About

We are Alina Karlsen (she/her) and Tess de Rooij (she/her). Together, we did our undergraduate in political science at the University of Amsterdam. We quickly became friends and developed a shared feminist view of politics – always curious about the role of gender in the arrangement of human affairs.

The idea of having a feminist encyclopedia came together as we caught up over a coffee a year after graduating. We founded THIS IS GENDERED because we want to give practical meaning to our ideals of equality and feminism.

Inspired by the claim that “everything is political”, we claim that everything is gendered. This encyclopedia is an ongoing process to prove this claim. We aim to describe the gendered workings, histories and aspects of all the things that make up our world, from everyday objects to institutional biases. Some stories might seem trivial but they fit into a larger pattern. We hope this pattern becomes evident when you browse the encyclopedia. 

Whether you want to convince a colleague about hidden patterns of sexism at your workplace, start a conversation about feminism at the dinner table or ground arguments about the harm caused by the patriarchy in everyday stories and examples – this page is for you.

Excited about the page and want to get involved? Please do reach out! We are looking for some extra hands (/minds) to help write and edit new entries. Visit the contributions page for more info. You can always send us an email at info@thisisgendered.org. A very special thanks to Niklas Illenseer (he/him) who, with his innate sense of style, is taking care of the Instagram page. Check it out in the top right corner, to read, save and spread the word!

Defining Feminism

If you look feminism up in a dictionary, you are likely to find a definition similar to this entry in Merriam-Webster. Our view of feminism is different.

First, although sex and gender are often confused and used interchangeably, they are not the same. Sex refers to biological difference and it’s usually assumed that only two sexes exist: male and female. This is a false dichotomy because some people are born with both male and female sex characteristics. Yet, by imposing this dichotomy, the term sex may exclude sexes and genders that do not fit into the binary. Also, sex may reinforce beliefs about natural or essential differences between men as males and women as females. Gender, on the other hand, can be understood as culturally defined and socially constructed roles, behaviours and identity expressions. The gender construct is shaped around ideas of masculinity and femininity.

Consciously and unconsciously, we associate masculinity and femininity with different things. Masculinity – and the characteristics, behaviours and roles we associate with it – is generally valued more than femininity. When we in this encyclopedia refer to the patriarchy, we refer to the systematic privileging of masculinity over femininity. Strength, for instance, is associated with masculinity and valued over traditionally feminine traits like vulnerability.

Socially constructed concepts like gender, race and class enable domination of some and oppression of others, by dividing people into categories and attaching positive or negative meanings to these categories. The concept of race privileges white people over people of colour, because throughout history efforts have been made to devalue blackness and glorify whiteness. The gender construct privileges men over women because men are associated with and tend to perform the behaviours we associate with masculinity. Expectations of gender performances based on perceived sex may be damaging to all of us, but oftentimes especially affect people who experience discrimination based on other aspects of their identity as well. This brings us to a second key element of our conception of feminism: intersectionality.

We believe that feminism should always take intersectionality into consideration. Intersectionality is essentially:

a lens for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other

Kimberlé Crenshaw

While our main concern for this encyclopedia is gender, we acknowledge that gender in most instances intersects with other aspects of identity, such as sex, race, class, (dis)ability, sexuality, caste, religion and physical appearance to form unique structures of inequality. If you have information which can improve our entries in terms of intersectionality, do not hesitate to tell us. We are still (un)learning.

Lastly, feminism to us is about achieving equality between all humans. That implies the elimination of all forms of hierarchy in systems of domination. This follows logically from the previous point. If our goal is for women and non-binary people to have as much to say about the arrangement of human affairs as men, then that must be the case for all people. This is only possible if Black and white people are viewed as equal, if queer and straight people are viewed as equal, if disabled and able people are viewed as equal, if trans and cis people are viewed as equal et cetera. In this view, feminism can be considered a movement not only on behalf of women’s rights and interests, but on behalf of equality at large.

Inclusive language

Just like any entry in this encyclopedia, language is gendered. As such, it doesn’t always allow everyone to speak about their gender or gender-related experiences. In English, for instance, the word “they” (or other non-binary pronouns) still aren’t a common part of our everyday speech. Inclusive language is important, however, because it signals respect and recognition for everyone’s (gender) identity. An important aim of this website is to contribute to the advancement of gender-inclusive language that everyone becomes fluent in. 

A first step in being inclusive is using people’s preferred pronouns (for instance, he/him/his, they/them/their). One way to make sure to respect a person’s gender labels is to simply ask them how they identify. How people define and redefine their own (gender) identity is their individual choice. So, we should not not assume what gender labels people relate to. Second, always mention your own pronouns (also when you identify as cisgender), to normalise the explicit mention of them. And third, if you are unsure about the gender identity of a person or group you refer to, it’d be best to refer to a specific characteristic of the group or person. For instance, refer to “people who menstruate” or “people who have experienced pregnancy” instead of labelling these people as women/womxn/female/male/et cetera.

In this encyclopedia, you’ll also notice that we interchangeably speak about womxn/men/non binary/agender people and people who “identify as…” one of these labels. To some, this distinction between being and identifying is problematic. Especially when it is suggested that cis people are their gender, whilst trans people only identify as their gender.  We recognise that being implies a fixed state, whereas identifying as can be associated with a more fluid, dynamic process of finding or redefining one’s gender identity. And whilst all cis, trans and non-binary people are the gender they identify with, there can be people within these groups who are (re)locating themselves on the gender spectrum. We want to acknowledge both fixed and more fluid gender identities, and therefore use both being and identifying as.

Using inclusive language is a challenge. Especially when talking about abstract groups of which the members are unknown or anonymous. If people face discrimination or oppression because they fulfil a maternal role, we need a label to refer to this group in order to address the injustice they experience. Yet, we cannot just assume that all those with a maternal role identify as women. 

If you want to read more about the challenges of inclusive language, the conversation around the term womxn is a good example. Below, we share what we’ve learned in this regard. 

Womxn/women

From the beginning of our project, in June 2020, we used the alternative spelling of woman/women: womxn. Why? Because we felt it best aligned with our intersectional view of feminism. However, in light of other uses of and associations with the word, we at this point don’t feel comfortable using the term consistently. Language is a powerful tool, and it is changing rapidly. For us and others before us, womxn served the purpose of including marginalised indentities in a feminist movement which previously had been exclusionary to other but white cis-women. More recently, however, the term has consciously and unconsciously been used in less inclusive ways. Sometimes in very harmful ways.

The word womxn was introduced as a way to reclaim the identity of womanhood as inclusive and intersectional, and not defined in relation to men. More precisely, it was coined to acknowledge the exclusion of Black, Indigenous and womxn of Colour (BIWOC) and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied (LGBTQIA+) experiences through waves of white feminism. In other words, the x rejects the gender binary and highlights the shared negative experience of oppression and discrimination. 

At the same time, some argue that it’s divisive and offensive to use alternative spelling to include marginalised people specifically. Trans women, women of Colour and other people identifying as a woman are women and have always been women. Why would they need an x to be included?

A second point of critique to womxn is that it submerges many kinds of oppression (based on skin colour, able bodiedness, class, sexual orientation) under one label: a gender label. Womxn may thereby obscure very salient parts of one’s identity, for instance those that are often responded to with discrimination and oppression.

Regardless of which arguments you find most convincing, bear in mind that some people identify as womxn and – just as with any other gender label – it’s important to respect that. 

Without trying to settle the discussion around women vs. womxn, we for now have decided to use women on our platforms. Ultimately, most people juggling with these terms have the same aim: trying to be inclusive in their language. This indicates how powerful a tool language is and how rapidly it changes.