The Limitations of essentializing Gender

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At the onset, gender is an aspect of human nature and human nature is a fixed property. Gender is a natural distinct line that identify a person’s sexuality whether male or female right after birth, and every human being belongs to either the male sex or the female sex whether the body match the image or not or if the sexual identity match the lawful sexual ascription. Sex and gender poses debatable issue among feminism and gender critics as they argued on the premise that gender is the social importance that sex presupposes within a given culture. From this it appears that any emphasis whether intentional or unintentional is regarded as essentializing gender. Gender essentializing therefore refers to the particular qualities with in a person that is given emphasis. Lyn H. Collins, Michelle R. Dunlap, and Joan C. Chrisler (2002) define essentialism as the “tendencies to believe that properties, qualities, or natures reside in particular groups of people” (p. 13). In terms of gender research Collins, Dunlap and Chrisler defines it as “seeing masculinity and femininity as trait-like “things” that reside within women and men” (p. 13).

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In the context of Western notion of whiteness, white race supremacy had been established since the early period of history and the notion of masculinity depicts strength, heroism, virility, and violence. This has made male gender essential and essentializing white gender means putting emphasis on these particular characters and embracing them as an essential for a white male. However, gender essentializing is not limited to white male image. Feminism, feminizing, gay rights movements, and other sexual rights movement are essentially gender essentializing. The limitation on essentializing gender in view of the natural distinction that identify sexual identity has to do with the objectives of the person for such an effort . In this paper, both he and she are used as well as him and her referring to the time when Billy was Dorothy Lucille Tipton and Billy Lee Tipton respectively.

Understanding the limitation of essentializing gender

The question that needs to be asked is obviously, how we can understand the limitations of essentializing gender. The most notable source for the answer to this question lies in the life story of Billy Tipton. Born in Oklahoma City on December 29, 1914 as Dorothy Lucille Tipton, she was reborn as Billy Lee Tipton in 1933, a transformation that changed her life during the next forty years as man, a gender essentializing that he not only deceived himself and the people close to him but the entire society that he lived with and whole world who had known him as a man.

Tipton’s adoption of men’s clothing and his marriage, as well as his adoption of two sons reveals how deep he has essentialized the male gender. What was puzzling with Tipton’s gender essentializing was that why Tipton hid his true sexual preference and lived in the male image? One possible answer to this question according to Carol Lowery Delaney (2004) was that “women might choose to wear men’s clothing to obtain privileges only men have—whether that might be to travel unmolested, as did numerous women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries…or to inherit property… or to enter profession closed to women. In the case of Billy Tipton, it was not simply a case wearing men’s clothing to obtain privileges that only men have but she lived as a man to enhance her career as a musician. It was indeed a deception that could hardly be accepted by those who had known him as man. Even his adopted son John Clark remarked that he was at a loss upon learning his father’s true sex while his oldest adopted son Scott Miller stated that Tipton died broke, and perhaps sick of his long time deception.

Evidently, gender essentializing does have limitations. Tipton was able to hide his true sex during his entire life but was brought to public knowledge in a way that was both scandalous and surprising. Based on the definition of gender essentializing in this paper, and on the life of both Tipton and Teena, the limitations of gender essentializing implies the idea that it some thing that motivate the individual person to adopt a new gender role. The limitation seemed to be the privacy of such motivation. However, these limitations also imply that no one can really assume dual gender. The case of Tipton reveals two important realities. First, in gender essentializing, the person cannot reveal his or her true identities such as in the case of lesbians and gays who can always display the character of being a gay or lesbians and all the behavior associated to their sexual preferences. The limitation of gender essentializing seemed to be confined only to a single purpose to become a man, by acting as a man, behaving as a man, dressing as man, talking as man, and thinking as man. This was also the case of Brandon Teena who, although did not live long enough to enjoy his chosen gender, he tried to live as a man by adopting all that pertains to a man’s character unfortunately, she was raped and was later murdered.

Second, limitations on essentializing gender include the fact the physical limitations. In other words, despite of their effort to become a man, their natural sexuality remains. Gender essentializing is limited to merely the adoption of male habits and manners but there was no attempt as in the case of Tipton and Teena to have sex transplant in order to become fully male. Both Tipton and Teena died with their natural gender unaltered. In the case of gays and lesbians, the can openly have sex transplant. But the most important limitations on essentializing gender has been that the actions of a person who engaged on essentializing gender are “solely dictated by their racial categorization rather than by a variety of occupational, organizational, situational, and larger social contexts” (Barak, G.; Leighton, P.; Flavin, J. 2006, p. 237). It means that the contexts of the actions are limited with the context of the purpose of essentializing male gender and not on the conduct of society in general. The white male gender offers particular advantages which made it an important aspiration by any person.

In view of these, although gays and lesbianism are in a sense, gender essentializing, yet their actions are not limited, the same with feminizing, which emphasizes on women sexuality over male sexuality, or the feminism which put emphasis on equality between men and women. Indeed, it is quite difficult to talk about these particular groups without essentializing. In this context, limitation of gender essentialism could be seen in the argument that “essentialism fosters an inappropriate tendency to contrast male and female, according to which that which is female cannot be male and that which male cannot be female” (Miller, P. & Scholnick, E. K. 2000, p. 173). This statement implies that limitations of gender essentialism pertain also to the natural distinction between male and female.

Understanding limitations on gender essentialism depends on various grounds that have to do with the natural distinction of human sexuality. That despite efforts to adopt all the male characteristics, the natural line that identifies a person’s sexuality whether male or female right after birth, remains regardless of how far the adoption of these male characteristics, is achieved. Essentializing gender as has been defined would remain as simply putting much importance on the value of masculinity and striving to adopt its characteristic to achieve certain personal objectives. It is quite unfortunate that there are not much sources that clearly illustrates the limitations on essentializing gender as most of the discussion on this area of research focus on the issue of gender essentializing rather than in its limitations. While gender essentializing tend to be also applied to other areas such as race and ethnicity, gender essentializing presents the risk of essentializing in the context of putting greater emphasis on the white race due to its distinctness from other races. The concept of the dominance of the white male masculinity is in itself essentializing. Therefore, limitation of gender essentializing in this aspect should be that whiteness does not give extension for its dominance as to control others that are not white. Limitation should therefore be seen in the context of its natural distinct line.


Gender essentializing is very important issue as it refers to how one looks at his or her gender characteristic. In the case of Tipton and Teena, they saw the male character as more desirable than their own gender. They did all their best effort to adopt the male characters to obscure their natural gender. However, their case left an enduring concept of the limitation of gender essentializing because their natural gender remained as it was unlike those people who chose to have sex transplant such as gays and lesbians in order to fulfill their desire for sexual satisfaction.

Tipton and Teena essentialized the male character without any purpose of satisfying sexual lust; instead, the purpose behind their gender essentializing was to enjoy the privileges only men of that period enjoyed.  There was actually existing gender discrimination on women in favor of the white male gender. Understanding gender limitation should therefore be seen in the context of natural distinction as male and female as they react to concurrent social enigma.


Collins, L. H. (2002) Charting a New Course for Feminist Psychology USA: Greenwood Publishing Group

Delaney, C. L. (2004) Investigating Culture U.K.: Blackwell Publishing

How does the life of Billy Tipton or Brandon Teena help readers to understand the limitations of essentializing gender?

Miller, P. H. & Scholnick E. K. (2000) Toward a Femenist Developmental Psychology Great Britain: Routledge


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The Limitations of essentializing Gender. (2017, Feb 18). Retrieved from

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