Of Boxes and Labels

The steam has been building this year on the topic of gender-identity with Bruce Jenner’s decision, the Michigan Planet Fitness incident, and Leelah Alcorn’s suicide. Now, after Target stores announced they were doing away with gender specific signs for bed sheets and toys, some loud and popular people in American Fundamentalist Evangelicalism are having a fit: SpiritualSoundingBoard: Targeting Gender Confusion of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Franklin Graham.

With all the media attention surrounding this issue, it has been impossible for me not to think about the subject of gender identity and sex change. When I read comments, articles, or blog posts, what I see from writers is an underlying and desperate desire to find out “who they are”. But many make the mistaken assumption that “who they are” is defined by what they look like, and it is the same problem that Fundamental Evangelicals have with gender identification and so-called Biblical roles of manhood and womanhood.

IMG_7467_smallMan Looks At the Outside Appearance

If there is one Bible verse I find myself repeating the most often, it is 1 Samuel 16:7, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (The second, in case you were wondering, is Matt. 23). To put it a different way, don’t judge a book by its cover.

However, some people put all the emphasis on a person’s outside appearance, labeling others or themselves as boy/girl, fat/skinny, strong/weak, tall/short, etc. It is interesting to note, that most people label themselves with what they consider their most important trait such as religion, gender identity, sexual preference, job title, and other life-style choices or cultural backgrounds. I always feel stuck when someone asks what I do, because there are so many (and different) things I do that are all important to understanding me.

All people like boxes and labels. It helps us stay sane in an information-packed world. It is impossible to get to know every person we pass on the street, or even those we may work with everyday. Some people are more private than others, some wear masks to hide their true selves, and even if everyone were totally open and honest, we still wouldn’t have enough hours to learn about everybody.

Still, stereotyping, although natural and survival-based, is something to work against. When we label others or ourselves, not only do we drive wedges between people or groups, it also becomes so easy for us to feel superior. After all, that neighbor is a Republican, or that lady is a faux Christian, and that man watches Game of Thrones. What brief statements those are, and yet such insinuations!

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Luke 18:11-13)

What a particular person may look like, is not often who a particular person is. Who they are entails what they want, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they enjoy, what they dislike; in other words, personality traits, that can sometimes be colored or limited by physical traits like eyesight, height, weight, or disability.

Copyright by KirstenStar
Copyright by KirstenStar

Just as skin color, religion, or age have been culturally acceptable or not throughout the ages and lands, one’s sex/gender is often culturally limited. The false wall that dictates “who” people are and what they “can” or “should” do based on which set of genitals an individual has, employs an appeal to an argument of nature. A woman is “made” to be a certain way, women have one kind of brain, men have another. Men and women are “different”, goes the argument, and of course they are.

Men and women have different parts, different looks, different hormones. Women’s bodies, and not men’s, were made with childbirth in mind, among other things. This is neither “good” nor “bad”, this does not dictate that the female must stay home to nurture her young (there are other ways of nurturing and providing besides being a stay-at-home-mom), the fact that a woman may be capable of bearing children does not dictate that she “should”, the fact a woman may not be capable of bearing children does not make her “bad”. These things just “are”.

The state of being male or female” has no bearing, I repeat, no bearing (even and especially Biblically speaking) on what a person is capable of or where their talents may lie. God has not put up boundaries on the sexes, no matter what church teachers or Christian authors may say. No matter what you or others may look like, it is time to stop labeling and boxing people in.

This excellent 12 minute video from BrainCraft, shows how easy it is to label and box others, and what some of the frightening consequences can be.

For further investigation on the subject of Biblical equality, check out The Junia Project blog

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9 thoughts on “Of Boxes and Labels

  1. Rambling or not, you make fair points. I guess we can only use the blanket terms when they are clearly articulated, and even then, we must accept not everyone understands them the same way. A friend of mine is like that: “communist” to him means “Lenin-Marxist” to me, since I consider there to be a subtle difference, and he tends to associate the party itself with the ideology–much more strongly, in a historical sense, than I do.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIePWBgKaXw Here’s a tidbit about the “otherness” we are discussing here, I dare say.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, it is important (and difficult sometimes) to remember to set definitions on the table before discussing an issue.

      Wow! Awesome video, I would love to see schools show this in classes or networks show it in the middle of Saturday morning cartoons. It really does explain a lot about our human tendencies. Do you suppose our inclination to follow orders is innate, or environmentally created?


      1. Innate, I suppose. It would fit the environmental need for a society of frail bipeds to survive predators like wolves and pumas–especially when it takes so many years for humans to grow into physical adulthood. But we have so much potential as a species. We should be able to recognize the imperative and ignore it when higher moral function comes into play.


        1. “We should be able to recognize the imperative and ignore it when higher moral function comes into play.” I think people should too, and I know they are capable, but many are either out of practice or just plain lazy. They put off consequences for their actions or inactions, and hope the responsibility will fall on others.


  2. You have a point. It is hard to study or discuss the nature of birds if you have no universal name for them. We do need definitions and identifiers to study and talk about certain groups or individuals or actions.

    I guess my angle for this post is there are so many exceptions to a founding group’s rules. For example, there are Republicans with Democrat leanings and vice-versa; there are Presbyterians who dislike some important aspects of Presbyterianism; and not all blondes have really pale hair (ash blonde, dirty blonde, etc.).

    There are very particular associations and assumptions about labeled groups and people, depending of course on who you ask, as if everybody with a certain label “must” believe/do/conform to the purity of the group’s rules/foundations. But groups are as dynamic as the people who are in them, and very, very few conform perfectly (at least not for long). Sorry, I feel like I’m rambling, lol. I guess what I am trying to say is who defines the label? What I consider to be Republican traits, like favoring smaller government, is not how my liberal friends define Republican traits. To them, the word is associated with big business, greed, unfair taxes, and more.

    When I try to discuss religious topics with friends, and I use the religion’s own words, precepts, books, etc. to prove my points, my friends inevitably say, “Well I’ve never seen anyone in my group do/say/believe that!” I defy many stereotypes on both ends of the spectrum by declaring myself to be an open-minded Christian, and a Christian who refuses to go to church. There’s a hot topic for the Christian Post! I have an awful lot of opinions about Christianity that many atheists sympathize with, but many times just stating, “I am a Christian” shuts the conversation down immediately.

    I know that is true for other labels and associations too. We have imposed too many scarlet letters on many of the wrong people.


  3. I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but what approach should we take, then, when legality and social context demands some sort of noun to identify what or who is being discussed? Even when not for creating divides between one social group and another (especially for the sake of judging another), sometimes there still needs to be a specified “them” so we all know exactly what is being discussed from the relative outsiders to a given question.


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