Sexual Identity, Gender and the Millennials

  • Arthur Asa Berger


The chapter starts with a discussion of the notion that gender is socially constructed and open to choice. It discusses the ideas of Judith Butler who sees gender as a kind of performance that can be changed according to the desires of individuals. This leads to a discussion of gender roles in society and the notion that they are not universal and not merely natural. It is estimated that there are around seven million LGBTQ Millennials in America. Millennials, it is suggested, are much more supportive of gay marriage than the general population, and this is having an effect on society. The chapter concludes with a discussion of gender transformations, which have been taking place for many years.


Gender Performance LGBTQ 
In this chapter I deal with the complicated matter of how Millennials think about gender. I begin with an article byEileen M. Trauth and a number of colleagues about shifting attitudes in Millennials about gender and sexuality.

Until the last third of the twentieth century it was typical to classify individuals into fixed groupings by sex—male and female—and gender—masculine and feminine—and to reinforce these by the imposition of gender stereotypes…. However, the emergence of second wave feminism, sexuality studies and masculinity studies in the 1970s signaled the deconstruction of a gender binary in which sex is conflated with gender…. The implications for the study of gender and ICT are significant. Lie…. argues that “men and women are changing their practices and entering new relationships with each other and their environments, and the understanding of the concepts of masculine and feminine are just as unstable as men’s and women’s looks, activities and practices. One challenge is … to construct methodological approaches to study change and variation in ICT-gender relationships.” [“Millennials and Masculinity: A Shifting Tide of Gender Typing of ICT?” Eileen M. Trauth, K.D. Joshi, Lynette Kvasny, Jing Chong, Sadan Kulturel, Jan Mahar]

Gender, many social scientists and other researchers now suggest, issocially constructed, which means our gender is now a matter of choice. As the quotation above suggests, the old dichotomies, sex: male and female, and gender: masculine and feminine, no longer have the widespread acceptance they once had. Many scholars now maintain that if sex is defined by our bodies, gender is a matter of choice, and increasingly people are changing their genders—often through surgery of one kind or another and other medical procedures.
Fig. 10.1

Judith Butler

In her book Gender Trouble , Judith Butler discusses the relationship between sex and gender. She writes (1990:9–10):

Originally intended to dispute the biology-is-destiny formulation, the distinction between sex and gender serves the argument that whatever biological intractability sex appears to have, gender is culturally constructed: hence, gender is neither the casual result of sex nor as seemingly fixed as sex…. If gender is the cultural meanings that the sexed body assumes, then gender cannot be said to follow from sex in any one way. Taken to its logical limit, the sex/gender distinction suggests a radical discontinuity between sexed bodies and culturally constructed gender.

So gender is socially or culturally constructed and thus can be changed. For Butler, gender can be seen as a kind of performance, which means that the performers can change their gender roles. Children learn gender roles based on their sex, which play an important role in socializing them and helping them fit into society. But some children, at an early age, do not accept the gender roles of their sex and adopt the gender roles of members of a different sex: little girls like to play with trucks and little boys like to wear dresses.
An Internet source, Boundless, offers the following information about the impact of gender roles in society:

Gender role theory posits that boys and girls learn to perform one’s biologically assigned gender through particular behaviors and attitudes. Gender role theory emphasizes the environmental causes of gender roles and the impact of socialization, or the process of transferring norms, values, beliefs, and behaviors to group members, in learning how to behave as a male or a female. Social role theory proposes that the social structure is the underlying force in distinguishing genders and that sex-differentiated behavior is driven by the division of labor between two sexes within a society . The division of labor creates gender roles, which in turn, lead to gendered social behavior . With the popularization of social constructionist theories of gender roles, it is paramount that one recognize that all assertions about gender roles are culturally and historically contingent. Source: Boundless. “Gender Roles in the U.S.” Boundless Sociology Boundless, 08 Aug. 2016. Retrieved 16 Jan. 2017 from

If gender roles are not universal and not natural, it means that some people, who are not happy with the gender roles that their sexes have, can change their genders. It is estimated that there are approximately ten million Americans who are members of the LGBTQ (Q is for “queer”) community. According to the American Psychological Association:

LGBT is shorthand for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The “LGB” in this term refers to sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is defined as an often enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions of men to women or women to men (heterosexual), of women to women or men to men (homosexual), or by men or women to both sexes (bisexual). It also refers to an individual’s sense of personal and social identity based on those attractions, related behaviors and membership in a community of others who share those attractions and behaviors. Some people who have same-sex attractions or relationships may identify as “queer,” or, for a range of personal, social or political reasons, may choose not to self-identify with these or any labels.

If the LGBTQ Millennials are present in the same proportion as in the general community, it means there are around seven million LGBTQ Millennials who marketers must find a way to reach. It turns out there are considerable differences between sexes the consumption practices of Millennials. An article by Mary Leigh Bliss in the Friday, January 13, 2017 editions of MediaPost ’s Engage Millennials discusses this matter. She writes in “3 Things Millennial Women Do More Than Millennial Men” and writes:
About 42% of 13–33-year-olds consider themselves foodies, but females are more likely to try healthy trends like quinoa and spiralized veggies, while young males are more likely to try the craft beers and beer bar trends. We dipped into more of our monthly survey data to find three more things that Millennial females are doing more than Millennial males:
  1. 1.

    Worry about money. In our recent look at young consumers’ personal finances, we asked how 13–33-year-olds feel when they think about money, and females were far more likely to have negative emotions: 37% said they feel worried about money, compared to 18% of males, 39% said they feel overwhelmed compared to 20% of males, and 32% say they feel nervous, compared to 26% of males. Females were also less likely than males to say they feel knowledgeable and confident. Their more negative views are likely due to their higher debt and lower wages: The Wall Street Journal reports that the gender wage gap is a real savings limitation for Millennial women: the median personal income for men was $10,300 higher than their female counterparts, and 54% of Millennial women report having to live paycheck-to-paycheck, compared to 43% of men.

  2. 2.

    Use an iPhone. Millennials and iPhones go together like bread and butter, right? Well, while over half of 13–33-year-olds overall say they currently have an iPhone, females are the leaders in iPhone ownership: 57% say they own an iPhone, compared to 49% of males. In fact, males’ phone ownership is split nearly 50/50 between Android and iPhone. Millennial females’ prioritization of tech aesthetics could be behind the disparity.

  3. 3.

    Get tattoos. Like iPhones, tattoos fit right into the stereotypical picture of Millennials—we found that 20% of 18–33-year-olds (28% of 30–33-year-olds) are currently inked. But interestingly, females are more likely to be sporting body art: 26% say they currently have a tattoo, compared to 14% of males. Millennial females without a tattoo are also more likely than males to say they are interested in getting one, and that they think there is less of a stigma towards tattoos than there used to be.

The statistics about the number of Millennials living from paycheck-to-paycheck is alarming. Female Millennials, we find, are twice as worried about their finances as male Millennials, in part because female Millennials earn around $10,000 less than males do. If thirty-seven percent of female Millennials live from paycheck-to-paycheck, they must be experiencing a great deal of anxiety and stress. We must assume, here, the same level of education for both men and women for the earnings figures to meaningful. And yet, some fifty-seven percent of female Millennials have iPhones. This could be because of what the author calls “tech aesthetics,” but it also could be because having an iPhone is a “safe” choice and has high status. Then there is the matter of tattoos. About twice as many women have tattoos as men. There may be less stigma connected to getting tattoos nowadays, but the increase in women getting tattooed may be connected to it being a fad and the “everyone’s doing it” mindset. Possibly it reflects an attitude toward beauty and turning one’s body into a “work of art.”
A Pew Report on “The Whys and Hows of Generations Research” offers some insights into why Millennials have the attitudes they have about same-sex marriage.

Millennials and Gen Xers came into the population more supportive of allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally than older generations, and those greater levels of support have persisted over time. As a result, some of the explanation for an overall shift in attitudes about same-sex marriage is attributable to a “generational replacement” as members of older, less supportive generations pass away, they are “replaced” in the adult population by members of younger, more supportive generations entering adulthood.…/03/the-whys-and-hows-of-generations-research

So generations do make a difference and the experiences of Millennials as they grew up in a certain time period play a role in shaping their attitudes and beliefs. And the fact that they are “replacing” previous generations means their impact will be significant—until they are replaced by the next generation, that is. Millennials have little trouble accepting gay marriage and gender alterations and their acceptance has played an important role in legitimizing gay marriage and gender transformations.

Some kinds of gender transformations have been with us for many years. We find transvestites in many countries and the British seemed to think it was hilarious having men dressed like women: sometimes the transvestism was obvious and played for comic effect but sometimes it wasn’t. And there have been serious plays involving transvestites that have been very popular. So having men dressed like women and women dressed like men—think of Marlene Dietrich in a tux—have been with us for a long time and are signifiers that gender identity and confusion about gender identity have been a matter of interest for a long time.


  1. Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Arthur Asa Berger
    • 1
  1. 1.San Francisco State UniversitySan FranciscoUSA

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