In Modules 1 and 2, we talked about sex and gender operating along a continuum. Bodies can look male, female or somewhere in between; roles, traits behaviours can be more or less masculine and more or less feminine. When we consider how sex and gender interact, it is helpful to think about these continuums intersecting to form a grid.
An individual might occupy different places in the grid, depending on which characteristics or aspects of life we pay attention to at any given time. For example, a female firefighter might be located in the lower left corner of the grid – her sex is female but her occupation is traditionally masculine. In contrast, a woman who is a stay-at-home mother might occupy the lower right corner – she is a female doing traditional “women’s work”. We can imagine other individuals who might occupy different places in the grid. A man who works in construction might be located in the upper left corner while a man who is a stay-at-home father might be placed in the upper right corner.
Now clearly, a grid is not really flexible enough to accurately represent the full range of sex and gender identities and experiences. If we add new information about the people in our previous examples, or pay attention to different aspects of their lives, we might see the intersections of sex and gender differently. For instance, if the male construction worker also has a soft voice and doesn’t need to shave, his location in the grid might shift to bring him closer to the middle of the male/female continuum. Similarly, the location of the stay-at-home mother might change if her hobby is welding or she is a transwoman (having changed her biological sex from male to female).
As we saw in Modules 1 and 2, sex and gender are each expressed along a continuum with the result that the intersections of sex and gender vary for different people, in different times and places. The idea of the grid can encourage us to think about how, where and why we see the interaction of sex and gender.
At the same time, the grid reminds us that our interpretation of the intersection of sex and gender depends on which aspects of sex and gender we believe to be important at any given time. Will we focus on the DNA of the stay-at-home mother or her role as a caregiver? Will we place greater emphasis on the firefighter’s sex or her occupation? These are not easy questions to answer, but they challenge us to evaluate our own knowledge, assumptions, beliefs and biases about sex and gender and how they work together in people’s lives.