• The Gender Security Project

Gender Designations

Written by Vasanthi Swetha


Economics largely traces actions of living beings to the incentives that they have. Most often than not, monetary incentives, direct or indirect, explain decision-making to a large extent. However, the economics of identity plays out a little differently. George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton identify that incentives drawn from identity induce several effects on decision-making. The interesting part is that, most monetary incentives come from personal preferences, however, when it comes to identity, these preferences are predefined by the society, in their own words  “from a codebook”.

This is important to know because all of us are a collection of thoughts and actions, and what influences them can reveal our belief systems. As far as identity is concerned, gender identities have a strong hold on us. As much as we acknowledge that gender is a spectrum and cannot be constrained by a binary, how effectively we implement this understanding in our everyday lives is the question that needs a more adequate answer. In 2014, Facebook released a list of 50 genders for their users to choose from. An extremely welcoming move and the keywords that we should be looking for are accommodative and sensitive.The boundless growth and expansion of technology opens up avenues to create a positive and aware space that embraces diversity.  More than anything, gender designation acts as a representative for each of our gender identities and hence how we deal with and portray it forms a large part of how accommodative we are with the diversity that exists and that will expand in the future.

The “third gender” is a widely recognised alternative design to binary gender designations, and is often used to encompass the entire spectrum. In January 2019, Germany became the first country in the European Union to offer a third gender option on its birth certificates. Nepal and some states like California, New Jersey,  New York, also stand at his position right now, but it is important to take a closer look at this designation design because the “third gender” can have two connotations. The first connotation is that it could reflect a term that is embracing the spectrum, giving it an umbrella term, moving away from the binary and recognising individuals who do not identify themselves as strictly cis-male or cis-female. However, on the other side, it could also reflect refusal to reveal one’s gender identity irrespective of whether they identify as a part of the binary or away from it, where the option of refusal is not provided. For instance, Washington DC in 2-17 came up with issuing an option of gender neutral driving licence (represented with an X), since then few other states in the US have begun to follow this path.

This raises a pressing question: how important is to know a person’s gender and what they identify themselves as? Legal documents, employee contracts, online surveys, literally, any form of communication regarding the self requires you to answer questions about your gender. We need to take a step back and understand that gender is a complex phenomenon woven within the society and moreover a phenomenon where a factor of actions, decisions, behaviour origin from. Masculinity and femininity can be mixed in our behaviours, performances of our gender, and in the way we navigate life. Clothing, gestures, voice and a million other small and big pieces of us have originated in parts from the gender we identify ourselves with and the attitude and definitions attached to that particular gender by society.  Considering this intricate presence, we will have to enable society evolve enough to understand where revealing gender matters and where it shouldn’t. For example, assuming someone’s gender and using the wrong pronoun can be hurtful and taking small steps to have accommodative pronouns, gender neutral pronouns can be extremely helpful.

In March 2019, a group of  researchers and organisations released a gender neutral voice assistant called Q (imagine Siri or Alexa having a voice that is not associated with the binary). This justifies that both the connotations of the third gender are important; it is important to acknowledge and respect a particular classification a person wishes fall under as much as it is to understand when a person does not want to reveal their gender identity. We need to raise the importance of gender identity information being beyond just someone’s data point. As much as it is important in certain spheres of work, to structure policies, analyse demographics and so on, but it is also important to draw a line and see what will make it more comfortable for the individuals to move away from a conventional system. It would be wonderful to see options like “I don’t know” or “Exploring” when someone has to choose their gender identity, because it is not always “I do not want to say”, gender identity can be fluid, transitional, temporary, evolutionary and sometimes we don’t know and we will have to create a system where saying so is respected and understood and that is the only we can design well informed gender designations, while we hold a ball that will read there is no one right answer.

My body

is made up of water and blood,

on some days it is a river,

and some other days, the sea;

I will flow endlessly with or without answers and that will not in any way make me less human.

-Vasanthi

References:

George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton( 2015), Identity Economics https://fengerhighschool.enschool.org/ourpages/auto/2012/10/28/55853643/Identity%20Economics%20-%20Project%20Syndicate.pdf

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/facebook/10637968/Facebook-sex-changes-which-one-of-50-genders-are-you.html

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/10/you-can-now-pick-a-gender-neutral-x-option-for-birth-certificates-in-new-york-city

https://edition.cnn.com/2017/06/27/health/washington-gender-neutral-drivers-license/index.html

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-6796065/Gender-neutral-voice-assistant-developed-combat-gender-bias-artificial-intelligence.html

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