“The future is female.”
It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
I am a white heterosexual woman who was assigned female at birth and has birthed two children. By conventional definitions, I fall very hard within racial, sexual, and gender binaries.
I’m not supposed to care about binaries because my own identities seem so clear and align with norms. But identity is never clear or automatic. The more I understand that, the more that I try to raise children to be who they are, the more I’m bothered by “the future is female.”
I know it’s supposed to be a forward-looking slogan that envisions a time where all women are given our due in politics and culture.
But the statement reinforces some very backward ideologies. With colonization came the enforcement of sex, gender, and sexuality binaries, and fierce attempts to erase cultures (like many in the Americas and Africa) that recognized gender identities and presentations outside of a binary, something that white Europeans couldn’t fathom. Whiteness, binaries, and oppression go together. Black-white, male-female, gay-straight: The list goes on and on.
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But recognizing that human biology doesn’t operate under binaries isn’t just a cultural perspective. It’s backed up by science’s old guard, which tends to ignore evidence that sex and gender have never been either-or propositions.
Women who have only one chromosome, a single X, aren’t any less “female” or “woman” than I am. Neither do people with the XY combo have to be “female” or subscribe to any gender.
Are intersex people—who have different chromosomal configurations or anatomy—to be defined solely by their genes or genitalia? There’s more diversity among humanity than what we see on the outside. There are people with XY chromosomes who have binary-female genitalia, people with XX chromosomes who have binary-male genitalia, people with three such chromosomes (XXX, XXY, or XYY), and people whose chromosomal pairs add up to 44 instead of 46.
This debunks what most people use as the “scientific” definition of “female.” Because testing chromosomal makeup upon birth is not a standard procedure, we have limited information about how common chromosomal variations are. But it’s believed that many as 1.7 percent of people are born with chromosomal or anatomical differences that locate them outside the typical “male” or “female” definitions of sex. Neither do we know if there is any correlation between chromosomal makeup and nonbinary gender or sexuality.
The word “female” is still invoked as the scientific definition of a biological woman, which incorrectly conflates sex and gender and erases the identities of intersex and nonbinary people. And this definition isn’t just propagated by right-wing anti-trans politicians. Some self-proclaimed feminist movements, like gender-critical radical feminists (also known as trans-exclusionary radical feminists and sex worker exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs and SWERFs, respectively) or the so-called anti-abortion feminists also use this definition of what it means to be a woman. How either group can call themselves feminists with their narrow ideas of womanhood and stances against reproductive rights, I don’t know.
While we can point the finger at these groups, there’s just as much work to do in feminist circles that believe in real gender justice, circles that should know that genes do not make gender. We can’t embrace a pithy but exclusionary slogan, even one that asserts that we need more nonmen in leadership, especially nonwhite and nonstraight ones.
But this vision of “female” identity promotes not just a sex binary. It also assumes that all women are working toward the same future without glass ceilings and true autonomy. As our elections keep telling us over and over again in the United States, there are countless women—the majority of whom are white—who side with men in power, mobilize, and vote in ways that literally harm vulnerable populations like trans people, immigrants, and women as a whole.
We all have moral and ethical obligations to decolonize our thoughts and language, rooting out binaries that label and devalue people. And that includes even activist spaces, because anyone who reinforces these binaries, whether intentionally or not, is participating in upholding the oppressive institutions of a white patriarchal society.
So I say, the future is not “female.”
The future is one where we have dismantled simplistic binary ideologies because we understand they are rooted in ethnocentrism, oppression, and pseudoscience. It’s a time we should aspire to, when we understand sex, gender, and sexuality as spectrums, and don’t disadvantage anyone for where they place on those spectrums.
I am not saying everyone should or will eventually identify as nonbinary. But the future is one where we don’t push a binary norm. The future should be nonbinary. Period.