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Gender Awareness, Inclusivity, and Health

Gender has a powerful influence on our lives. From a very young age, we are inundated with messages and ideas about gender. Sources of that messaging can include peers, families, cultures, policies, religions, books, tv/films, advertising, music, etc.

Pink cartoon greyhound with text: What is gender? #GenderTalkLoyola

The messages themselves often take the form of “gender norms,” and they can shape our interests, our values, our mental health, the majors or careers we select, the ways we dress, the ways we behave around others, and countless other choices we make throughout our lifetimes. For example, if young boys are gradually taught that it isn’t “boy-like” to play with dolls, they will be less likely to choose that sort of play even when they find it fun and joyful. They will also often feel shame around this part of themselves.

Contrary to what many believe, gender is not innate or intrinsic (see a list of gender- and identity-related definitions). In other words, it is not something we are born with, but instead is a social construct. It is also not required to live a fulfilling life and, in fact, many people exist without an identified gender (“agender”). Gender categories and norms were invented by humans in an attempt to neatly organize vastly complex and diverse bodies and behaviors, rather than allowing human bodies and behavior to simply be complex and diverse.

This website may be a starting point or the next chapter in your process of learning more about gender and its impact on our mental health. We hope it helps you develop healthy relationships with gender in your life, while helping to build a world in which we can all live authentically and feel like we are loved and belong. There are three important parts of this process: Gender Awareness, Gender Inclusivity, and Gender Health. See below for more information about each. 

Gender Awareness

Cultivating gender awareness means being able to reflect on our own and others’ gender-related experiences, while also having knowledge and understanding of relevant language, terms, and definitions, as well as a commitment to learning as language evolves to accurately reflect human experience.

Videos on Gender Awareness 

Thank you to Loyola alums Kelley Chan, Toni Bryce, and Michael Devereaux for filming and editing these videos. 

Learn more about pronoun usage as it relates to gender inclusivity.

More Information and Resources Related to Gender Awareness
  • Some Definitions:
    • Gender Identity: How one identifies/labels oneself – as a man, a woman, trans*, genderqueer, or otherwise
    • Questioning: The process of exploring one’s own sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
    • Agender: Refers to a person who does not identify with or experience any gender. Agender is different from nonbinary because many nonbinary people do experience gender.
    • LGBTQ+: An acronym that collectively refers to individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, sometimes stated as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) or, historically, GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender). The addition of the Q for queer is a more recently preferred version of the acronym as cultural opinions of the term queer focus increasingly on its positive, reclaimed definition. The Q can also stand for questioning, referring to those who are still exploring their own sexuality and/or gender. The “+” represents those who are part of the community but for whom LGBTQ does not accurately capture or reflect their identity.
  • More LGBTQ+ Terms and Definitions
  • Another List of Terms and Definitions (PFLAG)

Gender Inclusivity

Gender inclusion refers to actions and policies that build a world in which humans of all gender identities can live authentically, feel a sense of safety and belonging, and thrive. This includes actions that promote the health and well-being of transgender, gender nonbinary, two-spirit, and agender persons, as well as any others who identify outside of the gender binary. This also includes normalizing the use of pronouns, taking action to challenge the myth of the gender binary, and our individual commitment to processing gendered messaging and experiences that influence privilege and oppression in our lives.

Videos on Gender Inclusivity

Thank you to Loyola alums Kelley Chan, Toni Bryce, and Michael Devereaux for filming and editing these videos. 

Learn more about pronoun usage as it relates to gender inclusivity.

More Information and Resources Related to Gender Inclusivity

Pink cartoon greyhound with text: How can we promote gender wellness? #GenderTalkLoyola

Gender Health

Gender health refers to actions that cultivate compassion, authenticity, and well-being in all aspects of our gendered lives for ourselves and for others. This includes actions and policies that end gender-based violence, actions that improve body image and bodily love across the gender spectrum, and actions that promote healthy embodiments of masculinity and femininity.

Videos on Gender Health

Thank you to Loyola alums Kelley Chan, Toni Bryce, and Michael Devereaux for filming and editing these videos. 

Learn more about some different dimensions of gender-related health below.

Ending Gender-Based Violence
  • Ending gender-based violence is a significant part of what it means to promote gender health. Issues related to gender-based violence are unfortunately widespread, and research shows that these issues disproportionately impact historically marginalized communities (e.g., trans and nonbinary folks, women). This is not to suggest that men are not also victims of gender-based violence, but that other groups face higher rates of such violence. For example, research shows that, among college students, 21% of transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people,18% of cisgender women, and 4% of cisgender men have experienced some form of sexual assault.
  • Intersectionality: An intersectional approach, one that recognizes overlapping and intersecting experiences of marginalization and discrimination, emphasizes that oppressions work together to produce, uphold, and expand injustice. When affixing this approach to violence against women and girls (for example), we must consider where gender intersects with other inequalities/oppressions (e.g. sexuality, gender identity, ethnicity, indigeneity, immigration status, disability) to produce unique experiences of violence. (Source: The Value of Intersectionality in Understanding Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) July 2019)
  • For example, we know that gender-based violence also impacts those with transgender and nonbinary identities disproportionately. When we also look at specific intersectional considerations we see that Black trans people are more likely to experience homelessness, which increases their likelihood of being exposed to physical violence, and Black transwomen are more likely to experience sexual and physical assault. (Human Rights Watch. (Source: United States: Transgender People at Risk of Violence – State Laws Stoke Bias; Black Trans Women at Greatest Risk)
  • Different forms of violence: Violence is not always physical, and especially when considering intersectionality, it can take on covert, subversive forms that are no less impactful or harmful. Some examples include (see for more information):
    • Withholding, damaging, or destroying assistive devices (for individuals with disabilities)
    • Threatening to report you to ICE if you do not comply with demands (for people lacking citizenship)
    • Threatening to “out” your sexuality or relationship status (for LGBTQ+ individuals)
    • Disproportionately poor access to adequate medical care, especially preventative or maternal care (for people of color – most notably Black women in the use related to maternal care)
    • Decreased access to gender affirming care and exposure to intrusive questioning not medically relevant (for trans and nonbinary people)
    • Removing or prohibiting access to education (in remote/rural populations)

As these examples show, gender-based violence does not only occur at the individual level. On the contrary, individual forms of gender-based violence are upheld and maintained due to the impact of messaging, lack of adequate policy, and disenfranchisement at a multi-system level. Gender based violence is intersectional, institutional, and international -addressing needs on a systemic level is fundamental to its eradication.

Below, we’ve included a number of on-campus and off-campus resources for support and further education around gender-based violence.

Rejecting Bodily Shame and Embracing Body Autonomy and Neutrality
  • Body image is another important dimension of cultivating gender-related health. Issues such as fat phobia, sizeism, body shame, and disordered eating affect human beings across the gender spectrum. Furthermore, for some trans and nonbinary people, bodies can be a source of emotional distress if one’s bodily appearance or felt sense is incongruent with one’s identity.
  • Because gendered norms are so often tied to the appearance and physicality of bodies, we are often inundated with messages about how our bodies “should” look, whether we consciously notice these messages or not. Regardless of gender identity, each of us, at some point in our lives, has likely been made to feel some form of shame toward some aspect of our body. Cultivating bodily acceptance, bodily love, or “body neutrality” can sometimes feel challenging in a world that often tells us bodies should "look” a certain way. Furthermore, bodily ideals are often centered around White/Eurocentric, thin, non-disabled, cisgender bodies. As such, learning to resist the societal pressures to feel shame toward our bodies can be a lifelong process. However, as the author of The Body is Not an Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor notes, most of us at one point or another (usually often as babies or infants) felt a sense of unencumbered joy about our bodies and existed free of bodily shame. Check out the resources below to learn more: 
Healthy Femininities and Masculinities

Often, whenever someone brings up the topic of “masculinity," some experience or interpret it as an attack on men or a criticism of “manhood.” At times, when “femininity” is referenced, some perceive it as a standard or benchmark that women must reach to legitimize their identity as women. However, when it comes to the topics of “femininity” and “masculinity,” there are a lot of widely held misconceptions and false assumptions.

The Difference Between “Masculinity” and Men

  • First, talking about “masculinity” is not the same thing as talking about men. The same holds true for “femininity” and women. Masculinity and femininity are not innate, biological, or essential qualities of sex or gender. They are social constructs. We as human beings invented these words (like we did with genders) to try to make sense of a diverse world full of diverse bodies and diverse ways of living. In short, masculinity and femininity refer to various norms, ideas, and behaviors that we as humans have used throughout history to categorize and make meaning of “being a man” or “being a woman.” Despite what many assume, masculine and feminine norms differ across cultures, identities, and periods of time (e.g., some of what was “traditionally feminine” centuries ago is different from what might be considered “feminine” today).

Erasure of Non-Binary Identities and Experiences

  • Right away, we can see how these social constructs (femininity and masculinity), particularly when they were first created, inaccurately and harmfully implied that people who do not identify as man or woman and those who do not enact “femininity” or “masculinity” as prescribed by societal standards are “inferior” or do not exist. While it’s important for us to be able to talk about and critically examine femininity and masculinity, we also need to acknowledge how doing so can sometimes, intentionally or unintentionally, debase or erase the experiences of people who do not exist within the sex or gender binary. To this end, we give voice to the expansiveness of femininity and masculinity in efforts to promote greater inclusion and sense of belonging within the Loyola community. The truth is that masculinity and femininity impact all human beings, regardless of sex or gender. In other words, intersex, transgender, nonbinary, agender, pangender, or other gender variant/gender diverse/gender non-conforming people still come in contact with and navigate feminine and masculine norms in their lives, whether by choice or because we all exist in a world where these norms are baked into nearly every aspect of our lives (e.g., media, clothing, social interactions).
  • For example, non-binary people can express varying degrees or aspects of masculinity or femininity and are still non-binary. Gender expression does not negate or determine gender identity. Similarly, a cisgender girl/woman can have certain personality traits, preferences, or tendencies that might fall under the umbrella of what some might define as “traditionally masculine.” Examples include assertiveness, courage, competitiveness, self-sufficiency, emotional stoicism, or someone who likes watching sports. None of these make her any less of a woman, because she also claims that identity.

How to Make Sense of This?

Starting to see how complex and nuanced these issues are? In having these discussions, we must acknowledge the shortcomings and limitations of words like “masculinity” and “femininity.” But, we also cannot pretend like they don’t exist or impact our mental health and our lives!

  • In short, masculinity and femininity are “out there” in the world, often invisible, implicit, and unspoken, yet very much influencing our behaviors and our mental health – sort of like tiny particles in the air we breathe. And we all have a degree of choice when it comes to how we relate to masculinities and femininities. Note here, a shift in our language making these words plural. This is because there is no one singular “masculinity” or “femininity,” but a plurality of them across contexts, communities, and cultures. Furthermore, masculinities and femininities are dynamic – they change over time and even from situation to situation (e.g., what might feel “masculine” around one’s family might be very different than what might feel “masculine” around teammates on a sports team). We can, of course, talk about what might feel “traditionally masculine” or “traditionally feminine,” but to imply that there is only one concept of “masculinity” or “femininity” out there governing all of us is false. Furthermore, femininities and masculinities are intersectional. The norms, expectations, stereotypes, and forms of violence associated with each often depend upon a host of other identities a person holds. For example, while the quiet, emotionally withdrawn “bad boy” stereotype is romanticized among White men in movies and media, some of the same qualities in Black men are often seen as dangerous.
  • It is also very possible (and important) to talk about femininities and masculinities in ways that don’t necessarily imply that we are attacking (wo)men or “the way (wo)men are.” Again, men are not inherently “masculine.” Women are not inherently “feminine.” We all embody, enact, and engage with varying degrees of femininities and masculinities daily, regardless of gender. We invite you to fully embrace and celebrate all facets of your gender identities and expression, as well as the gender identities and expression of others.

On Using the Word “Toxic”

  • When we discuss some of the healthy, unhealthy, or even “toxic” aspects of masculinities and femininities, we aren’t saying that men are “toxic” or that women are “catty.” Instead, we’re asking important questions about some of the traditional norms associated with masculinities and femininities, as well as some of the harmful outcomes sometimes associated with those norms.
  • Furthermore, even if we discuss a particular norm, it’s important to recognize that this norm is rarely unhealthy, harmful, or toxic 100% of the time. Instead, it often depends on situation and context. For example, being emotionally stoic (i.e., not openly expressing or showing our emotions), which many would describe as a “traditionally masculine” norm, may increase our suffering in some situations (e.g., after someone we love dies, or after a breakup), while in other situations (e.g., military combat), emotional stoicism may actually help someone of any gender identity survive. On the other hand, being warm and nurturing may in some contexts be considered a "healthy trait” and “traditionally feminine,” while there are also situations (e.g., needing to clearly assert our needs or tell someone how they have hurt us) in which a “warm and nurturing” approach is not necessary.
  • Of note, some norms across history that have been “traditionally masculine” are in fact unhealthy and harmful 100% of the time. One example is the pressure some boys and men can feel to present themselves as heterosexual or to abide by the notion that anything coded as “feminine” or “gay” is something bad, inferior, or funny. Finally, whenever we discuss the role of femininities and masculinities in our lives, it’s important to notice and ask questions about how the “social rules” associated with these constructs are being enforced or “policed.” Oftentimes, because of whatever is considered “traditionally masculine” or “traditionally feminine” in a given context, certain behaviors, traits, or preferences are rewarded, while others are punished. Research shows that this “punishment,” in the form of rejection, humiliation, or even things often considered to be “teasing” or “poking fun” can leave people of all gender identities with deep feelings of shame and have detrimental effects on their mental health.
  • When it comes to issues such as gender-based violence and body image, research shows that these issues are often inextricably linked with gender-related norms such as masculinity and femininity – also referred to as “masculinities” and “femininities” because neither has a single definition, but can differ across time, culture, identities, and context.
  • Additional Resources
    Check out the articles, videos, and resources below to learn more about masculinities and femininities in our lives. Please note that some of these resources may define or conceptualize femininity or masculinity in a specific way. Furthermore, these resources are produced by people who exist in the world with unique intersecting identities (e.g., two White women in the TED Talks), and their reflections on these topics may not capture other lived experiences. Our sharing these resources is not an endorsement of any one definition or interpretation of masculinity or femininity, but an invitation to expand our understandings of them and reflect on their roles in our lives.

Community Connections and Resources

We also offer the following non-exhaustive list of local resources as options for affirming care in the areas of physical and mental health, legal support, housing and food security, and community advocacy: 

Contact Us

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