Relying on the trope of the stable gender binary—men versus women—is inadequate to characterize the pervasiveness of sexual harassment that occurs in architecture. Missing from many conversations is the existence—and persistence—of men who harass other men, women who harass men, and any mention of transgender, nonbinary, intersex, and other gender-nonconforming people.

Only after we’ve let go of the gender binary can we begin to come to terms with the underlying, rotting ideologies of inequality—sexism, misogyny, racism, and classism, to name a few—that have been normalized in offices and studios for far too long.

Intersectionality—a theory by renowned civil rights expert and law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw that social categorizations such as race, class, and gender interconnect and create overlapping and interdependent systems of disadvantage—is a fundamental framework for rethinking and redesigning power structures after #MeToo. Sexually harassing a woman of color is not merely a tool of patriarchal control, but also a tool of racism. Likewise, conversations on sexual harassment that assume interactions are between cisgender men and women not only uphold the gender binary as a harmful social construct, but also erase the experiences of transgender, nonbinary, and intersex people.

A profession that truly recognizes the intersectional nature of oppression and takes measures to mitigate inequality is one that can conceivably—and finally—level the playing field.

As an example, I am an Asian-American Millennial whose gender is nonbinary. Intersect the biases associated with each of these three identities and you can begin to see how the layers of race, gender, and age play out in my everyday life. Professors interpreting my passion as anger and aggression have penalized me because Asian people aren’t expected to speak out or argue for their own ideas. People have dismissed my nonbinary gender as a trend or a fashion statement rather than as an essential expression and part of who I am, often refusing to acknowledge my identity or engage with me. During lunch and learns, some vendors avoid making eye contact and discount my questions because someone of my age probably doesn’t make any real decisions about design.

These individual experiences of discrimination collectively take their toll. While others have the agency to assert their design decisions and promote their capabilities—and thus, themselves—I can’t help but worry whether attaining acceptance and success in the field will require me to follow all of the “rules” ascribed to my perceived gender and race—that is, to stay in my “place.” This implicit pressure to deny and erase my identities further destabilizes my self-esteem and makes me susceptible to abuses of power.

Some will claim that identity politics have nothing to do with architecture, that architecture is apolitical. But consciously choosing to avoid politics and turning a blind eye to our differences is itself a political act. Architects need to recognize their role and responsibility in reconstructing the profession anew. Answer these questions honestly:

  • What stereotypes about power do I believe when it comes to men, women, and other genders?
  • Have I made assumptions about someone’s work ethic, personality, or politics based on what I perceived to be their age, gender, race, or class?
  • Do I listen to students, reports, consultants, and clients with the intent to understand, or to critique?
  • What would a conversation about inclusion beyond binaries—man/woman, supervisor/worker, professor/student—look like?

Those in leadership positions need to hold their peers accountable, as tough and as uncomfortable as it might be to start that conversation. Change will require an ongoing process of learning to unlearn and then relearning to rebuild, together.

Editor's note: We regularly publish opinion columns that we think would be of service to our readers. The views and conclusions from these authors are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.