The classical sociological distinction between “biological sex” and “cultural gender” is based on the idea of a more-or-less fixed binary biological classification (“male” and “female”) and a more-or-less fluid set of cultural characteristics (“masculinities” and “femininities”) that are, to some extent, associated with, or expressive of, these biological categories.

Gender Map

In other words, classical concepts of gender relate to a variety of ways people express their individual and collective beliefs about the meaning of masculinity or femininity.

While “biological sex”, is, in this respect, a fairly simple, straightforward and relatively-inflexible concept (in most contemporary Western societies, for example, you can legally only be male or female, either through birth or, in some instances, legal transition), “gender” is a more-complex and highly-malleable concept that has the potential to be endlessly interpreted and reinterpreted in relation to both personal and social identities.

Partly because gender has such a plasticity when it comes to how it is constructed and practiced, its given expression over the past few years to an increasingly wide range of positions that have become difficult to track – which is where this handy Gender Identity Map created by the LGBT Health and Development Programme at Northwestern University, Illinois might come in useful.

In basic terms it’s an “interactive graphic” that “provides a general “map” of gender identities and expressions” in common usage in North America and, if nothing else, demonstrates the idea “gender is a spectrum, with many different, and related, identities and expressions”. For convenience, the map uses 4 broad categories through which to classify and describe this spectrum of identities

  • Masculine
  • Feminine
  • Both
  • Neither.
  • It’s a potentially useful resource, both for the information it provides and the further work it could promote: do the categories it identifies and explains, for example, reflect universally-recognised gender identities, at least across contemporary Western societies, or are they American forms of cultural identity that may not necessarily be recognised in other societies?

    On a more-pressing note, at least one of the external videos linked to the Presentation no-longer works.

    More-pressing yet, the “interactive graphic” is a Prezi Presentation.

    These, I think it’s fair to say, are not to everyone’s taste because of the movement they use when presenting information within slides. This can induce feelings of nausea in some students (and, to be fair, me) so you may need to trial the process before letting the Presentation loose on your students if you want to avoid making them feel queasy…

    Let us know what you think:

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