The Effects of Gender Trouble: An Integrative Theoretical Framework of the Perpetuation and Disruption of the Gender/Sex Binary

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Abstract

In the Western world, gender has traditionally been viewed as binary and as following directly from biological sex. This view is slowly changing among both experts and the general public, a change that has been met with strong opposition. In this article, we explore the psychological processes underlying these dynamics. Drawing on previous work on gender performativity as well as gender as a performance, we develop a psychological framework of the perpetuation and disruption of the gender/sex binary on a stage that facilitates and foregrounds binary gender/sex performance. Whenever character, costume, and script are not aligned the gender/sex binary is disrupted and gender trouble ensues. We integrate various strands of the psychological literature into this framework and explain the processes underlying these reactions. We propose that gender trouble can elicit threat—personal threat, group-based and identity threat, and system threat—which in turn leads to efforts to alleviate this threat through the reinforcement of the gender/sex binary. Our framework challenges the way psychologists have traditionally treated gender/sex in theory and empirical work and proposes new avenues and implications for future research.

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Morgenroth, T., & Ryan, M. K. (2021). The Effects of Gender Trouble: An Integrative Theoretical Framework of the Perpetuation and Disruption of the Gender/Sex Binary. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 16(6), 1113–1142. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691620902442

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