The Gender Police

by Nick Thornton

You see them everyday. They’re present in every community, every school and every home. And they’re coming to get you. They don’t mean any harm; they’re just there to serve and protect. I’m talking of course of the gender police. They are tasked with making sure everyone stays in their rightful place. Because, you know, if a boy wore a dress or a girl liked action movies, the world would implode.

I was in a workshop a while ago where we were split into groups to write on large flip chart paper. As the organizer was handing out pens, she stopped at my group and held out 2 pink pens but upon observing our group was almost all males, she decided against it, picked out new pens and said “oh I won’t give the guys pink pens” and moved on. Now I’m not going to go on some tirade against gender tyranny over some pens, but the insignificance of the colour of pen is precisely my point. If we’re so concerned about the gendering of a pen, imagine how we treat trans folks or anyone who doesn’t conform to our strict little fictitious world of “boys” and “girls.”

Gender policing happens with our clothes, with our mannerisms, with our hair, our bodies, our hobbies, our food, heck, we even police our taste in movies. A guy who likes hunting and weightlifting can’t like ‘The Princess Diaries,’ it’s not allowed. It ‘s not possible to like ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffanys’- that’s ridiculous. You may laugh and say, “of course a guy or a girl can like whatever movie they want!” but stop consider it a bit more carefully. If a guy came up to tomorrow and told you his favourite movie was ‘Sex and the City’, would you not have any jokes to make about it? But they’re just harmless jokes, right? I’m not trying to say it’s harder being a guy than a girl, or anything of the sort… merely that both gender roles are extremely narrow and allow for almost no deviation or flexibility.

I’m not addressing this to the lost causes, those people that ooze hatred and bigotry everywhere they go, clearly those people need help. But what about the medical profession, tasked with “doing no harm,” yet labels anyone who doesn’t feel right in their biological body as having a “disorder?” What about when we see something we like and we almost buy it, but then don’t because it looks too “girly?” We make daily choices to play for one team or the other, a little cocoon of binary.

But why does it matter? Why is gender policing bad? Why can’t we just stay the way things are? This makes sense after all: being a certain type of person because other people say we should be. What’s between your legs should be the only determining factor in all of your life’s choices, should it not be?

I certainly don’t want to castigate any girl who likes being “girly” or any boy who likes being “a guy,” I merely want to offer the thought that maybe we learn those behaviours and they in turn slap us into either the “male” camp or the “female” camp. We do such a good job of policing others’ genders that we build a safe little gendered cage for ourselves too.

We don’t need anyone to police our genders because we’re doing such a good job of it ourselves.


Nick is a 4th year History major at UBC, as well as the CEO (and sole employee) of Unboring Learning.com, a free online learning site. His 5th grade report card said: "Nick is a conscientious student but distracts his classmates." You can follow him on Twitter: @unboringlearn

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Nick is a 4th year History major at UBC, as well as the CEO (and sole employee) of Unboring Learning.com, a free online learning site. His 5th grade report card said: "Nick is a conscientious student but distracts his classmates." You can follow him on Twitter: @unboringlearn

4 Responses to “The Gender Police”

  1. Lawrence

    “But what about the medical profession, tasked with “doing no harm,” yet labels anyone who doesn’t feel right in their biological body as having a “disorder?””

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you were referring to those seeking transsexual procedures.

    I suspect that “not feeling right” in one’s biological body is directly related to how deeply such convoluted gender roles are ingrained into our minds and culture. If we were able to remove the stigma associated with being a boy or a girl and allowed people to be happy with exactly who and what they are as human beings, the need to change oneself would not exist simply because nobody would have betrayed themselves in the first place.

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