Sex, Gender, Identity

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Welcome to the Module on biological sex, gender identity and gender expression.

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This module aims to raise awareness on the fact that gender is more than just being male and female,

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and our innate thoughts about how we look at the world, and relate to each other, are constructed around fixed social norms.

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This is caused by living in a society that is strongly structured around gender differences in terms of male and female,

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but also where transgender and gender diverse identities are neither recognised nor accepted.

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It is thus important and helpful to learn these concepts as there are unconscious biases at play regarding gender that influence different environments,

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and the university is one of these: students and staff members might not feel comfortable due to being treated differently and not being recognised and accepted.

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This is one reason leading to poor academic outcomes and dropouts,

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and consequently to the development of physical and mental health issues, as well as poor wellbeing.

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In this module you will learn about how to increase your own awareness regarding biological sex, gender identity and expression.

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This includes gender-related terminology and language, stereotypes and unconscious bias.

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You will also learn how gender is linked to discrimination and privileges,

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as well as to reflect on the effects that perpetuation of discriminatory behaviours

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and of gender-related privileges can have on the victim.

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Everyone can benefit from undertaking this module,

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as this is one step in a long-lasting awareness-rising process.

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This means that you will also learn how to develop strategies to tackle gender-related issues, especially in educational contexts.

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We will be introducing many new and gender-related terms and you’ll find that they are linked to a Glossary.

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To access it you only need to click on the ‘book’ icon at the corner of the page. (Click here: Link to Glossary)

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Furthermore, at the end of the module, you will be able to find additional materials and resources related to gender.

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Now, we are going to start by looking at a riddle!

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A father and his son are driving together and have a bad car accident.

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The father is killed immediately.

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The son is driven to the hospital and immediately taken to the surgery room.

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The doctor takes a quick look at him and says that a specialist should be consulted.

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The specialist comes in, sees the young man on the operating table and says:

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"I can't operate on him, he's my son.”

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So, how is that possible?

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Who is the specialist?

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What is your first thought?

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What do you think is the answer to the riddle?

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So, maybe you are wondering how this can happen.

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There are different possibilities to explain who the specialist is:

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For instance, one could think that this is impossible, because the father died.

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This could be since many people hold the idea that high professional positions can mainly be occupied by white heterosexual males.

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This is one example of sexism and heteronormativity. (Click here) Link to Glossary

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Another explanation for the riddle could be related to the specialist being the husband of the deceased father, and therefore he would be the second father of the son.

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This explanation does not conform to heteronormative ideas but it is still linked to sexism.

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Additionally, some other people could simply think that the specialist is the mother of the son which is a solution that does not conform to sexist ideas.

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Now, to fully understand these constructs we are going to look at specific gender related terminology and language

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Here we are introducing the GenderBread Person to explain the different concepts and terminology revolving around gender and sex.

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As you can see on the GenderBread Person, there are differences between sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.

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So, first of all, what’s the difference between SEX and GENDER?

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SEX refers to the biological characteristics differentiating between males and females,

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such as chromosomes, reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics.

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Instead, GENDER is a social construct referring to characteristics that constitute an individual’s sex, gender identity and gender expression,

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and it generally refers to our ideas of femaleness and maleness.

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Concequently, with the term GENDER IDENTITY, we refer to the psychological identification of oneself in relation to gender.

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GENDER EXPRESSION instead refers to the way a person expresses their gender identity in terms of behaviour, appearance, choice of clothing and so on.

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On the other hand, SEXUAL ORIENTATION refers to the categorisation made in terms of the sex and/or gender of the person we are sexually attracted to.

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Here you can find a link to the course module on SEXUAL ORIENTATION: (Click here:

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Additionally, you can have a look at the GLOSSARY for the full list of terms. (Click here) Link to Glossary

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So, when looking at Gender, we generally think in terms of societal roles related to maleness and femaleness.

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As we are raised in a society where these roles seem to be fixed and strongly binary,

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we develop Unconscious Biases that lead to the creation of Gender Stereotypes.

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This happens without our conscious awareness.

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These stereotypes tend to affect us and to shape the way in which we perceive and process the world around us,

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by priming us to think in specific ways.

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For instance, when we think about men or women we hold pre-set ideas on how a man or a woman should be, look and behave like.

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This, consequently, has an impact on how we process information regarding professions, education, role models, family, and so on.

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As an example, these stereotypes become evident when looking at gender roles and how we use language.

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This translates in the ideas that girls should be like princesses, be ’girly’ and they should like pink,

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whilst boys should be ‘machos’, ’manly’ and like the colour blue.

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At University this can reflect the idea that men should work in scientific fields whilst women are thought of as being more suited for humanistic subjects.

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Additionally, this is evident when thinking about the professional world:

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It is more widely accepted that doctors are males,

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whilst there is a higher expectation for women to stay at home, be housewives, and to raise children.

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However, we need to take into consideration that we unconsciously engage in the perpetration of these stereotypes by adopting and reproducing them.

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This is generally due to the fact that we live in a society that is strongly biased regarding gender perception.

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Thus, a good strategy to fight gender stereotypes is to try to deconstruct sex-based differences by examining what women and men have in common,

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rather than focusing upon differences, and to become aware of the existence of more than two sexes and gender identities.

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Now that we have understood what the difference between sex and gender is,

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as well as what we mean by unconscious biases and gender stereotypes,

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let’s look again at the GenderBread person.

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The utilisation of gender stereotypes goes hand-in-hand with binary thinking,

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which means thinking in terms of the existence of only two sexes and gender identities.

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So, when specifically looking at gender identity,

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we can see that there are different types of identification,

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not just male and female.

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However, when a person identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth based on their sexual characteristics,

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they are referred as Cisgender or cis.

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But let’s pay attention, because this implies the existence of individuals who neither conform to this rule

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and nor to the binary system of gender identification.

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These people are called Transgender or trans.

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This term refers to all people that do not identify with their sex assigned at birth based on their sexual characteristics.

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So, the term transgender is an umbrella term that encompasses all individuals whose gender identity does not correspond to their biological sex.

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However, this means that there is a whooooole spectrum of gender identities lying between the two binary extremes of ‘male’ and ‘female’!

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Which are generally referred to as NON-BINARY.

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Additionally, what about intersex people?

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These people are born with sexual and/or reproductive anatomy that is not typically ‘male’ or ‘female’,

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meaning that they may have biological attributes that do not necessarily fit with societal assumptions.

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Consequently, intersex people may identify as male, female or non-binary .

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This is very important to take into consideration because here we can see that the concepts of both Sex and Gender Identity do not follow a binary structure.

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So maybe you are confused now.

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But don’t worry, you’ll find additional resources and videos which you’ll be able to look at after the training,

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as well as a glossary for gender-related terms and terminology. (Click here) Link to Glossary

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We are now going to look at discrimination and privileges to understand why gender related diversity awareness is so important.

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Have you ever been misgendered?

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Being misgendered means that someone implies your gender identity and addresses you by using the wrong titles and pronouns.

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So, have you ever been misgendered?

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If not, this can be considered as a privilege.

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In this context, a privilege refers to the unquestionable entitlement and the tendency to live without experiencing or having to fear maltreatment because of one’s own body,

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and the congruity between how a person behaves and looks in accordance with how they are perceived.

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Sometimes, it is difficult for others to understand how a person self-identifies in terms of gender identity,

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possibly due to difficulties in interpreting gender expression.

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In these cases, it often happens, that others start implying the gender of the person based on their own ideas, preconceptions, and perceptions of how gender is expressed.

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In turn, this invalidates someone’s identity by disrespecting and not accepting it.

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This often happens unconsciously, and it tends to be caused by our pre-set ideas regarding gender roles,

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in addition to a binary way of looking at gender identity and expression.

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Being misgendered can be very hurtful.

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It could happen that someone might misgender us, but there is also the possibility that we involuntarily misgender someone else.

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This could happen even if we try to be very careful, as unconscious bias works without our full awareness.

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So, there are a few simple steps that you can follow:

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When you noticed that you made a mistake, simply relax and stay calm.

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Then apologise and acknowledge your mistake.

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Express gratitude for having been corrected, if this is applicable to your situation,

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and try to do better the next time.

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AND REMEMBER: everybody makes mistakes, and everybody needs time to learn new things,

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so don’t be hard on yourself, you are learning and you will get better at this.

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Misgendering is a form of violence and it is often perpetuated due to the fact that some people possess privileges and they are not aware of it.

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Thus, they struggle to comprehend that others might not hold the same privileges.

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Which further perpetuates discrimination and violence.

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In this case, privileges look like not having to worry about being misgendered as the sex, gender identity and gender expression are aligned with each other.

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Do you remember the gender bread person?

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Okay, so, what can you do differently in your teaching?

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Try to avoid misgendering,

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Support identity expression and validation,

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Fight against discrimination and bullying.

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In this way you will support inclusivity and sense of belonging

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But you might be asking yourself:

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How do I actually put these things into practice?

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Well, we recommend 4 steps that you can implement as part of your teaching practice to become a more gender-inclusive teacher:

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1) Introduce your own pronouns and chosen name, and ask your students to do the same.

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2) Do not assume students' pronouns nor gender identity.

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3) Use gender-neutral terminology and language where possible.

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4) When you witness misgendering and gender-related bullying, interrupt it and report it.

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Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your sex, gender identity or gender expression?

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If not, you are in this case a privileged person, because not having experienced gender-related discrimination is a privilege –

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could you imagine why?

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Please think about it for some seconds.

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We are now going to explain you, in which way discrimination happens and what it could mean for individuals being affected:

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Let’s have a look at of the UNESCO Reports focussing on gender inequality in higher education.

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The UNESCO report asserts that gender inequality in higher education remains a universal issue.

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Even though women made up a slightly larger share of graduates with Bachelors or Masters degrees,

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the proportion of women working in Higher Education is still low.

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The higher the professional position the less women are represented.

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(Click here)

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Do you remember about gender-related stereotypes?

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Let’s look at this together.

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Women are often not properly represented in professions in the fields of Science, Technology Engineering and Math, also known as STEM subjects, and in higher professional positions.

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Although the number of women in STEM subjects is increasing, role models at the university, in the literature and in the curriculum are still missing.

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Consequently, the lack of these representations heightens and intensifies the creation of gender stereotypes.

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Additionally, women studying STEM subjects are often marked and treated as “deficient others”.

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Undergoing these and similar experiences coupled with the missing representations that we have just spoken about,

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can have a huge impact – among others - on vocational orientation trajectories and on self-assessed competencies.

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(Click here: )

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But what can you do differently in your teaching practice?

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It is of paramount importance for academics and educators to start a process of self-reflection,

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specifically targeting the institutional, professional, and personal teaching practice in order to recognise and replace what generates differences.

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This process can help reshaping curriculum and content within higher education,

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and to adjust research and teaching practice in a more inclusive and gender-neutral way.

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Additionally, undergoing this process can help represent, embody and develop more gender- and diversity-informed attitudes and competences.

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But what can you actually implement in your teaching practice that would help achieving this?

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We suggest you try to implement theories, materials, books, and statistics developed by people belonging to different sexes, gender identities, and so on.

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Try to adopt more gender-neutral terminology as part of the language you use when teaching.

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This might look like using gender neutral pronouns, such as they instead of using she or he;

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or for instance you could use terms like ‘pregnant’ or ‘menstruating’ individuals rather than ‘women’.

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This might differ depending on the topic that you teach.

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Try to avoid labelling your students on the basis of their gender.

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Talk to and treat all people in the same manner,

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this means that you shouldn’t make distinction between people based on their sex, gender identity and expression.

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And don’t just correct stereotyped beliefs, but also try to challenge them!

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Have you ever thought about whether to use the toilet or not?

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Or have you ever had to think about which toilet to use?

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Public restrooms are generally divided between male and female toilets, representing the binary structure of gender.

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Trans people identifying within the binary system of gender identification but that are not clearly perceived as being male or female might still incur in hostility and violence.

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Instead, intersex and trans people identifying as non-binary are forced to choose one of the two gender-specific toilets.

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This self-misgendering has a detrimental impact upon their physical and mental health.

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An international study  surveyed more than 25,000 trans people and reported that more than 60% of them avoid using public restrooms,

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52% avoid eating and drinking for not having to use the restrooms,

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and 12% developed urinary tract infections due to this avoidance.

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Instead, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey surveyed 6,000 transgender students and it showed that 46.5% had a history of suicide attempts,

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and that when denied access to bathrooms the percentage increases reaching 60.5%.

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So, what does it mean for your teaching practice tho?

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Keep in mind that some of your students might struggle with concentration, agitation, anxiety, and behavioural issues because of not being able to freely use the toilets.

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So, try to start a careful discussion about the reasons why the student is behaving in this way,

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and possibly try to find a solution together.

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If you want to know more on how cis-gender privileges affect trans people. Wach this video. (Click here)

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Well, you might be probably a bit confused by now.

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But this is absolutely normal and you will probably need a bit of time to let all of this information sink in.

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Being critical with diversity – in this case with gender-related diversity, is a long-lasting process.

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Remember! We are raised in a society where gender roles seem to be fixed and strongly binary.

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This goes hand in hand with the development of unconscious biases and the creation of gender stereotypes.

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As an academic working in a university, you are in a privileged and powerful position, by having a direct and strong impact on your students’ learning experiences as well as on the university environment itself.

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Thus, to conclude, we suggest trying to educate yourself about gender-related issues and topics

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to be able to recognise discriminatory behaviours when they occur and to be able to effectively stop them,

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as well as to support students and possibly other academics in becoming allies.

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So, we hope you enjoyed this module!

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As it is an online course, you can repeat the module again and again.

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On our portal you will find additional modules (Click here:, materials, and links to resources in different languages (Click here:, as well as a glossary with inclusive terminology (Click here: Link to glossary).

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And thank you for your attention!

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Bye! ?

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How to talk (and listen) to transgender people The story of a parent's transition and a son's redemption What my gender transition taught me about womanhood The trans story includes you How I'm bringing queer pride to my rural village – Brown, African, queer and worthy of space I've lived as a man and as a woman — here's what I've learned Why I must come out A powerful poem about what it feels like to be transgender

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What I’ve learned from having balls What it means to be intersex The way we think about biological sex is wrong The biology of gender, from DNA to the brain What it takes to be a woman in STEM

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About sexism, including a quiz on sexism – different languages possible “How to Recognize and Address Sexism – and When to Get Support” Open educational resource on Gender Imperial College London, Unconscious Bias Glossary on LGBTQ-terms Exploring Identities (e.g. Intersex, Transgender) List of gender-neutral pronouns in different languages Pronouns page (many languages selectable)

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