Louise Downe

We don’t need another shero

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Before I go on I want to be really clear - I support the rights of all people whoever they are. I speak from a position of privilege in many ways, and I also believe that the 100,00s of years of cis-male patriarchy have far more to answer to than what I'm about to describe.

Caveats over, we need to shine a light on a very real and new(ish) problem that seems to be growing in the tech sector - that the vast majority of discussions about gender diversity seem to exclude people who are trans and nonbinary, or to put it another way, our discussion of feminism as a thing exclusively for cis-gendered woman means people who are trans and nonbinary are excluded by omission.

If you don't know what I mean by ‘cis’-gendered (and hey, Apple autocorrect doesn't so why should you) I mean people who are born biologically female and also identify as women in gender. Without stating the obvious, this is not all people - there are a lot of people whose biological sex is not the same as the gender they feel and/or express to the world. These people can define as either trans-men, trans-women, non binary or a myriad of other genders.

Either way these people are either biologically ‘female’, struggling to make themselves fit with a cis-male world, biologically ‘male’ trying to do the opposite, or somewhere in between trying to carve out space for being nonbinary in a world of he/she, pink or blue, M/F. The fact that there are multiple genders and that feminism has to do with people who are not female or women cuts to the core of traditional thinking on gender diversity as a binary scale.

Since the likes of Caitlyn Jenner we’ve got used to the issues of trans women being relevant to feminism, but not trans men (they’re just men rite?!) or nonbinary people. We proudly proclaim we have a 50/50 gender split (what even is that when there’s more than two genders?!) and bemoan the fact that there aren’t any women on panels - with no mention of the appling lack of representation from other genders. At the same time we aggressively gender things that we see representing ‘diversity’- proudly tagging pictures with ‘look at all these amazing women!’.

I am biologically female but fit somewhere between non-binary (Ie. I believe gender is a spectrum) and trans-male (Ie. I feel more on the male rather than female end of the spectrum).

It’s not something I talk about a lot - because it’s maybe the least interesting thing about me, but it’s also something that is immensely difficult to talk about to the majority of people who would prefer that for their own simple definition of gender diversity, I define as a woman.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’m gendered in public for the sake of someone else's purposes of equality - conferences are the worst, with a seemingly endless request for more ‘female speakers’ aka. Cis-gendered women (even trans women need not apply to that one, let alone anyone else).

The problem is that in most discussions on gender diversity we don’t acknowledge the difference between sex and gender, so female is synonymous with women.

Our discussions of gender diversity therefore still involve a ‘50/50 split’ of ‘male and female’ on a board, conference or interview panel rather than equal representation from all genders. This means trans and nonbinary people are excluded by sheer omission.

This might seem like a marginal issue to gender diversity (it’s certainly treated as such) but about 12% of millennials entering the workforce now define themselves as transgendered in some way. Considering the fact that 30% of these people will attempt suicide before 22, those that make it as far as a board, conference or interview panel are nothing short of survivors.

This is a bit of a rant but I guess what I’m saying is if you care about gender diversity - please don't become the thing you hate about patriarchy and create an exclusive club or space that excludes others.

Don’t be afraid to talk about multiple genders being represented or afraid to ask what gender someone defines as. Presuming someone's gender is far more offensive than asking (unless you’re transphobic). And more than anything - don’t let your enthusiasm for gender diversity lead you to gender spaces, activities and people that don’t need to be.

We don’t need another shero.

  • Image: Balla Hadid on the Prabal Gurung runway Feb 2017. Copyright Prabal Gurung