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Bad Chart Thursday: Sex, Gender, and Venns for Bigots

Got a point you want to make but you can’t back it up?

Itching to express your bigoted opinions in a way that gives them a false sense of legitimacy?

Want to chuckle smugly with friends and colleagues who are equally divorced from reality?

The Venn diagram can do all this and more! (Reality not included.)

Need a demonstration? Look no further than satisfied user Mark J. Perry of the American Enterprise Institute.

Displayed with just the question “Innate gender differences or not?” his Venn diagram is clearly intended to be a gotcha. I’m sure there were virtual high-fives all around among those who, like Perry, justify their transphobia with arguments rooted in a misunderstanding of the complexities of sex and gender.

The recipe for the transphobic argument Perry uses is fairly straightforward: mix up sex and gender; pour the result arbitrarily into one of two holes in the muffin tin; when the mix overflows, do not consider maybe using the rest of the muffin tin; half-bake and serve.

Bon appetit!


As you can see, the Venn is ideal when you have no data to back up what you’re saying. Just place the circles in whatever proportions match the conclusions you’ve drawn out of thin air. Venns are like MAGIC. Except with Perry, those conclusions are not rabbits, and where he’s pulling them from is definitely not a hat.

Similarly, the Venn enables you to define the categories for each circle in any way you please, without worrying about whether they actually make sense together in the diagram. If you can draw a circle, then you too can oversimplify complex subjects and use that oversimplification with a dash of vagueness to make an argument. It’s that easy!

For example, the lefthand circle seems to be talking about innate gender differences, limited to the binary of men and women, but gender identity includes trans* people (not to mention those outside the binary), and that seems unlikely to be his meaning here, to raise the issue of innate gender differences between, say, a transman and a cis woman. And if by “innate” he means biological, from birth, then he’s conflating sex with gender here, which means the two circles are themselves intellectually inconsistent.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that he is talking about gender. In that case, he’s got the argument backwards. No significant innate gender differences only underscores gender as a cultural construction, one that we can define for ourselves in any way we choose.

The Venn is also perfect for straw definitions. For example, in the righthand circle, “Those who support transgenderism and gender re-assignment surgery” describes people in terms they wouldn’t use to describe themselves. Transgender people do not need cis support to be who they are. No one’s identity needs to be validated by other people. “Transgenderism” is an othering term that furthers this sense that we’re not talking about people. (For thoughts on terms to describe “Gender re-assignment surgery,” see Benny’s post about this on Queereka.)

So the category doesn’t really describe the people it purports to describe. It’s used instead to provide an extra jab at trans* people. To give a little perspective on this Venn technique, here’s another example of it:

AEI asshole Venn

If you support AEI, odds are, you don’t think they’re assholes, so this category takes a jab at you and AEI while failing to define you in a way that you agree with.

Pretty slick, eh? The Venn is a powerful tool in the wrong hands. If you want to prove a point to people who already share your biases (without actually proving that point and possibly demonstrating the opposite), then the Venn diagram is the chart for you! Act now and receive a free bar graph with not one but two truncated y-axes!

Thanks to Will and Benny from Queereka for discussing gender, sex, and trans* issues with me. Any mistakes, however, are completely mine.

Melanie Mallon

Melanie is a freelance editor and writer living in a small town outside Minneapolis with her husband, two kids, dog, and two cats. When not making fun of bad charts or running the Uncensorship Project, she spends her time wrangling commas, making colon jokes, and putting out random dumpster fires. You can find her on Twitter as @MelMall, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

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