The terms sex and gender are commonly misused in American culture. Elizabeth P. Challinor discusses the distinction between the terms. She provides us with a firsthand example of the confusion of the word written on a public changing room sign in Portugal, translated as: “’Children who need help to get dressed may only be accompanied by one person. Children who are over eight years old must go to the changing room that corresponds to their gender.’” To clear up this misunderstanding, she clarifies this distinction in her article: “We could say that sex refers to the biological body and that gender refers to cultural interpretations of biological differences”.
Challinor highlights the tendency of cultures to restrict individuals to one gender or another. This is heavily present in American culture; it is paired with certain pressure for those who do not embody all characteristics of a certain “gender”. As seen in C.J. Pascoe’s Dude, You’re a Fag, River High School is a place where sexuality and gender identification overpower everything. Men who are biologically male and also choose to participate in masculine activities are favored by their social structure, bringing them “popularity”. The biologically male adolescents who struggle with demonstrating masculinity are seen as outcasts and are frequently branded with the term “fag”. This illustrates the negative aspect in which “gender” can impact a culture: We are expected to exhibit traits associated with our rightful gender based on our biological sex and in turn are faced with social boundaries, including the assignment of “gendered” bathrooms and changing rooms.
This unfortunate idea of the “gender binary” creates a large problem for many people. Yet there is much more acceptance of those who consider themselves not associated with a gender, there is also a lot of ignorance and intolerance for the issue. The idea of unisex bathrooms move toward a more safe and tolerant atmosphere for all parties, but often sparks a more important and urgent thought: Will there ever be a widespread third gender in America such as the hijras of India or the Kathoey (“lady boys”) of Thailand? What will it take for people to become more accepting? As race, religion and culture comes into play, this may never be the case, but unisex bathrooms are definitely a step in the right direction.