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By: Erica Gene Delsandro (she/her/hers), Assistant Professor of Women's & Gender Studies, Bucknell University

According to Dr. Judith Lorber, a Sociologist, gender is a social institution.  I love to share this understanding of gender with my students because it conveys the way gender permeates everything within our social reality.  And if you don’t believe me, just check out the deodorant aisle in your local pharmacy.  How are the deodorants organized?  By gender! 

Think about it: what is one of the first identifiers given to any infant?  Gender.  And here it is important to point out that gender does not equate to sex.  An individual’s sex is derived from a variety of biological sex markers like genitalia, chromosomes, and hormones. (Often, they all “line up” and someone is fully male or female. Scientists like Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling, though, have been reminding us that there is actually a wide variation in sex and that the binary, male and female, is not very accurate at representing biological diversity.) Gender is, at first, derived from one’s sex assignment. Assigned male (sex)? That infant is a boy (gender). Assigned female (sex)? That infant is a girl (gender).

Luckily, we live in a cultural moment in which it is increasingly understood that gender is a social construction.  In other words, gender is a concept that is created by and through our social fabric--people, norms, institutions, cultural practices, and so on.  In the 21st century, it is not uncommon for people to reclaim their gender identity, perhaps shifting away from the gender assigned to them at birth.  Someone may identify as gender queer, non-binary, transgender, transmasculine, transfeminine, agender, and many more. 

One way to cultivate a welcoming space for people of all gender expressions is to inquire about pronouns.  Pronouns are a great way to indicate gender identity!  When I introduce myself to new people in professional and social settings, I share my name and my pronouns.  This lets others know how I like to be identified and encourages others to share theirs.  I even have a pronoun pin!
Gender is just one vector of a person’s identity and it is helpful to remember that everyone exists with multiple and simultaneous identities, such as race, class, sexuality, and ability.  Understanding that we are all more than one singular identity is a concept called intersectionality.  Having an intersectional approach to your community--recognizing the richness of each person’s identity--really helps foster an inclusive and respectful environment!
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