3 Gendering, Doing Gender, and Policing Gender

Rebecca Yoshizawa

For a lot of people, what it means to be a man, a boy, a woman, or a girl is very clear, obvious, and timeless. But really, that impression is an effect of the power of gender socialization. What it means to be a member of an assigned gender, associated with the genitals that parents and healthcare providers perceive at birth, is taught from the moment someone is born (sometimes, it even seems beforehand, with “gender reveal parties” and families buying blue or pink outfits in anticipation of a baby!). So, our firm ideas about gender belie the reality that gender is understood differently in different cultural contexts, and likewise, in different points in history, we can see very different ideas of gender.4 colourful balloons, each which bears a word. The sentence made when you combine the words is "gender is not predictable."

We can shift our understanding away from gender essentialism, towards the idea that gender is a process, activities, and behaviours – or more properly, a set of “doings” that signify for us and communicate to others about our gender. The concept of “doing gender” assigns verb status to gender. Gender is created out of activity, dynamism, and interaction. Gender is created out of the clothes we wear, our personalities, our interests, our roles, and just about everything associated with our identities, senses of self, and interactions with others.

When a certain performance of gender is required of someone, we can call this gender policing. Gender policing is a form of socialization and often a form of violence that attempts to force someone to modify their gender expression based on their perceived sex. An example might be a school dress code that requires girls to wear skirts, a parent referring to a boy as a “sissy,” or a customer complaining about a short-haired person in the women’s washroom.

Gender essentialism: the idea that gender identity is inherent in biological sex differences
Gendering: the act of ascribing or requiring a gender of someone or something
Gendered: when something, such as an object, role, or quality, has had a gender assigned to it
Gender policing: the act of influencing or requiring a certain gender expression of someone



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Gender in Canada: A Companion Workbook Copyright © 2023 by Rebecca Yoshizawa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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