The Gender Binary

Every 6 days a woman in Canada is murdered by her intimate partner.

Nearly 40% of Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual assault. Stereotypes about femininity create pressure to be submissive, timid, dependent, and weak (both intellectually and physically). While men are often granted safety for “staying in the box” of masculinity, women experience a lack of safety both for “staying in the box” of femininity, and for pushing outside of it.

Women who live up to expectations of femininity are often assumed to be less competent in the workplace, and are spoken over, interrupted, or not taken seriously. Alternatively, women who speak their mind and show confidence and leadership can be labelled as “bossy,” “bitchy,” or “demanding.” Women are often less likely to be granted a promotion, and they earn less (known as the “wage gap”).

Also, due to gender stereotypes depicting women as nurturing and caring, women tend to do more unpaid work (cleaning, raising children, taking care of elderly parents, etc.).


Women are constantly objectified and sexualized

Women are expected to be sexually experienced, sexually available, and exist for the pleasure of men. At the same time, women are shamed and scrutinized for their sexual expression and behaviours. Women are expected to be submissive to men, and experience violence both for saying “no” and for saying “yes” to sex.

For people assigned female who do not adhere to femininity, they may receive violence in the form of homophobic or transphobic verbal/physical/emotional violence (regardless of whether they identify as queer or trans).

Men and Boys are Affected Too

Stereotypes about masculinity create pressure to be “strong,” and to never ask for help or express feelings. These expectations can impact men’s mental health. Men are more likely to die by suicide and less likely to seek support.

Because femininity is devalued, people who are assigned male that explore and express femininity – such as expressing emotions, choosing activities or jobs that are traditionally feminine, having a feminine aesthetic, or if they are gay/queer/trans – are under constant threat of violence.

Norms suggesting men should be providers, and not be sensitive, domestic or parental create a cycle in which men are often granted less time off of work to develop family relationships.

Power imbalances between genders can prevent fulfilling relationships for all people.

  • The expectation that men should be straight and should only build relationships in the pursuit of sex leads to challenges in developing close and meaningful friendships with women.
  • The constant threat of homophobia leads to challenges for men in developing close and affectionate friendships with other men.
  • Men are expected to always want sex, so there is less acknowledgement and support available for men who are sexually harassed or assaulted.
  • Help, such as family violence shelters for men is often less available.

Non-Binary People are Impacted

Stereotypes about transgender and non-binary people say that they are confused, imposters, sexual perverts and are not to be believed or trusted. Considering this, it is no surprise that transgender and non-binary people are disproportionately targeted for both interpersonal and systemic violence.

Because society devalues femininity, people who were assigned male at birth and express and identify with femininity (trans women/trans feminine people, and specifically those of colour) account for the majority of violence experienced by trans and non-binary people.

Sexually violent behaviour can be directed towards trans and non-binary people assigned female at birth as a way of trying to force them back into “the woman box”.

Physically androgynous trans and non-binary people and those who do not “pass” (whether by choice or circumstance) also experience violence because their existence outside of the gender binary. “Difference” is often seen as threatening. As a result, transgender and non-binary people experience not only interpersonal violence, but systemic violence in the form of:

  • Being denied both permanent and emergency housing
  • Being denied needed mental health services, and medical care
  • Higher rates of school drop-out due to unsupportive environments
  • Higher rates of alcohol and substance use and addiction
  • Being turned down for jobs, or being fired after coming out as trans
  • Higher rates of sexual violence with a lack of dignified support services