Zein Murib, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science, prefers to go by the pronoun they. Much of their research deals with gender identity which is far more nuanced than sex assigned at birth, they said. Murib recently won best paper on women in politics from the Western Political Science Association; ironically, the essence of the paper posits that such a binary award category should probably not exist.

The paper, “Identities Under Surveillance,” presented at the association’s annual meeting last March, argues that current models of measuring the way women vote, particularly in public opinion polls, are outmoded in light of new attitudes toward gender identity and norms.

After the 2016 election and with the emergence of the #MeToo movement, Murib said, much recent research has focused on gender in politics in an effort to understand how women vote, who they voted for, and why.

“But there’s an assumption that we can measure who women are, and on the basis of that sex assigned at birth, that they’re going to behave in a certain way,” said Murib. “I make the argument that the scholarship to date has had a really flat and simplistic measure of gender, so that often codes women as one and men as zero, and then uses that math to determine outcomes.”

Murib said that many political opinion pollsters will often check the box for male or female simply by the sound of the voice over the phone. Such a binary approach becomes problematic because it assumes that sex assigned at birth correlates with gender identity. The paper argues for a need for surveys to have a more expansive and graded view of how gender is understood. The question of how to measure gender identity in surveys has received little attention, Murib said, and that has resulted in “counter-intuitive and often contradictory findings.”

Murib’s described the paper as “research on research design,” which calls for an “intervention in the survey scholarship” that would put forth surveys that take into account all people’s relationship to masculinity and femininity, particularly when thinking about political outcomes.

When and if current surveys do approach gender, they tend to ask people assigned male at birth about their identity in relation to masculinity and to ask those who are assigned female about their femininity.

A better gauge of gender would be the Bem scale, they said, which was developed in the 1970s by psychologist Sandra Bem. The scale asks male respondents to rate their sense of masculinity on a scale of 0 to 100 with 100 being the most masculine, and vice versa for women with 100 being the most feminine.

“The Bem scale actually does what I am proposing,” they said. “Current political science scholarship, however, does not.”

Murib is currently working with Ivelisse Cuevas-Molina, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science at Fordham College at Rose Hill, to design a new survey, one that would not ask about sex assigned at birth.

“We should put those two pools together and ask all respondents about both masculinity and femininity,” they said. “We have men who are caring and do things we associate with femininity and we have women who fix tanks. We need something a bit more nuanced that’s not based simply on genitals, but focuses on how people are out in the world.”

Murib said their framework springs from trans studies that not only examine how people identify, but also calls into question power structures, such as laws and policy, that only identify two genders.

Not conforming to binary gender could play a role in political behavior, such as voting for a third-party candidate, not voting at all, or engaging in what is known as “resistant political strategies”—and that correlational evidence would be lost in surveys that don’t account for the many aspects of gender identity.

“We’re assuming that male and female are coherent homogenous categories and they aren’t.”




Tom Stoelker is senior staff writer and visual media coordinator for Fordham News. After fifteen years as a freelance designer, Tom shifted his focus to writing and photography. He graduated from Lehman College, CUNY where he majored in English literature and photography and he received his master's in journalism from Columbia University. His work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Wall Street Journal, and The Architect's Newspaper, where he was associate editor.