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How Gender Identity Discourse Changed Academics

How the evolving discourse on gender identity changed how research is conducted in academic settings

Over the past decade, talks about gender, sexuality and the LGBTQIA+ community have become increasingly common. The idea that gender identity simply must be either male or female has been questioned and those who fit outside these denominations feel they are being dismissed and have begun to speak out about the inaccuracies of the restrictive labels. With both social media and traditional media, the topic of gender has become increasingly mainstream and with that a shift in public perception. One great example of this is the introduction of the ‘Pronoun’ features social media apps have added to allow users to display their preferred pronouns on their page, this is one of the first major shifts towards inclusivity and has awakened those outside the media to think more openly about the language that they use. With the uptake in interest the academic world has brought into question research methods and specifically how we characterise data that we get from human participants.

How does this affect academics?

Hi, my name is Saarah and I study Psychology at university. During my first year, we were given a talk where we were advised to be aware of the language we use when collecting personal data. Collecting accurate personal data is important in any research field especially psychology as it helps us understand psychological concepts better. This meant that when it came to gender identity, we were no longer allowed to just split participants into one of two categories. Firstly, we were told to decide whether we will be testing gender or sex. Sex refers to the biological sex given at birth to a person which can be either male or female. Gender however, refers to the socially constructed ideas of sex and the more expansive categories which include men, women, non-binary, and other denominations. When collecting research, we have to be clear on what information were looking for, if our experiment pertains specifically to the biological side of psychology, sex would be a key data point we would need to collect. Whereas if biological factors are less important, then gender would be brought into question if appropriate.

This very important distinction makes one thing clear; not everyone fits into one box and in order to have more accurate results from our research we need to be inclusive and acknowledge gender and sexuality on a spectrum.

Is this enough?

Previously this was not something that university and academics would ever consider but recently has become an integral part of research as to ensure the most accurate results, gender inclusivity has become important in research as it opens up a whole new expanse of data that can be used, especially in psychology, gender plays a big part in all aspects. However, the work is not yet fully done, as both gender and sexuality exist on a spectrum and some labels stay undefined, more research is needed to make sure when conducting academic research, that everyone is included and represented accurately.

Additionally, there are concerns that this inclusivity is not being translated globally, in France gender inclusivity is being challenged by the government, and resistance amongst others comes from questioning the necessity of these changes. To further gender equality we need to show the importance of inclusivity of gender terms especially in academia where research goes onto change the way society functions.


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