Book Review – Is Gender Fluid?

Is Gender Fluid? By Sally Hines, Associate Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Leeds. Published by Thames and Hudson, 2018.

We have come some way towards addressing equalities since the rise of the second-wave feminist movement in the 1970’s. The gains made by women’s movements are undeniable, both in winning political and social rights in domestic contexts and in entrenching women’s rights within the international human rights framework. At the same time, many have started to question the extent to which we have truly progressed. There remains a considerable way to go in addressing gender inequality, so I am pleased Is Gender Fluid? helpfully outlines many of the contemporary issues around gender for those interested.

The books primary contributions consist in providing an approachable primer to the question of gender: What is it? Is it fluid? Do we need it? In Chapters one and two, Hines uses examples from different times, places and subjects to deliver us a history lesson on how gender roles have been consistently subject to change.

“Some of our deepest core beliefs and the most fundamental structures of our cultures are built around gender, making it one of the central ways we categorize each other. we base a huge number of social role and expectations on gender, from who ‘should’ undertake childcare or leadership roles to who ‘should’ wear certain items of clothing, enjoy certain hobbies or even experience certain feelings.”

Hines 2018, p.132

Significantly, this book avoids assuming the Western world is the only one that matters, Chapter three on Gender Diversity outlines individuals and groups whose gender identities and/or expressions fall outside traditional gender roles. We learn, for example, about Hijra, a south Asian term describing a person assigned male sex at birth but who identifies and lives as female. Many other cultures, too, have recognised the existence of more than two genders. Towards the end of this chapter we explore the interconnected relationship between gender and sexuality, and consider the implications of harmful gender stereotypes. To illustrate this point, Hines refers to a recent report by campaigning charity Stonewall, which found that eight out of ten young LGBTQ people have self-harmed out attempted suicide as a result of bullying.

Chapter four discusses the role of gender activism where we trace the history of first and second wave feminisms, through to the #MeToo movement today. The latter movement has focused on sexual violence and harassment, highlighting an imbalance in the power dynamic between men and women, particularly in the public sphere.

This is not a proper ‘academic’ book, nor does it claim to be, and nor should it be. Here, theory is put across with precise detail and clarity, made accessible to a mainstream audience. This feels like the sort of you book you could give to someone who doesn’t agree with you: they might not like it, but its accessibility is such that I’m willing to bet they would at least have a good flick through.

On the whole Is Gender Fluid? is and accessible, clear, and concise read in the way it approaches complicated themes around gender and sexuality. This is my first foray into The Big Idea series and the way the book is beautifully formatted with text and image will have me returning in the future.

“The world we live in remains far from gender neutral, but moves towards gender fluidity are to be welcomed. They enable greater possibilities for us all”

Hines, 2018. p, 137

You can purchase Is Gender Fluid? here

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