Gender and School Psychology
Let's Talk About Gender
By Eliza A. Dragowski
Gender, although widely understood as one of the fundamental organizing principles of social life and a prism through which we understand our experiences and ourselves, is rarely pondered in daily life (Dragowski, Scharrón-del Río, & Sandigorsky, 2011; Kimmel, 2011). For most people, gender is implicitly understood as a self-evident reality—a natural extension of our biology. Most of us are assigned to one of two gender categories at birth and follow the delineated and socially constructed path for that particular gender. This is the gender binary. Most natal boys, for example, take on masculine gender identities, roles, and expressions. The ubiquity and social dominance of the traditional binary gender system renders it “natural” and invisible from scrutiny, especially for those of us whose gender identities and expressions fall in line with what it considers “normal.” At the same time, however, these norms invalidate and erase lives of people who, in different ways, resist or fall outside the strict norms for femininity and masculinity (Dragowski & Scharrón-del Río, 2014; Dragowski et al., 2011).
In recent years, the underlying structures of the binary gender regime (Connell, 2009) have been scrutinized by increasing public dialogue about gender diversity. Perhaps the most intense of these conversations have taken place around the growing visibility of people who assert gender identity that is different from the gender assigned to them at birth (e.g., Baird, 2014; Bernestein, 2014; Parks, 2011; Walters, 2007). Recently, Time magazine featured Laverne Cox, an actress and trans rights activist, on its cover, with the subhead “The Transgender Tipping Point” (Time, 2014, May 28).
In education, this movement has been most visible via the increased attention to and advocacy for gender variant children and youth, including the extension of the Title IX civil rights law to protect transgender students from all forms of discrimination in education (Margolin, 2014). Within the world of school psychology, the recent National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) position statement titled Safe Schools for Transgender and Gender Diverse Students(NASP, 2014) stands as an important example of organizational attention to the issues and needs of students whose gender identities and presentations fall outside of the traditional gender spectrum.
In spite of the long history of pathologization of transgender people (Dragowski et al., 2011), NASP “acknowledges that neither having a transgender identity nor being perceived as gender diverse is a disorder, and that efforts to change a person's gender identity are ineffective, harmful, and discriminatory” (2014). Moreover, NASP urges school psychologists to be familiar with research and resources designed to facilitate creation of safe, affirming, inclusive, and dignified educational spaces for transgender students and their families. Importantly, while “gender diverse students may benefit from learning healthy coping skills and building resilience,” NASP stands firm in the position that “interventions for associated social–emotional problems should not attempt to enforce gender stereotypical behavior” (NASP, 2014).
In addition to the national conversation about the rights of transgender people, other gender-related issues have also gained prominence and exposure. Possibly fueled by the ongoing political processes to legislate women's reproductive rights and a continued effort for equal pay for people of all genders, a noticeable public conversation has arisen about gender roles and expectation as they relate workplace, education, domestic division of labor, and sexuality (Coontz, 2013; Craighill & Clement, 2014; Davis, 2013; Kantor, 2013; Parker & Wang, 2013; Stanley, 2014). These conversations often take the form of confrontation of strict, traditional gender norms and gender inequality. A robust body of literature documents resistance to restrictive gender norms surrounding girls and women (e.g., American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, 2007; Gilligan, 2013; Pasque, 2011; Renold & Ringrose, 2008). This movement is even visible in our popular culture, as one of the most prominent pop stars, Beyoncé, has recently recreated and published the well-known Rosie the Riveter poster and sampled, in one of her songs, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who called for “social, political, economic equality of the sexes” (Nash, Knowles, Hollis, Music, & Muhammad, 2013)
Masculinity, too, has become an important topic, with researchers, educators, and social advocates shining the light on and questioning the norms surrounding traditional and strict rules which prescribe, proscribe, and restrict behaviors of boys and men who want to be considered “real men” (e.g., Connell, 2005; Dragowski & Scharrón-del Río, 2014; Katz, 2006; Pascoe, 2007; Way et al., 2014). The conversations about gender are made more meaningful by our increasing recognition of the intersectionality of gender with other social identities, including race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, ability, or immigration status (Dragowski & Scharrón-del Río, 2014; Way, 2011).
We are living in a transformative time, with many Americans becoming increasingly resistant to the established gender binary regime and supportive of more egalitarian relationships and diverse gender practices. Children's natural curiosity, fueled by their developmental process of identity formation, positions school psychologists in an exciting and important role as facilitators of conversations about gender identity, roles, rights, expectations, and expressions. These dialogues can only be stimulating and beneficial if we are knowledgeable, reflective, and comfortable about these subject matters. The main aim of this article is to provide a brief orientation to the basic terminology and theoretical issues nesting gender-related conversations, and to invite the readers to join the Communiqué series on the topic of gender diversity.
Terms and Definitions
Terms used to define gender-related issues are not only often misunderstood or confabulated in the popular vernacular, but also vary depending on context and change with passing time. Therefore, I begin by introducing the currently utilized terms and defining them. (Unless explicitly referenced, this section is based on Dragowski et al., 2011; Scharrón-del Río, Dragowski, & Phillips, 2014).
Biological sex refers to anatomical and reproductive structures, comprising the chromosomal karyotype, hormones, gonads, external genitalia, and pubertal secondary sex differentiation. Typical female has 46 XX chromosomal karyotype, prevalence of estrogen/ progesterone hormones, ovaries, vulva, and clitoris; typically female pubertal changes include breast development, vaginal/uterine growth, widening of the hip area, as well as ovulation and menstruation. Typical male has a 46XY chromosomal karyotype, testosterone as a prevalent hormone, testes, scrotum, and penis. Typically male pubertal changes include growth of testes, scrotum, and penis; capability to ejaculate seminal fluid; growth of facial hair; and deepening of the voice (healthychildren.org).
Most frequently, biological sex is based on the binary model (male/female) and assigned based on the appearance of external genitalia at birth. This standard, although common, excludes people born with intersex conditions (also known as disorders of sex development), occurring around 1 in 4,500 births (Vilain, 2008). As defined by the Intersex Society of North America, “intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male,” including an outward appearance of a typical female matched with a typical male internal anatomy, possession of an “in-between” genitalia, or a combination of genetic mosaics resulting in different chromosomal karyotypes in different cells of the body.
Gender refers to a social construct composed of behaviors and characteristics expected of people based on their biological sex. Gender assignment is typically similar to the assignment of a biological sex: based on a binary system (boy/girl) at birth and based on the external genitalia. Although based on the exclusive binary system (a baby can be either a boy or a girl), some see this system as restrictive and discounting of gender diversity. Many believe that the “gender spectrum represents a more nuanced, and ultimately truly authentic model of human gender” (genderspectrum.org). Some elements of gender are described below.
Gender identity is an innate psychological gender identification as a man, a woman, or another gender. Typically, people experience congruence between gender assigned at birth and their gender identity, but this is not always the case: “Some biological males identify as female, some biological females identify as male, and some people (adults and children) identify as gender fluid, androgynous, genderqueer, or gender variant in numerous combinations of gender characteristics” (Dragowski et al., 2014, p. 40).
Gender expression refers to the manner through which people communicate their gender identity to others through dress, interests, mannerisms, or compliance with traditional gender roles, which include societal expectations for men to be masculine and for women to be feminine.
Cisgender/gender normativity refers to a sense of congruence between a person's gender assigned at birth and gender identity. People who are assigned one gender at birth and, as adults, still identify with that gender are called cisgender.
Transgender (trans) is an umbrella term denoting gender identity or expression that fall outside of traditional gender norms. While some people identify with a particular gender (biological boy who identifies and expresses himself as a girl), others identify themselves outside of the gender binary, expressing gender fluidity (wide and flexible gender expressions that do not directly correspond to masculine or feminine norms; genderspectrum.org). Sometimes, people whose gender identity/expression are different from what is traditionally expected are also called gender variant/gender nonconforming. Genderqueer is another term used by some people who do not conform to the binary gender system and who “identify as neither entirely male nor entirely female” (National Center for Transgender Equality, 2014). Some, but not all, transgender people choose to transition—that is, to modify their bodies (via surgical, cosmetic, and/or hormonal interventions) into congruence with their gender identity. It is important to note that trans people, like all people, can have affectionate, erotic, or intimate relationships with people of all genders. In other words, trans people can claim any sexual orientation/identity, including heterosexual/straight (attraction to people of the other gender within the gender binary), homosexual/gay/lesbian (attraction to people of the same gender), bisexual (attraction to both men and women), queer (attractions that are not aligned with and do not recognize the gender binary), asexual (demoting lack of sexual attractions), and pansexual (denoting rejection of the gender binary and attraction to people of all genders and gender expressions).
Consideration of the myriad combinations of gender identity and expression gives rise to questions about gender development. What do we know about how typical and variant gender develops? Most theories consider the contributions of nature (biology) and nurture (social construction) to the development of gender identity and expression. I will follow this outline, as I briefly review these models (for more detailed description, see Dragowski et al., 2011).
According to the biological models, gender development is initiated at the time of conception and based on the chromosomal karyotype. Between 6 and 12 weeks of gestation, fetuses with a Y chromosome begin the development of testes, which stimulate the production of testosterone; this, in turn, prompts the development of a male genital system and masculinization of the brain. Typical female development begins in fetuses with XX chromosomal karyotype at about 3 months of gestation, with the development of ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, and the upper segment of vagina, and typical female genitalia (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009; Bostwick & Martin, 2007).
As stated by the biological theory, a typical gender identity is the result of a chromosomal karyotype, hormones, gonads, external genitalia, and the resulting pubertal secondary sex differentiation. The variant gender identity, in turn, results from the unusual “brain sex differentiation with subsequent gender development occurring along predetermined lines and in conflict with the assigned gender role” (Newman, 2002, p. 353), which can include irregular prenatal hormonal influences, anatomic brain differences, and/or genetic influences.
As posited by the social models (nurture), gender is a result of intricate and societally sanctioned arrangements that begin with parents' preconceptions about what their children will be like and how they will behave, often before the children are born. Following birth, children are perceived as strong or fragile (depending on their assigned gender) and reinforced for behaviors that are consistent with the societal notions of femininity for girls and masculinity for boys (Cristofaro & Tamis-LeMonda, 2008; Karraker, Vogel, & Lake, 1995; McHale, Crouter, & Whiteman, 2003).
Most children follow these conventions. As summarized by Halim and Ruble (2010), children categorize themselves in terms of their gender by the age of 2–3 years, and by age 5, they use gender as a category when thinking about others and tend to assign people into categories based on gender. Moreover, preschool-age children engage in gender stereotyped behaviors, show preference for gender-(stereo)typical toys, describe peers according to stereotypes connected to traditional masculinity and femininity, and admire peers who exemplify gender stereotypical behavior (Davies, 2004; Miller, Lurye, Zosuls, & Ruble, 2009).
Various theoretical explanations for the development of the normative gender role identity have been proposed, including psychoanalytic theories, which emphasize psychosexual crises and formative childhood experiences with parental figures; behavioral/social learning theories, which stress reinforcement, punishment, modeling, and imitation; cognitive theories, which highlight knowledge about gender which parallels children's cognitive development; and social constructivist theories, which place importance on sociocultural influences (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009, as cited in Dragowski et al., 2011). Gender variance and gender nonconforming behavior among children is attributed by the “nurture” theorist to several factors, including children's temperamental factors, family dynamics, “encouraging” parental attitudes toward children's gender variant identifications/behaviors, marital discord, and possible psychopathology (Meyer-Bahlburg, 2002; Zucker & Bradley, 2004; Zucker, Wood, Singh, & Bradley, 2012).
Ultimately, no one model of typical gender development is sufficiently explanatory, leaving the field with the absence of a definitive theory of typical gender development. Such lack of a unified theory makes it difficult to theorize about the exact causes of the development of gender variance. Significant methodological issues beset the biological/ nature explanations of gender variance, while many components of the social/ nurture theories have been disproven and criticized by scholars, practitioners, and professional organizations (see Dragowski et al., 2011 and Scharrón-del Río et al., 2014 for review), including NASP (see NASP, 2014).
Attempting to consolidate the nature and nurture influences as well as their dynamic interplay in the role of gender identity development are the integrative theories, which take into account “genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors, acting separately or in combination with each other” (Gender Identity Research and Education Society, 2006, p. 38). Diamond's (2006) biased interaction theory, for example, takes into account the importance and integration of evolutionary heritage and genetics, uterine environment impact, as well as societal and historical contexts in the process of gender identity formation.
Thinking Critically About Gender Diversity
Having briefly reviewed the selected terms and theories surrounding gender, gender roles, expression, identity, and development, we are ideally positioned to think critically about these fundamental and organizing human experiences. In the Western culture, gender is rigorously proscribed, and masculinity and femininity are understood as complete and exclusive opposites of one another resulting from our anatomical sex differences (Connell, 2009; Lev, 2005; Kimmel, 2011). However, current research shows that the differences between how men and women perceive, understand, and respond to experiences are negligible and dwarfed by the differences among men and among women; in other words, as a group, women are more different from each other than they are different from men. Notably, when differences between men and women are observed, they are often understood as outcomes of the unequal social positions men and women occupy in our society (Connell, 2009; Kimmel, 2011).
Moreover, what is considered gender normative differs cross-culturally and across time. Consider, for example, that as recently as the 1960s in the United States, women were not allowed to get credit cards (if unmarried and, if married, only with husband's permission), serve as jurors (because their absence from home would disrupt their domestic duties, and exposure to potentially criminal matters would cloud their objectivity and offend their “fragile constitutions”), take birth control pills (if unmarried), be admitted to some Ivy League universities, or talk openly about sex (McLaughlin, 2014). What about the historical differences in what is considered a socially acceptable attire for men and women? Let's conjure up the typical 18th century western European male fashion, with its full-skirted coats, silk stockings, wigs, elaborate hats, exposed lower legs, as well as heeled and pointed shoes (Victoria and Albert Museum Online).
The meanings of femininity and masculinity also differ within any given society, depending on the people's intersecting social identities (class, age, ethnicity, sexual identity, or socioeconomic status). As Kimmel (2011) illustrates:
Imagine, for example, an older, black, gay man in Chicago and a young, white, heterosexual farm boy in Iowa. Wouldn't they have different definitions of masculinity? Or imagine a 22-year-old wealthy, Asian American, heterosexual woman in San Francisco and a poor white Irish Catholic lesbian in Boston. Wouldn't their ideas about what it means to be a woman be somewhat different? (p. 10)
For that reason, Kimmel advocates not only that we talk about masculinities and femininities (instead of masculinity and femininity), but also that we remember that “all masculinities and femininities are not created equal” (p. 10).
Gender diversity is also fundamental to lives of transgender and gender variant people. Although some transgender people follow the rules of masculinity and femininity (for example, some people who were assigned to the boy category at birth, and who identify as girls/women, express their gender in a traditionally feminine way), people who selfidentify as genderqueer may not identify themselves as either men or women and instead position themselves outside of the gender binary system. Gender boundaries become even broader when we survey gender practices in countries around the world, where sex and physical differences do not always result in two distinct genders (Newman, 2002). One look at A Map of Gender Diverse Cultures shows that “on nearly every continent, and for all of recorded history, thriving cultures have recognized, revered, and integrated more than two genders” and that “hundreds of distinct societies around the globe have their own long-established traditions for third, fourth, fifth, or more genders” (pbs.org). These populations include fa'afafine people in Independent Samoa, who tend to be biological males who identify with femininity and are attracted to men (Vasey & Bartlett, 2007); South Asian Hijras, biological males who embrace feminine gender identity and clothing, and who are now officially recognized by the government of India as the third gender category (McCarthy, 2014); and the two-spirit, “third gender” people, who take on the role and status of the other gender, and who are held in high social and spiritual regard by many American Indian/First Nation groups (Jacobs, Thomas, & Lang, 1997).
The Road Ahead
According to Judith Lorber (2005, as cited in Connell, 2009), gender is composed of so many components (including sex category, gender identity, gendered personality, gender processes in daily exchanges, gender beliefs, and gender displays), that “the number of available gender positions rises into the hundreds, perhaps into thousands” (Connell, 2009, p. 60). Perhaps because of its complexity and multidimensionality, gender has been impervious to being defined by a unified theory. Maybe that is why, in spite of massive social efforts to divide people's experiences into two neat and exclusive categories, gender diversity has persisted throughout history and around the world (Connell, 2009; Kimmel, 2011).
The endlessly fascinating and often contentious topics of gender identity, gender expression, gender equality, and gender diversity are not discussed enough among school psychologists. This is ironic and unfortunate, since our work involves daily interactions with youth who, by their developmental prerogative, are constantly negotiating their gendered identities in the gendered world. This is why Paul McCabe and I have decided to coedit a Communiqué conversation about issues pertaining to gender as it is lived, expressed, observed, questioned, and challenged in our current society. Together with school psychology scholars and practitioners, in the next several issues, we will explore gender diversity through examination of transgender/gender variance issues, intersex experiences and conditions, commitment and resistance to gender norms, and consideration of the intersectionality of gender with other social identities. In this series, authors will survey and explore our knowledge and understanding of these continually evolving topics, delve into narratives of lived experiences, and offer practical solutions, aiming to facilitate school psychologists' deeper exploration of our own gendered lives and our ability to have honest, valuable, and clinically supportive conversations with our students and fellow educators. We hope you will join us.
This document is not merely critically unsound, it is an effort by the psychiatric community to use school psychologists, counselors and teachers to identify gays, lesbians or any child/youth who isnt conforming to the Gender Straight Jacket. Once identified, trans ideologies will be introduced to both the parent and child, with clearly a strong suggestion to normalize said child/youth via the transition cure. Glaringly absent also is the negative and sometimes deadly effects of transition in the form of drugs and permanent mutilative surgeries and the higher suicide rates of post transition victims than ALL other groups.
Notice there is no alternative options besides the trans position for children/parents. Doing girl/woman different is met with gender variance, or female masculinity ignorance. Documents such as these do nothing to loosen the Gender Straight Jacket and EVERYTHING to pull the reigns tighter, suffocating any sense of difference any child might be lucky enough to possess in a world demanding conformity or death.
For parents concerned or dealing with a child/youth whose school has labeled trans or has fallen prey to the trans trend, I will be posting some non trans guidelines on how best to deal with your child/youth and the pro trans psychiatrics you will encounter.