There’s a lot of talk about gender and gender identity these days that is even reaching mainstream conversation. Sometimes it can be difficult to follow if you’re not familiar with all the terminology so I’ve compiled a starting list of gender-related vocab with basic definitions. Keep in mind that words and categories have histories and undergo change. The vocabulary of gender in particular is extremely dynamic and contested. Even defining “gender” alone was quite a challenge… Use these definitions just as a starting point for understanding some of the issues and conversations around sex, gender and identity!

Biological Sex

Biological sex refers to how a body is medically/scientifically classified according various physical traits. Traits used to classify bodies as male or female include sex chromosomes (XX, XY), sex hormone systems (estrogen/progesterone, testosterone, androgen sensitivity), gonads (ovaries and testes: the organs that produce reproductive material), internal and external genitalia (penis, vagina, uterus), and secondary sex characteristics (body hair, breasts, Adam’s apple, fat distribution, etc). It’s pretty easy to assume that science can reliably and tidily organize bodies into male and female – this binary is so ingrained in our culture that it can seem like a natural fact – but the reality is that variation and combinations that transgress the two categories of male and female can be found in all the trait systems I mentioned!

Gender

While sex refers to the biological make up of a person’s body, gender refers to a person’s personal and social identity. Gender is comprised of the social meanings, roles, expectations, and characteristics ascribed (by one’s self and by society) to sexed bodies (ei, bodies recognized as having a biological sex). Gender is a complex social and psychological component of identity. Someone’s gender identity is the gender that they identify with and recognize as their own. The relationship between personal gender identity (how someone feels) and social identity (how society labels them) is complex and mediated by individual performance of masculinity, femininity, and combinations of both.

Gender Binary

A social system that organizes sex, gender expression, and gender identity into two opposing categories: male/masculine/man and female/feminine/woman. Just as closer examination of biological sex reveals that individual bodies are not so easily sorted into clear male and female opposite categories, the gender binary tends to become blurrier under close examination. Non-binary understanding of gender is increasingly recognized and accepted, but many non-western societies have long included non-binary genders in their concepts of gender and sex. Even the history of gender in Europe and North America reveals that fluid gender expression has always been a part of western culture. For example, Byzantine eunuchs can be viewed as a third gender, and 19th century dandyism was a way for men to play with gender and sexual expression.

Cisgender

From “cis”, meaning “on the same side as”, cisgender refers to a person who’s binary gender identity maps onto their binary biological sex. For example, a cis man is a person who was assigned the gender “boy” or “male” at birth based on his biological sex traits, who continues to identify as a man throughout his life.

Transgender

From “trans”, meaning “across”, a transgender person is someone who was assigned a gender based on biological sex at birth, but identifies as another gender. A trans person may opt for gender reassignment/gender confirming surgery or hormone treatments to make their body match their gender identity, or simply live as their gender, expressing their identity without medical intervention – or some combination of al! “Transexual” is another term you may hear, which has the same basic meaning but is pretty dated. Transgender should not be confused with “transvestite”, which refers to the practice of dressing as the opposite sex for any number of reasons (sexual fetish, drag performance, you’re a member of Monty Python, etc), and falls under the umbrella of gender expression and play, but is not a matter of core gender identity.

Trans*

An umbrella term for people whose gender is different than the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans* identities may include FTM or MTF, transwoman and transman, third genders, and non-binary genders.

Intersex

As I mentioned above, even the physical traits related to biological sex cannot always be tidily categorized into male and female. An intersexed person is someone who’s biological sex differs from the “normative” (expected, culturally recognized as the norm) patterns attributed to male and female. In other words, they have some combination of both male and female sex traits. This could relate to their chromosomes, hormones, internal sex organs, or genitals to varying degrees. An estimated 1 in 100 babies does not fit into the standard medical definitions of male or female, with approximately 1 in 1000 babies undergoing surgery to “normalize” their genitals as either male or female in appearance. Note that the term “hermaphrodite” is an old medical term for people with intersexed genitals and it is now usually found outdated and offensive.

FTM and MTF

Acronyms for Female-to-Male and Male-to-Female, used to describe transgender people who have transitioned from an assigned gender. Not all trans* people use these acronyms because not all view their gender as having undergone transition, or as being binary. Another set of acronyms you may see are AMAB (Assigned Male at Birth) and AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth).

Two-spirit

Two-spirited is a term used by Indigenous North Americans to describe a person who embodies both masculinity and femininity, or one of the mixed gender roles that exist in Indigenous cultures. Two-spirited people traditionally play significant and respected roles and are viewed as spiritually powerful.

Agender

A person who does not have a strong, or any sense of personal gender identity.

Genderqueer, Non-binary, Gender Fluid…..

There are numerous terms in circulation for people whose gender identity is outside, in between, or unfixed from the gender binary or is otherwise non-normative/non-conforming. I’m sure I am missing many! Each has its own history and nuanced meaning. Often these terms emphasize challenge and resistance to the gender binary as oppressive, or refer to the fluidity (changeability) of gender identity much in the way someone’s sexuality can be fluid.


lizElisabeth came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Elisabeth received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Elisabeth works with the Art Gallery of Alberta.

 

July 1, 2017 will be the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of confederation – the union of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia as provinces in the Dominion of Canada. The formation of Canada as it now exists took place over time, but we typically identify the day of confederation, July 1, 1867, as Canada’s “birthday”. As Canada’s 150th birthday, 2017 will no doubt be filled with celebrations of Canadian history and gestures to a unified vision of Canadian identity.

freestyling-feminism

It wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me to find that I don’t particularly approve of patriotism. Patriotism relies on uncritical historical narratives, assumes a homogenous national identity[1], and fuels imperialistic/colonial nationalism. But I still have a nostalgic fondness for Heritage Minutes and get that weirdly smug kick out hearing a joke about Canada on an American sitcom, somehow confirming that someone on the writing team must be Canadian and Canadians are funnier than Americans.[2] While I tend to be cynical about state and/or corporate-sponsored celebration of Canadian identity and history, and (probably like many Canadians) I root my personal identity more in my immediate communities/regions of origin and adopted residence than in my national citizenship, I do have enough attachment to the idea of Canada to understand some of the pleasure and meaning many people take from their “Canadian-ness”. At the same time, it’s important to remember (and acknowledge, and act upon) the fact that the political, social, and cultural systems that make up Canada, and give the varied communities and individuals within Canada this sense of loose national connection, have also operated to oppress and fracture communities and cultures that exist on the land outlined by Canadian borders, and often to divide them from their histories prior to the existence of those borders.

I want to propose that it is possible to observe, even celebrate, Canada’s 150th in a non-patriotic manner; in other words, in a way that may take personal meaning and sense of connectedness from aspects of “Canadian-ness” but also works to resist the oppressive imposition of a single “Canadian-ness” on others. A way to do that is to engage in discussion and learning about Canadian histories and identities (plural!) without trying to create something unified. Part of that learning means learning the dark parts of those histories – not just the nationalistic narratives that affirm a Canadian identity of tolerance, liberalism, and harmonious diversity. The complex, conflicting, and downright bad parts of our histories have as much to do with what Canada is now as a society, nation, and culture, as the more uplifting episodes do. If you are invested in Canada, whether through personal identification as a Canadian, or simply because you are a citizen or resident of Canada as a social-political entity, then you should want to learn and grapple with the problematic aspects of Canada in order to understand how to move it forward in a positive way.

Since we are still at the beginning of January and I am a believer in New Year’s resolutions (harness the power of an arbitrary delineation of time and that brand new day planner for good!!), I have a suggestion for a New Year’s resolution that can help Canadians (especially settler Canadians) mark Canada’s 150th year in a meaningful way, which is to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on the history and legacy of residential schools over the course of the year. The final report is long and multipart, so it might help to find or form a reading discussion group with a schedule, or even to just select a year’s worth of reading for yourself. The history component begins with the origins of European colonialism and goes up to 2000, so those volumes alone can provide a long view of Canadian history from a perspective that many of us only got a partial introduction to in school. All the volumes are available to download as pdf. I’ll be reading it and be participating in a dis

[1] Even when that national identity includes the keywords “multicultural” and “diverse”.

[2] I have no idea if this is a relatable Canadian experience, or just me.


lizElisabeth came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Elisabeth received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Elisabeth works with the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Implicit Islamophobia is a type of prejudice that results from subtle cognitive processes which operate at a level below that of conscious awareness. The bias refers to stereotypes and an overall ethos (set of attitudes subscribed to) that initiate behavioural patterns and thereby effect how we understand others, our actions towards them and decisions about them. Normally spoken about in the context of sexism and racism, one underexplored area that implicit bias manifests strongly in is interactions with and among Muslims.

The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity points out the following:

  • Implicit associations harboured in our subconscious develop over the course of a lifetime, beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messaging.
  • Biases associated with these subconscious associations are pervasive. Everyone possesses them, even if we are dealing with individuals who have taken a vow of impartiality
  • Implicit associations we hold do not necessarily align with our consciously declared beliefs and can often contradict them
  • Our implicit biases favour our own group
  • Biases are malleable – associations we have formed can be gradually unlearned through a variety of purposeful de-biasing techniques

So what kinds of associations are we talking about here?

There are quite a few common stereotypes associated with Muslims through overt messaging or more subtextual associations in media and writing that affect our unconscious biases towards them. Some of these associations are internalized by Muslims as well and can affect how they think of themselves and one another. Recognizing that these associations exist and might be operating at the level of implicit bias is just the beginning of your journey in cleansing one’s self of these harmful associations.

The following associations are quite common and actually have a historical lineage in terms of being connected with anti-Muslim propaganda all the way back to the Middle Ages:

Muslims are naturally inclined to violence. This one has been around since the beginning and goes hand in hand with lies that Islam was spread by the sword (ask any credible historian: it wasn’t.) and that Muslims are inclined to be terrorists. The idea of the terminology “moderate Muslims” plays into this stereotype because it implies that the deeper one goes into Islam, the more violent one becomes. This simply isn’t true. Violence is a practice adopted by people who are part of many different cultural systems around the world – it is an unfortunate political tool for some and a symptom of trauma for others. The choice to engage with violence is justified differently by all cultural systems around the world from Judaism to secularism, and is not unique to one system over another. If anything, violence is a universal human trait that is either used or resisted by interpreters of particular cultural groups, sometimes identifying as the same thing but understanding and using (or not using) violence differently. Since, contrary to what many bigots think, Muslims are humans too, it is no surprise that some of them are violent. However, to state that violence is intrinsic to Islam or even condoned by its laws is categorically false.

Muslim women are oppressed and have no rights. It seems that ever since Christian women started de-veiling and the secularists took over, the veil itself (which is often associated with the stereotype of the non-liberated, oppressed Muslim woman) has come to be the symbol of the perceived oppression of Muslim women. Even when Muslim women are not veiled, they can still be seen as cloistered away in their homes, at the behest of their man’s will, without rights and even weak. While it is true that in many countries, the rights of women are limited and that these sometimes happen to be Muslim countries, it is also true that they are often not Muslim countries. Misogyny has no religious or geographical boundaries and remains a global problem. Interestingly, those who hinge this stereotype on Muslim women are usually ignorant of the incredible rights afforded to them in Islam (even over and above the rights held by modern Western, non-Muslim women) and the fact that many, if not most, Muslim women choose to obey Islamic laws including around veiling. The right to choose and to practice one’s religious way of life as one chooses never seems to factor into the Western savior complex though.

Muslim men are sex-crazed. This stereotype goes all the way back to the insults hurled at Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) himself by his contemporaries and has continued to be associated with Muslim men to this day. While street harassment remains a pervasive issue in many Muslim countries, problems related to sexual assault and harassment are not limited to Muslims if global numbers are any indication. Additionally, even in the confines of a consensual sexual relationship, there is no indication that Muslim men are more aroused or arousable than any other demographic.

How do these associations manifest as behavioural outcomes of implicit bias?

According to the research on racial implicit bias compiled by the Open Society Foundation, it was shown that negative associations can affect people’s decisions and their behavior toward people of other demographics than themselves. For example, a doctor with implicit racial bias will be less likely to recommend black patients to specialists or may recommend surgery rather than a less invasive treatment. Managers will be less likely to invite a black candidate in for a job interview or to provide a positive performance evaluation. Judges have been found to grant darker-skinned defendants sentences up to 8 months longer for identical offenses.

Implicit bias also affects how people act with people of another race. In spite of their conscious feelings, white people with high levels of implicit racial bias show less warmth and welcoming behavior toward black people. They will sit further away, and their facial expressions will be cold and withdrawn. These same implicitly biased white people are also are more apt to view black people as angry or threatening and to predict that a black partner would perform poorly on a joint academic task. White people with stronger implicit bias against black people actually do perform poorly on a difficult task after interacting with a black person—suggesting that, without knowing it, they were challenged mentally by the effort of appearing non-biased. While the studies on implicit bias and Islamophobia are still an emerging research area, it should be noted that often the findings with implicit bias and racial associations overlaps with Islamophobia, particularly when Muslims subscribe to certain racial identities such as being black or Arab. Compounded biases have yet to be explored in any real depth.

So now that you know these unconscious cognitive processes are happening, the next question of any regular, concerned individual should be:

How can I de-bias myself?

This sounds a bit strange but there are processes and programs developed for people to consciously decouple certain associations in their mind. Such programs tend to be based on the principles of Behavioural Conditioning Therapy but not always.

In a booklet put out by the National Center for State Courts (American) and Race & Ethnic Fairness in the Courts Organization, the following steps can be taken by individuals and organizations to reduce implicit bias:

  • Raise awareness of it: Individuals can only work to correct for sources of bias that they are aware exist (Wilson & Brekke, 1994). Simply knowing about implicit bias and its potentially harmful effects on judgment and behavior may prompt individuals to pursue corrective action (cf. Green, Carney, Pallin, Ngo, Raymond, Iezzoni, & Banaji, 2007). Although awareness of implicit bias in and of itself is not sufficient to ensure that effective debiasing efforts take place (Kim, 2003), it is a crucial starting point that may prompt individuals to seek out and implement the types of strategies listed throughout this document.
  • Identify and consciously acknowledge real group and individual differences (and know that that is OK!): The popular “color blind” approach to egalitarianism (i.e., avoiding or ignoring race; lack of awareness of and sensitivity to differences between social groups) fails as an implicit bias intervention strategy. “Color blindness” actually produces greater implicit bias than strategies that acknowledge race (Apfelbaum, Sommers, & Norton, 2008). Cultivating greater awareness of and sensitivity to group and individual differences appears to be a more effective tactic: Training seminars that acknowledge and promote an appreciation of group differences and multi-cultural viewpoints can help reduce implicit bias (Rudman, Ashmore, & Gary, 2001; Richeson & Nussbaum, 2004). In addition to considering and acknowledging group differences, individuals should purposely compare and individuate stigmatized group members. By defining individuals in multiple ways other than in terms of race, implicit bias may be reduced (e.g., Djikic, Langer, & Stapleton, 2008; Lebrecht, Pierce, Tarr, & Tanaka, 2009; Corcoran, Hundhammer, & Mussweiler, 2009).
  • Routinely check thought processes and decisions for possible bias: Individuals interested in minimizing the impact of implicit bias on their own judgment and behaviors should actively engage in more thoughtful, deliberative information processing. When sufficient effort is exerted to limit the effects of implicit biases on judgment, attempts to consciously control implicit bias can be successful (Payne, 2005; Stewart & Payne, 2008). To do this, however, individuals must possess a certain degree of self-awareness. They must be mindful of their decision-making processes rather than just the results of decision making (Seamone, 2006) to eliminate distractions, to minimize emotional decision making, and to objectively and deliberatively consider the facts at hand instead of relying on schemas, stereotypes, and/or intuition. Instructions on how to correct for implicit bias may be effective at mitigating the influence of implicit bias on judgment if the instructions implement research-based techniques. Instructions should detail a clear, specific, concrete strategy that individuals can use to debias judgment or action instead of, for example, simply warning individuals to protect their decisions from implicit bias (e.g., Mendoza, Gollwitzer, & Amodio, 2010; Kim, 2003). It should be noted (as it was above) that some seemingly intuitive strategies for counteracting bias can, in actuality, produce some unintended negative consequences. Instructions to simply suppress existing stereotypes (e.g., adopt the “color blindness” approach) have been known to produce a “rebound effect” that may increase implicit bias (Macrae, Bodenhausen, Milne, & Jetten, 1994). Others also perceive individuals instructed to implement the “color blindness” approach as more biased (Apfelbaum, Sommers, & Norton, 2008). For these reasons, decision makers should apply tested intervention techniques that are supported by empirical research rather than relying on intuitive guesses about how to mitigate implicit bias.
  • Identify distractions and sources of stress in your environment and remove or reduce them: If one is distracted or particularly stressed in one’s environment when interacting with people from different groups, including Muslims, their tendency is to revert back to typical associations and therefore behavioural tendencies. The reduction of both distractions and stress can contribute to clarity and consciousness of one’s thoughts and rationale process in governing your own behaviour.
  • Institute feedback mechanisms: Actively seeking feedback from others and articulating one’s reasoning process with regards to behavioural decisions made with and among Muslims is crucial. This involves a willingness to improve and be vulnerable to others – something that will likely be much appreciated. Pick people you feel safe with but who will also provide you with honest feedback.

Finally, if you are interested in kick-starting your journey in eliminating implicit racial or gender bias or Islamophobia, you might want to consider signing up for this 7-day online cleanse which provide you with daily tasks to de-bias yourself.


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.