Up until now, there hasn’t been a definition of men and women that’s been encoded and enforced by law — so what should we do?
By Kate Bornstein
October 23, 2018
Kate Bornstein is a world renowned performance artist, and the award-winning author of Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest Of Us. She recently co-starred in the Broadway production of Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men.
I was born in 1948, just under a year after Donald Trump was born. We both grew up in the Fifties, back when it seemed we all knew that America was great. World War II was over, and we’d won. The boys came back and returned to work in the factories. The women (most of them) stopped working in the factories, and returned to their rightful places in the home, taking care of their men and the children.
No one needed to define what made a man a man, it was obvious: his penis. No one needed to define what made a woman a woman, it was obvious: she gave birth to children. Simple. Obvious. Unquestionable.
Gender wasn’t a word that anyone used besides biologists, and then only in conjunction with other words like species, phylum, and order. Sex was the word that everyone used. It was a word that included everything about what we now refer to as gender: assignment, identity, role, expression, attribution, and sexuality; as well as genitals, hormones, chromosomes, reproductive organs and all their tissues and fluids. The word sex also included the understanding of the term, secondary sex characteristics, which included beards, breasts, body hair, lack of body hair. The word sex included what we call sex drive: how bad do you want it? When you wanted to talk about suitable work for men and appropriate work for women, you were talking in terms of their sex roles. Sex was not a very precise word. When you said sex, you meant all of the above. Gender, as we’re using the word today, only really entered mainstream use in the 1970s and 80s.
Feminists were questioning the supremacy of sex as a factor in equality. A cultural wave was rising, and it was made up of more and more people who were not allowed to be called real men: women, children, homosexuals, and any adult males who were not white and Christian—nope, they weren’t real men. They were something other, and in the 1970s and 80s, all the people who weren’t real men were realizing that they were being denied jobs, homes, rights, justice, and sexual pleasure. Keep in mind, please, that this was back when America was great.