By CHLOE RAMBERG, staff reporter
It may not be as simple as checking a box for male or female anymore, as there are many people who don’t identify with these specific genders.
April is Women’s History Month at Central Washington University, and this year’s theme is ‘Transcending Gender’.
Women and Gender Studies, along with the Center for Diversity and Social Justice have collaborated to educate students on gender issues. The goal is to help the campus community think about the various ways in which typical gender notions are being challenged.
“We wanted to come up with an idea that deals with not only women, but men, and also people who identify as neither men nor women,” said Cynthia Coe, Director of Women and Gender Studies.
In Western culture, there is a long standing idea that everyone needs to fit into either the female or male categories. Binary gender is a concept imposed by society, and the events planned for Women’s History Month are intended to challenge that concept.
“I think we’re living in a time where we’re becoming increasingly aware of gender stereotypes,” Coe said. “But there’s still assumptions made about what someone’s gender is supposed to be.”
There are penalties if a person doesn’t fit into pre-defined gender categories. Bullying, social harassment and even physical consequences can occur as a result of being different.
Caitlyn Runland, junior pre-nursing major, has witnessed some of these consequences first hand.
“I have friends who don’t associate with traditional genders, and they are constantly bullied or made fun of for being different,” Runland said.
Events focused on gender issues will take place throughout the month in the hopes of creating awareness so these penalties don’t happen as often.
“The whole series of events are intended to educate the campus community about what gets called gender variance,” Coe said. “It’s the way in which people don’t fit into the two areas of gender, and don’t need to fit into those categories.”
Included in the events will be a student panel, where students will have the opportunity to discuss their experiences with gender issues, and to ask questions. There will also be featured speakers, inlcuding Marsha Botzer.
Botzer is from the Seattle area and consults with companies about how to handle gender policies in a fair and just manner.
“Theatre of Gender” is an exhibit which will be displayed in the SURC during the month of April. The exhibit features images of a variety of genders and cultures across time, as well as explanations of each picture.
Pamela McMullin-Messier, assistant professor of sociology, is a supporter of the Women’s History Month event, participates in discussions about what should take place in her class during Womens History Month. She offers extra credit for students who go and experience the opportunities provided by these events.
“As a society, we need to move past the binary expectations of male/female and masculine/feminine, in the terms of the confines of traditional sex and gender roles,” McMullin-Messier said. “I think this month’s activities will spark discussion and empowerment of students to explore their roles.”
Students were directly involved in the planning and execution of events for Womens History Month. They were responsible for the content displayed in the “Theatre of Gender” exhibit and for creating posters for Women’s History Month.
Coe said it was important to involve students in these projects because they can better relate to other students and the gender challenges they may be going through.
“Every student, I think, is dealing with how gender affects their lives,” Coe said.
Students will have the chance to interact with other students, and respond to the issues associated with gender and where these conceptions come from.
There are students who have experienced gender issues, either amongst themselves or with close friends and family members, who have a perspective that others may not have. These students are able to share their experiences and help raise awareness about the negative effects associated with quick judgments.
“It’s very easy for us to look at someone who’s different, who doesn’t fit our expectations, and feel threatened or get anxious,” Coe said. “When we’re more informed and more aware, hopefully we can have a more conscious response.”
Students, faculty and community members are welcome to attend the events.
“Our thought is to educate people about the fact that although we normally think everybody on the planet is either male or female, the possibilities for how people live out their gender are incredibly varied,” Coe said.