Gender is a topic that comes up quite often nowadays, but what, exactly, is gender?

In the popular conscious, gender is often divided into two categories: masculine and feminine. People who identify as men are masculine. People who identify as women are feminine.

Masculinity is strength. Masculinity is no emotions, the ability to be a provider and take care of their loved ones in financial and safety-related means. Masculinity can be recognized through very specific, very visible means. Masculinity means shirts and pants, suit and tie. Masculinity means faces clean of make-up or product, but covered in hair. Masculinity means obsession with sex, and sex with women in particular. The more heterosexual sex a man has, the more masculine he is. The more respect and fear a man earns, the more masculine he is.

Femininity is vulnerability. Femininity is more emotions than can easily be dealt with, the ability to be a housekeeper and take care of their loved ones in nurturing and love-related means. Femininity can be recognized through very specific, very visible means. Femininity means dresses and skirts, pantyhose and yoga pants. Femininity means faces clean of hair, but covered in make-up and product. Femininity means hesitation toward sex, but wanting sex with men in particular. The less sex a woman has with anyone, the more valuable she is considered. The more love and adoration a woman earns, the more feminine she is.

All of this, however, is just the way that gender is considered in the popular culture. In real life, nothing is as simple as all this.

The feminist scholar Judith Butler has said that gender is performative, meaning that we are not born into a gender, but we are told how we should act if we want to be accepted as a member of our gender – and we want to be accepted as a member of our gender. If we aren’t, then we pose the risk of being dismissed as (for women) a butch, a bitch, selfish, man-hater, ball-buster, and (for men) a sissy, gay, weak, or feminine (I am not trying to imply that there is anything wrong with being any of these things, I am simply pointing out that these are sometimes used as insults to undermine someone’s gender identity). This means that we force ourselves to act and present ourselves in specific ways so that we can be accepted as a member of our gender, which we are then rewarded for by our peer group. This means that, by nature, there are parts of ourselves that do not easily fall into the category that we are put in as far as gender goes, but we sometimes ignore these parts of ourselves to be accepted.

This means that men (and people identifying as men) are not completely, totally, 100% masculine by nature, and it means that women (and people identifying as women) are not completely, totally, 100% feminine by nature.

We see examples of this everyday, and yet we still continue to claim that there are a certain set of accepted behaviours for men and women to adopt.

There are men who enjoy (and even prefer) dressing up in women’s clothing. But that’s okay, because those men are drag queens, or cross dressers, or gay men, or altogether ‘feminine’ men with nothing masculine about them. Right?

There are women who prefer to take charge, who don’t want children or a family and just want to focus on their career, which happens to be in the sciences or in fitness-related fields. But that’s okay, because those women are ‘masculine’ women who find the company of other women frivolous and annoying, who prefer to spend all their time with men and just consider themselves “one of the guys”. Right?

Well, not necessarily.

Yes, there are plenty of people that fall nearly perfectly into the definitions of ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, but in my opinion, most people in this world have at least a few aspects of themselves that do not correlate with the gender that they identify with.

Some people who identify as men like to wear make-up, and that’s okay.

Some people who identify as women are capable of growing full beards and don’t feel like shaving it, and that’s okay.

Some people who identify as men aspire to be stay-at-home dads, and that’s okay.

Some people who identify as women are very forward and aggressive, and that’s okay.

And the only reason why I feel the need to say this is because there are so many people out there who think that doing one thing or acting one way means that you should change the way that you identify yourself. But if you are comfortable identifying as a man but dressing as a woman and vice versa, then nobody should ever have the power to take your identity away from you.

In my opinion, we should all be opening up our definitions of what it is to be a man or a woman. There is no one right way to behave in order to belong in your gender, and there shouldn’t be. We should all be free to present ourselves in the way that makes us feel comfortable, regardless of the gender we live in. Society has turned gender into a prison, but there are plenty of scholars who debate if gender roles even exist outside of society.

So be yourself, whatever that means. Don’t change to fit into someone else’s limited view of what you should and shouldn’t be based on gender identity. Masculinity and femininity are just ideas, and you so much more than that.

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