“It used to be so simple. You were a boy, or you were a girl.”
(Gender Revolution 2017)
National Geographic Channel’s Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric (2017) acts as an introductory overview of the cultural and biological concepts behind the spectrum of gender. The documentary highlights how one’s biological sex does not necessarily determine one’s gender identity, an idea that is foreign to Western culture’s beliefs. Although the production’s heart is in the right place, Gender Revolution seems to overtly simplify the topic in order to appeal to a culturally ‘traditional’ Western audience. This outreach strategy not only causes the documentary to lose a respectful investigation on genders’ cultural complexity, but also exposes its conservative target audience to a broader understanding of the subject. The marketed ‘traditional’ Western audience is evident in the film’s warning that states, “This program reports on issues and opinions regarding sex and gender. It does not suggest choices for individuals or families. Viewer discretion is advised.” An offensive statement in its own right, this ‘warning’, placed as protection from opinionated political scrutiny, normalizes Western culture’s discrimination to those with gender-variant identities. The subject of sex and gender is not one for political debate because it is not a concept that can be debated as right or wrong. Gender is fluid and a natural component of human beings.
Katie opens the documentary stating, “It used to be so simple. You were a boy, or you were a girl. But that was then, and this is now”. The film treats the gender-variant identities as a rising novelty, but the fluidity of gender is not a globally foreign subject. In fact, multiple genders are evident in several cultures including the fa’afafine of Samoa, the hijra of Indian and Pakistan, the muxe of Mexico, and many more (Please click links to read more on these cultural genders). Gender Revolution mentions these third genders but fails to explain their significant functions and normalized status within society. I thought this was a section that deserved a deeper explanation in order to provide a cross-cultural understanding of gender and show that the gender spectrum is an international commonality in human history and present day. Honestly, this topic could be a feature-length documentary on its own.
However, Gender Revolution provides an emic view on the experiences one endures when undergoing the surgical sex transitions ‘tabooed’ by Western society. A topic of focus are intersex persons and the issues regarding consent for infant sex-reassignment surgeries. I thought this to be the most sophisticated segment in the entire feature. It is common practice for intersex individuals to have their biological sex determined by a phall-o-meter within days of their birth. If intersex infant’s genitalia was over 3/8″ but under 1″, the doctor and parents decide to surgically alter the child’s sex as female or male by their choice alone. To dictate one’s biological sex without considering one’s gender identity is a violation of human rights that needs to be addressed. I applaud this production for bringing this unknown issue to light.
Overall, Gender Revolution came across as an extended ‘inside look’ news broadcast that avoids to discuss more complex issues regarding sex and gender, such as the growing number of hate-driven physical and sexual assaults on transgender victims. What is more shocking are Katie Couric’s bewildered expressions and her lack of familiarity with the subject. She consistently addresses individuals by the wrong gender identity, which I found to be disrespectful and unprofessional. Although the documentary appears to be fluid, the excessive inclusion of subjects causes the film to lose focus and an interpersonal connection with interviewees. But, the documentary does provide a stepping-stone to help conservative viewers learn more about the distinct differences of sex and gender. In spite of its bizarre execution, I think this documentary would serve better as a series. As a series, Gender Revolution could include a thorough investigation for each sub-topic associated with sex and gender within each episode.
What are your thoughts on Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric?