The first question everyone asks about you the moment you are born is: “Is it a boy or a girl?” From that moment forward we are forced into the tiny gender box we have been placed in. We are assigned clothing colors, so that our gender can determined with just one glance; we are assigned bathrooms, so we never have to be confused about where we belong; every standardized test, survey, and application drills into our head which side of the binary our gender is on with the check of a box; we have presumed occupations and job aspirations, since men and women are considered unequal in our patriarchal society; even our behavior is gendered: women cross their legs to take up less space, men speak loudly to assert their dominance, and so on. We have pushed, through this forced gender binary, our own society off balance and into rampant sexism, cisexism, and discrimination that has yet to be checked in any significant way. In the essay “Boygasms and Girlgasms,” by Julia Serano (from her book Whipping Girl), that we read for class, a phrase that stuck with me was when she stated: “Gender is not socially constructed but socially exaggerated” and that “while biological gender differences are very real, most of the connotations, values, and assumptions we associate with female and male biology are not.” This speaks to me because I can definitely see a few inconsequential but undeniable biological differences (what stimulates us, or methods of processing for example) but I too believe that as a highly gendered society we have blown these differences completely out of proportion to fit the needs of those in power. Through this dynamic I am privileged, which contributes to my gender identity. I am cisgender, so I don’t have to ever question the gender that has been assigned to me; I am heterosexual, so I never have to question my femininity based on my sexual preference; I have white privilege, this allows me to been seen as valuable, a luxury many minorities are forced to go without (as we discussed in class, around the article “Sin, Nature and Black Women’s Bodies” by Dolores A. Williams, where women of color are not only gendered but also dehumanized and/or over-sexualized). These privileges mean that I don’t always catch the gendering of our culture right away, however, I believe it is my duty to make myself more aware of these issues. The gendering of society hurts everyone; no one can escape its impact. My body is gendered because of this and due to the impact it has on gender roles and gender inequality in my life.
The gendering of my body is made most relevant to me in the female side of the spectrum due to how it has created gender roles and gendered body image. When I was younger I hated tights. I would refuse to wear them until my mother would finally grow impatient and force me to. They are itchy and uncomfortable and none of the boys I knew ever had to wear them, to me this seemed like a great injustice. They were, I was told, something that women had to wear to avoid indecency, a statement backed up by the women always modeling them on the package, and yet, as I have grown older, I view them more as shackles to an ideal beauty that I just don’t fit into rather than a magical key into that beauty’s world. That is my first memory of my body being gendered. My body, however, has been gendered in a much more significant way: by an irrational goal to reach the body type ideal that my full senses were barraged with daily. I was told one thing by the media, television, radios, magazines, and pictures: To be truly beautiful I must be skinny. This led to a lot of self-hate and negative personal body images in my life for a while. Society puts such a stress on women to be feminine that they have narrowed down their definition of being a woman to a degrading and almost unreachable goal. I must be quiet, submissive, passive, nurturing, caring but never overly emotional, bad at math and logic, unfit for politics, crazy when my period comes around, pure and virginal, catering to my MALE partner in the kitchen, home, and bed, and always grateful that men are around to “protect” me, all because I am a woman. My body left my mother’s uterus, a doctor assigned me the gender of female, and now I must fulfill every sexist stereotype and ideal or else it I am ugly, unseemly, or just plain undesirable.
The male gendering of society has also impacted me, in its creation of a patriarchy, gender inequality, and disrespect for other women’s bodies and mine. By gendering people’s bodies, and forcing them into these hyper masculine or feminine states, we have created a disrespectful and hate charged atmosphere. Men are forced into strict behaviors that leave no room for expression or emotion. They must be “manly” and strong at all times. As we discussed in class, the portrayal of this role instills in men the idea that their needs are the most important, that a “real man” always gets what he wants and that they must constantly prove and validate their own “manhood” for fear of being called that scary word, a girl (which is of course the worst of all insults). This not only reinforces the gender binary’s idea that there are stark differences between the genders (an example of Serano’s exaggeration of gender differences) but also the propagation of violence and disrespect towards women. Street harassment and sexual assault are very much tied in with the gender binary; we create this system that perpetually separates the sexes while media states that violence is ok, or even sexy, and a pattern quickly forms where men feel entitled to comment on and take what they want from a women’s body simply because society tells them that that is what a real man does; while on the other side women are told to be passive and take it or even, horrifyingly enough, to view it as some sort of warped compliment. Growing up in Baltimore and now living in Carlisle, I have had my own share of harassment over the years. This has affected me by perpetuating my own gendered views of men and my own female bodies self worth.
The gendering of my body, and the discriminating social structures it creates, have led me to feel more connected to the environment and to other women. I feel, despite our many other differences, that when I meet a woman we have a shared fear and hope, heritage of discrimination, and impact of gendering on our bodies and so, for a split second, we share an identity before the rest of us comes crashing down. I feel my connectedness to the environment in a different manner however. As we have discussed in class, physically the gendering of my body impacts me because it places environment-based gender roles, such as gathering fire or providing food for a family, on my shoulders but also it links the attacks on/of the environment, such as natural disasters or harmful drilling, with those of women. I find similarity between the defacement of nature and someone harassing me on a street, between the government taking advantage of natural resources and a man taking advantage of me. Our society is not so diversely oppressive that each attack is so unique as to exclude it from any other. In this way it is nearly impossible to deny at least some small connection to our environment.
To combat the gendering of my body, I have decided: If I want to share my opinions I will, if I want to eat I will, if I want to spread my legs when I sit, or wear baggy clothes one day and tight clothes the next I will. Most importantly, if I want something then it matters and it is just as god damn important as it would be if I were a man wanting it. Society has gendered me, but I am fighting back.
P.S. This is an interesting documentary on challenging the gender binary and intersexuals, check it out if you have time (it is a bit dated but still good).