Increasing gender information on information forms


By Alex Swanson

Every single day, we all fill in bubbles and check boxes that are marked with an “M” for male or “F” for female — bubbles and boxes that typically don’t distinguish between sex and gender. Each time we register for a Facebook, submit an ICES form, or apply for most jobs, we are mandated to identify as either male or female.

I’ll admit that I, at times, don’t notice this binary. I have always had the privilege of fitting easily within the traditional gender binary, meaning I have had the privilege not to notice. Further, this gender division is so steeped in American culture and practice that it now seems ridiculous, to some, to attempt to alter it.

But the perpetuation of this binary, inarguably works against policies of social equality and inclusion for people who fall outside of it.

The insistence that a respondent can identify only as one of two possible sexes or genders trivializes respondents who may identify as genderqueer, agender or any gender expression outside the male-female binary.

There are, to be sure, several companies and institutions that are working to resist this gender binary within informational forms. Gmail lists “other” as a gender option when signing up for an account; some informational forms allow respondents three choices: male, female, or unreported

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But we can do better than just a handful of companies and institutions that resist gender identity discrimination on information forms. We have to start noticing how often the male-female binary shows up in our culture and begin pushing back.

For example, Northwestern University Graduate School asks for its prospective applicants’ preferred gender pronoun.

Allowing a textbox in which responders can list their own preferred pronoun — including gender-neutral options such as the singular they, ve, ‘e and so on — signals to a prospective student that the university, company or website is a place that values inclusion, a place that actively works to make all spaces within its domain inclusive.

The space for gender equality needs to be available everywhere, on every informational form. We must ensure that there is always space for gender expression — not just the option to abstain from gender reporting.

I understand that there is a degree of restriction for institutions that are required to report statistics on sex and gender, as categorized by the binary, to governmental bodies.

Even so, these institutions must still be responsible for providing a gender-inclusive space. If they are required to report statistics according to the male-female division, there must then be another area where applicants can list their preferred pronouns, where they have the opportunity to list their own gender identity.

A gender-inclusive space is essential in avoiding hypocrisy in many college and university applications — especially when many of these same institutions teach about gendered topics.

Gayle Rubin’s sex/gender system, queer theory and other theoretical concepts related to gender fluidity are commonly discussed in many academic institutions. These institutions must, therefore, promote gender equality, even at the procedural application level.

Discrimination on the basis of gender identity is continually belittled, partially because many people simply don’t believe that gender identity outside of the typical gender division is legitimate.

This assumption stems from the fact that Americans are constantly bombarded with images of the male and female in opposition to one another and as the only gender possibilities: in our bathrooms, in gender-segregated dorms, in sororities and fraternities and on informational forms.

Eradicating instances of this binary can begin to eradicate the disbelief that currently surrounds those who identify as genderqueer.

Alex is a senior in [email protected]