Even though the popular mold is slowly breaking, society still looks at gender as something concretely binary: boy or girl, man or woman, masculine or feminine. In my writing I try to deconstruct these binaries, which perpetuate media stereotyping and discrimination that –as The LAMP shows us– are all too easy to point out in our everyday lives. Like any social institution, it’s not easy to define gender discrimination anymore. It is constantly changing, largely because definitions around gender have too. In this spirit, here are some definitions I think by that might be helpful in understanding why this work is so vital:
Sex (vs. Gender)
A basic explanation is that gender is between your ears while sex is between your legs. Sex is viewed on a binary and is used to determine a person’s perceived gender even before birth. There are, however, many individuals who don’t fit into these binary categories, either.
Gender (vs. Sex)
Gender is a social construction used to categorize human behavior, activities, roles and attributes (from dress to labor division). While gender has long been defined on a binary, gender theory has been redefined in the past couple of decades to recognize its fluidity and performativity. As a result, gender can be reappropriated to mean more than just the two options offered by the binary.
Because of the evolving definition of gender, the many faces of gender discrimination are changing too. The greatest motivation for discrimination is lack of education. Most people have never been exposed to the idea that gender is even something different from sex or that it exists on a spectrum or even that it doesn’t need to be static. More often, gender discrimination is also expressed along with various other forms of bigotry.
Deeply intertwined with stereotypes of race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality, gender stereotyping through media both reinforces and is enforced by gender discrimination. It’s a constant cycle that has been played out over and over again in media. Stereotypes seen on television or the Internet or in a magazine are internalized by the viewer because they reflect the discriminatory boundaries created around gender in their every day lives. These boundaries are seen as “just the way it is,” yet when challenged, people usually meet bigotry at best or violence at worst.
These definitions especially matter when learning media literacy because the more aware a person is of these stereotypes in media, the more aware they will be of a stereotype’s reflection of discrimination in every day life. It’s an enormous cycle that can only be broken with self-education.