The Fight for the Reinvention of Gender Roles

In Suzanne Tick’s “His and Hers: Designing For a Post-Gender Society,” Tick addresses society’s attempt at becoming more inclusive and accepting through progressive reforms including changing bathrooms, and transgender individuals challenging societal norms in the workplace. Tick claims that “gender neutral design” is the next “frontier in the workplace,” citing the idea that the once traditional  roles of males and females are no longer clearly defined. However, these ideas of inclusion are still met with some opposition, and Tick makes a call to action for fellow designers to help push the effort in promoting this accommodation for non-binary individuals.

A problem many activists run into is that in many ways, society is still set in its ways regarding binary gender norms that have been in place for generations. Tick claims that the “design landscape is still deeply rooted in Modernism” which was shaped by the male perspective. Modernism was a philosophical movement beginning with the dawn of the industrial age, where men like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie of the oil and steel industries still dominated power roles. Even today, being a CEO at a major company is considered to be a largely male role (Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, etc.) Even Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook, while pushing forward societal progression by coming out as gay, is still a man.tim-cook

While this is true, Tick provides an example of the changing paradigm by telling the story of Martine Rothblatt, the transgender CEO of United Therapeutics. Another prominent figure demonstrating the changing tide in the business world is Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has done a number of things for consumers in the Senate including helping with the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Cropped Approved CFF
Cropped Approved CFF

The push for inclusion is also evident in the “He for She” movement, pushing men to help in the effort for gender equality; an example of the binary sexes working toward gender equality together (Watson).

Going back to the design aspect of this progressive paradigm, Tick brings up the widely discussed gender binary bathroom issue. People who have undergone gender reassignment surgery often have problems finding their place in the workplace. Tick reinforces this by talking about a specific case where one person who had had such a surgery experienced discrimination by their co-workers when they went to HR saying they weren’t comfortable having the person in either the men’s room or the ladies room. Some major corporations like Google have gone so far as to create unisex bathrooms to make sure all of their employees felt comfortable at work (Tick).

In her final call to action, she talks about how the Americans With Disabilities Act has still not been fully implemented, with many buildings around the country still without accommodations for handicapped or disabled persons. She wanted to make it clear that this same mistake should not be made with the implementation of accommodations in public spaces for non-binary individuals. However, she says all of the information above including the implementation of non-binary bathrooms and more women challenging the traditionally male roles in the workplaces are significant first steps. This movement is spreading, now with students “standing up to institutions” by not checking the binary genders presented in many college applications, additional advances in the changing paradigm. In her own words, Tick states “Masculine and feminine definitions are being switched and obscured,” so it’s society’s job to accommodate for these changes.

The “Accommodation” Problem

In “Making Bathrooms More ‘Accommodating,’” Emily Bazelon makes a number of cases in favor of bathrooms being inclusive for all– including people who identify as transgender. She addresses the issue of the binary bathroom system that has been previously implemented through recent legislature and stories from individuals while additionally providing examples of ways this can be and has been combatted. Additionally, she ruminates of the issues of the word “accommodation” itself, claiming it sets up a “distinction between the normal and the other” (Bazelon).gnb

Bazelon begins her article by discussing the difficulty many people had addressing the gender binary bathroom issue. She mentions the discomfort created on both sides when people asked (or even just wondered) if people were in the “correct” bathroom. She goes on further to mention the rejection of a “broad, equal rights ordinance in Houston” (later known as the “bathroom ordinance,”) where lawmakers voted against legislation allowing for people to enter bathrooms based on their gender identity vs. the gender that was assigned to them at birth (City of Houston). This could be a result of the hyper-conservative mindset of Houston as a whole, whereas lawmakers reflect the views of their constituents. A similar situation was created in North Carolina with the implementation of the “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act,” a discriminatory law allowing for the denial of entry into public restrooms unless the user is of the same gender identity as their birth certificate. Many have condemned the implementation of the latter, citing its discriminatory and socially regressive nature, including activists and politicians.adfgpfps

Despite this blatant discrimination by state legislation in multiple states, some efforts have been successful in making bathrooms more inclusive. Bazelon cites an incident where a transgender student was denied access to shower with her peers at school by her school district in Illinois. The U.S. Department of Education required the district to allow the girl to shower with her peers. Bazelon also mentions how a simple “privacy curtain” could fix this problem of discomfort created amongst peers in bathrooms. If everyone were able to dress and undress behind a piece of fabric obstructing the view of others, then the problem of intrusiveness is eliminated.

Even though efforts are being made to “ accommodate” for transgender persons across the country, part of the problem could be the word “accommodate” itself. “It often sets up the distinction between the normal and the other,” states Bazelon. It could be argued that a distinction needs to be made in order to satisfy politicians on the more conservative end of the spectrum, while making sure the rights of transgender people are met in the Constitution.

Looking at the bigger picture, even women’s restrooms are disadvantaged. Starting in the Victorian era with the birth the Industrial Revolution, where women more often found themselves in the workplaces that used to be dominated by men, bathrooms were created separating men and women (Bazelon). However, women often have to wait significantly longer than men in the bathroom, considering women only have stalls while men have the luxury of urinals to get in and out of the bathroom quickly. Another form of accommodation could take place in the form adding more stalls to women’s restrooms proportional to the number of stalls/urinals in the men’s room.mb wb

Barring the efforts of conservative state legislators trying to deny transgender accessibility to the bathroom of their gender preference, many progressive efforts have been made to ensure LGBT rights are not encroached on. Bazelon’s concerns of the word “accommodation” itself seem unfounded, because it implies inclusion, regardless of the frame of thought that it implies “normal” people going out of the way of “other” people. The point is, we are moving towards a more inclusive, “accommodating” society.

Social Exclusion and How it Relates to the United States Today

 

     As mentioned in Sarah Schindler’s Architectural Exclusion, while it could be argued that social exclusion and injustice has improved over the last two centuries with the abolition of slavery and universal suffrage, it appears that the injustice has only become more dispersed, impacting a much larger number of Americans. Groups like blacks, hispanics, Muslims, homosexuals, and even non-minority groups like women are affected daily by all kinds of social injustice like misogyny, racism, and discrimination, and that only names a few.

 

     With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the United States saw an end to slavery, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. The amendment only technically ended slavery. It continued in the form of peonage, a loophole for former slave owners, giving former slaves places to live in exchange for free labor. This was one of very few options for many former slaves, because most of them had lived on plantations prior to the abolition, and after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, they had nowhere to go.

     Racism and discrimination continued into the 1900’s through the implementation of Jim Crow laws; Laws that heavily separated people of color from whites through segregated public spaces like restaurants and drinking fountains. This segregation continued in the south until Brown vs. Board of Education brought significant changes to public policy regarding integration.

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     Racially charged social injustice has stayed alive in modern day in the form of police brutality and racial profiling. Over the past two years, cop-related violence has been in the news almost perpetually. Eric Garner, Michael Brown Jr., Freddie Gray, and many more were victims to police related violence in the last two years alone. The “Stop and Frisk” law regularly targets minority groups like blacks and hispanics.

     Another group that regularly experiences the results of social exclusion are are Muslims. Considering recent shootings in Europe and the United States that ISIS has claimed responsibility for, the presidential candidate for one of America’s two major parties plan to implement an anti-Muslim immigration policy, barring any new citizens of Muslim descent to entering the country. Even today in post-9/11 America, Muslims are a group that are frequently “randomly selected” in security checkpoints at airports, simply for wearing a hijab.

     The exclusion doesn’t stop there, either. Recently, the LGBT community has become victim of discrimination based on their sexuality. North Carolina’s “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act” is particularly discriminatory toward transgender people, only allowing people to use bathrooms based on their assigned gender identity. In many places around the country, businesses can turn away homosexual couples because it “conflicts with their personal beliefs.” Not even women escape exclusion, being paid significantly less for doing the same job that a male counterpart does.

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     Social exclusion has been an issue in the American socio-political system since the beginning. Systematic racism, sexism, and profiling have lived in various forms in the country over the century, but continues to play a roll today.

Connecting the Concepts of Liberalism and Republicanism to United States Politics

As described in David Fleming’s City of Rhetoric, Liberalism and Republicanism both have agreeable similarities and stark contrasts. Fleming compares both schools of thought to a time in world history (Republicanism to Golden Age Athens and Liberalism to 18th and 19th century transatlantic enlightenment) (Pages 25-26.)  The Golden age of Athens refers to a time in Athens, Greece where government became increasingly more democratic, departing from the old ways of strictly aristocratic and elitist rule. This period gave more power to the general public than ever before in Greece. Similarly, the transatlantic Enlightenment refers to the period in 18th and 19th century Europe and United States, where the great minds of the time drafted such documents like the United States Constitution post U.S. revolution and the August Decrees during revolution-era France.

 

Republicanism promotes self-governance in a small community, including direct democracy where the people directly elect officials to office. As a result, people in a Republican community are expected to be extremely involved in their respective political climates. There is a huge focus on the community as a whole, and how each member of the community contributes to the greater good. Fleming criticizes republicanism for its’ overzealous use of involvement in politics, calling it “too demanding, too consuming… stifling” (Pages 25-26.) He claims that the over-involvement can create a lack of individualism through lack of “difference” or “anonymity.” Comparisons to republicanism can be drawn—funny enough, to the Republican Party of the United States of America today. The Party favors small government, with the creation state laws that are enforced over collective, federal law. Also, Republican voters tend to be older, more conservative, and more involved in politics than Democratic voters, who tend to be younger, less involved, and more Liberal, which will be discussed later. As a result of the republican focus on small, community-based governance, there can be problems. Going back to the example of Greece, Athens was regularly at war with neighboring city-states like Sparta due to differing ideals.unknown

 

Liberalism, in contrast to Republicanism’s controlled, community-based ideology, is a school of thought built around the principle of individuality. As opposed to Republicanism’s community based, hyper-involved style of civilization, Liberalism is far more relaxed. Individual rights are placed on the highest run of the political and ideological ladder in a Liberal society, meaning government has little control over day to day activities, besides major overlaying tenets that ensure no group is favored over another. A comparison can be drawn between this definition of Liberalism and today’s Democratic Party in the United States. The Democratic Party strives for laws and regulations that blanket all fifty states, so there can be no way to dispute the basic rights that citizens of all fifty states hold, while protecting privacy. The problem with Liberalism is that rules that are often instated are so general, that they leave far too much to interpretation. Also, with Liberalism focusing more on individual rights instead of community based involvement, there is often nowhere near enough political involvement. In contrast to the older, highly involved Republicans discussed in the previous paragraph, Democratic voters are typically younger, and have a significantly lower voter turnout than their Republican counterparts.

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The concepts of Republicanism and Liberalism are applied to the United States bipartisan system on a regular basis, even if it’s only through the abstract ideas of small, community based government or individualism applied through law. These concepts are reflected in the minds of the great thinkers and the important documents of periods like the Golden Age of Athens and the Transatlantic Enlightenment during the birth of the United States and French Revolution.