Mary Emily O'Hara, a communications officer at GLAAD. "And when you're speaking to people, it's a really simple way to affirm their identity."

Issues of equality and acceptance of transgender and nonbinary people — along with challenges to their rights — have become a major topic in the headlines. These issues can involve words and ideas and identities that are new to some.

That's why we've put together a glossary of terms relating to gender identity. Our goal is to help people communicate accurately and respectfully with one another.

Proper use of gender identity terms, including pronouns, is a crucial way to signal courtesy and acceptance. Alex Schmider , associate director of transgender representation at GLAAD, compares using someone's correct pronouns to pronouncing their name correctly – "a way of respecting them and referring to them in a way that's consistent and true to who they are."

Glossary of gender identity terms

This guide was created with help from GLAAD . We also referenced resources from the National Center for Transgender Equality , the Trans Journalists Association , NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists , Human Rights Campaign , InterAct and the American Psychological Association . This guide is not exhaustive, and is Western and U.S.-centric. Other cultures may use different labels and have other conceptions of gender.

One thing to note: Language changes. Some of the terms now in common usage are different from those used in the past to describe similar ideas, identities and experiences. Some people may continue to use terms that are less commonly used now to describe themselves, and some people may use different terms entirely. What's important is recognizing and respecting people as individuals.

Jump to a term: Sex, gender , gender identity , gender expression , cisgender , transgender , nonbinary , agender , gender-expansive , gender transition , gender dysphoria , sexual orientation , intersex

Jump to Pronouns : questions and answers

Sex refers to a person's biological status and is typically assigned at birth, usually on the basis of external anatomy. Sex is typically categorized as male, female or intersex.

Gender is often defined as a social construct of norms, behaviors and roles that varies between societies and over time. Gender is often categorized as male, female or nonbinary.

Gender identity is one's own internal sense of self and their gender, whether that is man, woman, neither or both. Unlike gender expression, gender identity is not outwardly visible to others.

For most people, gender identity aligns with the sex assigned at birth, the American Psychological Association notes. For transgender people, gender identity differs in varying degrees from the sex assigned at birth.

Gender expression is how a person presents gender outwardly, through behavior, clothing, voice or other perceived characteristics. Society identifies these cues as masculine or feminine, although what is considered masculine or feminine changes over time and varies by culture.

Cisgender, or simply cis , is an adjective that describes a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Transgender, or simply trans, is an adjective used to describe someone whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth. A transgender man, for example, is someone who was listed as female at birth but whose gender identity is male.

Cisgender and transgender have their origins in Latin-derived prefixes of "cis" and "trans" — cis, meaning "on this side of" and trans, meaning "across from" or "on the other side of." Both adjectives are used to describe experiences of someone's gender identity.

Nonbinary is a term that can be used by people who do not describe themselves or their genders as fitting into the categories of man or woman. A range of terms are used to refer to these experiences; nonbinary and genderqueer are among the terms that are sometimes used.

Agender is an adjective that can describe a person who does not identify as any gender.

Gender-expansive is an adjective that can describe someone with a more flexible gender identity than might be associated with a typical gender binary.

Gender transition is a process a person may take to bring themselves and/or their bodies into alignment with their gender identity. It's not just one step. Transitioning can include any, none or all of the following: telling one's friends, family and co-workers; changing one's name and pronouns; updating legal documents; medical interventions such as hormone therapy; or surgical intervention, often called gender confirmation surgery.

Gender dysphoria refers to psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one's sex assigned at birth and one's gender identity. Not all trans people experience dysphoria, and those who do may experience it at varying levels of intensity.

Gender dysphoria is a diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Some argue that such a diagnosis inappropriately pathologizes gender incongruence, while others contend that a diagnosis makes it easier for transgender people to access necessary medical treatment.

Sexual orientation refers to the enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or other genders, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and straight orientations.

People don't need to have had specific sexual experiences to know their own sexual orientation. They need not have had any sexual experience at all. They need not be in a relationship, dating or partnered with anyone for their sexual orientation to be validated. For example, if a bisexual woman is partnered with a man, that does not mean she is not still bisexual.

Sexual orientation is separate from gender identity. As GLAAD notes , "Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a straight woman. A person who transitions from female to male and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a gay man."

Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe people with differences in reproductive anatomy, chromosomes or hormones that don't fit typical definitions of male and female.

Intersex can refer to a number of natural variations, some of them laid out by InterAct . Being intersex is not the same as being nonbinary or transgender, which are terms typically related to gender identity.

Nonbinary Photographer Documents Gender Dysphoria Through A Queer Lens

The Picture Show

Nonbinary photographer documents gender dysphoria through a queer lens, pronouns: questions and answers.

What is the role of pronouns in acknowledging someone's gender identity?

Everyone has pronouns that are used when referring to them – and getting those pronouns right is not exclusively a transgender issue.

"Pronouns are basically how we identify ourselves apart from our name. It's how someone refers to you in conversation," says Mary Emily O'Hara , a communications officer at GLAAD. "And when you're speaking to people, it's a really simple way to affirm their identity."

"So, for example, using the correct pronouns for trans and nonbinary youth is a way to let them know that you see them, you affirm them, you accept them and to let them know that they're loved during a time when they're really being targeted by so many discriminatory anti-trans state laws and policies," O'Hara says.

"It's really just about letting someone know that you accept their identity. And it's as simple as that."

what is your gender expression essay

Getting the words right is about respect and accuracy, says Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. Kaz Fantone for NPR hide caption

Getting the words right is about respect and accuracy, says Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

What's the right way to find out a person's pronouns?

Start by giving your own – for example, "My pronouns are she/her."

"If I was introducing myself to someone, I would say, 'I'm Rodrigo. I use him pronouns. What about you?' " says Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen , deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

O'Hara says, "It may feel awkward at first, but eventually it just becomes another one of those get-to-know-you questions."

Should people be asking everyone their pronouns? Or does it depend on the setting?

Knowing each other's pronouns helps you be sure you have accurate information about another person.

How a person appears in terms of gender expression "doesn't indicate anything about what their gender identity is," GLAAD's Schmider says. By sharing pronouns, "you're going to get to know someone a little better."

And while it can be awkward at first, it can quickly become routine.

Heng-Lehtinen notes that the practice of stating one's pronouns at the bottom of an email or during introductions at a meeting can also relieve some headaches for people whose first names are less common or gender ambiguous.

"Sometimes Americans look at a name and are like, 'I have no idea if I'm supposed to say he or she for this name' — not because the person's trans, but just because the name is of a culture that you don't recognize and you genuinely do not know. So having the pronouns listed saves everyone the headache," Heng-Lehtinen says. "It can be really, really quick once you make a habit of it. And I think it saves a lot of embarrassment for everybody."

Might some people be uncomfortable sharing their pronouns in a public setting?

Schmider says for cisgender people, sharing their pronouns is generally pretty easy – so long as they recognize that they have pronouns and know what they are. For others, it could be more difficult to share their pronouns in places where they don't know people.

But there are still benefits in sharing pronouns, he says. "It's an indication that they understand that gender expression does not equal gender identity, that you're not judging people just based on the way they look and making assumptions about their gender beyond what you actually know about them."

How is "they" used as a singular pronoun?

"They" is already commonly used as a singular pronoun when we are talking about someone, and we don't know who they are, O'Hara notes. Using they/them pronouns for someone you do know simply represents "just a little bit of a switch."

"You're just asking someone to not act as if they don't know you, but to remove gendered language from their vocabulary when they're talking about you," O'Hara says.

"I identify as nonbinary myself and I appear feminine. People often assume that my pronouns are she/her. So they will use those. And I'll just gently correct them and say, hey, you know what, my pronouns are they/them just FYI, for future reference or something like that," they say.

O'Hara says their family and friends still struggle with getting the pronouns right — and sometimes O'Hara struggles to remember others' pronouns, too.

"In my community, in the queer community, with a lot of trans and nonbinary people, we all frequently remind each other or remind ourselves. It's a sort of constant mindfulness where you are always catching up a little bit," they say.

"You might know someone for 10 years, and then they let you know their pronouns have changed. It's going to take you a little while to adjust, and that's fine. It's OK to make those mistakes and correct yourself, and it's OK to gently correct someone else."

What if I make a mistake and misgender someone, or use the wrong words?

Simply apologize and move on.

"I think it's perfectly natural to not know the right words to use at first. We're only human. It takes any of us some time to get to know a new concept," Heng-Lehtinen says. "The important thing is to just be interested in continuing to learn. So if you mess up some language, you just say, 'Oh, I'm so sorry,' correct yourself and move forward. No need to make it any more complicated than that. Doing that really simple gesture of apologizing quickly and moving on shows the other person that you care. And that makes a really big difference."

Why are pronouns typically given in the format "she/her" or "they/them" rather than just "she" or "they"?

The different iterations reflect that pronouns change based on how they're used in a sentence. And the "he/him" format is actually shorter than the previously common "he/him/his" format.

"People used to say all three and then it got down to two," Heng-Lehtinen laughs. He says staff at his organization was recently wondering if the custom will eventually shorten to just one pronoun. "There's no real rule about it. It's absolutely just been habit," he says.

Amid Wave Of Anti-Trans Bills, Trans Reporters Say 'Telling Our Own Stories' Is Vital

Amid Wave Of Anti-Trans Bills, Trans Reporters Say 'Telling Our Own Stories' Is Vital

But he notes a benefit of using he/him and she/her: He and she rhyme. "If somebody just says he or she, I could very easily mishear that and then still get it wrong."

What does it mean if a person uses the pronouns "he/they" or "she/they"?

"That means that the person uses both pronouns, and you can alternate between those when referring to them. So either pronoun would be fine — and ideally mix it up, use both. It just means that they use both pronouns that they're listing," Heng-Lehtinen says.

Schmider says it depends on the person: "For some people, they don't mind those pronouns being interchanged for them. And for some people, they are using one specific pronoun in one context and another set of pronouns in another, dependent on maybe safety or comfortability."

The best approach, Schmider says, is to listen to how people refer to themselves.

Why might someone's name be different than what's listed on their ID?

Heng-Lehtinen notes that there's a perception when a person comes out as transgender, they change their name and that's that. But the reality is a lot more complicated and expensive when it comes to updating your name on government documents.

"It is not the same process as changing your last name when you get married. There is bizarrely a separate set of rules for when you are changing your name in marriage versus changing your name for any other reason. And it's more difficult in the latter," he says.

"When you're transgender, you might not be able to update all of your government IDs, even though you want to," he says. "I've been out for over a decade. I still have not been able to update all of my documents because the policies are so onerous. I've been able to update my driver's license, Social Security card and passport, but I cannot update my birth certificate."

"Just because a transgender person doesn't have their authentic name on their ID doesn't mean it's not the name that they really use every day," he advises. "So just be mindful to refer to people by the name they really use regardless of their driver's license."

NPR's Danielle Nett contributed to this report.

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What to Know About Gender Identity

Unpacking sex, gender, pronouns and more

Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of The Anxiety Workbook and founder of the website About Social Anxiety. She has a Master's degree in clinical psychology.

what is your gender expression essay

Margaret Seide, MS, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of depression, addiction, and eating disorders. 

what is your gender expression essay

Getty / Drew Angerer

  • What Is Gender Identity?

List of Gender Identities

History of gender identity, gender identity and mental health, resources and support.

Gender is separate from sex. Although genetic factors usually define a person's biological sex, people determine their own gender identity.

Explore what gender identity is and find out the definitions of several unique gender identities. Discover where individuals can find support if they experience gender dysphoria.

What Is Gender Identity? 

Because a person's sex and gender identity are separate, it's essential to know the difference between them. 

A person’s sex is often based on biological factors, such as their sex chromosomes, reproductive organs, and hormones.

Sex is determined by more than Xs and Ys

  • chromosomal pattern (XX vs. XY)
  • nature of gonads (ovary vs. testes)
  • predominance of circulating sex hormones (estrogen vs. androgen)
  • anatomy of genitalia and secondary sexual characters

Sex is typically assigned at birth depending on the appearance of external genitalia. However, it isn't always black and white, and the sex assigned at birth may need to be changed.

Someone can have the XX or XY chromosomes that people associate with typical males and females, but their reproductive organs, genitals, or both can look and function differently.

Others do not have the standard XX or XY, and can be missing an X or have an extra X or extra Y. All of these are known as "differences of sex development (DSD)." People may also refer to this as intersex, ambiguous sex, or hermaphrodite .

Typically, people will identify with the terms “male,” “female,” or “intersex” regarding a person’s sex. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) perceives gender as a social construct that people typically describe as femininity and masculinity. This includes stereotypical gender norms, behaviors, roles, and expectations.

In many Western cultures, people have binary categories for gender and associate femininity with women and masculinity with men, but this social construct varies from society to society.

Gender Identity

Gender identity is someone's internal experience of gender and how they choose to express themselves externally. We cannot assume someone's gender identity based on their chromosomes, genitalia, clothing, roles, or otherwise. Gender identity may evolve and change over time.

There are two overarching categories of gender identity:

  • Cisgender: Someone who is cisgender identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, a cisgender woman identifies with being a female, the sex assigned at birth.  
  • Transgender: An umbrella term encompassing everyone who experiences and identifies with a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. The word also encompasses those who identify as a gender other than man or woman, including nonbinary and genderfluid.  

Gender expression has two overarching categories as well:

  • Conforming: the individual's behavior, clothing, and appearance are consistent with what is expected by society.
  • Non-conforming: the individual veers away from the norms of society when it comes to the way they express their gender. Both cis- and transgender people can be gender non-conforming. For example, cisgender women do not necessarily conform to all feminine constructs in terms of roles, activities, domestic responsibilities, clothing preferences, hairstyles, etc.

People can use different pronouns, and modify their name, their appearance, clothing style, and behaviors in accordance to the gender(s) they identify with, and with the ways they choose to express their gender.

For those who have an incongruent experience between their sex assigned at birth and their experience of gender, there are many different gender identities that may resonate better, including gender neutral, non-binary, agender, pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, third gender, and all, none, or a combination of these.

The following list explains a few of them:

  • Agender: Someone who doesn't identify with one particular gender and may consider themselves to be gender neutral or doesn't have a dominant gender at all. They may be flexible, open, and not worried about gender norms and labels.
  • Androgyne: Sometimes referred to as androgynous, this is someone whose gender is blended with both feminine and masculine characteristics. 
  • Bigender : Someone who identifies as bigender has the experience of two genders, but not strictly male and female genders. They often display some degree of both culturally feminine and masculine roles. 
  • Butch: Women, particularly lesbians, tend to use this term to describe how they express masculinity or what society defines as masculinity. However, the LGBTQIA Resource Center notes that "butch" can also be used as a gender identity in itself.
  • Demigender: This term is used to describe someone who partially identifies with a particular gender, but not necessarily the sex they were assigned at birth. They may label themselves as demiboy or demigirl.
  • Gender expansive: The LGBTQIA Resource Center defines this as an umbrella term used for those who expand their culture's commonly held interpretations of gender. This includes expectations for the way gender is expressed, identities, roles, and perceived gender norms. Gender-expansive people include those who are trans, non-binary, and those whose gender broadens society's notion of what gender is.  
  • Genderfluid: Someone who identifies as gender-fluid has a presentation and gender identity that shifts between genders, and may shift and evolve over time. They may also experience gender in a way that is outside of society's expectations of gender. 
  • Gender outlaw: Someone who refuses to allow society's definition of "female" or "male" to define what they are. 
  • Genderqueer : Somebody who identifies as genderqueer has a gender identity that does not fit neatly into male or female gender identity, or masculine versus feminine expressions. They may feel they are neither, or both, or a combination of various gender identities including male, female, and non-binary.
  • Masculine of center: This term is typically used by lesbians and trans people, who lean more towards masculine expressions and experiences of gender.   One can also be feminine of center, which would be the opposite.
  • Nonbinary : Someone who is nonbinary doesn't experience gender within the gender binary of male and female. They may also experience overlap with a variety of gender expressions, such as being gender non-conforming. 
  • Omnigender: Someone who experiences and possesses all genders.  
  • Polygender and pangender: Someone who experiences and displays aspects of multiple genders. 
  • Trans: This term is more inclusive because it includes those who identify as nonbinary and genderless, according to the LGBTQIA Resource Center.  
  • Two-Spirit : An umbrella term that encompasses a variety of sexualities and genders in Indigenous Native American communities. There are various definitions of Two-Spirit, and Indigenous Native American people may or may not use it to describe their experiences and feelings of masculinity and femininity. It's a cultural term that's reserved for those who identify as Indigenous Native Americans.  

Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same things, but there can be some overlap. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual identities have been present in various ways throughout history. All cultures have included, with different degrees of acceptance, those who practice same-sex relations and those whose gender identity, and gender expression test current norms. 

And more recently, issues of sexuality and gender have been highly politicized. The last fifty years have witnessed a rise in political activism surrounding the concept of sexual orientation and gender identity, largely influenced by opposing political parties and religious communities. There is a constant push-pull toward laws and policies that either move toward or away from acceptance, equality, affirmation, and support.   In some societies, this can be a matter of life and death.

People who are gender diverse or those who don't identify with the gender they were assigned at birth may have a variety of stressful experiences that contribute to an increased risk of mental health issues, such as: 

  • Gender Dysphoria
  • Suicidal thoughts and ideations

However, it’s essential to note that gender diversity, on its own, is not a mental health disorder. The diagnosis of "gender identity disorder" was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) in 2013. It has been replaced by "gender dysphoria" which describes the distress that someone may experience when their gender identity does not match their sex.

Society's Perception of Various Genders

Some everyday experiences that can increase someone's vulnerability to developing mental health difficulties are: 

  • Feelings of distress because your gender identity does not match your assigned sex at birth.
  • Feeling uncomfortable with your primary and secondary sex characteristics that do not match your identity, and desiring to have the opposite sex characteristics or no sex characteristics at all
  • Feeling "different" or separate from people around you
  • Being bullied because of your gender identity and expression
  • Feeling pressured to dismiss your feelings concerning your gender identity
  • Fear or worry about your gender identity being accepted by your loved ones, alongside the chance of being rejected or isolated
  • Feeling unsupported or misunderstood by loved ones
  • Feeling stressed and concerned about the pressure to conform to your biological sex.

These pressures can be very stressful, especially when combined with other issues in your life, such as managing school, finding a job, forming relationships, and making sense of who you are and your place in the world.

If you're struggling to come to terms with your gender identity or are being bullied or feeling isolated or depressed, there are many resources available that can provide the support and care that you deserve:

  • The Trevor Project, which is an LGBTQ+ organization that provides resources, education, and support
  • The National Center for Transgender Equality , an organization that provides support for transgender people
  • PFLAG, an organization that provides assistance, education, and aid throughout the United States, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico
  • Trans Youth Family Allies, a website that offers resources and education to family members, friends, and allies of gender variant, gender questioning, and transgender people
  • Gender Spectrum , a resource and education site.
  • World Professional Association for Transgender Health,  a website with a directory of healthcare providers for transgender people.

A Word From Verywell

Not everyone accepts people with diverse gender identities, which can harm a person's mental health. However, there are multiple organizations that people can turn to for support. No matter your gender, you are deserving of love, equality, support, and care.

World Health Organization. Gender .

LGBTQIA Resource Center. LGBTQIA Resource Center Glossary .

American Psychological Association. History of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender social movements .

By Arlin Cuncic, MA Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of The Anxiety Workbook and founder of the website About Social Anxiety. She has a Master's degree in clinical psychology.

UP Rainbow Research Hub

Sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics: a primer

what is your gender expression essay

This primer on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) serves as an introduction to the SOGIESC framework. It also includes a guide to gender-affirmative terminology detailing biased or anti-LGBTQI words to avoid and to use instead of them, as well as a glossary of terms related to being LGBTQI and SOGIESC. 

Authors and Editors: James Montilla Doble, Bryon Neil Senga (Ed.), Marie Aubrey Villaceran (Ed.)

Primer: UP Center for Women’s and Gender Studies

Citation (APA): Montilla Doble, J. (2022). Sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics: A primer. UP Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. https://cws.up.edu.ph/?p=2441

  • In your own words, define sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics.
  • What does queer mean?
  • What does questioning mean?
  • What does the plus (+) sign mean in the initialism “LGBTQIA+”?
  • What is heterosexism (or homophobia)?
  • What is cisgenderism or cissexism (or transphobia)?
  • What is monosexism (or biphobia)?

[ Individual/group activity ]

Answer the following questions:

  • Other than queer, why are people who are questioning also included under Q in the LGBTQI initialism?
  • Why is the phrase “people/persons of diverse SOGIESC” sometimes used instead of the initialism “LGBTQI”? When is using “people/persons of diverse SOGIESC” more appropriate? When is using “LGBTQI” more appropriate? Who are included and excluded when we use one term over another?
  • What are the limitations of the SOGIESC framework in the Philippine context more generally? What are its advantages and disadvantages when conducting LGBTQI research in the Philippines specifically? 
  • Why is knowing the SOGIESC framework important for LGBTQI people? Is it important for non-LGBTQI people as well?

[ Group activity ]

Create any learning material (article, infographic, short video essay, etc.) on the SOGIESC framework or other important points raised in the book. The goal of the learning material is to make LGBTQI and SOGIESC concepts more accessible. 

  • SOGIESC 101: Introduction to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics (in Filipino, Taglish, or other Philippine languages)
  • Using the SOGIESC framework in conducting LGBTQI research in the Philippines (advantages, disadvantages/limitations)
  • SOGIESC 102: Other terms related to sex, gender, and sexuality (in Filipino, Taglish, or other Philippine languages)

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Understanding Gender Identity

Gender vs. sex, confirming and affirming our gender identity, gender expression, gender pronouns, gender identity and sexuality are entwined, but not the same, you're not alone.

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Gender can either be something you never think about or something that consumes you and seeps into everything you do. How is gender identity so prominent in some of our lives while others take it for granted? How can one word be so polarizing and personal? To get some of these answers, we need to start at the beginning—your beginning. 

When most people are born, they’re given a label of either male or female based on their genitals. That label is then used to define both their sex and gender. 

Medical professionals typically assign sex based on the appearance of a person’s genitals because they are most visible. The full picture of your sex, though, can’t be seen without more exploration. Sex is a combination of your anatomy, reproductive organs, and chromosomes. It’s not uncommon for sex to be more than simply male or female.

Intersex people are those whose internal organs, chromosomes, or genitals do not fit neatly into male or female boxes. Some people know they are intersex growing up, and others find out later in life.

Gender identity is different from sex or gender assigned at birth. Gender identity is how we see ourselves in terms of being male, female, neither, both, or something in between. Despite being given an assigned gender, we may realize the label just doesn’t fit. 

As we grow up and get to know ourselves, each of us tends to develop a personal sense of our gender identity. Research shows that most of us have a strong sense of our gender by the time we are three or four years old. When your gender identity matches your gender assigned at birth, you may refer to yourself as cisgender. When your identity does not match your gender assigned at birth, you may identify as transgender.

Most people—whether they identify as transgender or cisgender—fall into a binary gender category (male or female), while others are somewhere in between (nonbinary) or don’t feel connected to either gender (agender). 

Whether or not you are ready to talk to someone about your relationship with your gender identity, know that you deserve to be seen as your authentic gender. Coming out as a gender different than the one you were assigned at birth can be scary, but you are among many amazing people who also identify as transgender or nonbinary. You can—and will—find the resources and people you need to live a full and happy life. 

Gender identity is our internal concept of our gender, but gender expression is how we present our gender identity through our appearance—including what we wear, how we style our hair, and if and how we wear makeup. It can also be in the names and pronouns we choose for ourselves. How we express our gender may or may not conform to what our families, friends, or society associates with our sex or gender identity, but we all have the right to express our gender in ways that feel authentic and give us joy.

Pronouns are the words we use for ourselves—and would like others to use—when referring to us. Some examples of pronouns include:

  • She/her/hers
  • They/them/theirs
  • Xe/xem/xeirs

Sometimes it feels right to use more than one pronoun (“she/they,” for example) which means either pronoun set feels OK. You may also choose to use multiple pronouns for a period of time to see what feels best. There can be a lot of exploration involved in figuring out what gender means to you, and sometimes it takes hearing other people refer to you with certain pronouns to know what hits right. 

Your gender identity isn’t the same as your sexual orientation. Gender identity is about who you are, and sexual orientation is about attraction and who you might want to form relationships with. 

Both gender identity and sexual orientation are spectrums and can change over time. It’s important to understand that your gender identity doesn’t dictate your sexual orientation. People of any gender can have any sexual orientation.

It can feel intimidating to explore something as complicated as your gender, but it can also be exciting and affirming to find the identity that feels right to you, even if it takes a little time. There is no “right” age to explore and understand your gender identity. Some people understand their identities early in life, and others come to their identities later.

If you or someone you know is struggling with challenges related to gender identity—or struggling to get others in their life to accept their identity—it’s important to reach out for support. Try contacting The Trevor Project , a leading national organization providing crisis-intervention services for LGBTQIA+ youth, by texting START to 678-678 or calling 1-866-488-7386.

If you or someone you love needs help right now:

  • Text or call 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org .
  • Text HOME to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time of day.
  • If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.

Related resources

Mental health tips for high school athletes, what i wish i knew before coming out, 3 steps to make it easier to ask for mental health support, search resource center.

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat  988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.

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Understanding Gender Identities

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There are a lot of different ways someone can express their gender or sex.

Gender identity isn’t an easy topic to understand, and sometimes we need to unlearn some old ideas so we can really get what gender is all about. Most of us were taught that there are only two genders (man/masculine & woman/feminine) and two sexes (male & female). However, there is a lot more to it than that.

What is Gender?

Gender is a social construct , an idea created by people to help categorize and explain the world around them. You may not notice it all the time, but each gender comes with a set of expectations , like how to act, talk, dress, feel emotion, and interact with other people. For example, when you think of a teenage boy living in the United States, what comes to mind? Do you imagine him playing football, or do you picture him dancing in a ballet recital? It’s likely that you imagined him playing football first — but why?

In the United States, we have very defined gender roles that describe what it means to be a boy or a girl, a man or a woman, and we learn what’s expected of us at a very early age. Even though these expectations are made up — there’s no reason why boys shouldn’t be encouraged to practice ballet, for example — gendered characteristics, activities, expressions, and stereotypes are really ingrained in our society , and shape most of our lives.

Here are some other gender-specific constructed differences that you may recognize: young girls often get pink clothes, and boys get blue clothes; women are deemed overemotional and men are discouraged from crying; a deep voice is considered masculine while a high voice is feminine; boys should play with building blocks and girls should play with dolls; men are athletic and aggressive, women are nurturing and gentle… the list of expectations based on gender can go on and on, and changes from culture to culture.

In reality, gender roles aren’t set in stone. Even though our society expects certain things from certain people, we don’t have to conform . Rather than on a binary (only two ways of being), gender and sex exist on a spectrum , meaning that there are a lot of different ways that people can express their gender identity or sex.

What is the difference between Gender and Sex?

Understanding transphobia, intersex identities.

  • Frequently Asked Questions

When we are born, a doctor assigns us a sex . This has to do with our biology , chromosomes , and physical body . Male babies are generally labeled as boys and female babies are generally labeled as girls . But even sex is more complex than that — and it really exists on a spectrum . Intersex individuals have physical sex traits or reproductive anatomy that are present at birth or emerge spontaneously later in life, and differ from normative expectations of “male” and “female.”

Some people never question their assigned gender or sex, and choose to identify with what they were assigned at birth — that’s called being “ cisgender .” But there are others who do question their gender or sex, and that’s completely normal and ok .

If you don’t feel that your gender identity — meaning, your own personal sense of what your gender is — matches the gender you were assigned at birth , you might identify as transgender (or trans) . And like sex is an expansive and complex spectrum, so is gender.

What does nonbinary mean?

Nonbinary genders, like genderfluid, genderqueer, polygender, bigender, and many others , are genders that exist outside of the male/female/man/woman binary . It’s important to note that not all nonbinary folks identify as trans , but may share many of the same experiences as trans folks.

Are you questioning your gender and aren’t sure what feels right to you? It’s okay. You are not alone! Consider a few of these questions:

  • How do you feel about your birth gender?
  • What gender do you wish people saw you as?
  • How would you like to express your gender?
  • What pronouns (like he/him or she/hers, or ze/zir or they/them) do you feel most comfortable using?
  • When you imagine your future, what gender are you?

There are many aspects of someone’s gender:

Gender Expression: The way in which people present or express their gender, including physical appearance, clothing, hairstyles, and behavior. People can exert a certain degree of control over their gender expression depending on their resources and environment.

Gender Identity: Our personal sense of what our own gender is. 

Perceived Gender: How the world sees and understands your gender.

If you decide that your current gender or sex just isn’t right for you, you may want to make your gender identity fit with your ideal gender expression and presentation . This is called transitioning , and can include social (like telling other people about which pronouns you like), legal (like changing your name), or medical (like taking hormones or having surgery).

Some folks might choose to transition in only some aspects of their life. Some folks may receive gendering affirming care while others may not. None of these steps are necessary , and people should be allowed to figure out what works best for themselves in their exploration of gender . You don’t have to go through all of these things to be “officially” trans, or to have your gender identity be valid. It’s all up to you, and what feels safe and comfortable.

Terms and labels are important when talking about the trans community. While there are some general guidelines to follow, terms and labels are often unique to individuals and it is always best to check with someone about how they identify and which terms they prefer to use to describe themselves. 

Below are some general guidelines and common terms:

  • You may see the term trans shortened with an asterisk (*) to include the many identities that fall under the trans umbrella.
  • The term “ transgender ” should only be used as an adjective and never as a noun (i.e. “My friend is transgender” vs. “My friend is a transgender.”)
  • A more often-used term is simply “ trans .”
  • The term “ transgendered ” is grammatically incorrect and should never be used.
  • Some trans people identify as transsexual , although others consider it to be outdated. Always ask for , and use, the term that a person prefers.

Trans people often face hatred or fear just because of who they are. Even some cisgender LGBQ people may have transphobic feelings that can make it harder for them to support trans people as they also fight for equality and acceptance .

If you ever feel that you are a victim of a transphobic hate crime, please consult the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund .

Sex is entirely distinct from gender , something that is determined by our biology and physical characteristics. As mentioned before, sex is typically thought of in the binary of male and female . In actuality, people’s genetics and bodies are much more complex than that. Still, many intersex people are assigned a sex of male or female at birth, even if they are more somewhere in the middle.

If you think you might be intersex, please know you are not alone. Visit the Intersex Society of North America ’s website for resources and information that may help you.

Talking About Intersex Folks

Intersex is an adjective that describes a person. It is never a noun or a verb, because no one can be “ intersexing ” or “ intersexed. ”

You may have heard the word “hermaphrodite” from Greek mythology. Like certain words used to refer to the trans community, this term is considered archaic and offensive to intersex people. Still, always ask for, and use, the term that a person prefers. 

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Gender Identity

Question 1: i am not completely comfortable with the body i was born with. in particular, my feminine figure is really getting to me, and i really wish that i had the ability to grow facial hair. i’ve begun to consider hrt (hormone replacement therapy) to help me feel comfortable with my body, after i check with my therapist. but how will taking hormones affect other things, like taking birth control, or getting my period will i need to get a hysterectomy because of taking hormones.

Answer: First, please know that you don’t have to figure all of this out all at once. It can take time to figure out what is right for you and your body. You are not alone in this.

It’s great that you’re considering your options, and want to work out a plan that will help you get to the place where you want to be. It sounds like you have a very good idea of what you’re looking for, and what you hope to get out of hormone replacement therapy. That’s a great first step, because it’s really important to understand what could make you feel more like you.

Have you talked to your therapist about any of your questions, including any specific anxieties you’re having about some of these unknowns? A lot of the questions and issues you bring up can be really complicated, especially in terms of the deep and complex ways in which the physical and emotional aspects of all of this are tied together.

Have you found and/or talked to a trusted health provider yet ? It sounds like you have a lot of very specific questions about how hormones might affect you physically, and about any unintended side effects HRT might cause. Everybody is different, so a medical professional would be the best person to tell you about what you could expect from HRT, depending on what your dose is and what your personal needs are.

Your therapist might also be able to recommend a trans-friendly physician in your area who can better answer your questions. If you have been considering getting hormones from a non-professional source, or if consulting with a doctor is not an option for you, we would encourage you research trusted sources before putting anything into your body.

Most medical professionals strongly advise against taking any kind of medication that isn’t prescribed because it can be very dangerous, especially since the source and quality of the drugs cannot be verified or regulated.

We hope that you can talk to a doctor face-to-face and get your questions answered. In the meantime, you are always welcome to contact us at The Trevor Project .

We are always available to talk through how you’re feeling about transitioning, taking care of yourself, and more. If you aren’t already on TrevorSpace , we encourage you to check it out; LGBTQ+ young people from all over the world use it to make friends and get advice. Chances are, someone on TrevorSpace will have gone through something very similar.

Question 2: I told my mom that I think I’m trans, but she thinks that it’s just a phase. What if she’s right? I really don’t want to come out and ask people to use my new name and pronouns, and then have it mean nothing. What if I decide that I’m not really a man?

Answer: First of all, it was a big step for you to tell your mom that you think you’re trans. Sometimes our parents and friends need some time to really absorb and understand what we’ve shared. Just like you had your own process for discovering your identity, they need to figure out how they feel, too. It sounds like some of the doubts your mom is expressing have started to creep into your own thinking around who you are, which can be difficult, especially if you value her opinion. For now, let’s focus on your feelings and thoughts. It sounds like you’re worried you might not really be trans, or

that one day you’ll change your mind about your gender identity.

It can be scary when you’re unsure of who you are, but don’t worry, you aren’t alone. The truth is that you’re never stuck with anything. As we go through life, we can grow, change, and even change course. If you’re feeling very strongly about being a man, go with your instincts. You know yourself better than anyone else.

Coming out is a very personal decision and you don’t have to tell other people about being trans if you don’t want to. However, it also sounds like you’re worried about other people’s reactions and wonder if it’s worth it to ask them to use your name and pronouns. We recommend checking out our Coming Out Handbook , which can help you weigh the pros and cons of coming out. There are sections that talk about finding support, preparing for how other people might react, and staying safe during your process.

If or when you do decide to come out as trans, you don’t have to do it all at once. It is totally up to you who, when, and how to come out, and it can even be a slow, step-by-step process. Regardless of what you decide to do, please know that you are never alone — we are always here for you.

Question 3: Lately I’ve had this desire to be a girl. I know I’m not ready to come out, but I’m planning to grow out my hair and wear more girly-types of clothes. I’m not sure what my parents would make of it, but I can’t get this off of my mind. Should I go ahead with it?

Answer: If you feel safe and comfortable starting to express your gender in a new way, then that’s your decision — after all, you know yourself best! Taking small steps, like letting your hair grow longer and wearing more feminine clothes can help you learn more about your own gender identity.

If you love it, great! If you decide you don’t love it, that’s also ok! It’s not hard to cut your hair again, or go back to wearing the clothes you wore before. No decision you make needs to be permanent. There are no rules about how girly or boyish anyone needs to be, regardless of what their body looks like, or what others might think they are supposed to do or look like.

Are there potential safety considerations that come with expressing your gender differently in public places, like school? Are there LGBTQ+- affirming student groups who can offer you support? These are just two questions you might want to consider before coming out.

As for your parents, have you mentioned these ideas to them before? Are you worried at all that changing your hair or clothes might create an unsafe situation with them? Or, do you think that they might find the change surprising? If you want a resource that will help you weigh the pros and cons of coming out to your parents, or at school, we have a guide for coming out. Above all, it’s up to you and your comfort level — no one can make you come out if you are not ready. If you want some help, you can always talk to us at The Trevor Project.

Additional Resources for Understanding Gender Identity

Gender identity.

  • Diversity of Youth Gender Identity
  • Genderqueer Identities
  • Gender Spectrum
  • The Gender Book
  • Students and Gender Identity Guide for Schools (USC Rossier’s, online MSC program)


  • Inter/Act: A youth group for young people with intersex conditions or DSD
  • OII Intersex Network
  • American Psychological Association: What does intersex mean?


  • Trans Student Educational Resources
  • Advocates for Youth: I Think I Might Be Transgender
  • Trans Youth Family Allies
  • WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health)
  • TransWhat? A Guide Towards Allyship
  • Resources for Transgender College Students

The Trevor Project is the leading suicide prevention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) young people.

We provide 24/7 crisis services for LGBTQ young people via a phone lifeline, text, and chat. We also operate innovative research, advocacy, public training, and peer support programs.

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Learn more about resources about gender identity.

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Free Gender Identity Essay Examples & Topics

Everyone has their own unique gender identity. Whether a person identifies as female, male, or outside the binary, everyone has ways of expressing themselves. This gender expression is then measured against socially established gender roles. If the two concepts clash, this can become a source of internal and external conflict.

In recent years, the definition of gender is beginning to change. We now consider it as a social construct. It is dictated by our behavior, presentation, and cultural norms. The language surrounding this concept is also evolving. Here our experts have explored some terms that will help you understand gender identity.

Cisgender applies to a person whose identity aligns with the sex that they were assigned at birth. In contrast, transgender refers to a person whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex.

Non-binary describes people whose gender identity lies outside the established man/woman dichotomy. This umbrella term covers a broad number of identities, such as genderfluid, genderqueer, agender, etc.

We have collected advice that will help you in writing your gender identity essay. After all, even when writing about a personal experience, you need to approach the subject thoughtfully. We have also created a list of topics. They will help you compose different types of essays about gender identity.

Essay about Gender Identity: 6 Tips

Doesn’t matter whether you are writing a gender expression essay or a paper about identity. You still have to follow a defined structure. Here we have summarized how to organize your work process best and create an effective outline.

You can start with the following tips:

1. Brainstorm. The most critical step in writing a successful essay is to establish what ideas you already have. Perhaps you are thinking about focusing on gender equality? Or maybe about the differences between masculinity and femininity? Jot down your thoughts on paper and see where that takes you.

2. Get a topic. As soon as you have an idea of the direction you’re heading, start thinking about wording. Keep in mind that you have to narrow down from a broad list of potential subjects. The matter of gender identity is infinitely complex, so choose a single aspect to focus on. Try our topic generator so that it can come up with an idea for you.

3. Research your idea. This is perhaps the step that will take you the longest. To successfully write a compelling essay, you should have a large number of credible sources. Most of the information you need will be available online. Yet, try referring to books and journal articles too. Check for the availability of your resources before you settle on a topic.

4. Come up with a thesis. Here is where you might want to look over all the information you have compiled so far. Refer to your chosen topic and create a thesis statement. It is the main argument that you are trying to make in your essay. So, be concise and precise.

5. Outline your paper. From writing down the title to forming your conclusions, everything in your essay should be pre-planned. Start with writing down your introduction using your thesis statement. Afterward, you may want to note down what you will talk about in the body paragraphs. Don’t forget that using statistics, examples, and quotes can make your essay sound more solid. Finally, summarize your findings and restate your thesis in your conclusion. For this, you can use our online summarizer . Now that you have a rough draft, writing will be much easier.

6. Revise & proofread. When you are done writing, it is time for editing. Many students choose to skip over revising and proofreading, believing that it is not necessary. This is not the case. Your true potential opens up only after you edit your paper and compare it to the writing criteria. Make sure to read through your work at least once.

Amazing Gender Identity Essay Topics

After reading our tips, you may still have a vital question. What should be the topic of my essay on gender identity? We are here to help.

Feel free to make use of these 15 gender identity topics:

  • What is gender expression, and how does it feed into gender stereotypes?
  • The intersection between race and gender identity.
  • Why are feminine traits frowned upon while masculine ones are uplifted?
  • Gender identity in society today.
  • The history of nonbinary gender identities in the West.
  • Gender identity development – a psychological study.
  • The third gender – a study of nonbinary gender identities of the past.
  • Presentation of gender identity in modern media.
  • What is gender performativity, and how does it help shape gender identities?
  • The contrast between gender identity and gender role.
  • Gender as a spectrum: what lies between masculinity and femininity.
  • Dysphoria – a gender identity disorder.
  • Breaking down the concept of heteronormativity concerning gender.
  • The historical evolution of the female gender identity.
  • Understanding equality in terms of gender identity.

Thank you for reading! We hope that you found these tips useful, and we wish you the best in your academic work. If you still find yourself at a loss, read through our sample essays on gender identity below.

156 Best Essay Examples on Gender Identity

Role of men in society essay, gender issues: femininity and masculinity, social issues affecting women.

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Gender Identity

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LGBTQ Co-Culture: The Key Aspects

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Stereotypes and Their Effects

The pros and cons of gay marriage.

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Gender Inequality in Social Media

Masculinity and femininity.

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Polygamy in America: Between Society, Law, and Gender

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The Perception of the LGBT (Queer) Community

“the female quixote’” by charlotte lennox, homosexuality in renaissance italy.

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Raising Gender-Neutral Children

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Relate Gender, Ethnicity and Identity

Effects of technology and globalization on gender identity.

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Gender and ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Programs

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Sexual Orientation Development

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Exotic Becomes Erotic Theory Design

Impact of culture on gender identity: how differences in genders are evident in the behavior, gender experience and identity in the social context.

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Changing Gender Roles Between Boys and Girls

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Therapeutic Methods Applied to LGBTQ+ Clients

Homosexuality from religious and philosophical perspectives, gay couples’ problems: gary and jorge’s case.

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LGBTQ+ Discrimination in Professional Settings

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Stigmatization of Kathoeys and Gay Minorities

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  • Words: 1858

Annotated Bibliography: Significance of Queerness in Social Media

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Mental Health Issues Among LGBTQ (Queer) Youth

Historical interpretations of queer community issues.

  • Words: 1162

Influence of Domestic Roles on Femininity

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Bisexuality: The Social Stereotypes

  • Words: 1492

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Gender Identity: Intersex People and Their Place in Society

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Homophobic Name-Calling and Gender Identity

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Gender and Communication Relations Analysis

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The Conference “Women as Global Leaders”

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Girls’ Sexuality Issues in American Schools

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Sexual Reassignment and Related Challenges

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Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender

Feminism is said to be the movement to end women’s oppression (hooks 2000, 26). One possible way to understand ‘woman’ in this claim is to take it as a sex term: ‘woman’ picks out human females and being a human female depends on various biological and anatomical features (like genitalia). Historically many feminists have understood ‘woman’ differently: not as a sex term, but as a gender term that depends on social and cultural factors (like social position). In so doing, they distinguished sex (being female or male) from gender (being a woman or a man), although most ordinary language users appear to treat the two interchangeably. In feminist philosophy, this distinction has generated a lively debate. Central questions include: What does it mean for gender to be distinct from sex, if anything at all? How should we understand the claim that gender depends on social and/or cultural factors? What does it mean to be gendered woman, man, or genderqueer? This entry outlines and discusses distinctly feminist debates on sex and gender considering both historical and more contemporary positions.

1.1 Biological determinism

1.2 gender terminology, 2.1 gender socialisation, 2.2 gender as feminine and masculine personality, 2.3 gender as feminine and masculine sexuality, 3.1.1 particularity argument, 3.1.2 normativity argument, 3.2 is sex classification solely a matter of biology, 3.3 are sex and gender distinct, 3.4 is the sex/gender distinction useful, 4.1.1 gendered social series, 4.1.2 resemblance nominalism, 4.2.1 social subordination and gender, 4.2.2 gender uniessentialism, 4.2.3 gender as positionality, 5. beyond the binary, 6. conclusion, other internet resources, related entries, 1. the sex/gender distinction..

The terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ mean different things to different feminist theorists and neither are easy or straightforward to characterise. Sketching out some feminist history of the terms provides a helpful starting point.

Most people ordinarily seem to think that sex and gender are coextensive: women are human females, men are human males. Many feminists have historically disagreed and have endorsed the sex/ gender distinction. Provisionally: ‘sex’ denotes human females and males depending on biological features (chromosomes, sex organs, hormones and other physical features); ‘gender’ denotes women and men depending on social factors (social role, position, behaviour or identity). The main feminist motivation for making this distinction was to counter biological determinism or the view that biology is destiny.

A typical example of a biological determinist view is that of Geddes and Thompson who, in 1889, argued that social, psychological and behavioural traits were caused by metabolic state. Women supposedly conserve energy (being ‘anabolic’) and this makes them passive, conservative, sluggish, stable and uninterested in politics. Men expend their surplus energy (being ‘katabolic’) and this makes them eager, energetic, passionate, variable and, thereby, interested in political and social matters. These biological ‘facts’ about metabolic states were used not only to explain behavioural differences between women and men but also to justify what our social and political arrangements ought to be. More specifically, they were used to argue for withholding from women political rights accorded to men because (according to Geddes and Thompson) “what was decided among the prehistoric Protozoa cannot be annulled by Act of Parliament” (quoted from Moi 1999, 18). It would be inappropriate to grant women political rights, as they are simply not suited to have those rights; it would also be futile since women (due to their biology) would simply not be interested in exercising their political rights. To counter this kind of biological determinism, feminists have argued that behavioural and psychological differences have social, rather than biological, causes. For instance, Simone de Beauvoir famously claimed that one is not born, but rather becomes a woman, and that “social discrimination produces in women moral and intellectual effects so profound that they appear to be caused by nature” (Beauvoir 1972 [original 1949], 18; for more, see the entry on Simone de Beauvoir ). Commonly observed behavioural traits associated with women and men, then, are not caused by anatomy or chromosomes. Rather, they are culturally learned or acquired.

Although biological determinism of the kind endorsed by Geddes and Thompson is nowadays uncommon, the idea that behavioural and psychological differences between women and men have biological causes has not disappeared. In the 1970s, sex differences were used to argue that women should not become airline pilots since they will be hormonally unstable once a month and, therefore, unable to perform their duties as well as men (Rogers 1999, 11). More recently, differences in male and female brains have been said to explain behavioural differences; in particular, the anatomy of corpus callosum, a bundle of nerves that connects the right and left cerebral hemispheres, is thought to be responsible for various psychological and behavioural differences. For instance, in 1992, a Time magazine article surveyed then prominent biological explanations of differences between women and men claiming that women’s thicker corpus callosums could explain what ‘women’s intuition’ is based on and impair women’s ability to perform some specialised visual-spatial skills, like reading maps (Gorman 1992). Anne Fausto-Sterling has questioned the idea that differences in corpus callosums cause behavioural and psychological differences. First, the corpus callosum is a highly variable piece of anatomy; as a result, generalisations about its size, shape and thickness that hold for women and men in general should be viewed with caution. Second, differences in adult human corpus callosums are not found in infants; this may suggest that physical brain differences actually develop as responses to differential treatment. Third, given that visual-spatial skills (like map reading) can be improved by practice, even if women and men’s corpus callosums differ, this does not make the resulting behavioural differences immutable. (Fausto-Sterling 2000b, chapter 5).

In order to distinguish biological differences from social/psychological ones and to talk about the latter, feminists appropriated the term ‘gender’. Psychologists writing on transsexuality were the first to employ gender terminology in this sense. Until the 1960s, ‘gender’ was often used to refer to masculine and feminine words, like le and la in French. However, in order to explain why some people felt that they were ‘trapped in the wrong bodies’, the psychologist Robert Stoller (1968) began using the terms ‘sex’ to pick out biological traits and ‘gender’ to pick out the amount of femininity and masculinity a person exhibited. Although (by and large) a person’s sex and gender complemented each other, separating out these terms seemed to make theoretical sense allowing Stoller to explain the phenomenon of transsexuality: transsexuals’ sex and gender simply don’t match.

Along with psychologists like Stoller, feminists found it useful to distinguish sex and gender. This enabled them to argue that many differences between women and men were socially produced and, therefore, changeable. Gayle Rubin (for instance) uses the phrase ‘sex/gender system’ in order to describe “a set of arrangements by which the biological raw material of human sex and procreation is shaped by human, social intervention” (1975, 165). Rubin employed this system to articulate that “part of social life which is the locus of the oppression of women” (1975, 159) describing gender as the “socially imposed division of the sexes” (1975, 179). Rubin’s thought was that although biological differences are fixed, gender differences are the oppressive results of social interventions that dictate how women and men should behave. Women are oppressed as women and “by having to be women” (Rubin 1975, 204). However, since gender is social, it is thought to be mutable and alterable by political and social reform that would ultimately bring an end to women’s subordination. Feminism should aim to create a “genderless (though not sexless) society, in which one’s sexual anatomy is irrelevant to who one is, what one does, and with whom one makes love” (Rubin 1975, 204).

In some earlier interpretations, like Rubin’s, sex and gender were thought to complement one another. The slogan ‘Gender is the social interpretation of sex’ captures this view. Nicholson calls this ‘the coat-rack view’ of gender: our sexed bodies are like coat racks and “provide the site upon which gender [is] constructed” (1994, 81). Gender conceived of as masculinity and femininity is superimposed upon the ‘coat-rack’ of sex as each society imposes on sexed bodies their cultural conceptions of how males and females should behave. This socially constructs gender differences – or the amount of femininity/masculinity of a person – upon our sexed bodies. That is, according to this interpretation, all humans are either male or female; their sex is fixed. But cultures interpret sexed bodies differently and project different norms on those bodies thereby creating feminine and masculine persons. Distinguishing sex and gender, however, also enables the two to come apart: they are separable in that one can be sexed male and yet be gendered a woman, or vice versa (Haslanger 2000b; Stoljar 1995).

So, this group of feminist arguments against biological determinism suggested that gender differences result from cultural practices and social expectations. Nowadays it is more common to denote this by saying that gender is socially constructed. This means that genders (women and men) and gendered traits (like being nurturing or ambitious) are the “intended or unintended product[s] of a social practice” (Haslanger 1995, 97). But which social practices construct gender, what social construction is and what being of a certain gender amounts to are major feminist controversies. There is no consensus on these issues. (See the entry on intersections between analytic and continental feminism for more on different ways to understand gender.)

2. Gender as socially constructed

One way to interpret Beauvoir’s claim that one is not born but rather becomes a woman is to take it as a claim about gender socialisation: females become women through a process whereby they acquire feminine traits and learn feminine behaviour. Masculinity and femininity are thought to be products of nurture or how individuals are brought up. They are causally constructed (Haslanger 1995, 98): social forces either have a causal role in bringing gendered individuals into existence or (to some substantial sense) shape the way we are qua women and men. And the mechanism of construction is social learning. For instance, Kate Millett takes gender differences to have “essentially cultural, rather than biological bases” that result from differential treatment (1971, 28–9). For her, gender is “the sum total of the parents’, the peers’, and the culture’s notions of what is appropriate to each gender by way of temperament, character, interests, status, worth, gesture, and expression” (Millett 1971, 31). Feminine and masculine gender-norms, however, are problematic in that gendered behaviour conveniently fits with and reinforces women’s subordination so that women are socialised into subordinate social roles: they learn to be passive, ignorant, docile, emotional helpmeets for men (Millett 1971, 26). However, since these roles are simply learned, we can create more equal societies by ‘unlearning’ social roles. That is, feminists should aim to diminish the influence of socialisation.

Social learning theorists hold that a huge array of different influences socialise us as women and men. This being the case, it is extremely difficult to counter gender socialisation. For instance, parents often unconsciously treat their female and male children differently. When parents have been asked to describe their 24- hour old infants, they have done so using gender-stereotypic language: boys are describes as strong, alert and coordinated and girls as tiny, soft and delicate. Parents’ treatment of their infants further reflects these descriptions whether they are aware of this or not (Renzetti & Curran 1992, 32). Some socialisation is more overt: children are often dressed in gender stereotypical clothes and colours (boys are dressed in blue, girls in pink) and parents tend to buy their children gender stereotypical toys. They also (intentionally or not) tend to reinforce certain ‘appropriate’ behaviours. While the precise form of gender socialization has changed since the onset of second-wave feminism, even today girls are discouraged from playing sports like football or from playing ‘rough and tumble’ games and are more likely than boys to be given dolls or cooking toys to play with; boys are told not to ‘cry like a baby’ and are more likely to be given masculine toys like trucks and guns (for more, see Kimmel 2000, 122–126). [ 1 ]

According to social learning theorists, children are also influenced by what they observe in the world around them. This, again, makes countering gender socialisation difficult. For one, children’s books have portrayed males and females in blatantly stereotypical ways: for instance, males as adventurers and leaders, and females as helpers and followers. One way to address gender stereotyping in children’s books has been to portray females in independent roles and males as non-aggressive and nurturing (Renzetti & Curran 1992, 35). Some publishers have attempted an alternative approach by making their characters, for instance, gender-neutral animals or genderless imaginary creatures (like TV’s Teletubbies). However, parents reading books with gender-neutral or genderless characters often undermine the publishers’ efforts by reading them to their children in ways that depict the characters as either feminine or masculine. According to Renzetti and Curran, parents labelled the overwhelming majority of gender-neutral characters masculine whereas those characters that fit feminine gender stereotypes (for instance, by being helpful and caring) were labelled feminine (1992, 35). Socialising influences like these are still thought to send implicit messages regarding how females and males should act and are expected to act shaping us into feminine and masculine persons.

Nancy Chodorow (1978; 1995) has criticised social learning theory as too simplistic to explain gender differences (see also Deaux & Major 1990; Gatens 1996). Instead, she holds that gender is a matter of having feminine and masculine personalities that develop in early infancy as responses to prevalent parenting practices. In particular, gendered personalities develop because women tend to be the primary caretakers of small children. Chodorow holds that because mothers (or other prominent females) tend to care for infants, infant male and female psychic development differs. Crudely put: the mother-daughter relationship differs from the mother-son relationship because mothers are more likely to identify with their daughters than their sons. This unconsciously prompts the mother to encourage her son to psychologically individuate himself from her thereby prompting him to develop well defined and rigid ego boundaries. However, the mother unconsciously discourages the daughter from individuating herself thereby prompting the daughter to develop flexible and blurry ego boundaries. Childhood gender socialisation further builds on and reinforces these unconsciously developed ego boundaries finally producing feminine and masculine persons (1995, 202–206). This perspective has its roots in Freudian psychoanalytic theory, although Chodorow’s approach differs in many ways from Freud’s.

Gendered personalities are supposedly manifested in common gender stereotypical behaviour. Take emotional dependency. Women are stereotypically more emotional and emotionally dependent upon others around them, supposedly finding it difficult to distinguish their own interests and wellbeing from the interests and wellbeing of their children and partners. This is said to be because of their blurry and (somewhat) confused ego boundaries: women find it hard to distinguish their own needs from the needs of those around them because they cannot sufficiently individuate themselves from those close to them. By contrast, men are stereotypically emotionally detached, preferring a career where dispassionate and distanced thinking are virtues. These traits are said to result from men’s well-defined ego boundaries that enable them to prioritise their own needs and interests sometimes at the expense of others’ needs and interests.

Chodorow thinks that these gender differences should and can be changed. Feminine and masculine personalities play a crucial role in women’s oppression since they make females overly attentive to the needs of others and males emotionally deficient. In order to correct the situation, both male and female parents should be equally involved in parenting (Chodorow 1995, 214). This would help in ensuring that children develop sufficiently individuated senses of selves without becoming overly detached, which in turn helps to eradicate common gender stereotypical behaviours.

Catharine MacKinnon develops her theory of gender as a theory of sexuality. Very roughly: the social meaning of sex (gender) is created by sexual objectification of women whereby women are viewed and treated as objects for satisfying men’s desires (MacKinnon 1989). Masculinity is defined as sexual dominance, femininity as sexual submissiveness: genders are “created through the eroticization of dominance and submission. The man/woman difference and the dominance/submission dynamic define each other. This is the social meaning of sex” (MacKinnon 1989, 113). For MacKinnon, gender is constitutively constructed : in defining genders (or masculinity and femininity) we must make reference to social factors (see Haslanger 1995, 98). In particular, we must make reference to the position one occupies in the sexualised dominance/submission dynamic: men occupy the sexually dominant position, women the sexually submissive one. As a result, genders are by definition hierarchical and this hierarchy is fundamentally tied to sexualised power relations. The notion of ‘gender equality’, then, does not make sense to MacKinnon. If sexuality ceased to be a manifestation of dominance, hierarchical genders (that are defined in terms of sexuality) would cease to exist.

So, gender difference for MacKinnon is not a matter of having a particular psychological orientation or behavioural pattern; rather, it is a function of sexuality that is hierarchal in patriarchal societies. This is not to say that men are naturally disposed to sexually objectify women or that women are naturally submissive. Instead, male and female sexualities are socially conditioned: men have been conditioned to find women’s subordination sexy and women have been conditioned to find a particular male version of female sexuality as erotic – one in which it is erotic to be sexually submissive. For MacKinnon, both female and male sexual desires are defined from a male point of view that is conditioned by pornography (MacKinnon 1989, chapter 7). Bluntly put: pornography portrays a false picture of ‘what women want’ suggesting that women in actual fact are and want to be submissive. This conditions men’s sexuality so that they view women’s submission as sexy. And male dominance enforces this male version of sexuality onto women, sometimes by force. MacKinnon’s thought is not that male dominance is a result of social learning (see 2.1.); rather, socialization is an expression of power. That is, socialized differences in masculine and feminine traits, behaviour, and roles are not responsible for power inequalities. Females and males (roughly put) are socialised differently because there are underlying power inequalities. As MacKinnon puts it, ‘dominance’ (power relations) is prior to ‘difference’ (traits, behaviour and roles) (see, MacKinnon 1989, chapter 12). MacKinnon, then, sees legal restrictions on pornography as paramount to ending women’s subordinate status that stems from their gender.

3. Problems with the sex/gender distinction

3.1 is gender uniform.

The positions outlined above share an underlying metaphysical perspective on gender: gender realism . [ 2 ] That is, women as a group are assumed to share some characteristic feature, experience, common condition or criterion that defines their gender and the possession of which makes some individuals women (as opposed to, say, men). All women are thought to differ from all men in this respect (or respects). For example, MacKinnon thought that being treated in sexually objectifying ways is the common condition that defines women’s gender and what women as women share. All women differ from all men in this respect. Further, pointing out females who are not sexually objectified does not provide a counterexample to MacKinnon’s view. Being sexually objectified is constitutive of being a woman; a female who escapes sexual objectification, then, would not count as a woman.

One may want to critique the three accounts outlined by rejecting the particular details of each account. (For instance, see Spelman [1988, chapter 4] for a critique of the details of Chodorow’s view.) A more thoroughgoing critique has been levelled at the general metaphysical perspective of gender realism that underlies these positions. It has come under sustained attack on two grounds: first, that it fails to take into account racial, cultural and class differences between women (particularity argument); second, that it posits a normative ideal of womanhood (normativity argument).

Elizabeth Spelman (1988) has influentially argued against gender realism with her particularity argument. Roughly: gender realists mistakenly assume that gender is constructed independently of race, class, ethnicity and nationality. If gender were separable from, for example, race and class in this manner, all women would experience womanhood in the same way. And this is clearly false. For instance, Harris (1993) and Stone (2007) criticise MacKinnon’s view, that sexual objectification is the common condition that defines women’s gender, for failing to take into account differences in women’s backgrounds that shape their sexuality. The history of racist oppression illustrates that during slavery black women were ‘hypersexualised’ and thought to be always sexually available whereas white women were thought to be pure and sexually virtuous. In fact, the rape of a black woman was thought to be impossible (Harris 1993). So, (the argument goes) sexual objectification cannot serve as the common condition for womanhood since it varies considerably depending on one’s race and class. [ 3 ]

For Spelman, the perspective of ‘white solipsism’ underlies gender realists’ mistake. They assumed that all women share some “golden nugget of womanness” (Spelman 1988, 159) and that the features constitutive of such a nugget are the same for all women regardless of their particular cultural backgrounds. Next, white Western middle-class feminists accounted for the shared features simply by reflecting on the cultural features that condition their gender as women thus supposing that “the womanness underneath the Black woman’s skin is a white woman’s, and deep down inside the Latina woman is an Anglo woman waiting to burst through an obscuring cultural shroud” (Spelman 1988, 13). In so doing, Spelman claims, white middle-class Western feminists passed off their particular view of gender as “a metaphysical truth” (1988, 180) thereby privileging some women while marginalising others. In failing to see the importance of race and class in gender construction, white middle-class Western feminists conflated “the condition of one group of women with the condition of all” (Spelman 1988, 3).

Betty Friedan’s (1963) well-known work is a case in point of white solipsism. [ 4 ] Friedan saw domesticity as the main vehicle of gender oppression and called upon women in general to find jobs outside the home. But she failed to realize that women from less privileged backgrounds, often poor and non-white, already worked outside the home to support their families. Friedan’s suggestion, then, was applicable only to a particular sub-group of women (white middle-class Western housewives). But it was mistakenly taken to apply to all women’s lives — a mistake that was generated by Friedan’s failure to take women’s racial and class differences into account (hooks 2000, 1–3).

Spelman further holds that since social conditioning creates femininity and societies (and sub-groups) that condition it differ from one another, femininity must be differently conditioned in different societies. For her, “females become not simply women but particular kinds of women” (Spelman 1988, 113): white working-class women, black middle-class women, poor Jewish women, wealthy aristocratic European women, and so on.

This line of thought has been extremely influential in feminist philosophy. For instance, Young holds that Spelman has definitively shown that gender realism is untenable (1997, 13). Mikkola (2006) argues that this isn’t so. The arguments Spelman makes do not undermine the idea that there is some characteristic feature, experience, common condition or criterion that defines women’s gender; they simply point out that some particular ways of cashing out what defines womanhood are misguided. So, although Spelman is right to reject those accounts that falsely take the feature that conditions white middle-class Western feminists’ gender to condition women’s gender in general, this leaves open the possibility that women qua women do share something that defines their gender. (See also Haslanger [2000a] for a discussion of why gender realism is not necessarily untenable, and Stoljar [2011] for a discussion of Mikkola’s critique of Spelman.)

Judith Butler critiques the sex/gender distinction on two grounds. They critique gender realism with their normativity argument (1999 [original 1990], chapter 1); they also hold that the sex/gender distinction is unintelligible (this will be discussed in section 3.3.). Butler’s normativity argument is not straightforwardly directed at the metaphysical perspective of gender realism, but rather at its political counterpart: identity politics. This is a form of political mobilization based on membership in some group (e.g. racial, ethnic, cultural, gender) and group membership is thought to be delimited by some common experiences, conditions or features that define the group (Heyes 2000, 58; see also the entry on Identity Politics ). Feminist identity politics, then, presupposes gender realism in that feminist politics is said to be mobilized around women as a group (or category) where membership in this group is fixed by some condition, experience or feature that women supposedly share and that defines their gender.

Butler’s normativity argument makes two claims. The first is akin to Spelman’s particularity argument: unitary gender notions fail to take differences amongst women into account thus failing to recognise “the multiplicity of cultural, social, and political intersections in which the concrete array of ‘women’ are constructed” (Butler 1999, 19–20). In their attempt to undercut biologically deterministic ways of defining what it means to be a woman, feminists inadvertently created new socially constructed accounts of supposedly shared femininity. Butler’s second claim is that such false gender realist accounts are normative. That is, in their attempt to fix feminism’s subject matter, feminists unwittingly defined the term ‘woman’ in a way that implies there is some correct way to be gendered a woman (Butler 1999, 5). That the definition of the term ‘woman’ is fixed supposedly “operates as a policing force which generates and legitimizes certain practices, experiences, etc., and curtails and delegitimizes others” (Nicholson 1998, 293). Following this line of thought, one could say that, for instance, Chodorow’s view of gender suggests that ‘real’ women have feminine personalities and that these are the women feminism should be concerned about. If one does not exhibit a distinctly feminine personality, the implication is that one is not ‘really’ a member of women’s category nor does one properly qualify for feminist political representation.

Butler’s second claim is based on their view that“[i]dentity categories [like that of women] are never merely descriptive, but always normative, and as such, exclusionary” (Butler 1991, 160). That is, the mistake of those feminists Butler critiques was not that they provided the incorrect definition of ‘woman’. Rather, (the argument goes) their mistake was to attempt to define the term ‘woman’ at all. Butler’s view is that ‘woman’ can never be defined in a way that does not prescribe some “unspoken normative requirements” (like having a feminine personality) that women should conform to (Butler 1999, 9). Butler takes this to be a feature of terms like ‘woman’ that purport to pick out (what they call) ‘identity categories’. They seem to assume that ‘woman’ can never be used in a non-ideological way (Moi 1999, 43) and that it will always encode conditions that are not satisfied by everyone we think of as women. Some explanation for this comes from Butler’s view that all processes of drawing categorical distinctions involve evaluative and normative commitments; these in turn involve the exercise of power and reflect the conditions of those who are socially powerful (Witt 1995).

In order to better understand Butler’s critique, consider their account of gender performativity. For them, standard feminist accounts take gendered individuals to have some essential properties qua gendered individuals or a gender core by virtue of which one is either a man or a woman. This view assumes that women and men, qua women and men, are bearers of various essential and accidental attributes where the former secure gendered persons’ persistence through time as so gendered. But according to Butler this view is false: (i) there are no such essential properties, and (ii) gender is an illusion maintained by prevalent power structures. First, feminists are said to think that genders are socially constructed in that they have the following essential attributes (Butler 1999, 24): women are females with feminine behavioural traits, being heterosexuals whose desire is directed at men; men are males with masculine behavioural traits, being heterosexuals whose desire is directed at women. These are the attributes necessary for gendered individuals and those that enable women and men to persist through time as women and men. Individuals have “intelligible genders” (Butler 1999, 23) if they exhibit this sequence of traits in a coherent manner (where sexual desire follows from sexual orientation that in turn follows from feminine/ masculine behaviours thought to follow from biological sex). Social forces in general deem individuals who exhibit in coherent gender sequences (like lesbians) to be doing their gender ‘wrong’ and they actively discourage such sequencing of traits, for instance, via name-calling and overt homophobic discrimination. Think back to what was said above: having a certain conception of what women are like that mirrors the conditions of socially powerful (white, middle-class, heterosexual, Western) women functions to marginalize and police those who do not fit this conception.

These gender cores, supposedly encoding the above traits, however, are nothing more than illusions created by ideals and practices that seek to render gender uniform through heterosexism, the view that heterosexuality is natural and homosexuality is deviant (Butler 1999, 42). Gender cores are constructed as if they somehow naturally belong to women and men thereby creating gender dimorphism or the belief that one must be either a masculine male or a feminine female. But gender dimorphism only serves a heterosexist social order by implying that since women and men are sharply opposed, it is natural to sexually desire the opposite sex or gender.

Further, being feminine and desiring men (for instance) are standardly assumed to be expressions of one’s gender as a woman. Butler denies this and holds that gender is really performative. It is not “a stable identity or locus of agency from which various acts follow; rather, gender is … instituted … through a stylized repetition of [habitual] acts ” (Butler 1999, 179): through wearing certain gender-coded clothing, walking and sitting in certain gender-coded ways, styling one’s hair in gender-coded manner and so on. Gender is not something one is, it is something one does; it is a sequence of acts, a doing rather than a being. And repeatedly engaging in ‘feminising’ and ‘masculinising’ acts congeals gender thereby making people falsely think of gender as something they naturally are . Gender only comes into being through these gendering acts: a female who has sex with men does not express her gender as a woman. This activity (amongst others) makes her gendered a woman.

The constitutive acts that gender individuals create genders as “compelling illusion[s]” (Butler 1990, 271). Our gendered classification scheme is a strong pragmatic construction : social factors wholly determine our use of the scheme and the scheme fails to represent accurately any ‘facts of the matter’ (Haslanger 1995, 100). People think that there are true and real genders, and those deemed to be doing their gender ‘wrong’ are not socially sanctioned. But, genders are true and real only to the extent that they are performed (Butler 1990, 278–9). It does not make sense, then, to say of a male-to-female trans person that s/he is really a man who only appears to be a woman. Instead, males dressing up and acting in ways that are associated with femininity “show that [as Butler suggests] ‘being’ feminine is just a matter of doing certain activities” (Stone 2007, 64). As a result, the trans person’s gender is just as real or true as anyone else’s who is a ‘traditionally’ feminine female or masculine male (Butler 1990, 278). [ 5 ] Without heterosexism that compels people to engage in certain gendering acts, there would not be any genders at all. And ultimately the aim should be to abolish norms that compel people to act in these gendering ways.

For Butler, given that gender is performative, the appropriate response to feminist identity politics involves two things. First, feminists should understand ‘woman’ as open-ended and “a term in process, a becoming, a constructing that cannot rightfully be said to originate or end … it is open to intervention and resignification” (Butler 1999, 43). That is, feminists should not try to define ‘woman’ at all. Second, the category of women “ought not to be the foundation of feminist politics” (Butler 1999, 9). Rather, feminists should focus on providing an account of how power functions and shapes our understandings of womanhood not only in the society at large but also within the feminist movement.

Many people, including many feminists, have ordinarily taken sex ascriptions to be solely a matter of biology with no social or cultural dimension. It is commonplace to think that there are only two sexes and that biological sex classifications are utterly unproblematic. By contrast, some feminists have argued that sex classifications are not unproblematic and that they are not solely a matter of biology. In order to make sense of this, it is helpful to distinguish object- and idea-construction (see Haslanger 2003b for more): social forces can be said to construct certain kinds of objects (e.g. sexed bodies or gendered individuals) and certain kinds of ideas (e.g. sex or gender concepts). First, take the object-construction of sexed bodies. Secondary sex characteristics, or the physiological and biological features commonly associated with males and females, are affected by social practices. In some societies, females’ lower social status has meant that they have been fed less and so, the lack of nutrition has had the effect of making them smaller in size (Jaggar 1983, 37). Uniformity in muscular shape, size and strength within sex categories is not caused entirely by biological factors, but depends heavily on exercise opportunities: if males and females were allowed the same exercise opportunities and equal encouragement to exercise, it is thought that bodily dimorphism would diminish (Fausto-Sterling 1993a, 218). A number of medical phenomena involving bones (like osteoporosis) have social causes directly related to expectations about gender, women’s diet and their exercise opportunities (Fausto-Sterling 2005). These examples suggest that physiological features thought to be sex-specific traits not affected by social and cultural factors are, after all, to some extent products of social conditioning. Social conditioning, then, shapes our biology.

Second, take the idea-construction of sex concepts. Our concept of sex is said to be a product of social forces in the sense that what counts as sex is shaped by social meanings. Standardly, those with XX-chromosomes, ovaries that produce large egg cells, female genitalia, a relatively high proportion of ‘female’ hormones, and other secondary sex characteristics (relatively small body size, less body hair) count as biologically female. Those with XY-chromosomes, testes that produce small sperm cells, male genitalia, a relatively high proportion of ‘male’ hormones and other secondary sex traits (relatively large body size, significant amounts of body hair) count as male. This understanding is fairly recent. The prevalent scientific view from Ancient Greeks until the late 18 th century, did not consider female and male sexes to be distinct categories with specific traits; instead, a ‘one-sex model’ held that males and females were members of the same sex category. Females’ genitals were thought to be the same as males’ but simply directed inside the body; ovaries and testes (for instance) were referred to by the same term and whether the term referred to the former or the latter was made clear by the context (Laqueur 1990, 4). It was not until the late 1700s that scientists began to think of female and male anatomies as radically different moving away from the ‘one-sex model’ of a single sex spectrum to the (nowadays prevalent) ‘two-sex model’ of sexual dimorphism. (For an alternative view, see King 2013.)

Fausto-Sterling has argued that this ‘two-sex model’ isn’t straightforward either (1993b; 2000a; 2000b). Based on a meta-study of empirical medical research, she estimates that 1.7% of population fail to neatly fall within the usual sex classifications possessing various combinations of different sex characteristics (Fausto-Sterling 2000a, 20). In her earlier work, she claimed that intersex individuals make up (at least) three further sex classes: ‘herms’ who possess one testis and one ovary; ‘merms’ who possess testes, some aspects of female genitalia but no ovaries; and ‘ferms’ who have ovaries, some aspects of male genitalia but no testes (Fausto-Sterling 1993b, 21). (In her [2000a], Fausto-Sterling notes that these labels were put forward tongue–in–cheek.) Recognition of intersex people suggests that feminists (and society at large) are wrong to think that humans are either female or male.

To illustrate further the idea-construction of sex, consider the case of the athlete Maria Patiño. Patiño has female genitalia, has always considered herself to be female and was considered so by others. However, she was discovered to have XY chromosomes and was barred from competing in women’s sports (Fausto-Sterling 2000b, 1–3). Patiño’s genitalia were at odds with her chromosomes and the latter were taken to determine her sex. Patiño successfully fought to be recognised as a female athlete arguing that her chromosomes alone were not sufficient to not make her female. Intersex people, like Patiño, illustrate that our understandings of sex differ and suggest that there is no immediately obvious way to settle what sex amounts to purely biologically or scientifically. Deciding what sex is involves evaluative judgements that are influenced by social factors.

Insofar as our cultural conceptions affect our understandings of sex, feminists must be much more careful about sex classifications and rethink what sex amounts to (Stone 2007, chapter 1). More specifically, intersex people illustrate that sex traits associated with females and males need not always go together and that individuals can have some mixture of these traits. This suggests to Stone that sex is a cluster concept: it is sufficient to satisfy enough of the sex features that tend to cluster together in order to count as being of a particular sex. But, one need not satisfy all of those features or some arbitrarily chosen supposedly necessary sex feature, like chromosomes (Stone 2007, 44). This makes sex a matter of degree and sex classifications should take place on a spectrum: one can be more or less female/male but there is no sharp distinction between the two. Further, intersex people (along with trans people) are located at the centre of the sex spectrum and in many cases their sex will be indeterminate (Stone 2007).

More recently, Ayala and Vasilyeva (2015) have argued for an inclusive and extended conception of sex: just as certain tools can be seen to extend our minds beyond the limits of our brains (e.g. white canes), other tools (like dildos) can extend our sex beyond our bodily boundaries. This view aims to motivate the idea that what counts as sex should not be determined by looking inwards at genitalia or other anatomical features. In a different vein, Ásta (2018) argues that sex is a conferred social property. This follows her more general conferralist framework to analyse all social properties: properties that are conferred by others thereby generating a social status that consists in contextually specific constraints and enablements on individual behaviour. The general schema for conferred properties is as follows (Ásta 2018, 8):

Conferred property: what property is conferred. Who: who the subjects are. What: what attitude, state, or action of the subjects matter. When: under what conditions the conferral takes place. Base property: what the subjects are attempting to track (consciously or not), if anything.

With being of a certain sex (e.g. male, female) in mind, Ásta holds that it is a conferred property that merely aims to track physical features. Hence sex is a social – or in fact, an institutional – property rather than a natural one. The schema for sex goes as follows (72):

Conferred property: being female, male. Who: legal authorities, drawing on the expert opinion of doctors, other medical personnel. What: “the recording of a sex in official documents ... The judgment of the doctors (and others) as to what sex role might be the most fitting, given the biological characteristics present.” When: at birth or after surgery/ hormonal treatment. Base property: “the aim is to track as many sex-stereotypical characteristics as possible, and doctors perform surgery in cases where that might help bring the physical characteristics more in line with the stereotype of male and female.”

This (among other things) offers a debunking analysis of sex: it may appear to be a natural property, but on the conferralist analysis is better understood as a conferred legal status. Ásta holds that gender too is a conferred property, but contra the discussion in the following section, she does not think that this collapses the distinction between sex and gender: sex and gender are differently conferred albeit both satisfying the general schema noted above. Nonetheless, on the conferralist framework what underlies both sex and gender is the idea of social construction as social significance: sex-stereotypical characteristics are taken to be socially significant context specifically, whereby they become the basis for conferring sex onto individuals and this brings with it various constraints and enablements on individuals and their behaviour. This fits object- and idea-constructions introduced above, although offers a different general framework to analyse the matter at hand.

In addition to arguing against identity politics and for gender performativity, Butler holds that distinguishing biological sex from social gender is unintelligible. For them, both are socially constructed:

If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called ‘sex’ is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all. (Butler 1999, 10–11)

(Butler is not alone in claiming that there are no tenable distinctions between nature/culture, biology/construction and sex/gender. See also: Antony 1998; Gatens 1996; Grosz 1994; Prokhovnik 1999.) Butler makes two different claims in the passage cited: that sex is a social construction, and that sex is gender. To unpack their view, consider the two claims in turn. First, the idea that sex is a social construct, for Butler, boils down to the view that our sexed bodies are also performative and, so, they have “no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute [their] reality” (1999, 173). Prima facie , this implausibly implies that female and male bodies do not have independent existence and that if gendering activities ceased, so would physical bodies. This is not Butler’s claim; rather, their position is that bodies viewed as the material foundations on which gender is constructed, are themselves constructed as if they provide such material foundations (Butler 1993). Cultural conceptions about gender figure in “the very apparatus of production whereby sexes themselves are established” (Butler 1999, 11).

For Butler, sexed bodies never exist outside social meanings and how we understand gender shapes how we understand sex (1999, 139). Sexed bodies are not empty matter on which gender is constructed and sex categories are not picked out on the basis of objective features of the world. Instead, our sexed bodies are themselves discursively constructed : they are the way they are, at least to a substantial extent, because of what is attributed to sexed bodies and how they are classified (for discursive construction, see Haslanger 1995, 99). Sex assignment (calling someone female or male) is normative (Butler 1993, 1). [ 6 ] When the doctor calls a newly born infant a girl or a boy, s/he is not making a descriptive claim, but a normative one. In fact, the doctor is performing an illocutionary speech act (see the entry on Speech Acts ). In effect, the doctor’s utterance makes infants into girls or boys. We, then, engage in activities that make it seem as if sexes naturally come in two and that being female or male is an objective feature of the world, rather than being a consequence of certain constitutive acts (that is, rather than being performative). And this is what Butler means in saying that physical bodies never exist outside cultural and social meanings, and that sex is as socially constructed as gender. They do not deny that physical bodies exist. But, they take our understanding of this existence to be a product of social conditioning: social conditioning makes the existence of physical bodies intelligible to us by discursively constructing sexed bodies through certain constitutive acts. (For a helpful introduction to Butler’s views, see Salih 2002.)

For Butler, sex assignment is always in some sense oppressive. Again, this appears to be because of Butler’s general suspicion of classification: sex classification can never be merely descriptive but always has a normative element reflecting evaluative claims of those who are powerful. Conducting a feminist genealogy of the body (or examining why sexed bodies are thought to come naturally as female and male), then, should ground feminist practice (Butler 1993, 28–9). Feminists should examine and uncover ways in which social construction and certain acts that constitute sex shape our understandings of sexed bodies, what kinds of meanings bodies acquire and which practices and illocutionary speech acts ‘make’ our bodies into sexes. Doing so enables feminists to identity how sexed bodies are socially constructed in order to resist such construction.

However, given what was said above, it is far from obvious what we should make of Butler’s claim that sex “was always already gender” (1999, 11). Stone (2007) takes this to mean that sex is gender but goes on to question it arguing that the social construction of both sex and gender does not make sex identical to gender. According to Stone, it would be more accurate for Butler to say that claims about sex imply gender norms. That is, many claims about sex traits (like ‘females are physically weaker than males’) actually carry implications about how women and men are expected to behave. To some extent the claim describes certain facts. But, it also implies that females are not expected to do much heavy lifting and that they would probably not be good at it. So, claims about sex are not identical to claims about gender; rather, they imply claims about gender norms (Stone 2007, 70).

Some feminists hold that the sex/gender distinction is not useful. For a start, it is thought to reflect politically problematic dualistic thinking that undercuts feminist aims: the distinction is taken to reflect and replicate androcentric oppositions between (for instance) mind/body, culture/nature and reason/emotion that have been used to justify women’s oppression (e.g. Grosz 1994; Prokhovnik 1999). The thought is that in oppositions like these, one term is always superior to the other and that the devalued term is usually associated with women (Lloyd 1993). For instance, human subjectivity and agency are identified with the mind but since women are usually identified with their bodies, they are devalued as human subjects and agents. The opposition between mind and body is said to further map on to other distinctions, like reason/emotion, culture/nature, rational/irrational, where one side of each distinction is devalued (one’s bodily features are usually valued less that one’s mind, rationality is usually valued more than irrationality) and women are associated with the devalued terms: they are thought to be closer to bodily features and nature than men, to be irrational, emotional and so on. This is said to be evident (for instance) in job interviews. Men are treated as gender-neutral persons and not asked whether they are planning to take time off to have a family. By contrast, that women face such queries illustrates that they are associated more closely than men with bodily features to do with procreation (Prokhovnik 1999, 126). The opposition between mind and body, then, is thought to map onto the opposition between men and women.

Now, the mind/body dualism is also said to map onto the sex/gender distinction (Grosz 1994; Prokhovnik 1999). The idea is that gender maps onto mind, sex onto body. Although not used by those endorsing this view, the basic idea can be summed by the slogan ‘Gender is between the ears, sex is between the legs’: the implication is that, while sex is immutable, gender is something individuals have control over – it is something we can alter and change through individual choices. However, since women are said to be more closely associated with biological features (and so, to map onto the body side of the mind/body distinction) and men are treated as gender-neutral persons (mapping onto the mind side), the implication is that “man equals gender, which is associated with mind and choice, freedom from body, autonomy, and with the public real; while woman equals sex, associated with the body, reproduction, ‘natural’ rhythms and the private realm” (Prokhovnik 1999, 103). This is said to render the sex/gender distinction inherently repressive and to drain it of any potential for emancipation: rather than facilitating gender role choice for women, it “actually functions to reinforce their association with body, sex, and involuntary ‘natural’ rhythms” (Prokhovnik 1999, 103). Contrary to what feminists like Rubin argued, the sex/gender distinction cannot be used as a theoretical tool that dissociates conceptions of womanhood from biological and reproductive features.

Moi has further argued that the sex/gender distinction is useless given certain theoretical goals (1999, chapter 1). This is not to say that it is utterly worthless; according to Moi, the sex/gender distinction worked well to show that the historically prevalent biological determinism was false. However, for her, the distinction does no useful work “when it comes to producing a good theory of subjectivity” (1999, 6) and “a concrete, historical understanding of what it means to be a woman (or a man) in a given society” (1999, 4–5). That is, the 1960s distinction understood sex as fixed by biology without any cultural or historical dimensions. This understanding, however, ignores lived experiences and embodiment as aspects of womanhood (and manhood) by separating sex from gender and insisting that womanhood is to do with the latter. Rather, embodiment must be included in one’s theory that tries to figure out what it is to be a woman (or a man).

Mikkola (2011) argues that the sex/gender distinction, which underlies views like Rubin’s and MacKinnon’s, has certain unintuitive and undesirable ontological commitments that render the distinction politically unhelpful. First, claiming that gender is socially constructed implies that the existence of women and men is a mind-dependent matter. This suggests that we can do away with women and men simply by altering some social practices, conventions or conditions on which gender depends (whatever those are). However, ordinary social agents find this unintuitive given that (ordinarily) sex and gender are not distinguished. Second, claiming that gender is a product of oppressive social forces suggests that doing away with women and men should be feminism’s political goal. But this harbours ontologically undesirable commitments since many ordinary social agents view their gender to be a source of positive value. So, feminism seems to want to do away with something that should not be done away with, which is unlikely to motivate social agents to act in ways that aim at gender justice. Given these problems, Mikkola argues that feminists should give up the distinction on practical political grounds.

Tomas Bogardus (2020) has argued in an even more radical sense against the sex/gender distinction: as things stand, he holds, feminist philosophers have merely assumed and asserted that the distinction exists, instead of having offered good arguments for the distinction. In other words, feminist philosophers allegedly have yet to offer good reasons to think that ‘woman’ does not simply pick out adult human females. Alex Byrne (2020) argues in a similar vein: the term ‘woman’ does not pick out a social kind as feminist philosophers have “assumed”. Instead, “women are adult human females–nothing more, and nothing less” (2020, 3801). Byrne offers six considerations to ground this AHF (adult, human, female) conception.

  • It reproduces the dictionary definition of ‘woman’.
  • One would expect English to have a word that picks out the category adult human female, and ‘woman’ is the only candidate.
  • AHF explains how we sometimes know that an individual is a woman, despite knowing nothing else relevant about her other than the fact that she is an adult human female.
  • AHF stands or falls with the analogous thesis for girls, which can be supported independently.
  • AHF predicts the correct verdict in cases of gender role reversal.
  • AHF is supported by the fact that ‘woman’ and ‘female’ are often appropriately used as stylistic variants of each other, even in hyperintensional contexts.

Robin Dembroff (2021) responds to Byrne and highlights various problems with Byrne’s argument. First, framing: Byrne assumes from the start that gender terms like ‘woman’ have a single invariant meaning thereby failing to discuss the possibility of terms like ‘woman’ having multiple meanings – something that is a familiar claim made by feminist theorists from various disciplines. Moreover, Byrne (according to Dembroff) assumes without argument that there is a single, universal category of woman – again, something that has been extensively discussed and critiqued by feminist philosophers and theorists. Second, Byrne’s conception of the ‘dominant’ meaning of woman is said to be cherry-picked and it ignores a wealth of contexts outside of philosophy (like the media and the law) where ‘woman’ has a meaning other than AHF . Third, Byrne’s own distinction between biological and social categories fails to establish what he intended to establish: namely, that ‘woman’ picks out a biological rather than a social kind. Hence, Dembroff holds, Byrne’s case fails by its own lights. Byrne (2021) responds to Dembroff’s critique.

Others such as ‘gender critical feminists’ also hold views about the sex/gender distinction in a spirit similar to Bogardus and Byrne. For example, Holly Lawford-Smith (2021) takes the prevalent sex/gender distinction, where ‘female’/‘male’ are used as sex terms and ‘woman’/’man’ as gender terms, not to be helpful. Instead, she takes all of these to be sex terms and holds that (the norms of) femininity/masculinity refer to gender normativity. Because much of the gender critical feminists’ discussion that philosophers have engaged in has taken place in social media, public fora, and other sources outside academic philosophy, this entry will not focus on these discussions.

4. Women as a group

The various critiques of the sex/gender distinction have called into question the viability of the category women . Feminism is the movement to end the oppression women as a group face. But, how should the category of women be understood if feminists accept the above arguments that gender construction is not uniform, that a sharp distinction between biological sex and social gender is false or (at least) not useful, and that various features associated with women play a role in what it is to be a woman, none of which are individually necessary and jointly sufficient (like a variety of social roles, positions, behaviours, traits, bodily features and experiences)? Feminists must be able to address cultural and social differences in gender construction if feminism is to be a genuinely inclusive movement and be careful not to posit commonalities that mask important ways in which women qua women differ. These concerns (among others) have generated a situation where (as Linda Alcoff puts it) feminists aim to speak and make political demands in the name of women, at the same time rejecting the idea that there is a unified category of women (2006, 152). If feminist critiques of the category women are successful, then what (if anything) binds women together, what is it to be a woman, and what kinds of demands can feminists make on behalf of women?

Many have found the fragmentation of the category of women problematic for political reasons (e.g. Alcoff 2006; Bach 2012; Benhabib 1992; Frye 1996; Haslanger 2000b; Heyes 2000; Martin 1994; Mikkola 2007; Stoljar 1995; Stone 2004; Tanesini 1996; Young 1997; Zack 2005). For instance, Young holds that accounts like Spelman’s reduce the category of women to a gerrymandered collection of individuals with nothing to bind them together (1997, 20). Black women differ from white women but members of both groups also differ from one another with respect to nationality, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and economic position; that is, wealthy white women differ from working-class white women due to their economic and class positions. These sub-groups are themselves diverse: for instance, some working-class white women in Northern Ireland are starkly divided along religious lines. So if we accept Spelman’s position, we risk ending up with individual women and nothing to bind them together. And this is problematic: in order to respond to oppression of women in general, feminists must understand them as a category in some sense. Young writes that without doing so “it is not possible to conceptualize oppression as a systematic, structured, institutional process” (1997, 17). Some, then, take the articulation of an inclusive category of women to be the prerequisite for effective feminist politics and a rich literature has emerged that aims to conceptualise women as a group or a collective (e.g. Alcoff 2006; Ásta 2011; Frye 1996; 2011; Haslanger 2000b; Heyes 2000; Stoljar 1995, 2011; Young 1997; Zack 2005). Articulations of this category can be divided into those that are: (a) gender nominalist — positions that deny there is something women qua women share and that seek to unify women’s social kind by appealing to something external to women; and (b) gender realist — positions that take there to be something women qua women share (although these realist positions differ significantly from those outlined in Section 2). Below we will review some influential gender nominalist and gender realist positions. Before doing so, it is worth noting that not everyone is convinced that attempts to articulate an inclusive category of women can succeed or that worries about what it is to be a woman are in need of being resolved. Mikkola (2016) argues that feminist politics need not rely on overcoming (what she calls) the ‘gender controversy’: that feminists must settle the meaning of gender concepts and articulate a way to ground women’s social kind membership. As she sees it, disputes about ‘what it is to be a woman’ have become theoretically bankrupt and intractable, which has generated an analytical impasse that looks unsurpassable. Instead, Mikkola argues for giving up the quest, which in any case in her view poses no serious political obstacles.

Elizabeth Barnes (2020) responds to the need to offer an inclusive conception of gender somewhat differently, although she endorses the need for feminism to be inclusive particularly of trans people. Barnes holds that typically philosophical theories of gender aim to offer an account of what it is to be a woman (or man, genderqueer, etc.), where such an account is presumed to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for being a woman or an account of our gender terms’ extensions. But, she holds, it is a mistake to expect our theories of gender to do so. For Barnes, a project that offers a metaphysics of gender “should be understood as the project of theorizing what it is —if anything— about the social world that ultimately explains gender” (2020, 706). This project is not equivalent to one that aims to define gender terms or elucidate the application conditions for natural language gender terms though.

4.1 Gender nominalism

Iris Young argues that unless there is “some sense in which ‘woman’ is the name of a social collective [that feminism represents], there is nothing specific to feminist politics” (1997, 13). In order to make the category women intelligible, she argues that women make up a series: a particular kind of social collective “whose members are unified passively by the objects their actions are oriented around and/or by the objectified results of the material effects of the actions of the other” (Young 1997, 23). A series is distinct from a group in that, whereas members of groups are thought to self-consciously share certain goals, projects, traits and/ or self-conceptions, members of series pursue their own individual ends without necessarily having anything at all in common. Young holds that women are not bound together by a shared feature or experience (or set of features and experiences) since she takes Spelman’s particularity argument to have established definitely that no such feature exists (1997, 13; see also: Frye 1996; Heyes 2000). Instead, women’s category is unified by certain practico-inert realities or the ways in which women’s lives and their actions are oriented around certain objects and everyday realities (Young 1997, 23–4). For example, bus commuters make up a series unified through their individual actions being organised around the same practico-inert objects of the bus and the practice of public transport. Women make up a series unified through women’s lives and actions being organised around certain practico-inert objects and realities that position them as women .

Young identifies two broad groups of such practico-inert objects and realities. First, phenomena associated with female bodies (physical facts), biological processes that take place in female bodies (menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth) and social rules associated with these biological processes (social rules of menstruation, for instance). Second, gender-coded objects and practices: pronouns, verbal and visual representations of gender, gender-coded artefacts and social spaces, clothes, cosmetics, tools and furniture. So, women make up a series since their lives and actions are organised around female bodies and certain gender-coded objects. Their series is bound together passively and the unity is “not one that arises from the individuals called women” (Young 1997, 32).

Although Young’s proposal purports to be a response to Spelman’s worries, Stone has questioned whether it is, after all, susceptible to the particularity argument: ultimately, on Young’s view, something women as women share (their practico-inert realities) binds them together (Stone 2004).

Natalie Stoljar holds that unless the category of women is unified, feminist action on behalf of women cannot be justified (1995, 282). Stoljar too is persuaded by the thought that women qua women do not share anything unitary. This prompts her to argue for resemblance nominalism. This is the view that a certain kind of resemblance relation holds between entities of a particular type (for more on resemblance nominalism, see Armstrong 1989, 39–58). Stoljar is not alone in arguing for resemblance relations to make sense of women as a category; others have also done so, usually appealing to Wittgenstein’s ‘family resemblance’ relations (Alcoff 1988; Green & Radford Curry 1991; Heyes 2000; Munro 2006). Stoljar relies more on Price’s resemblance nominalism whereby x is a member of some type F only if x resembles some paradigm or exemplar of F sufficiently closely (Price 1953, 20). For instance, the type of red entities is unified by some chosen red paradigms so that only those entities that sufficiently resemble the paradigms count as red. The type (or category) of women, then, is unified by some chosen woman paradigms so that those who sufficiently resemble the woman paradigms count as women (Stoljar 1995, 284).

Semantic considerations about the concept woman suggest to Stoljar that resemblance nominalism should be endorsed (Stoljar 2000, 28). It seems unlikely that the concept is applied on the basis of some single social feature all and only women possess. By contrast, woman is a cluster concept and our attributions of womanhood pick out “different arrangements of features in different individuals” (Stoljar 2000, 27). More specifically, they pick out the following clusters of features: (a) Female sex; (b) Phenomenological features: menstruation, female sexual experience, child-birth, breast-feeding, fear of walking on the streets at night or fear of rape; (c) Certain roles: wearing typically female clothing, being oppressed on the basis of one’s sex or undertaking care-work; (d) Gender attribution: “calling oneself a woman, being called a woman” (Stoljar 1995, 283–4). For Stoljar, attributions of womanhood are to do with a variety of traits and experiences: those that feminists have historically termed ‘gender traits’ (like social, behavioural, psychological traits) and those termed ‘sex traits’. Nonetheless, she holds that since the concept woman applies to (at least some) trans persons, one can be a woman without being female (Stoljar 1995, 282).

The cluster concept woman does not, however, straightforwardly provide the criterion for picking out the category of women. Rather, the four clusters of features that the concept picks out help single out woman paradigms that in turn help single out the category of women. First, any individual who possesses a feature from at least three of the four clusters mentioned will count as an exemplar of the category. For instance, an African-American with primary and secondary female sex characteristics, who describes herself as a woman and is oppressed on the basis of her sex, along with a white European hermaphrodite brought up ‘as a girl’, who engages in female roles and has female phenomenological features despite lacking female sex characteristics, will count as woman paradigms (Stoljar 1995, 284). [ 7 ] Second, any individual who resembles “any of the paradigms sufficiently closely (on Price’s account, as closely as [the paradigms] resemble each other) will be a member of the resemblance class ‘woman’” (Stoljar 1995, 284). That is, what delimits membership in the category of women is that one resembles sufficiently a woman paradigm.

4.2 Neo-gender realism

In a series of articles collected in her 2012 book, Sally Haslanger argues for a way to define the concept woman that is politically useful, serving as a tool in feminist fights against sexism, and that shows woman to be a social (not a biological) notion. More specifically, Haslanger argues that gender is a matter of occupying either a subordinate or a privileged social position. In some articles, Haslanger is arguing for a revisionary analysis of the concept woman (2000b; 2003a; 2003b). Elsewhere she suggests that her analysis may not be that revisionary after all (2005; 2006). Consider the former argument first. Haslanger’s analysis is, in her terms, ameliorative: it aims to elucidate which gender concepts best help feminists achieve their legitimate purposes thereby elucidating those concepts feminists should be using (Haslanger 2000b, 33). [ 8 ] Now, feminists need gender terminology in order to fight sexist injustices (Haslanger 2000b, 36). In particular, they need gender terms to identify, explain and talk about persistent social inequalities between males and females. Haslanger’s analysis of gender begins with the recognition that females and males differ in two respects: physically and in their social positions. Societies in general tend to “privilege individuals with male bodies” (Haslanger 2000b, 38) so that the social positions they subsequently occupy are better than the social positions of those with female bodies. And this generates persistent sexist injustices. With this in mind, Haslanger specifies how she understands genders:

S is a woman iff [by definition] S is systematically subordinated along some dimension (economic, political, legal, social, etc.), and S is ‘marked’ as a target for this treatment by observed or imagined bodily features presumed to be evidence of a female’s biological role in reproduction.
S is a man iff [by definition] S is systematically privileged along some dimension (economic, political, legal, social, etc.), and S is ‘marked’ as a target for this treatment by observed or imagined bodily features presumed to be evidence of a male’s biological role in reproduction. (2003a, 6–7)

These are constitutive of being a woman and a man: what makes calling S a woman apt, is that S is oppressed on sex-marked grounds; what makes calling S a man apt, is that S is privileged on sex-marked grounds.

Haslanger’s ameliorative analysis is counterintuitive in that females who are not sex-marked for oppression, do not count as women. At least arguably, the Queen of England is not oppressed on sex-marked grounds and so, would not count as a woman on Haslanger’s definition. And, similarly, all males who are not privileged would not count as men. This might suggest that Haslanger’s analysis should be rejected in that it does not capture what language users have in mind when applying gender terms. However, Haslanger argues that this is not a reason to reject the definitions, which she takes to be revisionary: they are not meant to capture our intuitive gender terms. In response, Mikkola (2009) has argued that revisionary analyses of gender concepts, like Haslanger’s, are both politically unhelpful and philosophically unnecessary.

Note also that Haslanger’s proposal is eliminativist: gender justice would eradicate gender, since it would abolish those sexist social structures responsible for sex-marked oppression and privilege. If sexist oppression were to cease, women and men would no longer exist (although there would still be males and females). Not all feminists endorse such an eliminativist view though. Stone holds that Haslanger does not leave any room for positively revaluing what it is to be a woman: since Haslanger defines woman in terms of subordination,

any woman who challenges her subordinate status must by definition be challenging her status as a woman, even if she does not intend to … positive change to our gender norms would involve getting rid of the (necessarily subordinate) feminine gender. (Stone 2007, 160)

But according to Stone this is not only undesirable – one should be able to challenge subordination without having to challenge one’s status as a woman. It is also false: “because norms of femininity can be and constantly are being revised, women can be women without thereby being subordinate” (Stone 2007, 162; Mikkola [2016] too argues that Haslanger’s eliminativism is troublesome).

Theodore Bach holds that Haslanger’s eliminativism is undesirable on other grounds, and that Haslanger’s position faces another more serious problem. Feminism faces the following worries (among others):

Representation problem : “if there is no real group of ‘women’, then it is incoherent to make moral claims and advance political policies on behalf of women” (Bach 2012, 234). Commonality problems : (1) There is no feature that all women cross-culturally and transhistorically share. (2) Delimiting women’s social kind with the help of some essential property privileges those who possess it, and marginalizes those who do not (Bach 2012, 235).

According to Bach, Haslanger’s strategy to resolve these problems appeals to ‘social objectivism’. First, we define women “according to a suitably abstract relational property” (Bach 2012, 236), which avoids the commonality problems. Second, Haslanger employs “an ontologically thin notion of ‘objectivity’” (Bach 2012, 236) that answers the representation problem. Haslanger’s solution (Bach holds) is specifically to argue that women make up an objective type because women are objectively similar to one another, and not simply classified together given our background conceptual schemes. Bach claims though that Haslanger’s account is not objective enough, and we should on political grounds “provide a stronger ontological characterization of the genders men and women according to which they are natural kinds with explanatory essences” (Bach 2012, 238). He thus proposes that women make up a natural kind with a historical essence:

The essential property of women, in virtue of which an individual is a member of the kind ‘women,’ is participation in a lineage of women. In order to exemplify this relational property, an individual must be a reproduction of ancestral women, in which case she must have undergone the ontogenetic processes through which a historical gender system replicates women. (Bach 2012, 271)

In short, one is not a woman due to shared surface properties with other women (like occupying a subordinate social position). Rather, one is a woman because one has the right history: one has undergone the ubiquitous ontogenetic process of gender socialization. Thinking about gender in this way supposedly provides a stronger kind unity than Haslanger’s that simply appeals to shared surface properties.

Not everyone agrees; Mikkola (2020) argues that Bach’s metaphysical picture has internal tensions that render it puzzling and that Bach’s metaphysics does not provide good responses to the commonality and presentation problems. The historically essentialist view also has anti-trans implications. After all, trans women who have not undergone female gender socialization won’t count as women on his view (Mikkola [2016, 2020] develops this line of critique in more detail). More worryingly, trans women will count as men contrary to their self-identification. Both Bettcher (2013) and Jenkins (2016) consider the importance of gender self-identification. Bettcher argues that there is more than one ‘correct’ way to understand womanhood: at the very least, the dominant (mainstream), and the resistant (trans) conceptions. Dominant views like that of Bach’s tend to erase trans people’s experiences and to marginalize trans women within feminist movements. Rather than trans women having to defend their self-identifying claims, these claims should be taken at face value right from the start. And so, Bettcher holds, “in analyzing the meaning of terms such as ‘woman,’ it is inappropriate to dismiss alternative ways in which those terms are actually used in trans subcultures; such usage needs to be taken into consideration as part of the analysis” (2013, 235).

Specifically with Haslanger in mind and in a similar vein, Jenkins (2016) discusses how Haslanger’s revisionary approach unduly excludes some trans women from women’s social kind. On Jenkins’s view, Haslanger’s ameliorative methodology in fact yields more than one satisfying target concept: one that “corresponds to Haslanger’s proposed concept and captures the sense of gender as an imposed social class”; another that “captures the sense of gender as a lived identity” (Jenkins 2016, 397). The latter of these allows us to include trans women into women’s social kind, who on Haslanger’s social class approach to gender would inappropriately have been excluded. (See Andler 2017 for the view that Jenkins’s purportedly inclusive conception of gender is still not fully inclusive. Jenkins 2018 responds to this charge and develops the notion of gender identity still further.)

In addition to her revisionary argument, Haslanger has suggested that her ameliorative analysis of woman may not be as revisionary as it first seems (2005, 2006). Although successful in their reference fixing, ordinary language users do not always know precisely what they are talking about. Our language use may be skewed by oppressive ideologies that can “mislead us about the content of our own thoughts” (Haslanger 2005, 12). Although her gender terminology is not intuitive, this could simply be because oppressive ideologies mislead us about the meanings of our gender terms. Our everyday gender terminology might mean something utterly different from what we think it means; and we could be entirely ignorant of this. Perhaps Haslanger’s analysis, then, has captured our everyday gender vocabulary revealing to us the terms that we actually employ: we may be applying ‘woman’ in our everyday language on the basis of sex-marked subordination whether we take ourselves to be doing so or not. If this is so, Haslanger’s gender terminology is not radically revisionist.

Saul (2006) argues that, despite it being possible that we unknowingly apply ‘woman’ on the basis of social subordination, it is extremely difficult to show that this is the case. This would require showing that the gender terminology we in fact employ is Haslanger’s proposed gender terminology. But discovering the grounds on which we apply everyday gender terms is extremely difficult precisely because they are applied in various and idiosyncratic ways (Saul 2006, 129). Haslanger, then, needs to do more in order to show that her analysis is non-revisionary.

Charlotte Witt (2011a; 2011b) argues for a particular sort of gender essentialism, which Witt terms ‘uniessentialism’. Her motivation and starting point is the following: many ordinary social agents report gender being essential to them and claim that they would be a different person were they of a different sex/gender. Uniessentialism attempts to understand and articulate this. However, Witt’s work departs in important respects from the earlier (so-called) essentialist or gender realist positions discussed in Section 2: Witt does not posit some essential property of womanhood of the kind discussed above, which failed to take women’s differences into account. Further, uniessentialism differs significantly from those position developed in response to the problem of how we should conceive of women’s social kind. It is not about solving the standard dispute between gender nominalists and gender realists, or about articulating some supposedly shared property that binds women together and provides a theoretical ground for feminist political solidarity. Rather, uniessentialism aims to make good the widely held belief that gender is constitutive of who we are. [ 9 ]

Uniessentialism is a sort of individual essentialism. Traditionally philosophers distinguish between kind and individual essentialisms: the former examines what binds members of a kind together and what do all members of some kind have in common qua members of that kind. The latter asks: what makes an individual the individual it is. We can further distinguish two sorts of individual essentialisms: Kripkean identity essentialism and Aristotelian uniessentialism. The former asks: what makes an individual that individual? The latter, however, asks a slightly different question: what explains the unity of individuals? What explains that an individual entity exists over and above the sum total of its constituent parts? (The standard feminist debate over gender nominalism and gender realism has largely been about kind essentialism. Being about individual essentialism, Witt’s uniessentialism departs in an important way from the standard debate.) From the two individual essentialisms, Witt endorses the Aristotelian one. On this view, certain functional essences have a unifying role: these essences are responsible for the fact that material parts constitute a new individual, rather than just a lump of stuff or a collection of particles. Witt’s example is of a house: the essential house-functional property (what the entity is for, what its purpose is) unifies the different material parts of a house so that there is a house, and not just a collection of house-constituting particles (2011a, 6). Gender (being a woman/a man) functions in a similar fashion and provides “the principle of normative unity” that organizes, unifies and determines the roles of social individuals (Witt 2011a, 73). Due to this, gender is a uniessential property of social individuals.

It is important to clarify the notions of gender and social individuality that Witt employs. First, gender is a social position that “cluster[s] around the engendering function … women conceive and bear … men beget” (Witt 2011a, 40). These are women and men’s socially mediated reproductive functions (Witt 2011a, 29) and they differ from the biological function of reproduction, which roughly corresponds to sex on the standard sex/gender distinction. Witt writes: “to be a woman is to be recognized to have a particular function in engendering, to be a man is to be recognized to have a different function in engendering” (2011a, 39). Second, Witt distinguishes persons (those who possess self-consciousness), human beings (those who are biologically human) and social individuals (those who occupy social positions synchronically and diachronically). These ontological categories are not equivalent in that they possess different persistence and identity conditions. Social individuals are bound by social normativity, human beings by biological normativity. These normativities differ in two respects: first, social norms differ from one culture to the next whereas biological norms do not; second, unlike biological normativity, social normativity requires “the recognition by others that an agent is both responsive to and evaluable under a social norm” (Witt 2011a, 19). Thus, being a social individual is not equivalent to being a human being. Further, Witt takes personhood to be defined in terms of intrinsic psychological states of self-awareness and self-consciousness. However, social individuality is defined in terms of the extrinsic feature of occupying a social position, which depends for its existence on a social world. So, the two are not equivalent: personhood is essentially about intrinsic features and could exist without a social world, whereas social individuality is essentially about extrinsic features that could not exist without a social world.

Witt’s gender essentialist argument crucially pertains to social individuals , not to persons or human beings: saying that persons or human beings are gendered would be a category mistake. But why is gender essential to social individuals? For Witt, social individuals are those who occupy positions in social reality. Further, “social positions have norms or social roles associated with them; a social role is what an individual who occupies a given social position is responsive to and evaluable under” (Witt 2011a, 59). However, qua social individuals, we occupy multiple social positions at once and over time: we can be women, mothers, immigrants, sisters, academics, wives, community organisers and team-sport coaches synchronically and diachronically. Now, the issue for Witt is what unifies these positions so that a social individual is constituted. After all, a bundle of social position occupancies does not make for an individual (just as a bundle of properties like being white , cube-shaped and sweet do not make for a sugar cube). For Witt, this unifying role is undertaken by gender (being a woman or a man): it is

a pervasive and fundamental social position that unifies and determines all other social positions both synchronically and diachronically. It unifies them not physically, but by providing a principle of normative unity. (2011a, 19–20)

By ‘normative unity’, Witt means the following: given our social roles and social position occupancies, we are responsive to various sets of social norms. These norms are “complex patterns of behaviour and practices that constitute what one ought to do in a situation given one’s social position(s) and one’s social context” (Witt 2011a, 82). The sets of norms can conflict: the norms of motherhood can (and do) conflict with the norms of being an academic philosopher. However, in order for this conflict to exist, the norms must be binding on a single social individual. Witt, then, asks: what explains the existence and unity of the social individual who is subject to conflicting social norms? The answer is gender.

Gender is not just a social role that unifies social individuals. Witt takes it to be the social role — as she puts it, it is the mega social role that unifies social agents. First, gender is a mega social role if it satisfies two conditions (and Witt claims that it does): (1) if it provides the principle of synchronic and diachronic unity of social individuals, and (2) if it inflects and defines a broad range of other social roles. Gender satisfies the first in usually being a life-long social position: a social individual persists just as long as their gendered social position persists. Further, Witt maintains, trans people are not counterexamples to this claim: transitioning entails that the old social individual has ceased to exist and a new one has come into being. And this is consistent with the same person persisting and undergoing social individual change via transitioning. Gender satisfies the second condition too. It inflects other social roles, like being a parent or a professional. The expectations attached to these social roles differ depending on the agent’s gender, since gender imposes different social norms to govern the execution of the further social roles. Now, gender — as opposed to some other social category, like race — is not just a mega social role; it is the unifying mega social role. Cross-cultural and trans-historical considerations support this view. Witt claims that patriarchy is a social universal (2011a, 98). By contrast, racial categorisation varies historically and cross-culturally, and racial oppression is not a universal feature of human cultures. Thus, gender has a better claim to being the social role that is uniessential to social individuals. This account of gender essentialism not only explains social agents’ connectedness to their gender, but it also provides a helpful way to conceive of women’s agency — something that is central to feminist politics.

Linda Alcoff holds that feminism faces an identity crisis: the category of women is feminism’s starting point, but various critiques about gender have fragmented the category and it is not clear how feminists should understand what it is to be a woman (2006, chapter 5). In response, Alcoff develops an account of gender as positionality whereby “gender is, among other things, a position one occupies and from which one can act politically” (2006, 148). In particular, she takes one’s social position to foster the development of specifically gendered identities (or self-conceptions): “The very subjectivity (or subjective experience of being a woman) and the very identity of women are constituted by women’s position” (Alcoff 2006, 148). Alcoff holds that there is an objective basis for distinguishing individuals on the grounds of (actual or expected) reproductive roles:

Women and men are differentiated by virtue of their different relationship of possibility to biological reproduction, with biological reproduction referring to conceiving, giving birth, and breast-feeding, involving one’s body . (Alcoff 2006, 172, italics in original)

The thought is that those standardly classified as biologically female, although they may not actually be able to reproduce, will encounter “a different set of practices, expectations, and feelings in regard to reproduction” than those standardly classified as male (Alcoff 2006, 172). Further, this differential relation to the possibility of reproduction is used as the basis for many cultural and social phenomena that position women and men: it can be

the basis of a variety of social segregations, it can engender the development of differential forms of embodiment experienced throughout life, and it can generate a wide variety of affective responses, from pride, delight, shame, guilt, regret, or great relief from having successfully avoided reproduction. (Alcoff 2006, 172)

Reproduction, then, is an objective basis for distinguishing individuals that takes on a cultural dimension in that it positions women and men differently: depending on the kind of body one has, one’s lived experience will differ. And this fosters the construction of gendered social identities: one’s role in reproduction helps configure how one is socially positioned and this conditions the development of specifically gendered social identities.

Since women are socially positioned in various different contexts, “there is no gender essence all women share” (Alcoff 2006, 147–8). Nonetheless, Alcoff acknowledges that her account is akin to the original 1960s sex/gender distinction insofar as sex difference (understood in terms of the objective division of reproductive labour) provides the foundation for certain cultural arrangements (the development of a gendered social identity). But, with the benefit of hindsight

we can see that maintaining a distinction between the objective category of sexed identity and the varied and culturally contingent practices of gender does not presume an absolute distinction of the old-fashioned sort between culture and a reified nature. (Alcoff 2006, 175)

That is, her view avoids the implausible claim that sex is exclusively to do with nature and gender with culture. Rather, the distinction on the basis of reproductive possibilities shapes and is shaped by the sorts of cultural and social phenomena (like varieties of social segregation) these possibilities gives rise to. For instance, technological interventions can alter sex differences illustrating that this is the case (Alcoff 2006, 175). Women’s specifically gendered social identities that are constituted by their context dependent positions, then, provide the starting point for feminist politics.

Recently Robin Dembroff (2020) has argued that existing metaphysical accounts of gender fail to address non-binary gender identities. This generates two concerns. First, metaphysical accounts of gender (like the ones outlined in previous sections) are insufficient for capturing those who reject binary gender categorisation where people are either men or women. In so doing, these accounts are not satisfying as explanations of gender understood in a more expansive sense that goes beyond the binary. Second, the failure to understand non-binary gender identities contributes to a form of epistemic injustice called ‘hermeneutical injustice’: it feeds into a collective failure to comprehend and analyse concepts and practices that undergird non-binary classification schemes, thereby impeding on one’s ability to fully understand themselves. To overcome these problems, Dembroff suggests an account of genderqueer that they call ‘critical gender kind’:

a kind whose members collectively destabilize one or more elements of dominant gender ideology. Genderqueer, on my proposed model, is a category whose members collectively destabilize the binary axis, or the idea that the only possible genders are the exclusive and exhaustive kinds men and women. (2020, 2)

Note that Dembroff’s position is not to be confused with ‘gender critical feminist’ positions like those noted above, which are critical of the prevalent feminist focus on gender, as opposed to sex, kinds. Dembroff understands genderqueer as a gender kind, but one that is critical of dominant binary understandings of gender.

Dembroff identifies two modes of destabilising the gender binary: principled and existential. Principled destabilising “stems from or otherwise expresses individuals’ social or political commitments regarding gender norms, practices, and structures”, while existential destabilising “stems from or otherwise expresses individuals’ felt or desired gender roles, embodiment, and/or categorization” (2020, 13). These modes are not mutually exclusive, and they can help us understand the difference between allies and members of genderqueer kinds: “While both resist dominant gender ideology, members of [genderqueer] kinds resist (at least in part) due to felt or desired gender categorization that deviates from dominant expectations, norms, and assumptions” (2020, 14). These modes of destabilisation also enable us to formulate an understanding of non-critical gender kinds that binary understandings of women and men’s kinds exemplify. Dembroff defines these kinds as follows:

For a given kind X , X is a non-critical gender kind relative to a given society iff X ’s members collectively restabilize one or more elements of the dominant gender ideology in that society. (2020, 14)

Dembroff’s understanding of critical and non-critical gender kinds importantly makes gender kind membership something more and other than a mere psychological phenomenon. To engage in collectively destabilising or restabilising dominant gender normativity and ideology, we need more than mere attitudes or mental states – resisting or maintaining such normativity requires action as well. In so doing, Dembroff puts their position forward as an alternative to two existing internalist positions about gender. First, to Jennifer McKitrick’s (2015) view whereby gender is dispositional: in a context where someone is disposed to behave in ways that would be taken by others to be indicative of (e.g.) womanhood, the person has a woman’s gender identity. Second, to Jenkin’s (2016, 2018) position that takes an individual’s gender identity to be dependent on which gender-specific norms the person experiences as being relevant to them. On this view, someone is a woman if the person experiences norms associated with women to be relevant to the person in the particular social context that they are in. Neither of these positions well-captures non-binary identities, Dembroff argues, which motivates the account of genderqueer identities as critical gender kinds.

As Dembroff acknowledges, substantive philosophical work on non-binary gender identities is still developing. However, it is important to note that analytic philosophers are beginning to engage in gender metaphysics that goes beyond the binary.

This entry first looked at feminist objections to biological determinism and the claim that gender is socially constructed. Next, it examined feminist critiques of prevalent understandings of gender and sex, and the distinction itself. In response to these concerns, the entry looked at how a unified women’s category could be articulated for feminist political purposes. This illustrated that gender metaphysics — or what it is to be a woman or a man or a genderqueer person — is still very much a live issue. And although contemporary feminist philosophical debates have questioned some of the tenets and details of the original 1960s sex/gender distinction, most still hold onto the view that gender is about social factors and that it is (in some sense) distinct from biological sex. The jury is still out on what the best, the most useful, or (even) the correct definition of gender is.

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  • Martin, J. R. 1994, “Methodological Essentialism, False Difference, and Other Dangerous Traps”, Signs , 19: 630–655.
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  • –––, 2020, “The Function of Gender as a Historical Kind”, in Social Functions in Philosophy: Metaphysical, Normative, and Methodological Perspectives , R. Hufendiek, D. James, and R. van Riel (eds.), London: Routledge, pp. 159–182.
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Beauvoir, Simone de | feminist philosophy, approaches: intersections between analytic and continental philosophy | feminist philosophy, topics: perspectives on reproduction and the family | feminist philosophy, topics: perspectives on the self | homosexuality | identity politics | speech acts


I am very grateful to Tuukka Asplund, Jenny Saul, Alison Stone and Nancy Tuana for their extremely helpful and detailed comments when writing this entry.

Copyright © 2022 by Mari Mikkola < m . mikkola @ uva . nl >

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Students Exploring Gender Identity

Students exploring gender identity

This information is designed to help teachers respond to students who may need support. It is not intended to be used as a diagnostic tool or to replace the use of formal assessments employed by mental health professionals. Additionally, it is important to consider the context of the situation, individual differences, and cultural and linguistic factors.

Teachers play an important role in establishing and maintaining healthy environments for students to learn and grow. As leaders and guides in setting and maintaining the culture of their classrooms and school communities, teachers are critical in establishing welcoming, respectful, and safe environments, explaining expectations for student interactions, and modeling inclusive language, which continues to evolve over time.

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What is Gender Identity?

  • Gender identity is an individual’s sense of their own gender (e.g., as a male, female, transgender, nonbinary).
  • Gender expression is how an individual presents their gender to others through physical appearance and behavior—this may include, but is not limited to, dress, voice, or movement.
  • Gender diverse is a term that addresses the spectrum of gender identities and expressions, including but not limited to: Transgender—a person whose identity differs from the sex and gender assigned to them at birth. Non-binary—a person who does not identify exclusively as a male and female. A non-binary person may identify as being both male and female, or not a part of either of these categories.
  • Cisgender refers to a person whose identity does not differ from the sex and gender assigned to them at birth.

How Might Gender Diversity Impact the School Experience?

  • 80% of transgender adults report knowing they were “different” as early as elementary school. 96% report realizing they were transgender before adulthood.
  • On average, gender diverse individuals were 15 years old before they had the vocabulary to understand and communicate their gender identity.
  • Gender diverse students often report feeling unsafe at school, avoiding gender specific spaces (e.g., restrooms), and experiencing harassment at school.
  • Students indicate that they rarely report discriminatory incidents, and those who do feel unprotected.
  • Gender diverse students experiencing gender-related stressors at school are more likely be absent, have lower GPAs, report higher levels of depression, engage in substance use and risky behaviors, and be at an elevated risk for suicide.
  • Some students may live in their affirmed gender identity with peers at school, but not at home, or vice versa.

What Can Teachers Do?


Do : Model gender inclusive language and behavior.

Don’t categorize students by binary gender (e.g., line up by boys/girls).


Do : Implement policies for non-discrimination and anti-harassment for gender diverse students.

Don’t wait for issues to arise before addressing harassment and discrimination against gender diverse students.


Do : Maintain an open mind that gender identity is complex and each student’s identity is unique.

Don’t attempt to categorize students or draw conclusions about other qualities based on their gender expression.


Do : Respect students’ stories and allow them to inform people (peers, teachers, parents) in their own time and in their own way.

Don’t share information about gender identity without students’ permission. In particular, be aware that in a virtual learning environment (VLE) some students may have other people in the same learning space who are not aware of their gender identity.


Do : Recognize that, depending on home situations, in a VLE, some youth may feel limited in their ability to express their gender identity.

Don’t assume that students are equally comfortable expressing their gender identity at home and at school (whether in person or in VLE).


Do : Be aware of your own biases or assumptions that might send mixed messages to students.

Don’t assume students should behave or express their gender identities in certain ways.


Do : In the VLE, use your pronouns in your email signature and on your video screen. This communicates to students that you don’t make assumptions about pronouns and gender identity based on appearance alone, and that they can report the pronouns that they use.

Don’t require that every student use their preferred pronouns in their email or on screen, as they may not be ready to share these yet. 


Do : In the VLE, invite students to change the name on their video screen to reflect the name that they would like to use during your class.

Don’t require that they use the name with which they are registered for school.

Refer Students to Further Help if Needed

  • Review your school policy for seeking student supports.
  • Contact your school counselor, psychologist, social worker, or other personnel.

Additional Resources

  • The Genderbread Person
  • Understanding and Supporting Gender Diversity
  • The Respect Online Course
  • The Trevor Project
  • How to Make Your School Safer for LGBTQ Students
  • Schools in Transition
  • Model School District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students

Empirical Research

Birnkrant, J. M., & Przeworski, A. (2017). Communication, advocacy, and acceptance among support-seeking parents of transgender youth. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health , 21 (2), 132–153. https://doi.org/10.1080/19359705.2016.1277173

Bowskill, nee H. T. (2017). How educational professionals can improve the outcomes for transgender children and young people. Educational and Child Psychology , 34 (3), 96–108. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2018-08632-006&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Chong, E. S. K., Poteat, V. P., Yoshikawa, H., & Calzo, J. P. (2019). Fostering youth self-efficacy to address transgender and racial diversity issues: The role of gay–straight alliances. School Psychology , 34 (1), 54–63. https://doi.org/10.1037/spq0000258.supp

Moe, J. L., Perera-Diltz, D., Sepulveda, V., & Finnerty, P. (2014). Salience, valence, context, and integration: Conceptualizing the needs of sexually and gender diverse youth in P–12 schools. Journal of Homosexuality , 61 (3), 435–451. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2013.842437

Olson, K. R., & Gülgöz, S. (2018). Early findings from the transyouth project: Gender development in transgender children. Child Development Perspectives , 12 (2), 93–97. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12268

Turban, J., Ferraiolo, T., Martin, A., & Olezeski, C. (2017). Ten things transgender and gender nonconforming youth want their doctors to know. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry , 56 (4), 275–277. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2016.12.015

The Mental Health Primers are developed by the Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education . This resource was updated in October 2021 with support from cooperative agreement NU87PS004366 funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views or endorsement of the CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services.

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The Impact of Respecting Another Person's Gender

Respecting gender can save a life. here's how..

Posted August 30, 2021 | Reviewed by Devon Frye

  • Gender is a social construction, and someone's gender may not match their sex.
  • Everyone is capable of adjusting their language to respect the transgender people in their life (including using "they" pronouns).
  • Gossiping and judging individuals who are transgender, genderfluid, or gender non-binary can exacerbate prejudice and lead to violence.
  • Respecting an individual's gender, name, and pronouns can significantly positively impact mental health.

Marvin Kuhn/unsplash

It's often said that love is a choice. Hate, too, is a choice.

Gender, on the other hand, is a social construction. According to the World Health Organization, “gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed,” and may or may not correspond to the person’s physiology at birth (2021).

Your gender is yours. It’s not mine. It’s not mine to choose, to comment on, or to judge. What's more, someone's gender identity does not cause harm to another person.

I am a cisgender woman, a psychotherapist, and an individual who cares deeply about other individuals, some of whom are transgender.

My own experience of gender aligns with the physiology of the body I was born into. But not every person has that privilege. Some people have a gender identity that does not align with their biological sex , or that does not fit within a gender binary of male or female. I recognize that my privilege has limitations in understanding the lived experience of someone who identifies outside the gender binary created by our society, or whose gender differs from the gender they were assigned at birth.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind if someone you care about has transitioned (or is in the process of transitioning):

  • If this is a loved one you have known with a different gender identity previously, you may feel grief at the loss of the identity you knew. Note: Your emotions are valid. Also note: The previous gender identity of your loved one may not be their true self, and what may feel like a loss to you may be a life-affirming (even life-saving) gain for them.
  • Using different pronouns or a different name may feel uncomfortable at first. Using “they” pronouns may feel uncomfortable at first. Have you ever learned a woman’s new last name after she got married, or integrated a new word into your vocabulary? You are capable of changing your language. And your discomfort is likely small fries compared to the discomfort (and in many cases, outright lack of safety) experienced by an individual who is experiencing gender dysphoria .
  • Addressing internal biases may be uncomfortable; for that, I absolutely recommend connecting with a therapist. We all need a therapist at times (myself included!), and good therapists provide safe spaces in which we can grow.

Why Respecting Gender Matters

To pass judgment on another person’s gender identity may feel easy, casual—a slight comment here, or a bit of gossip or speculation there. But that comment or gossip or judgment or speculation in a group conversation can cause significant harm to the recipient—and not just emotional harm.

There may be someone in the group who identifies differently than the speaker, or is contemplating coming out, or has a family member who is transgender, genderfluid, or gender non-binary. Making an offhand comment, or outing a person’s gender, belittles the personhood of the individual and decreases their safety. Doing so emboldens acts of hatred and violence

And there are acts of violence. Forty-four individuals in the U.S. were murdered because of their gender identity in 2020, and as of this May, 27 individuals have been murdered so far in 2021 (Factora, 2021).

On the flip side of perpetuating violence, respecting the name and pronouns of an individual can have a huge positive impact on their mental health. Transgender and non-binary youth whose pronouns were respected by all the people they lived with attempted suicide at half the rate of those whose pronouns were not respected by anyone they lived with. Those who were able to change their name on legal documents and change their birth marker on legal documents also reported lower levels of suicide (The Trevor Project, 2021). This means that by merely using an individual’s preferred name and pronouns, you have the ability to help save a life.

Learning to say “they,” “he,” or "she," or to use a different name for someone, is an easy way to bolster your relationship and help contribute some good to the world at large, without expecting anything in return. If you mess up a pronoun or a name for someone who is transitioning, apologize and move on. Show respect for the deep internal work the person in front of you has engaged in. Read a book about how to show this respect, like The Person YOU Mean To Be by Dolly Chugh, or dive into a poetic description of the lived experience of being transgender in The Thirty Names of Night , by Zeyn Joukhadar.

Bottom line: Your gender is not mine to judge. Someone else’s gender is not yours to judge. And if it’s not yours, that means it’s also not your story to tell.

Every person has the power to pile on weight to another person’s burden by prioritizing their own personal discomfort. Every person has the ability to lessen that same burden through the respect for another individual’s personhood. Our ability to harm is matched by our ability to heal.

I’ll repeat: Love is a choice. Hate is a choice. Gender is a social construct.

Chugh, D. (2018). The person you mean to be: How good people fight bias. HarperBusiness.

Factora, J. (2021 May 25). 27 Trans people have been killed less than halfway through 2021. them. https://www.them.us/story/27-trans-people-have-been-killed-in-2021

Joukhadar, Z. (2020). The thirty names of night. Atria Books.

See the Genderbread Model to learn more about the differences between gender identity, gender expression, and biological sex: Killermann, S. (2017). Genderbread Person v4.0. Genderbread. https://www.genderbread.org/resource/genderbread-person-v4-0

The Trevor Project. (2021). 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health . https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2021/?section=ResearchMethodolo…

World Health Organization. (2021). Gender. https://www.who.int/health-topics/gender#tab=tab_1

Johanna Bond

Johanna Bond is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in private practice at Perspectives Mental Health Counseling, PLLC.

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Guest Essay

I’m a Psychiatrist. Here’s How I Talk to Transgender Youth and Their Families About Gender Identity.

what is your gender expression essay

By Jack Turban

Dr. Turban is a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

Talking about gender understandably brings up a lot of feelings. We’re having heated discussions around bathroom bills , gender-affirming medical care and transgender athletes . Politicians opine about the dangers of “ gender ideology ” in schools and children being “ mutilated and sterilized .” Others have decried the rise in adolescents identifying as transgender and nonbinary as a “ social contagion ,” likening gender diversity to a disease.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and want to run away from these discussions altogether. But engaging with questions around gender identity with nuance is essential as national debates escalate. Gender identity, for all of us, isn’t simple or binary; it’s neither just biology nor just a social construct. There’s dramatic variability in how people experience gender identity beyond cisgender (people who identify as the sex they are assigned at birth) and transgender or male and female. Younger people especially are opening up about gender and thinking about this part of their identities with more nuance and clarity than older generations typically have.

In my clinical practice, I often help parents talk to their trans children about gender identity using a three-part framework that I’ve found allows people to better understand one another. Perhaps it can help all of us engage with today’s political debates with more understanding and even help us — regardless of our gender identities — understand ourselves on a deeper level.

The most basic part of gender identity is what I call our transcendent sense of gender. In a way that goes beyond language, people often just feel male or female, and some more strongly than others. This can manifest in different ways. Some of my young patients draw themselves as a certain gender and have a “wow, this is me” feeling. Others have strong positive feelings when people use certain pronouns for them, or strong negative feelings when people use other pronouns. As is the case with many emotions, it’s hard to describe this transcendent feeling in words. But it is the foundation of our gender identity, the scaffolding we’re born with. Research , including studies focused on twins , suggests these transcendent gender feelings have a strong innate biological basis.

The next part of our gender identity is the social domain. As we move through life, we build on the biology of gender identity with language and social experience, influenced by everything from the TV shows we watch to how we interact with classmates and our families. Maybe you were raised to think women are nurturing, passive and creative while men are assertive and strong, or that dolls are for girls and football is for boys. What my work has taught me is that very few of us actually relate 100 percent to male or female social categories. Some people may love ballet and wrestling. Or they may enjoy pickup trucks and knitting. To make it even more complicated, these feelings can evolve over time — the way an 18-year-old college student thinks about her womanhood is likely different from how she thinks about it when she becomes a 40-year-old mother of three.

The social aspect can cut both ways. For some people, rejecting gender role stereotypes is even more vital to their gender identity than adhering to them. I’ve had patients, for example, who hate the expectations placed on women in American society. They began using they/them pronouns as a way to express rejection of those expectations. However, they loved their birth names and bodies and had no interest in gender-affirming medical interventions. There are others who identify strongly as cisgender and express their rejection of gender stereotypes in other ways. The existence of one type of person does not invalidate the experience of another.

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What it means for the Supreme Court to throw out Chevron decision, undercutting federal regulators


FILE- Gulls follow a commercial fishing boat as crewmen haul in their catch in the Gulf of Maine, in this Jan. 17, 2012 file photo. TExecutive branch agencies will likely have more difficulty regulating the environment, public health, workplace safety and other issues under a far-reaching decision by the Supreme Court. The court’s 6-3 ruling on Friday overturned a 1984 decision colloquially known as Chevron that has instructed lower courts to defer to federal agencies when laws passed by Congress are not crystal clear. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

The Supreme Court building is seen on Friday, June 28, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Executive branch agencies will likely have more difficulty regulating the environment, public health, workplace safety and other issues under a far-reaching decision by the Supreme Court .

The court’s 6-3 ruling on Friday overturned a 1984 decision colloquially known as Chevron that has instructed lower courts to defer to federal agencies when laws passed by Congress are not crystal clear.

The 40-year-old decision has been the basis for upholding thousands of regulations by dozens of federal agencies, but has long been a target of conservatives and business groups who argue that it grants too much power to the executive branch, or what some critics call the administrative state.

The Biden administration has defended the law, warning that overturning so-called Chevron deference would be destabilizing and could bring a “convulsive shock” to the nation’s legal system.


Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said federal judges “must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority.”

The ruling does not call into question prior cases that relied on the Chevron doctrine, Roberts wrote.

Here is a look at the court’s decision and the implications for government regulations going forward.

What is the Chevron decision?

Atlantic herring fishermen sued over federal rules requiring them to pay for independent observers to monitor their catch. The fishermen argued that the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act did not authorize officials to create industry-funded monitoring requirements and that the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to follow proper rulemaking procedure.

In two related cases, the fishermen asked the court to overturn the 40-year-old Chevron doctrine, which stems from a unanimous Supreme Court case involving the energy giant in a dispute over the Clean Air Act. That ruling said judges should defer to the executive branch when laws passed by Congress are ambiguous.

In that case, the court upheld an action by the Environmental Protection Agency under then-President Ronald Reagan.

In the decades following the ruling, Chevron has been a bedrock of modern administrative law, requiring judges to defer to agencies’ reasonable interpretations of congressional statutes.

But the current high court, with a 6-3 conservative majority has been increasingly skeptical of the powers of federal agencies. Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch have questioned the Chevron decision. Ironically, it was Gorsuch’s mother, former EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch, who made the decision that the Supreme Court upheld in 1984.


What’s at stake?

With a closely divided Congress, presidential administrations have increasingly turned to federal regulation to implement policy changes. Federal rules impact virtually every aspect of everyday life, from the food we eat and the cars we drive to the air we breathe and homes we live in.

President Joe Biden’s administration, for example, has issued a host of new regulations on the environment and other priorities, including restrictions on emissions from power plants and vehicle tailpipes , and rules on student loan forgiveness , overtime pay and affordable housing.

Those actions and others could be opened up to legal challenges if judges are allowed to discount or disregard the expertise of the executive-branch agencies that put them into place.

With billions of dollars potentially at stake, groups representing the gun industry and other businesses such as tobacco, agriculture, timber and homebuilding, were among those pressing the justices to overturn the Chevron doctrine and weaken government regulation.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief last year on behalf of business groups arguing that modern application of Chevron has “fostered aggrandizement’’ of the executive branch at the expense of Congress and the courts.

David Doniger, a lawyer and longtime Natural Resources Defense Council official who argued the original Chevron case in 1984, said he feared that a ruling to overturn the doctrine could “free judges to be radical activists” who could “effectively rewrite our laws and block the protections they are supposed to provide.”

“The net effect will be to weaken our government’s ability to meet the real problems the world is throwing at us — big things like COVID and climate change,″ Doniger said.

More than just fish

“This case was never just about fish,’' said Meredith Moore of the environmental group Ocean Conservancy. Instead, businesses and other interest groups used the herring fishery “to attack the foundations of the public agencies that serve the American public and conserve our natural resources,’' she said.

The court ruling will likely open the floodgates to litigation that could erode critical protections for people and the environment, Moore and other advocates said.

“For more than 30 years, fishery observers have successfully helped ensure that our oceans are responsibly managed so that fishing can continue in the future,’' said Dustin Cranor of Oceana, another conservation group.

He called the case “just the latest example of the far right trying to undermine the federal government’s ability to protect our oceans, waters, public lands, clean air and health.’'

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey called the decision a fitting follow-up to a 2022 decision — in a case he brought — that limits the EPA’s ability to control greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The court held that Congress must speak with specificity when it wants to give an agency authority to regulate on an issue of major national significance.

Morrisey, now the GOP nominee for governor, called Chevron “a misguided doctrine under which courts defer to legally dubious interpretations of statutes put out by federal administrative agencies.”

A shift toward judicial power

The Supreme Court ruling will almost certainly shift power away from the executive branch and Congress and toward courts, said Craig Green, a professor at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law.

“Federal judges will now have the first and final word about what statutes mean,″ he said. “That’s a big shift in power.″

In what some observers see as a historic irony, many conservatives who now attack Chevron once celebrated it. The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was among those who hailed the original ruling as a way to rein in liberal laws.

“Conservatives believed in this rule until they didn’t,’' Green said in an interview.

In recent years, conservatives have focused on “deconstruction of the administrative state,’' even if the result lessens the ability of a conservative president to impose his beliefs on government agencies.

“If you weaken the federal government, you get less government,’' Green said — an outcome that many conservatives, including those who back former President Donald Trump, welcome.

The ruling will likely “gum up the works for federal agencies and make it even harder for them to address big problems. Which is precisely what the critics of Chevron want,” said Jody Freeman, director of the environmental and energy law program at Harvard Law School.


The Marvels of Everyday Life: what a Wonderful World

This essay is about appreciating the wonders of everyday life and the world around us. It highlights the beauty of nature the marvels of human creativity and technological advancements and the importance of human connections. The essay emphasizes finding joy in simple moments and the power of a positive mindset. It also touches on the value of education and the pursuit of knowledge as ways to enhance our appreciation for life’s wonders. By adopting an outlook that recognizes both the challenges and the beauty of life we can cultivate gratitude and well-being.

How it works

In a world often overshadowed by negativity and challenges it’s essential to take a step back and appreciate the myriad wonders that surround us daily. The phrase “what a wonderful world” is not just a song lyric but a reminder to find beauty and joy in the simple and profound aspects of our existence. From the intricate designs of nature to the complexity of human connections life is filled with moments that deserve our attention and gratitude.

One of the most obvious wonders of the world is nature itself.

The vastness of the oceans the majesty of mountains and the diversity of wildlife all testify to the incredible beauty of our planet. Each sunrise and sunset brings a palette of colors that no artist can truly replicate. The changing seasons each with its own charm offer a continuous display of transformation and renewal. The delicate balance of ecosystems and the interdependence of all living things reveal an intricate web of life that is both fragile and resilient. Observing a simple flower blooming or listening to the symphony of birdsong can evoke a profound sense of wonder and connection to the natural world.

Human creativity is another remarkable aspect of our world. From the earliest cave paintings to modern digital art the ability to create and appreciate art is uniquely human. Music literature and visual arts offer insights into different cultures and eras allowing us to experience the world through diverse perspectives. The innovation and ingenuity displayed in scientific and technological advancements continually push the boundaries of what we thought possible. Consider the marvel of flight the convenience of the internet or the potential of space exploration. These achievements highlight the incredible capabilities of human imagination and determination.

Relationships and human connections also contribute significantly to the wonder of life. The bonds we form with family friends and even strangers can provide immense joy support and a sense of belonging. Acts of kindness and compassion no matter how small can have a profound impact on both the giver and the receiver. These connections remind us that despite our differences we share a common humanity. Stories of resilience love and generosity inspire us and restore our faith in the goodness of people.

The wonders of the world extend to the everyday moments that often go unnoticed. The laughter of a child the warmth of a hug the satisfaction of a good meal or the serenity of a quiet moment alone can all be sources of joy and contentment. These simple pleasures when acknowledged and appreciated can greatly enhance our overall sense of well-being. Mindfulness practices such as meditation or simply being present in the moment can help us become more attuned to these everyday wonders and foster a deeper appreciation for life.

Education and the pursuit of knowledge are other avenues through which we can experience the wonder of the world. The process of learning whether through formal education or personal exploration opens our minds to new ideas and possibilities. Understanding different cultures histories and philosophies can broaden our perspectives and deepen our empathy. The curiosity that drives us to ask questions and seek answers is a powerful force that can lead to personal growth and societal progress.

Ultimately the concept of “what a wonderful world” is a mindset a way of seeing and appreciating the richness of life. It encourages us to focus on the positive aspects and to find beauty in the mundane. This perspective does not ignore the challenges and hardships that exist but rather acknowledges them while also recognizing the goodness and wonder that persist. Cultivating gratitude and practicing positive thinking can help us maintain this outlook even in difficult times.

In conclusion the world is filled with wonders that can enrich our lives and uplift our spirits. By taking the time to observe and appreciate the beauty of nature the creativity of humanity the depth of our connections and the simple joys of everyday life we can foster a greater sense of gratitude and contentment. Embracing the mindset of “what a wonderful world” allows us to navigate life’s challenges with a more positive and resilient attitude enhancing our overall well-being and appreciation for the world around us.

Remember this essay is a starting point for inspiration and further research. For more personalized assistance and to ensure your essay meets all academic standards consider reaching out to professionals at EduBirdie .


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