Don’t confuse the levels

A headline:

27% of California adolescents say they are viewed as gender nonconforming, study finds

Hmm. How good are adolescents at sussing out what other people think of them? Adults aren’t all that good at it, even with experience and learning; I don’t think it’s the kind of thing adolescents are better at.

“The data show that more than one in four California youth express their gender in ways that go against the dominant stereotypes,” said lead author Bianca D.M. Wilson, the Rabbi Barbara Zacky Senior Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute.

But that’s a different claim. The claim in the headline is twice-meta – it’s a claim about 1 )what people say 2)other people think. It’s not a claim about how people express their gender.

Gender nonconforming refers to people whose behaviors and appearance defy the dominant cultural and societal stereotypes of their gender. The health interview survey measured gender expression by asking adolescents how they thought people at school viewed their physical expressions of femininity and masculinity. Youth who reported that people at school saw them as equally masculine and feminine were categorized as “androgynous.” Girls who thought they were seen as mostly or very masculine and boys who thought they were seen as mostly or very feminine were categorized as “highly gender nonconforming.”

There again: they’re confusing levels. Asking adolescents 1)how they thought 2)people at school viewed their physical expressions of femininity and masculinity is twice meta again. It’s not a question about how in fact the adolescents “express their gender.” Doing a thing is one level; how people see it is a second; what people say about what people see is a third. If you mush them all together you get mush.

Anyway. I’m still looking forward to the time when everyone realizes that “the dominant cultural and societal stereotypes of their gender” are surplus baggage and just throws them all out instead of trying to label either conformity to them or rebellion against them.

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