Beyond Male and Female: The Flaw of Gender Dichotomies in the Workplace
By: Taylor Jupin
Transgender identity has been a progressive movement in only one sector of the
American workforce, and this piecemeal equality has only been addressed by large corporations
particularly Fortune 500 companies. This paper asserts that these companies may actually help
the rest of the US accept transgender people as a part of society, but the top down method of
changing beliefs and discrimination against a minority group will always come with problems.
This paper highlights the topic and discrimination of transgender identities and provides insight
into how gender equality can be expanded to other areas simply through definition. The goal is to
change the definition of gender by getting relevant groups fighting for equality to change their
perception as well as to urge local municipalities to enact a more correct means of categorizing
STATEMENT OF THE ISSUE
Transgender discrimination can have many harmful effects, and according to a one study
done by the New Civil Rights Movement, murder rate is "50 percent higher for transgender than
gay and lesbians throughout all of north and South America." This is a striking issue because the
study also states that there are only ".3 percent of the population that identify as transgender"
which is significantly less than the gay and lesbian population. The high amount of violence
against transgendered people as compared to other larger groups will cause those of
transgendered identity to be at greater risk and awareness of such discrimination and violence. A
rock dropped in an ocean creates a tiny ripple, but a rock dropped in a puddle creates a tidal
wave. In other words the minority group consisting of those who identify as falling under the
“transgender umbrella” (Zimmerman 128) have a greater risk, and due to its small size, fear
would be more effective. This fact places blame on gender identity in terms the definitio and the
rigid nature of defined gender identities into only two categories helps those outside of the model
to be subject to various forms of discrimination. Such discrimination is not without notice and
"Washington, along with other jurisdictions, has extended legal protections to transgender
people. Ten years ago, only two states had such laws. Now, 15 states do” (NPR). States like
Washington may be increasing policy to combat work discrimination, but the law does not
always provide effective means in changing social trends and discrimination against minority
This paper shows how gender categorization has subjugated and defined proper work for
each gender despite the fluidity of gender. The gender paradigm needs to be changed in order to
stop exclusion of those who do not fit into the dichotomies of social gender categorization. I use
the word social categorization because legal, psychological and to an extent, biological
classification of sex all have its own terms developed by the dominating culture. The point of
expanding gender to a multidimensional category is to allow transgendered individuals to be
placed on the same platform as any other sex or gender, so the roots of discrimination can be
scrutinized. There are large corporations in the US that have addressed the issue, but may not
actually encapsulate the goal of changing the minds of the public, but capitalize on the
opportunity to expand the workforce and an image of progressivism.
Gender stigmas pinpoint the categorization of gender as one of the main causes of
discrimination and show how corporate equality changes need to happen at a much lower and
broader level. Non-explicit incorporation of transgendered or ambiguous gendered people into
the everyday curricula of the school system, television or even video and computer games may
be a way to expose and beat the roots of gender discrimination before such roots can grow. This
however may be a secondary goal and case study after the definition of gender has been
remolded to fit the many categories of gender.
Thus, the conclusions of this paper have found that localized change needs to help uproot
the discrimination of LGBT community by not subjecting job applicants to be forced to fit
themselves in to one of the chosen genders when there is no reason other than harmful allocation.
The reality that there are other gendered people needs to spread into social perceptions so beliefs
can develop with the notion that sex and gender does not need to fit into dichotomies. Such is the
goal, though it may be a large leap, but the idea is a starting point for research and innovative
ideas to build upon and to garner exposure to the topic and the realistic possibilities of
eliminating harmful gender labels.
ORIGIN/HISTORY OF TRANGENDER POLICY IN THE US
The origin of gender identity is not a task easily taken, but one relevant story is that of the
Roman Emperor Elagabalus. The ruler’s life was full of religious deviance, portrayed in his
name the Romanized version of the Syrian sun-god El-Gabal (or Baal), and his sexual deviance.
Rome had a different way of classifying gender than the way that the US current does, where sex
with a man was more acceptable so long as one remains the active aggressor and dominator. The
Roman’s classified sexuality for men: active, aggressive and manly and for women: passive,
submissive and feminine. This allowed for a different assessment of gender, which the
acceptance of the “transgendered” Emperor is proof. Elagabalus was said to have sex with men,
cross dress, remove manly hair from his body, and even offered a large payment to any doctor
who could turn him into a woman. The emperor was eventually assassinated, and this was not
due to his “transgendered” identity, but to other factors such as religion and prostitution. The
reasons for his assassination are long and detailed, but the overall take on his sexuality was not
the defining factor in his assassination (Dirven). This story shows how gender classification can
play a large role in societies determinates for what sex and gender roles are acceptable; thus legal
action to make transgendered people more accepted in the workplace will not be substantial
unless gender is itself altered in societal perceptions.
The legal system in the US claims that companies must not discriminate according to
sex, but the issue of transgender equality is not simply a policy issue. The US Supreme Court
decision Meritor Savings Bank v Vinson established that gender discrimination is a violation of
the Civil rights Act of 1964. In 1988, Faragher v. City of Boca Raton concluded that "employers
are liable for discriminations and sexual harassment of an employee and intentional torts"
(Westlaw). There have been cases in the UK that have tackled the actual issue of transgender
inequality under the "Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations” that do not allow
employers to ask any employee if they are transgender or transsexual, which would be would be
considered harassment. The policies in the US are not as substantive as the UK, which have more
concrete regulations for those who wish to change, or have changed their gender identity.
However the US does not have such concrete laws protecting transgendered people and neither
country has an actual legal definition of gender beyond the archaic dichotomy. The talk
concerning Transgendered people has been documented by Zimmerman and the dialogue
became salient in 1967, yet the definitions of gender are still rigorous and in need of further
Transgender as defined by Zimmerman is, "an umbrella term for people whose gender
identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth" (128).
Similarly in the first two decades of the 21st
century, US Fortune 500 companies have been
adopting policies to ensure transgender equality (Connell). The policies help to promote equality
by allowing sex changes to occur, but only by the forewarning of one’s superior a year prior to
the transition (Davis). The US Fortune 500 companies are providing partial legal insurance by
allowing legal action to be taken against those who harass or discriminate, and also allowing
sexual changes to occur in the workplace under in certain guideline.
MORAL AND CAUSAL ANLYSIS
Zimmerman's article is expanded by Connell that shows how even the Fortune 500
companies are not allowing for other gendered people to be represented and the only means of
doing so would be to what Zimmerman has dubbed as "undoing gender." The possibility of
"undoing gender" is addressed by Connell and both articles attempt to eliminate unnecessary sex
categorization where it serves no purpose, but only serves as a social recognition in order to
create dichotomies that are not inherently or biologically necessary. Zimmerman notes that
gender in "society is self enforcing" (141) and in the workforce such assignments of gender are
"allocative" in order to help designate what roles men and women are meant or supposed to take
(143). This raises the moral question of why we have gender assignments within the workplace
or other institutional arenas since the practice of gender categorization does not allow for the
actual fluidity of the human gender identities. The “doing of gender” in social interactions and
the institutions that force gender dichotomies can arbitrarily demand ones gender even when
there is no beneficial or prudent reason.
The current policy does not take into account what gender is according to the more up to
date understandings. The Civil Rights Act that has been deemed to protect gender inequality, but
does not look at the root of the problem that “doing gender” helps to reinforce discrimination
through classification, thus creating deviants. The progression of sex categorization has been
developing since and development of the “term transvestite (which) was used early in the 20th
century to describe people (primarily men) who dress in women’s clothing for their own interests
(usually erotic). Later, transsexualism (listed as gender identity disorder in the fourth edition of
the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders4)
was used to describe a population of individuals whose feelings concerning their gender involved
more than a desire to dress in a particular set of clothes and a stronger identification with gender
values contrary to societal expectations” (Lombardi 1). Zimmerman’s literature was canonized
for his expression of “doing gender” to “account for the reproduction of gender through
interaction” (Connell 1) and the need to undo gender and more properly classify people.
However, he was not specific in what the “umbrella” encompasses, and Lombardi adds more
recent literature to define sex in “4 categories: biological sex, legal–institutional sex, social
gender, and psychologic gender. The focus of my paper is on social gender and the effects on
legal-institutional sex, because change needs to happen within society before legal sanctions can
have any significant effects.
Lombardi’s proposes five ways to address the issue, but I will like to focus on two that
seem the most salient and necessary. The first is to “[a]cknowledge the authenticity of
transgender individuals’ identities and lives in all areas (policy, research, and clinical practice)”
(3).This suggestion can help the descriptive goal of my proposal by showing how the change
needs to show others that people do not actually classify individuals into a dichotomous gender,
thus leading to the injunctive norm that we ought to accept people outside the current gender
roles. The second is to “[a]dvocate for cultural relevancy within research, policy, education and
prevention programs, and direct care contexts. One strategy is to contact and develop
partnerships with individuals and organizations within the local transgender community” (3).
This will help create a local dialogue that spreads the word of needing to “undo gender” and to
help social norms spread the view of transgender as an accepted gender. The work of scholars
has not altered legal definitions or social definitions as a whole, but there are some large
organizations that are changing policies to lower transgender discrimination.
The causal relationships stipulates that the assigned sex at birth contributes to the
identities of later life, and institutional forces have authority to dictate what is normal and/or
accepted and what is not, thus allowing those who deviate to have a greater probability of being
discriminated against. As shown by the experiments of Rakoczy and Schmidt children will
enforce contextual regulations and negative sanctions on those who are not playing according to
the appropriate rules. Similarly, the categorization of sexes by the means of institutional
allocation must contribute to the norm enforcement by society and this then places those of
transgender to be subject to various forms of social and institutional discrimination.
CRITIQUE OF POLICY AND PROGRAM OPTIONS
Debra Davis looks at corporations and Fortune 500 companies whom have tried a top
down style means of protecting transgendered people, but this style does not change the fact that
many people are not use to others who have genders that differ from their sex and the
discrimination remains. The Corporate Equality Index has placed many large corporations and
Fortune 500 companies as leaders in gender equality (Davis, 8). One way to test whether or not a
company has a high rating in terms of gender equality is to have "'gender identity' and/or 'gender
expression' in their written non-discrimination or equal opportunities employment policies”
(Davis, 8).A "transsexual employee is obligated to 'come out' to his/her employer in order to
satisfy the requirement to live full-time in his/her new gender role for at least a year before
irreversible surgery, employers necessarily become involved in the employee’s transition”
(Davis 7). The policies of fortune 500 companies as noted by Connell may be a good place to
start, but the policies of anti-discrimination are not problem deterrents, and only act when there
is a clear violation or after the presentation of an issue. This beckons the need for change to
prevent discrimination by sublimating the current way of viewing gender and to decrease the
current method of dealing with gender discrimination after the fact.
This method does not have any stake in actually changing people’s perception, but only
makes the company to appear progressive and create a cushion for companies so legal suits
cannot be filed on a company due to gender discrimination. The policy is also not necessary, but
a choice. It is also a choice taken up by the large companies that may have influence, but this
does not try to change people’s perceptions, it is simply being more accepting, or appearing to
be. The policies are helpful to establish an extra-legal norm, but now such work should be done
in other areas that actually tackle the roots of why such genders are being discriminated against.
The programs that are currently in place need to be expanded in a few ways
1. The categorization of gender needs to be updated to incorporate more than just male and
female: transgender, transsexual, other or undisclosed.
2. The advancement of women in the workforce is a right by employers according to
affirmative action plans should incorporate those who fall under the umbrella of
transgender (this is to help transgendered people more easily assume a high position, thus
helping to create a perception of such people that is professional, positive and away from
the current view).
3. The categorization of sex should be eliminated when the job requirement does not
actually need to take into account the sex.
4. Local groups urging municipalities to adopt gender identification in job application only
for jobs that deem it necessary:
a. If there is a formal interview, then mentioning ones sex is not necessary, because
the interviewer can then base the interviewed off of merit
b. If a job, like modeling, or any other where gender is necessary, then gender
should be established (this can be determined if gender can literally restrict job
5. The emphasis on altering the way gender is defined should be implemented by the LGBT
community to create a more broad scope of equality.
These programs would be administered by having relevant organizations that are trying to
combat gender inequality, and inequality at large, to adopt the idea of changing gender categories
so the implementation of further regulations, sanctions, policies and equality practices can
proliferate in an environment that is attempting to rid the ills of unnecessary gender dichotomies.
The proposed programs would not be a purely legal basis, but before more localized
measures such as providing elementary school literature with pictures with a more diverse
gender scope; such as ambiguous gendered people, or physically gendered characters that do not
match their attire, there also needs to be the “undoing of gender” as advocated by Zimmerman.
In order to decrease what Cialdini classifies as the “boomerang effect,” the undoing of gender is
the necessary catalyst for change, so social change through media and other avenues does not
“boomerang.” The drive towards gender equality through legal sanctions, media, and the
workplace would be useless or harmful if the correct measures to prepare society were not taken.
This can be done at a local and national level such as changing options with in the census, and
the above methods 1-5 to eliminate gender from arenas that do not need to know what ones
gender is, and thus making gender dichotomies a useless norm in certain instances; but keeping
gender identity in more essential cases, such as in the military, athletic sports etc.
This method should not be entirely perceived as a top down method, because it is not
inviting larger chains/companies to adopt policy changes in hopes that their methods trickle
down, but to change gender in the work force entirely by implementing the above
recommendations. This is meant to initiate the “undoing” of gender and limit the means in which
gender plays a role in the negative effect of work discrimination. The broad range, in which
gender can discriminate against women, transgendered people, etc., cannot be combated without
placing emphasis on what gender is. The breaking down of arbitrary and harmful expectations
for gender, such as women should cook and be taken care of or transgender people are sexual
deviants, or whatever the practice is that spurs inequality can be cut down when gender breaks
the current Manichean logic. Thus reducing the current obtuse nature of minority transgender
groups can be enforced by extra legal sanctions by combating the “doing of gender.” This paper
is a building block for future drives towards gender equality by redefining what gender is to
reconfigure the moral and social norms so gender can become arbitrary in the work place when
assignment and labeling of sex/gender is unnecessary and harmful.
ACLU. “Transgender People and the Law Frequently Asked Questions.” (2014). Web.
Badash, David. “Transgender People Being Murdered at a Rate Almost 50 Percent Higher Than
Lesbians and Gays.” The New Civil Rights Movement. NPR (2013). Web.
Cialdini, Robert B. Lecture Slides by Gerry Mackie. Poli 119a, Changing Harmful Social Norms.
Cognitive Science Building, UCSD. 4 April, 2014. Lecture.
Connell, Catherine. “Doing, Undoing, or Redoing Gender?: Learning From Workplace
Experiences of Transpeople.” Gender & Society vol. 24 No. 1, Feb (2010): 31-55. Web.
Davis, Debra. “Transgender Issues in the Workplace: HRD’s Newest Challenge/ Opportunity.”
Advances in Developing Human Resources. 11.1. Feb (2009): 109-120. Web.
Dirven (Utrecht), Lucinda. “The Emperor’s New Clothes: A Note on Elagabalus’ Priestly
Dress.” Studies of Oriental Religions. 56. (2007): 21-36. Web.
Lombardi, Emilia. “Enhancing Transgender Health.” American Journal of Public Health. 91.6.
June 2005. Pg 869-875.Web.
Rakoczy, Hannes and Marco F. H. Schmidt. “The early Ontology of Social Norms. Child Development
Perspectives. 7.1. March (2013):17–21. Web.
Reuters, Thomson. “U.S. Supreme Court.” Caselaw.lp.findlaw.com (2014). Web.
West, Candace and Zimmerman, Don H. “Doing Gender.” Gender & Society. 1.22. June (1987):