The Color of Genders: Inequality, Prejudice, and Violence in Everyday Acts

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Commentary Sexuality

The Color of Genders: Inequality, Prejudice, and Violence in Everyday Acts

Antón Castellanos Usigli

Ruby’s case is one of many in the world that demand the quickest possible action to start a positive change in the sexual climate of the 21st Century.

The other afternoon, I was in a rush, about to brush my teeth, and I remembered I had no toothbrush. In the morning, I had thrown out an old toothbrush thinking that I had to buy a new one, but I completely forgot, so I had to run to the nearest drugstore to get it. When I arrived at the drugstore, one of the employees, a woman, asked me which toothbrush I wanted. I scanned the options behind the counter, and I came upon a model I liked. The first toothbrush in the row was purple, so I told the lady I wanted that one. However, I was surprised when, instead of handing it to me, she started looking over toothbrushes of other colors (I thought she wanted to give me some options), disregarded a pink one (which I incidentally liked) and finally grabbed a blue one, which she put in front of me, telling me the price…

I would never have imagined that such an experience was meant to become one of the most shocking I have ever had regarding gender prejudice. Its apparent simplicity is what makes it so terrible. We can look at hundreds of statistical indicators and surveys that report gender inequalities in educational, workplace and political settings, however, the real magnitude of this phenomena is not to be found in numbers but in “meaningless” everyday occurrences (like my experience with the blue toothbrush), as they reflect that many of our rigid cognitive schemas regarding gender have not undergone significant transformations and that they have thousands of invisible expressions. Those expressions perpetuate inequality, prejudice and violence in a very powerful and dangerous way, as they can be internalized unconsciously in various contexts of socialization.

In response to this situation, the United Nations has set gender equality and the empowerment of women as one of its Millennium Development Goals, while the Millennium Declaration of the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) also advocates for the advancement of gender equality and equity. These international goals demand strong political actions to trigger a re-imagination of gender through our entire system of social organization.  This re-imagination does not include “leading” men towards an “effeminate” type of behavior and women towards a “masculine” one and therefore “erasing” what we understand as “gender.” It is rather equivocal to think that gender can be eliminated, as it represents socio-cultural and psychological constructions of a biologically-based element: sex.

Nature offers infinite examples that demonstrate the existence of wide masculine and feminine dimensions, and human nature is not an exception. There are masculine men, feminine men, feminine women, masculine women, trans people, androgynous people, etc.  A re-imagination of gender is based on the acceptance of these wide dimensions of gender variability (recognizing the value of both masculinity and femininity) and implies eliminating ideas and expressions of inequality and violence to generate new gender conceptions that will allow people to live with well-being and with full access to rights and personal development indistinctively of their identity.

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This process is not a need of minorities, but a need of humanity, as it is a factor for global development. As part of this gender re-imagination, I deeply condemn the acts of discrimination suffered by Mexican student Ruby S. de Lara (of legal name: Alan de Lara García) at the Psychology School of the Universidad Metropolitana de Monterrey. As reported by Mexican trans activist Gloria Hazel Davenport Fentanes, Ruby has expressed to the authorities of her school that she is a trans woman who has to be treated with absolute respect in accordance with her gender identity.  However, school authorities of the Universidad Metropolitana de Monterrey have disregarded Ruby’s needs, they have continued to treat her as a man and to make her use men’s bathrooms. Their acts are discriminatory, they constitute a violation of Ruby’s sexual rights, and are even more reprehensible coming from teachers of a Psychology School, as psychologists are trained in mental health issues and they should be the first ones to understand that trans people have to be accepted as part of human gender diversity.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) recently released its 7th Edition of the Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People recognizing that:

“… health is dependent upon not only good clinical care but also social and political climates that provide and ensure social tolerance, equality, and the full rights of citizenship. Health is promoted through public policies and legal reforms that promote tolerance and equity for gender and sexual diversity and that eliminate prejudice, discrimination, and stigma.” (pp. 1-2)

Ruby’s case is one of many in the world that demand the quickest possible action to start a positive change in the sexual climate of the 21st Century. I invite you to join this gender re-imagination and denounce Ruby’s case and similar cases throughout the globe. Political actions such as these will make everyday occurrences of gender inequality and prejudice more visible, they will promote respect for personal identity and, in consequence, will encourage people to ask: “What color of toothbrush would you prefer?”