Those of us working in gender and international development can remember the good old days…. which are still with us…. when governments and development agencies…..could pat themselves on the back for producing data disaggregated by sex……..to show how many people in Country X in Sector Y were male and how many female.
Curiously these lists and categories are often presented in the reverse of alphabetical order. The next time you fill in a visa or immigration form you might also want to notice whether M still comes before F?
Usually the softer social sectors….. especially Health & Education….. have been the first to “disaggregate” – presumably for practical reasons. Women and men have different health requirements especially as concerns Reproductive Health; and girls and boys have traditionally been educated separately and into different disciplines to fit them for different lives – according to presumed gender appropriateness.
Domains considered more “serious”- as being obviously the domain of men and therefore not requiring change or development…. primarily Economics and Politics…. have been slower to come to disaggregation, and even now it is not unusual to encounter pages of “gender neutral” information in these fields; the unemployed, the farmers, the voters, the cabinet….. all of which terms may disguise either enormous variety, or its total absence.
The UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women which took place in Beijing in 1995(2) was a high water mark in the promotion of sex-disaggregated data (SDD for short here)and succeeded in creating a much broader realization that disaggregated data is needed for proper planning as well as for “balancing the books” in any field you can name.
It has become somehow more genteel to refer now to “gender-disaggregated” data and there are some attempts to distinguish between data disaggregated by sex and by gender on the grounds that gender-disaggregated data refers to “qualitative” differences of a higher and more abstract order…. and sex is simply…… sex.
Western cultures are in general of course still deeply committed to the Noah’s Ark idea of two sexes with the appropriate behavioural gender frills added on. And most state and legal systems require this two- party system …most newborns are required to be registered as male or female. …..there we go again…or female or male.
We have seen in 2014 some very encouraging signs of a break down or break up in the binary system:legalization of same sex marriage in a number of countries; ballot papers which provide a third box for Male, Female, And…; a school in rural Thailand installing toilets for its estimated 10% of transgender students(3) ; the first woman bishop ordained in the Church of England(4) ; outing and self-outing of sporting heroes and heroines continued and the heavens did not fall.
Requiring further and forthcoming gendercentric attention are the facts that the authorities in Manchester, U.K. have established a school exclusively for LGBT children(5) ; that the Head of the IMF Christine Lagarde paid tribute to the late Saudi King as “a feminist” (would he have considered that a compliment?)(6) ; and bowing and then un-bowing to pressure the Sun newspaper removed the Page 3 Girls and then put them back(7).
In 2014 there have also of course been many negative events from gender and other perspectives and no-one is likely to forget Boko Haram in a hurry…. nor the fact that Saudi women may own but not drive cars.
However and staying on the bright side… democratization of the discussion on gender and sex is leading to a broader realization that there may be more than two of each and that sex, gender, and sexual preference may not be linked together in any pre-ordained or permanent way(8).
This is sometimes because thanks to the ongoing media revolution often existing knowledge becomes more widely known and less exclusive… this applies particularly perhaps to the knowledge that embryologists, endocrinologists,urologits, biochemists and surgeons have been hugging to themselves(9) … and also as part of the same process because now people actually talk more freely …particularly through social media… about their own sex and gender experience.
So we’d like to begin the year 2015 – even a little tardily – by noting some non-binary terms….not all of them new by any means…. which are coming soon to a screen near you if they are not already there.
Cisgender, transgender,transwoman, transman (10)
Women-born women; women-born men (11)
Women- identified women; men-identified women (12)
Intersex – a catch-all term for three major subgroups: herms, merms and ferms(13)
Pansexual, polysexual, questioning, fluid, proto-gay, gender non-conforming, gender dysphoria, queer (not as meaning “gay” and/ or as a slur but meaning seeing the world askance and afresh -sometimes genderqueer)
Genderqueer pronouns in common use- ze, hir, zir, ey, em (14)
In recognition of the diversity masked by the terms women and men we may have to start putting these terms in quotation marks – “women” and “men”.
Where do these dissolving boundaries and terminologies leave the old certainties of sex- disaggregated data.
Sex-disaggregated data will continue to be useful as long as societies feel a need for individuals at birth to be assigned naturally or medically to one of the two parties. SDD will continue to have a strong promotional purpose where fields of activity are irrationally dominated by one sex -usually men.
It is striking that most of the discussion on the statistical level use SDD to demonstrate …for example…that there are too few women in the cabinet, that the BBC only shows young women, that there are too few parts for female actors over 40, too few women CEOs, bank directors etc. SDD is often linked with data disaggregated by age and ethnicity to show where discriminations converge.
What are the fields where there are too few men? Primary school teachers? Stay- at -home -parents? Certainly not “chefs” though perhaps “cooks”
In certain fields such as reproductive Health where anatomical makeup is important for planning and practical purposes it will continue to be important to have data disaggregated by sex though two columns may not be enough.
And there are signs… admittedly at the high end of fashion ever anxious to claim credit for identifying the zeitgeist, that clothing designers may abandoned the tired old terms Women and Men for a spectrum of sizes of the same garments.(15)
(1) The nudibranch-a new word for gendercentric in 2015 – is our visual symbol of diversity for the moment. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/nudibranch/
(2)The Fourth World Conference on Women 1995 http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/
(8) See “Coming Out: the new Dynamics by Nicholas A. Guittar FirstForum Press,USA (2014)
(9) See The Five Sexes; Why Male and Female Are not Enough by Anne Fausto-Sterling The sciences March/April 1993
(10) Ibid footnote 8;and Self-Made Man by Mark Gevisser GRANTA No.129
(11)Ibid footnote 8
(12) See A Question of Sex: Feminism, Rhetoric and Differences that Matter by Kristan Poirot University of Massachusetts Press (2014)
(13) Ibid footnote 9
(14) Mark Gevisser cited at Footnote 10