We exist in a gendered society. From the division of labor to gendered bathrooms, most of today’s world operates with the assumption of a gender binary. From the early 1900s, what we refer to as ‘first wave feminism’ to the second wave of the 1960s, feminists have raised the consciousness of the man to the complex and hierarchical gender asymmetry that has treated women as second-class citizens for so long. Our conscious growth through the last few decades can only be described as exponential. And with that we have evolved past a binary understanding of gender into an understanding of the fluid gender spectrum (and we are at the point of entering a post-gender framework).
The gendered roles are no longer understood to exist in the binary of man and woman. In fact, man and woman are only two points on a rather complex map of the dynamic interactions between what is socially constructed of sex and gender (enforced) and what is organically constructed of them (embodied).
The academia, being one of the institutions on the frontlines of this investigation into the notions of gender, should always set the tone for the inclusivity of people who have actively questioned the gender binary and decided to step out of that oppressive construct. These are the people that are directly affected by the analysis, the theories and the research that academia conducts. It’s for this reason that I am often disappointed by the way in which faculty at Knox conducts itself. The classroom is still gendered in that binary construct.
During my time here, no faculty member (except for one) insisted on asking students for their preferred personal pronouns during introductions. This concerns me for several reasons. Firstly, I identify as a gender non-conforming person who prefers to go by the pronouns ‘they/them’. Secondly, it makes me extremely uncomfortable when my appearance affords me male privilege from the get-go. That is, when the faculty assumes that I use the pronouns ‘he/him’ and refer to me with them.
The pervasive nature of male privilege is such that it identifies itself and immediately takes up a large amount of space in conversations, classrooms, etc. I accept the fact I have been afforded this exclusively male privilege of being taken more seriously, of being allocated more time and space in conversations, of repeatedly being told that mine is a voice of reason and power even before I spoke up.
It is discomforting on a deeply personal level to be afforded the male privilege and the symbolic violence that comes with it, when I do not identify as a man. I have been actively engaged in working against these micro-level instances, and the assuming (and thereby oppressive) behaviour of many of the faculty at Knox makes it extremely difficult for me.
My suggestion to the faculty and to the administration in general is to make Knox a gender-friendly environment. Ask students to actually mention their personal pronouns in classes and in discussions. Picking a pronoun outside of the gender binary is a very political claim. It means a rewriting of official documents, of the assumed divisions of labour and societal segregations. It means an acknowledgement of the fact that the gender binary is a restrictive and uncomfortable space for many and that we have a right to a comfortable space whether we are gender-fluid, gender non-conforming or post-gendered.
As much as this is a message to the faculty, it is also a message to allies and students in general. Reevaluating one’s gender is not an easy feat by any means, especially in light of the numerous ways in which society bombards its cultural politics onto our bodies. We must be careful in our good intentions to make sure that space is not appropriated back into the binary.
For example: an uncritical claim such as saying ‘all pronouns work for me’. What such a claim does is create a space in which the speaker will be taken at face value (because of societal norms) and the political claims of many of those outside of the binary will tend to become devalued. Maneuvering gender is not easy, but I believe that the Knox community can do a better job.