Gender and the Census

Spencer UnderwoodS.W. Underwood is a PhD student in Sociology with a specialization in gender, family, and critical cultural studies. The recipient of a SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier doctoral scholarship, his current research examines gender and family formation among gay men in the transition to parenthood. S.W. recently published an Op Ed in the Toronto Star discussing the gender categories in the Canadian Census. The piece appeared on Friday, May 6, 2016 and the complete article is available online. The following is an excerpt of the longer article.

Census needs to reflect modern reality about gender

Ongoing belief in only ‘females’ and ‘males’ obscures variation among us – perpetuating delusions about gender that have consequences, including the gender wage gap, unequal parental leave policies and violence towards women

After 10 years, the long-form Canadian census is back. Young Canadians, primed by a decade of digital media saturation, flocked online in droves so large we took down the website.

It makes sense — and it’s not just false enthusiasm as we collectively do our duty because “it’s the law.” A generation used to sharing its descriptive statistics online (finding friends, networking, dating) would intuitively understand the benefit of the census. Understanding the sociodemographic landscape helps us know and better service ourselves. And after all, that’s what millennials want: a fairer and more representative social democracy.

Yet, as Canadians fill out the census, some gawk at the glaring anachronism of the gender binary, the idea that there are two mutually exclusive genders: males and females, who occupy distinct cultural, social, and sexual roles.

But we know this isn’t true. The recent media awakening to transgender people (Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, Jazz Jennings) is evidence that gender variance has gone mainstream.

If we recognize men and women who identify with the genders they were assigned at birth (cisgender) and we recognize men and women who do not identify with their assigned gender (transgender), then surely we agree this difference is worth recording.

As my friend quipped, “Well, they’re not asking about gender. They’re asking about sex!” His point reflects the growing awareness about gender as the patterns of behaviour and expression associated with its respective sex categories. This is good. It shows a recognition of people whose self-concepts do not match the gender assigned them at birth.

Yet, even if we set aside the assumption that transgender people identify with one gender but really have a different ‘sex,’ is Statistics Canada only interested in who has which genitals? I think not. Why then has the cultural recognition of gender-variance not translated into instrumental traction among knowledge producers like Statistics Canada?

Continue reading the article…