Astrologers help us understand the signs of the Zodiac (and how they interact with each other) through a few common modes of categorization. We can look at a sign's ruling planet, its element, or its triplicity to better understand its essential traits. Or, depending on which astrologer you follow, you may encounter another defining category right alongside these groupings: gender.
Traditional astrologers characterize fire and air signs as "masculine" and water and earth signs as "feminine." But according to astrologer Chani Nicholas, what might have been a simple means to define the signs' personalities once upon a time now lacks meaning and, more importantly, totally misses the boat on the realities of gender (and, for that matter, astrology).
"When I first learned about astrology," Nicholas tells Refinery29, "I learned that earth and water signs were boring and practical and that fire and air signs were exciting and fun. It automatically set up this paradigm that 'female' was bad and 'male' was good."
In other words, using broad terms like "masculine" and "feminine" to describe the signs leaves the door open to sweeping generalizations about the people born under each sign, and locks astrology into a binary outlook on gender. Not only is a claim like "all Capricorns are feminine" untrue, it doesn't shed any additional light on that sign's behavior. There are so many other, more illuminating insights astrologers can gain by looking at a sign's ruling element or the decan (one of three 10-day periods within each sign) under which a person was born, Nicholas explains.
Reading too much into a sign's gender will give you a limited idea of that sign's behavior, but, beyond that, it'll lead you to believe that only a person's sun sign matters. As anyone who's had their birth chart read knows, there are plenty of other signs that contribute to each person's unique astrological makeup. When you take your sun sign, moon sign, rising sign, and all of your planetary signs into account, you probably have both "masculine" and "feminine" signs to your name — so your sun sign's supposed gender is only a fraction of who you are, at best.
More than anything, gendering the signs doesn't allow astrology to serve its purpose: to reveal the heavenly bodies' roles in the human experience. Without a more inclusive approach to gender, astrologers will fail to understand (and encompass in their writings) the identities of all its followers. "The gender binary cannot hold all the possibilities of who we are and, oftentimes, it’s used to inflict harm on those who don’t fit within its narrow limitations," Nicholas says. "Essentializing gender norms feels more and more damaging to ourselves and our world."
Astrology might not be an exact science, but it certainly shouldn't rely on something as flimsy as the gender binary.