Skip to content

Project X: The definitions.

January 19, 2012

Hello readers!

Welcome back after our day of protest! I do hope you called a senator or signed a petition (and, ps, you still have time – vote for PIPA is the 24th and SOPA is supposedly going to the floor in Feb)! Regardless – let’s get back to it… Project X begins!

As we mentioned last week, we feel that a lot of arguments begin, and then very quickly end, over the definitions of specific words people use. In general, these semantic arguments derail constructive conversation, and end up with everyone angry.

Moreover, we wonder if the issue is, while words have specific, demonstrable definitions, not everyone uses them the same way. They can be twisted, interpreted, and applied in a multitude of ways, sometimes confounding their foundational meaning. We then take on one of these as the only way these things can be interpreted. From there, we also often confuse these words (which we now may have conflicting thoughts on the meaning of) with the heart of someone’s argument – consequently passing judgment, and then engaging disagreement, over the words as opposed to their application or interpretation.

To attempt to 1) clarify some terms, and 2) hopefully confine arguments about those words to a single post, we are kicking off Project X by explicitly defining some terms we will then go on to use.

Please take this time to:

  1. Learn the basic and simple definition – We understand that these words can and do take on more complex meanings in different conversations. But let’s start at the beginning.

  2. Provide any feedback or concerns you may have with, or ask questions regarding the specific word. This is your chance to do that because, to keep us on track from here on out, we will not be engaging further dialogue around these terms in the future.

Basically, go ahead and voice concerns, ask questions, or throw hissy fits. Get them over with. We will listen and engage those now, but not later. And, keep in mind, we’re still going to use these terms going forward, so let us know your ish, and then please let it go.

To keep it simple, Nikki pretty much went on Wikipedia and looked up the most basic definition available. Again, we are not expanding beyond that definition at this time in an attempt to start with the basics. They are presented in alphabetical order:

But first, a note on the difference between “sex” and “gender”
“Sex” is biological, e.g. were you born with a penis or a vagina. This is different from “gender”, which is a social construction of behaviors and norms either determined for you, or one you choose.

When your gender identity and role are in agreement with your biological sex, e.g. a straight women born with a vagina is cisgendered (“cis” means “the same side [as]”).

A general term used for movements with the underlying goal of “defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.” Feminist theory, or the philosophy behind feminist movements, strives to “understand the nature of gender inequality by examining women’s social roles and lived experience; it has developed theories in a variety of disciplines in order to respond to [specific] issues”.

A “form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception.” May simply be denying previous abuse or insult, or even staging strange events to disorient the victim.

Great article on it here:

Gender binary
The classification of sex and gender as either masculine or feminine, and that these are distinct from one another. This often includes disparate male and female gender roles, identities, and attributes, and discourages individuals from crossing or mixing gender, or creating additional expressions of gender.

A secondary note of importance: Gender binaries are not a necessary aspect of society and culture. Many people do not follow gender binary definitions, either biologically speaking or culturally speaking. Not every person ever born has XX or XY chromosomes, nor is everyone comfortable in their biological sex: e.g. people are transgendered, intersexuals, genderqueer, transsexual, etc. The gender binary excludes all of these.

Gender identity
Your self-identified gender, which may or may not be in (social/cultural) congruence with your biological sex at birth.

Gender roles
The behavioral norms determined as appropriate for individuals of a specific gender within a specific culture.

Gender studies
A field of interdisciplinary study that looks at gender and its intersection with race, ethnicity, sexuality, location, etc. The idea that gender is a social and cultural construction of masculinities and femininities, “not to the state of being male or female in its entirety” is core to the field. Other areas, however, look at the role biological sex plays in social constructs of gender.

The dominant gender and sexual relationships that determine men and women as distinct and complementary genders/sexes, and heterosexuality as the normal sexual orientation.

Men’s studies, masculinity studies
An interdisciplinary academic field on topics of men, masculinity, gender, and politics. In many universities, often a correlation to women’s studies and part of a larger gender studies program.

Stories that we collectively create and use to explain our culture and our behavior. We realize this is vague, yet also narrow in terms what “narrative” can mean, but it’s a big topic in of itself, and we’re trying to start basic. We’ll expand on it, and hopefully make it more clear, later.

According to Wikipedia, it “literally means ‘rule of fathers’, ‘father’ or ‘chief of a race, patriarch’. Historically, the term patriarchy was used to refer to autocratic rule by the male head of a family. However, in modern times, it more generally refers to social systems in which power is primarily held by adult men.”

A secondary note of importance: the root of this system does not rest in prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies, where men supposedly dominated due to significant physical capabilities. These societies were actually generally much more egalitarian. The true root of patriarchal social structures came later, with social and technological innovations such as agriculture and the domestication of animals, which created this and other fundamental aspects of our culture today. Therefore, patriarchy does not have biological roots, but cultural ones.

A Simone sidenote: Many social scientists have discussed this topic but two who are fairly frequently quoted are Michel Foucault and Karl Marx (…. she may have a crush on Foucault).

Refers generally to the – sometimes “invisible’ –  special rights or status granted to specific groups in a society, mostly via social structures, on the basis of their sex or gender, race, class, sexuality, etc.

Rape culture
A culture where rape and sexual violence is prevalent and, moreover, is normalized, excused, or tolerated. Now, this can be a culture where people rape with abandon and no one does anything, or where rape is used, without punishment, as a violent act to control (because, of course, those exist), but the more important point for us – and what we’d like to focus on – is that sexual violence is normalized and excused. A few ways in which a culture allows for rape and sexual assault are victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing rape.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this vocabulary lesson! Before we close for comments, we’d also ask you to take note of a few additional things:

  1. These things exist. Again, by all means, let us know your concerns, but for the love, accept that decades of study and scholarship, by both men and women, have collectively agreed on the existence of these things. We will not be engaging arguments that, simply because you don’t experience something or someone else has used a term inappropriately in your opinion, the concept itself is nonexistent.

  2. These are the basic definitions we are going to use from here on out. Yes, it’s possible that we might add to definitions if a good point is made, but, well, probably not. We’d prefer to defer to the work of a truckload of others.

  3. Be ok with being wrong: We understand that, especially as we move from here into application, these things are difficult and uncomfortable. A big reason why people argue over semantics is because they don’t personally see evidence for these concepts in their own lives. That’s ok, we are not saying and will not say these things are readily universally applicable to everyone. However, just as their existence doesn’t equate to universality, simply not experiencing is not evidence for their complete absence. As such, you need to be ok accepting that there’s a big world out there, beyond your front door.

    That being said, we both believe individual experience is valid. We do want to hear your personal experience, and why that experience makes you believe certain terms or theory don’t apply. We believe we can learn from this conversation, too. However, please refrain from generalizations, and please be willing to listen and consider the scholarship we will bring to bear here, even if it is difficult or feels wrong to you personally. Again, explain to us why it feels wrong, and try not to assume that it must therefore feel wrong to everyone or is wrong.

  4. We have to limit ourselves. We are getting into super deep water here – there are entire fields devoted to some of these topics; semester long classes barely cut the surface. We need to be concise to move forward – but please bring it up/ask if you feel we’ve missed something significant.

Thank you for reading, and please let us know your thoughts! We’re looking forward to where this goes from here!


Simone & Nikki


22 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2012 1:15 pm

    Have to say I did not recognize some of these definitions so it is really good to have them at the start like this.

    The rules are outlined, the pieces lined up – let’s begin.

  2. January 20, 2012 10:36 am

    Going to do a Love Bite over at CL about this project, but specifically this post. Very good info.

    • January 20, 2012 6:13 pm

      Awesome! We’re so glad it’s helpful!

    • January 20, 2012 6:28 pm

      Great! Thanks for your interest and, yes, glad it’s helpful! Let us know how else we can help…

  3. January 21, 2012 11:56 am

    I’d never heard the terms “cisgender” or “gaslighting” before.

    • January 21, 2012 6:37 pm

      Yep – these were new to me too. However, I’d be willing to bet you’ve experienced or witnessed or heard a friend talk about interactions that = gaslighting. If you have time, read the article. It’s long, but awesome.

  4. January 21, 2012 12:28 pm

    Nikki, this will be helpful. I do believe these things exist, and I personally lack a proper academic understanding of them, and at male POV sites, all you get is people pushing back that they don’t exist, or are something else entirely, usually the opposite of what they are! Gets a bit schizoid. Looking forward to having an open mind, learning, and hoping this will be a comfortable place for me, as I’ve lost some previous outlets given the intense MRA presence and the angry misogynist comments. Thank you!

    • January 21, 2012 6:39 pm

      Yes – one of the biggest issues I’ve personally witnessed is that people push back on these things simply because they don’t experience them, don’t like the implications, or have the wrong idea. Any dialogue gets derailed immediately – yet the things people talk about *are* regarding these things… why make up new vocab simply because someone is uncomfy? Why not just try to go with education?

      Looking forward to hearing your thoughts as we get into it!

  5. January 21, 2012 1:13 pm

    Great place to start, even I didn’t know some of those! So looking forward to what you two have coming up next.

  6. January 22, 2012 8:12 am

    Hi Simone & Nikki. I definately saw a lot of new words in that list — I feel back in 2nd grade now studying my vocabulary list. 🙂 Maybe it’s because I’m getting old but please define for me these terms: intersexuals, genderqueer, transsexual and specifically what is the difference between them. Thanks!

    • January 23, 2012 2:58 pm

      Of course:

      Intersexual: General, someone who does not fit neatly into male or female. Now, this could be someone who does not identify as male or female (e.g. they may identify as androgynous) OR it could be someone who has intermediate or atypical biological or biological characteristics of both the male and the female sexes. This biological intersexuality can be the result of chromosomal, morphologic, genital and/or gonadal differences. For instance, someone who was born with XXY instead of XX or XY.

      Genderqueer: A gender identity that exists outside the gender binary of male v. female. Someone who is genderqueer may personally identify as both male and female, neither male or female, gender fluid and moving back and forth between them, as someone who blurs the lines between genders, or of a third gender or other gender altogether.

      Transsexual: Someone whose biological sex is in conflict with their chosen gender identity. They often want to or succeed in transitioning from their biological sex to that gender, sometimes via sexual reassignment surgery. For instance, a person born with a penis who identifies as a woman. They will take on the pronouns of the chosen gender – e.g you would refer to this person as “she”.

      Obviously, there is some overlap here between intersexuals and genderqueer, although they’re not always the same. Someone who has intersexed physiological traits may still identify strongly as male or female. Alternatively, someone who is genderqueer may have the distinct male or female physiological traits (e.g. a vagina, XX chromosomes).

      I hope that helps!

  7. January 25, 2012 9:06 am

    I hadn’t heard of gaslighting either. I think we as women have always been aware of it on some level but giving it a name is helpful. This should be really interesting.

    • January 25, 2012 6:09 pm

      Gaslighting was another new one for me, but it’s absolutely significant for women. I mean, how many times does it seem like we get told we’re “crazy” or “overly emotional” when we’re upset or angry, no matter how valid those feelings are? Granted, that’s clearly not the only or main example, but it’s one from my personal life.

  8. January 27, 2012 7:43 pm

    This is a great way to ensure the conversation remains productive and respectful. Thank you for laying such a clear framework!


  1. Project X: Narratives, or The stories we tell each other, and ourselves. « Women Are From Mars
  2. "T and Conversation": Beyond Binary Pronouns | Queering the Church
  3. Projext X: Privilege. « Women Are From Mars
  4. Can’t we bang already?: Balancing social narratives & individual choice. « Women Are From Mars
  5. Gender, Sex and Intersex: A Primer | Queering the Church
  6. Necessary light. « Women Are From Mars

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: