The personal and psychological experience of gender

Georgia Jerwood visits Genders: Shaping and Breaking the Binary, at Science Gallery London.

Throughout the scientific disciplines, a binary approach is taken to simplify facts and create easily accessible categories. Psychology is full of clear divides, all-or-nothing categories to help us create shortcuts in everyday life – from psychometric tests to conceptions of masculine and feminine. In my undergraduate course, I often had to choose 'prefer not to say' than male/female in research that failed to consider the difference between sex and gender, with the latter becoming understood as a fluid concept. 

GENDERS at Science Gallery London (SGL) is opening up new conversations through science and art to reflect on our understanding of gender, encompassing further relevant factors such as class, culture and race. 

The work is engaging, innovative, and does justice to those that it represents. Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s 'choose your own adventure' video game (pictured) is a stunning piece of work, serving as an archive for the black transgender community, with players navigating through different histories depending on their choices. Mary Maggic brings new topics of biotechnology and bioremediation to the discussion of gender with a river of agar and fungi, contrasting the themes of inviting and digesting contamination. Questions are raised on how the effects of plastic pollution and climate change will influence our bodies, subsequently changing our understanding of gender. The topic of hormones is considered throughout across the disciplines, in ‘on being allergic to onions…’, Drag Kings give their views on endocrinology.

Although encompassing the perspectives and lives of LGBTQ+ individuals, the GENDERS exhibition highlights that how we understand gender today is an issue that affects all of us. Dividing traits into ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ damage those who aim to strive to match the norms assigned to each role. With women historically associated with the caregiver role, this leaves those who are unable or do not want to reproduce as assumed to be not contributing to ‘the future’. Once U Care, You’re Future by Laura Yuile highlights this problem, with footage of plastic babies being swept up with overhead announcements reflecting how children’s voices are used to sell technology. Rubbing the walls in Nnother, elicits the smell of oxytocin, re-establishing the hormone’s influence on social bonds between all individuals, moving discussion away from its associations with childbirth.

Damaging associations of masculinity are also addressed. The Work Out Play Charter, an ongoing research project at King's College London alongside male athletes, has been created to tackle issues such as consent and bystander intervention. The work also touches on expressing emotions among one another to gain support and help. It isn’t hard to consider the associations of emotions being associated with weakness and femininity on the rate of male suicides across the UK and globally.

What unites the 18 very different works is collaboration and authenticity. SGL does a fantastic job at uniting different fields, while encouraging conversation through Mediators and evening events. Each individual will gain a unique experience from their visit. The exhibition gives insight into the mind’s and lives of others, beautifully reflecting the personal and psychological experience of gender. 

- Georgia Jerwood is a recent psychology graduate working as a Mediator at the Science Gallery.

- Genders: Shaping and Breaking the Binary runs until 28 June.

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