One-Minute Warm Up

Take a minute and “describe” Bill Gates and then Greta Thunberg. You can do this independently and write your descriptions in bullet points or you can talk with a partner.


  1. What kinds of characteristics did you describe?
  2. Does your description accurately and meaningfully represent these two human beings to someone who doesn’t know them?
  3. How might these types of descriptions affect others’ perspectives of and interactions with Greta and Bill?

Labeling is the process of describing someone or something in a word or short phrase. For example, characterizing Bill Gates as ‘smart’  or referring to someone who has broken the law as a ‘criminal’. Labels are descriptions imposed from the outside and based on one, often superficial characteristic.

Labeling happens all the time. A particular person is described as a bully, a nerd, a musician, or an athlete. This label may be a reasonable reflection of who they are right now, but it also carries an assumption that the behavior reflects a person’s essence.

A label is used not just to describe but also to divide and define complete groups of people as only being this one thing (Mendoza, 2019). The numbers of labels attributed to someone is a reflection of how people think of each individual and on the values society ascribes to this relationship. Once someone is branded or tagged, it sticks with them for life. One either wears the label forever and lets it define them or uses it as a catalyst to redefine boundaries.

According to Rachel Remen (1996), labeling sets up an expectation of life that is often so compelling people can no longer see things as they really are. Individuals develop a relationship with their expectations and in turn a disconnect with life. A label is an attempt to assert control and manage uncertainty. It may allow each individual the security and comfort of a mental closure and encourage them not to think about things again. But life is known only by those who have found a way to be comfortable with change and the unknown. It is simpler for people to put themselves and others into boxes of predetermined ideas. This compels each individual to define themselves and others by often narrow parameters, putting them into categories because of gender, looks, religion or race.

Case study 1

In 2014, Sarah fell in love with her colleague, Amanda. They both knew that they wanted to be with each other for the rest of their lives and decided to get married. In 2014 in the United States, same-sex marriage laws varied by state. Some states had not legalized same-sex marriage and still referred to lesbian and gay people as ‘deviants’.

Depending on the state they lived in, Amanda and Sarah could be labeled differently. Should the couple find themselves in a state, such as Colorado, where same-sex marriage was legalized, they would be able to celebrate their love and get married surrounded by their friends and families. In a state where same-sex marriage was illegal, they could not be legally married and could risk being labelled as ‘deviants’ by the state.

Pause and Think
  1. What are some underlying factors that affect Sarah and Amanda’s relationship and identities in the case study above?
  2. Think about experiences you’ve had where you have either been the person labeling or the person labeled. What did it feel like? How did others react/respond?
  3. How might ideas about ‘normal’ and ‘deviance’ change based on what community or culture you are in?

Labeling and Gender Identity

Living in a society where it is difficult to fit people into neat, perfect little boxes leads to categorizing people (Arbogast, 2016). The world is obsessed with labels because people find it difficult to comprehend things that do not fit into the pre-made boxes that society has provided them with. Society often categorizes people based on race, intelligence, religion, gender and sexual orientation.

Quite often people label others based on their looks and divide others into groups, into different patterns. In view of these patterns, people behave in certain ways and get expectations. To meet these expectations, people start to behave accordingly. Gender, especially, is the first thing people make an assumption on, and put these first impressions into a sealed traditional box. The assumptions are, for example, “she looks like a girl” or “he doesn’t act manly enough”. As a result, when people want to prevent those awkward moments where they become uncomfortable, turn red or apologize for the mistake, the individuals would act like the one that is labeled.  In fact, gender consists of a spectrum of possibilities.

There is a distinct difference between someone’s sex and someone’s gender.


Biological attributes of humans and animals that include physical features, chromosomes, gene expression, hormones and anatomy.


Socially-constructed roles, behaviours, expressions, and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and gender diverse people.

Sex refers to a set of biological attributes in humans and animals. It is mainly related to physical and physiological features. Sex is usually categorized as female or male but there is variation in the biological characteristics that comprise sex and how those characteristics are shown. However, gender is the socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and gender diverse people. It affects how people perceive themselves and each other, how they act and interact, and the allocation of power and resources in society. Furthermore, gender identity exists along a continuum and can change over time. It is not confined to a binary (girl/woman, boy/man) nor is it static.There is numerous diversity in how individuals and groups understand, experience and express gender through the roles they play, the expectations placed on them, relations with others and the complicated ways that gender is institutionalized in society. The sooner people learn this difference, the sooner they can see past it and get to know the person as an individual.

Case study 2

Rose is 11 years old and biologically a girl. She has short hair, likes to play with the other boys in the classroom, chase around and play football with them. She feels very frustrated when she is kicked out of the women’s toilets because she looks and acts like a boy. This happens to her many times. Therefore, she often has to justify herself for her looks but she often ends up speechless and not knowing what to do. She wonders what a girl of her age is supposed to look like.

Pause and Think

  1. What can Rose do to support herself?
  2. Why did the people’s reaction make Rose speechless?
  3. What could be the potential solutions to this case?

Case study 3

“A jersey has no gender, it is a shirt. Pieces of fabric sewn together by someone who has never met you”, this slogan is stated on the website of Lookfly, a jersey company that produces jerseys for ultimate frisbee. They are currently moving to non-binary sizing because it is their way of removing the pre-conceived notions of gender from the shape of their jerseys.

The plan is to rename the cuts to reflect the shape of the clothing rather than it’s gender. For example, they will use Fitted Cut, Standard Cut, and Relaxed Cut instead of Men’s Cut and Women’s Cut.

Pause and think

  1. What might have inspired Lookfly to come up with this idea?
  2. What could be the suggestions to help them communicate this change to the community


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Inclusive Perspectives in Primary Education Copyright © 2021 by room305 and Inclusive Education Class 2020-2021 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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