First things first: Before we can discuss the gender binary, we’ve got to define what the words gender and sex mean. This one’s pretty easy. Your sex is what equipment you’ve got in your trousers. You can be one of three things: biologically male, biologically female, or biologically intersex (formerly called hermaphrodites, but that’s a misnomer because they are largely sterile). Your gender is the amount of “masculinity” and “femininity” you identify with/express. It’s your personal identity rather than your physical biology.
Make sense? Great! Let’s move on.
The most basic definition of the gender binary is a cultural belief that your physical sex (the equipment in your trousers) should determine the way you express your gender (how “manly” or “girly” you behave).
It hinges on the presuppositions that things are either masculine or feminine in nature, and therefore those things are the territory of only men or only women. This ranges from fairly innocuous gender assignments, such as “pink is for girls and blue is for boys,” to blatantly destructive beliefs, such as “girls aren’t good at math and science.”
This type of thinking is really restrictive and damaging to men and women alike! I want to destroy the gender binary!
Does this mean I want to destroy the notions of “masculine” and “feminine”? No! Not at all! It means I want to fundamentally change the way we approach the concept of gender.
The problem is that gender is not a binary at all. Gender is a spectrum.
I, for example, love grungy flannel and power tools. These are things that Western society defines as masculine. And that’s okay! I don’t mind being a little masculine! I also really love shoujo anime and baking. These are things that Western society defines as feminine. And that’s okay! I also don’t mind being a little feminine! I consider myself to be in many ways fairly gender neutral, but if I were to tally things up, I do fall more toward the “feminine” end of the spectrum.
The problem is that when your culture adheres to a gender binary, women who are closer to the masculine end of the spectrum are considered somehow lesser than overtly feminine women, and men who are closer to the feminine end of the spectrum are considered somehow lesser than overtly masculine men. And that’s not okay.
Socially, the gender binary is just as damaging to men as it is to women. Perhaps even more so because masculine women (to a point) have been accepted as “tomboys” for decades, but effeminate men still have to struggle to find a place for themselves.
Understand that fighting the gender binary is not a “war on masculinity.” It’s a war on domineering jerks.
Feminists don’t care if you want to grow a beard and wear a plaid flannel sweatshirt every day. If that’s how you feel comfortable expressing yourself, good for you! We care when you look at a man who likes knitting and keeping his nails manicured and tell him that he is less of a man than you are because of his likes, dislikes, and outward appearance.
The level of masculinity you express does not affect how much of a man you are.
The level of femininity you express does not affect how much of a woman you are.
But the gender binary tells you that it does, and it attempts to dictate what you can and cannot do as well as what you are and are not allowed to enjoy based purely on the contents of your trousers.
Gender is a spectrum. Gender roles based on the contents of your trousers are arbitrary and false. The gender binary is a lie.
Bonus: I drew the gender spectrum for you!