Back in the 1990s, John Gray’s book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, sparked a lot of discussion about the differences between the sexes. Since then, gender has become a hot topic.
It seems like every time you access social media or the news, there’s a story related to gender identity. But why is a society that’s always prided itself on being on the cutting-edge of social issues just now getting around to this topic?
Sure, gender parity has been “on the books” since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963. The women in the liberation movement—who literally burned their brassieres in public protests—probably raised their children to see gender quite differently from how they had been taught. By the time millennials came on the scene two generations later, society’s views on sex and gender had evolved far beyond a basic definition of biology; the issue was now more than just equal pay for equal work.
The Influence of Education
Concurrent with changes in popular ideas about gender during the late twentieth century, universities trendily began to offer courses (and later, entire degree programs) about gender and diversity. Critical theory was used as a backdrop for spotlighting the historically unequal treatment of marginalized groups—particularly women—in mainstream culture.
This era also introduced us to the distinction between sex (biology) and gender (identity), as well as the prevalence of sexist language in everyday speech. Attention to topics such as these helped to bring about a certain freedom to discuss previously taboo topics about gender.
Today, the notion of “gender” is much more complex than what it once was. The rights of the LBGTQ community, particularly those of transgendered persons, now receive a lot of coverage in the media, the courts, athletics, and human resources boardrooms. A hotly debated issue at present is the use of gendered pronouns, a conversation that would never have occurred even twenty years ago.
Gender, once thought of as a simple binary construct, now is represented as a spectrum, a platform that brings the highest level of scrutiny to the subject of equality than ever before.
Maybe the real issue isn’t equal rights, equal pay, or equal treatment under the law. Perhaps it is really the overarching need for respect and courtesy—treating people with compassion—that’s brought gender equality to the forefront. And that’s an overall good policy, gender notwithstanding.