She/He/They/Me | Robyn Ryle

Summary of: She/He/They/Me: An Interactive Guide to the Gender Binary
By: Robyn Ryle


Embark on an immersive journey exploring the multifaceted world of gender in the book summary of ‘She/He/They/Me: An Interactive Guide to the Gender Binary’ by Robyn Ryle. This insightful guide challenges our understanding of gender in modern Western society by examining the complex nature of gender and its implications. We explore genderless societies, societies with one, more than two, and even infinite genders, as well as gender socialization, gender norms, the role of patriarchy and matriarchy, and the experiences of intersex and transgender individuals navigating the ever-changing gender landscape.

Rethinking Gender

The conventional notion of gender is simplistic and problematic. It overlooks many other factors that make the reality of gender much more complicated. The “common sense” understanding is highly questionable, and we need to unpack its assumptions and oppositions. We confuse concepts like biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, gender assignment, and sexual orientation, blurring them together into a confusing mess of ideas. This journey aims to do justice to the complexities of gender better.

The Possibilities of a Genderless Society

Our society assigns a great deal of importance to the differences between people’s reproductive systems, leading to the classification of genders and social constructs around them. However, it is possible to imagine a world where this distinction is less significant, and people aren’t categorized or placed in societal roles based on it. Such a society has existed to some extent in human history, and this book explores the possible concepts of gender that could lead to a more equitable future.

The Many Paths of Gender

The concept of gender is not limited to just two, but rather can exist in a variety of forms across different societies.

Gender is a complex concept that has taken many forms throughout history. While many societies have relied on the strict binary of male and female genders, others have recognized more than two genders. In fact, there have been societies where gender is not divided into any categories at all and can be infinite in nature.

When exploring the concept of gender, it’s essential to recognize the four paths societies can take. The first path involves societies that recognize only one gender. Ancient Greeks are a good example of a society that thought about people as only men or women. However, they didn’t consider them to be fundamentally different types of human beings.

The second path encompasses societies that recognize more than two genders. These societies have additional gender-variant categories or gender expressions beyond masculine and feminine. For instance, the Mohave people of North America classified tribe members who exhibited femininity out of the male gender into a separate, gender-variant category called alyha.

The third path is hypothetical and involves societies that recognize infinite genders. While such societies have never existed, individuals can adopt this view of gender today, where each person embodies a unique expression of gender representing one of infinite possibilities.

In conclusion, the concept of gender is not limited to just two. Instead, it can exist in a variety of forms across different societies. Understanding this is crucial to promoting inclusivity and recognizing the rich diversity of human experiences.

Two Genders, Diverse Norms

The idea of masculinity and femininity varies among cultures, eras, and societal groups. Even within a two-gender society like the US, gender norms differ based on race, class, and geographical region. For instance, in 18th-century American South, wealthy white men expressed their masculinity through refinement and elegance, while white artisans in the North valued physical labor and strength. Today, boys are often expected to display aggressive or violent behavior, which gets excused when white boys display it but punished harshly for black and Latino boys. Gender is intertwined with other dimensions of society like race and class, and people’s experiences of gender norms differ dramatically within the same society.

Divergent Gender Norms in Different Cultures

Cultural norms shape our gender perceptions and influence our behavior. The book delves into the contrasting gender norms between the US and the Mundugumor and Arapesh tribes of Papua New Guinea. In the US, girls are encouraged to be nurturing and passive, while boys are expected to be dominant and aggressive. In contrast, both boys and girls in the Mundugumor tribe are taught to be physically aggressive and violent, and in the Arapesh tribe, they are gentle and nonviolent. Gender norms are not innate; they are taught through the process of gender socialization. As children, we are rewarded for conforming to these norms and punished for violating them. This socialization has significant social implications, which the book also explores.

The Impact of Gender Norms on Society

This book explores the societal impact of gender norms and socialization on children from a fundamental perspective. It reveals how boys and girls are being prepared for specific roles in adulthood, and how these roles are leading to the persistence of patriarchal societies. The book further highlights the consequences of gender inequality by using a variety of metrics, including health, education, economic status, and political power. Using statistical data, it categorizes countries into three levels of gender inequality and compares political representation for women in countries with varying levels of gender inequality. The examples illustrate the extent to which patriarchal societies can be unequal, but the book also suggests the possibility of matriarchal societies. Overall, this book provides a thought-provoking analysis of gender roles and their impact on society.

Overcoming Gender Inequality for a Matriarchal Society

Matriarchal societies are those where women hold more power than men, but the idea of gender equality goes well beyond the distribution of legislative seats in government. Western societies, for example, still place a significant burden on women with the never-ending responsibilities of household chores, beauty standards conformity, and emotional labor. These tasks often fall on lower-paid occupations that women tend to occupy. To overcome gender inequality in the pursuit of a matriarchal society, it is crucial to challenge these societal expectations and biases, and work towards achieving equality on all fronts. Merely allocating more seats to women in government won’t change the tide. We must make a concerted effort to see women as equals in all aspects of life.

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