Gender is a Social Construct

Gender is a Social Construct

How do you relate with your gender identity?

I sat in the workshop. The instructor said, “Let’s do an icebreaker exercise. Everybody gets a card with a color and, then you just connect with whoever you feel drawn to without talking.” I saw the cards – red, blue, green. They looked so beautiful. I love the colors. The facilitator came to me. They gave me a pink card. I looked at this pink card in my hand and thought, Shit, pink again. Why did I receive this stupid pink card out of all the colors they had in their hand? I felt lost. This card represented to me the one concept I had never understood: how to be a woman. Don’t get me wrong, I have a female body but the complete concept of being a woman has never made sense to me.

To which extent is gender socially conditioned?

As a child, I had short hair and loved to play with cars. When puberty came, people suddenly started to label me based on gender. I felt shocked because I did not know what it meant. “Woman” or “girl” was just a word to me, even though society told me that I was supposed to be a woman. In my inner world, I did not connect with gender. I guess people always sensed that I was different: when I worked for a mobile network operator, my (male) colleagues usually had cell phones “just for women” in their portfolio. After four years of collaboration, one of my colleagues told me that they had never asked me to select one because I just was not a “typical woman.” I knew that I would have been the wrong person to ask.

Do you fit into the stereotype society imposes on you?

The older I grew, the more I collided with society and the meaning of being a woman. Once, I went to a workshop about my Myers Briggs Type Indicator personality type. The facilitator asked us to position ourselves on the quadrant that best described us. I found my place and was perfectly happy with it. She looked at me and called out that I was too male to be a woman. I felt confused because I did not know what she meant. However, I understood that there was something wrong with me. I started to doubt myself. That day, I gave in to the pressure of society. I had to find out what it meant to be a woman.

Part of the journey to find yourself: Find out who you are not

I connected with my intuition. My hope was that I would become a woman this way. However, I found out that intuition has nothing to do with gender. We are all intuitive. We just need to choose to connect and listen to it. So, it did not really work for me. I did spiritual meditations to connect with my feminine side. They did not really change anything. I expressed my gender confusion and concerns to my counsellor. She brushed them off. I read the book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” because it seemed to be the perfect choice to explain to me what gender means. I felt completely confused by it because I could not make sense out of it. My inner world concerning gender just did not seem to fit into the two boxes. I threw the book away. The more I tried to explore what it meant to be a woman, the more lost I felt.

Allow yourself to be who you are

The last partner I dated explained me his version what it means to be a man and a woman. It was a confusing, evolutionary story about the times when human beings were still living in caves. While he passionately explained his theory, I sometimes wondered why he was holding on to such a limited narrative and how it related to modern life. When he broke up with me, I decided to stop trying to be a woman and to allow myself to just be myself.

Gender is a social construct

One day, I gained the insight I had been missing for many years. I learned that gender was a social construct and that sex we are assigned at birth can be different to our gender identity. My life suddenly made perfect sense. I just did not identify as a woman. I was gender queer and I never questioned my gender identity again. Gender just does not exist for me. I felt relieved.

Explore your gender identity

While we live in a world that is still shaped by being a “man”  or “woman,” there is also an increasing awareness that our gender identities are more diverse. We also need to be mindful that the labels we carry represent a social stereotype and may limit is if we do not fit into its box. There is a difference between our social conditioning and who we truly are. Part of our life’s journey is to overcome the limitations society imposes on us and find out who we truly are, independent of our gender identity. Every person has their individual meaning for their gender identity and they need to explore it. The beauty of life is that we are all unique and different and my hope is that we all learn to respect each other for our diversity and embrace it.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Learn more about gender identity.

Laura Ockel