Gendering Institutions

Institutions play an important role in establishing recognition in our society. Institutions create a space that legitimize dichotomies between right and wrong, legality and illegality, and inclusion and exclusion. In Raymond Williams’ Keywords, the term “institution” used in the 20th century is understood as the “normal term for any organized element of society” (Williams, 2011, p.121).

In an article by Maher and Tetreault (2011), titled “Long-term transformations: excavating privilege and diversity in the academy”, institutions are explored as mutable structures that evolve in response to the changes in society. In their study, the influence of race, gender, and class shapes educational institutions in the USA in a way that these “rigid structures and institutions” (Maher and Tetreault, 2011) gradually expand their boundaries to allowing first, women, then follows the integration of (males) of color subsequently.

The change in Bill C-16 rests on the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression in the Canadian Human Rights Code in order to expand the legal and public boundaries that queer bodies are not entitled to. The amendment of Bill C-16 and Ontario Human Rights Commission to include these aspects under the grounds for discrimination recognizes the diversity of the peoples residing in Canada.

Recognition, broadly speaking, symbolizes belonging and acceptance from the community. Institutional recognition, through policies such as the Bill C-16 and Ontario Human Rights Code (ORHC), validates our citizenship. Through this legislation, we are protected under the law and Human Rights policies of basic rights as citizens and more importantly as people. Prof. Jordan B. Peterson’s rejection of the new Bill C-16 and ORHC undermines the recognition that LGBTQ+ peoples seek to attain on the institutional level to be granted rights to access to basic healthcare, employment, education, among others.

Meryl Kenny argues for integrating feminist discourse into institutional discourse as that will inevitably broaden these restrictive structures. She states that “gender relations are inevitably power relations, and are, therefore poitical, extending beyond formal ‘public structures- politics and paid work- to include ‘private’ structures, such as the family” (Kenny, 2007). The structures in which these relations occur are in itself complex and constantly changing. Gendering institutions allows us to understand these structures as space of ‘practice’.

“The concept of gender as practice puts the focus on social and political institutions, allowing us to see that gender is not necessarily tied to a sexed body. Yet, at the same time, feminist research indicates that bodies still ‘matter’” (Kenny, 2007)

Read on to find out how Peterson’s positionality matters for this case.

Image source: International Business Times 


Kenny, M. (2007) Gender, Institutions and Power: A Critical Review. Politics 27.2: 91-100.

Maher, F. A. & Tetreault, M.K.T. (2007) Long-term transformations: excavating privilege and diversity in the academy. Gender and Education 23.3: 281-297.

Williams, R. (2015). Keywords A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Oxford UniversityPress. (Original work published 1976)


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