Are we afraid of gender?

My question is: am I fine with being identified by my gender when done respectfully or would I prefer gender to stay out of it completely?

Apologies up front. I’ve been mulling this over, but my thoughts are rather scattered. This is a little off–topic from my normal fitness stuff, but with distinct difference in how women and men are marketed to (i.e. Dove real beauty sketches), talk about and participate in the health/fitness industry, it isn’t that much of a stretch.

Some scenarios for consideration:

1. A woman is included on a panel discussion. When a question is directed at her, the speaker says something like “As a woman, what do you think about X, Y, Z?” Unless the panel is directly about gender issues, an appropriate response here is “I am not here to speak because I am a woman, but because I am qualified on this topic.”

2. What about labels? Girls, ladies, women? I hear things like this often in my work place: “When the girls get here, I’ll tell them.” “Well, girls, let me know when you want to eat lunch.” “Thanks to the ladies in the back for their work.”

woman portrait gender identity {}

haaaate the term girls, even (especially?) when used about our female student employees; they are young women working hard in college, not kids. But it’s so ingrained in our speech that I still catch myself saying it sometimes. As for ladies, I’m much more comfortable with that label, but that “ladies in the back” comment really irked me.

The most respectful way to identify anyone, regardless of gender, color, race, orientation, etc? By their name. 

The fact is, much of the time gender has nothing to do with a conversation, and is better left out. Gender–neutral pronouns are another consideration. Sweden just introduced a neutral pronoun “hen” as an alternative to han (he in Swedish) and hon (she). This Slate article outlines other equality and neutrality measures Sweden is taking, and some concerns with the changes; it’s quite fascinating.

I’ve long been a fan of a gender–neutral pronoun in English (other than they or them, both plural). It would make writing easier – replace “he or she,” “him or her” or my favorite, “s/him.” These are clunky and sound ridiculous. Alternatively, I don’t really like applying a gender when writing hypothetical situations: “When your student arrives on campus, she will…” A neutral pronoun would work wonders for these situations.

And let’s not forget those who prefer not to identify a gender. There are all sorts of reasons for this, and frankly, the reasons don’t really matter. It’s time to change the way we address gender in our always–evolving language.

So now, back to my question: am I afraid to be identified as a woman?

In some ways, absolutely.

Women still make less than men for the same positions. Traditional gender roles at work/home/church are alive and well. Strong, decisive, aggressive and challenging personalities (ahem, me) are more respected in men… but in a woman, well, she’s just crazy or angry or better yet, a b**ch. I’ll be the first to say there is a dark side to such a personality (and my busband would be the second 🙂 ). Still, those traits are not very womanly.

In other ways, I prefer my gender to be considered.

For example, I say guys all the time when referencing a group. (Working to weed that out of my language). I’m glad I’m a woman and not a man. I prefer to identify as a woman in my attire and style. I also recognize there are plenty of people who can’t identify that comfortably.

So my answer is I want gender left out of the conversation unless it’s meaningful to said conversation. When I am identified by gender, I want it done respectfully.

I also realize that I’m fairly new to these gender conversations and still have plenty to learn and explore.


What are your thoughts? How do feel when identified by gender?
What do you think about a gender–neutral pronoun?

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