What did you assume?
By Felicia Kane
July 19, 2017 8:20pm CST
One of my recent posts, "Are you sure you are a teacher?" or something like that as the title, made me remember this little riddle. A father and son were out on a drive. They get into an accident and the father dies and the son is in critical condition and rushed to the hospital. He is rushed into surgery and the surgeon goes, "I cannot operate on this boy, he is my son" who is the surgeon? I won't answer in case you wanted to guess the riddle but this riddle was created as a research for gender biases. In my post about the teacher so many people were calling the professor a "him" I mostly used the title professor instead of teacher but majority kept saying "him" even though I am pretty sure I put "she" and "her" pronouns. We have a long way to go to accept gender identity. I still have a couple of friends who cannot adapt to different pronouns of their trans friends. I used to be like that until I was around 12 when I realized that people are not always what they seem. I started learning about trans-genders and non-binary people. This was just before the internet was going crazy about it. of course there were marches and such for trans rights, but they were not heard very well. This was only 10 years ago. But it was from that point on, I always addressed people as "they" or "them" unless i heard their gender before. If someone is called Mom, I will say her, if someone says "that girl" then i will say She. but if I only hear of "That police officer" "the professor" "That server" I will just say "they" or "Them" That was one part of the post. The second part is, why do people assume certain professions with certain genders. If you say mechanic, what do you think of? A man. I say professor, people say, Him. A person works as a pastor, they think, a man. A nurse is a woman. A teacher is a woman. A baby sister is a woman. A housekeeper is a woman. This is a gender bias. You are assuming roles to certain genders. What is a mechanic is gender fluid but uses she/her pronouns? I have had many male teachers. I have see many male nurses. Professors are not just men, i had more female professors than I did male. And this was as an art school. the film industry is mostly men! But I had more female professors that were writers! I feel like it is so much easier saying they/them when it comes to unknown genders or people who are non-binary, trans, gender fluid, or really don't know what gender they really are and are in that confusion state. We live with pink is for girls and blue is for boys. dresses are for girls, action figures are for boys. We tell girls to be teachers and nurses and boys for the doctors and lawyers. One day that little boy will come out and realize they identify as a girl. One day that little girl will be a pastor and wear pants and play on the church's football team and can get along better with guys than she does girls. I know it is very snowflakey to say the "Did you assume my gender?" But it is a real thing. Names, careers, religion, race, all those other things do not identify genders. And even if someone is born as one gender, they could always identify as another one or none at all. It is so easy to understand.
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I heard that riddle before and you were right. I was assuming that the surgeon was male. Thankfully, in my native language, third person pronoun has no gender. But it can lead to misunderstanding when you can't be sure if who you're talking about is male or female.
In Italian we have no pronouns that include all genders, that's probably the same with other languages. The adjective and some nouns get declined based on gender, so it's way harder in our case. In English you can use "they", although you're referring to one person, that's something I've probably learned here, it sounds confusing but I accept that. So yeah, we tend to assume genders quite a lot, especially when it comes to animals, because there's no word in my language that has no gender: tiger is feminine, hedgehog is masculine and so on. But I've probably gone a little offtopic. I'd assume a gender to not look ignorant (and offensive), but I can be wrong. For example, there are tons of women with masculine features (tomboys so to speak). I see their name is neutral or feminine, then I get a little confused. I could say "they" to be neither right or wrong, but I'm afraid it could offend them. Actually, these women know how they look and don't take it personally if you refer to them as "they", but I'd still feel like I'm insulting them somehow. And yes, both or none are two other options. Humanity has lived with two genders only for a very long time (asexual and hermaphrodites were very rare anyway), so obviously it'll be hard for many to accept and deal with multiple genders.
Great piece! You might want to read the book by Jenny Nordberg, The Underground Girls of Kabul. It mainly explores the concept of gender itself. The book is mainly about Afghanistan but it makes you really think about gender biases and how societies define gender.