Archive for category 2012 Gendered Bodies

Vegetarianism: an Identity or Choice?

After our discussion on Friday about vegetarians and vegetarianism I got to thinking about the way in which food consumption governs our personal and political identity.  Is being a vegetarian/vegan simply about food choice?  Does the choice to eat meat end after the waitor takes orders at a restaurant?

Vegetarians can be  “pesco-vegetarian” , “pollo-vegetarian”, “vegetarian”, “lacto-vegetarian”, “ovo-vegetarian” and “vegan”.  Phew!  What choices one has in food consumption!  If we’re discussing political identity as an extension of personal choice, how is a “lacto-vegetarian” percieved as opposed to a “pollo-vegetarian”?  Is the consumption of any feminized or animal proteins enough to make your political identity as a vegetarian invalid?  Or does the line of acceptable consumption lie with “meat” consumption- aka “peco/pollo-vegetarians”?

Adams argues that the term meat “others animals”, and acts as a force that “naturaliz[es] animals as intrinsically consumable”.  She makes the argument that “to be a pig is to be pork” “to be a chicken is to be poultry”.  Thus, humans as a group with almost complete hegemonic power over animals feel entitled to treat them as simply a means to the end of meat consumption.  The thinking behind the process of meat-eating extends beyond the agro-industrial complex.  The choice to eat meat becomes a point of personal identity and the process of “othering” extends beyond the realm of meat production to human relations.

Let’s explore some potential intersections of politics and personal identity.  When asked “why are you a vegetarian?”  there are a variety of answers given.  Some common ones include: the opposition to animal cruelty, the disapproval of the energy used to raise animals for slaughter, the need to eat healthily, and cultural/religious reasons.  Let’s be real: some people hop on the vegetarian bandwagon because it’s trendy and fits in with their hippie-inspired boho-chic wardrobe.  Plus all of the Celebrities are doing it!  By stating these reasons, I am not trying to invalidate them or the decision to abstain from meat-eating trivial.  I am simply trying to point out that the desire to eat a vegetarian diet stems from a number of reasons.  Are some of these more politically-driven than others?  Who decides?

Perhaps it’s the outward declaration of vegetarianism that allows for political identity to become involved.  If one says that they are a vegetarian, then they are claiming an identity as determined by another person.  While this certainly exists within this context, it is a concept that can be more broadly applied.  Any personal choice can be subject to subjective classification by another.  The choice to perform as a woman, the choice to appear or pass at heteronormative, the choice to wear certain clothes and speak in a certain way all have connotations attached to them that we cannot escape.  While it may seem like a personal choice to purchase and wear a certain shirt, in a small way you are claiming an identity and asserting political power with that purchase.  When you wear that shirt you will be perceived in a certain way and may be able to mediate access to things you would otherwise not be privy to (meetings with people, ideas, opportunities etc.).  You are using your buying power to support (or not support) equitable business practices.

In a more abstract way, this concept can be tied back to any assumed identity (race, ethnicity, gender performance).  As a person who is of a minority status within a majority culture their actions and choices can viewed through a politicized  lens.  This is problematic because a personal choice becomes political (or racial or gendered) without the individual muttering a word.  Thus, by simply existing one can be viewed as self-identifying with a group (as determined by the individual in power!) and thus subject to all biases the person who is making these connections has previously determined!  It seems to be an abstract link, the process of  “othering”, whether it is in the context of glamorizing a vegetarian or placing racist assumptions on an individual is rampant.  It takes different forms and masks its self in different “identities”, but ultimately acts to subordinate any group which does not adhere to the majority’s conception of the “norm”.

 

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Sex verses Gender? Where do we draw the line?

I remember whenever I would take a standardized test in middle school I would have to fill out some personal information before starting. Like mastery tests or the SATs would ask for my name, my date of birth, and my address. Usually these tests would also ask for my “sex” or “gender”. I remember these terms being used interchangeably and that in middle school whenever the term “sex” was used, hearing snickers all around the classroom. I grew up thinking that gender was basically the “PC” term for sex. People could ask what your sex was, but it was better to ask for your gender. I’m not sure where I got the idea. I don’t know if at one point I asked an adult and that’s what they told me, or if I just came up with that on my own. But I had never really questioned it until coming to college.

At Dickinson I’ve taken a few classes that challenged my feelings about sex and gender. At this point I have come up with some tentative definitions. To me, sex is your biology. Do you have lady parts or man parts downstairs? Do you have XX or XY? Gender is more about your psychology and how your perceive yourself or how other people perceive you. For example I perceive myself as a heterosexual woman because my sex is female and I’m attracted to men. But your gender is still distinct from your sexual orientation because of the gender roles some people play. For example I grew up in a privileged environment where may of my peers had mother’s who did not work. I perceived these women as fitting the gender role of “stepford wife”. Or another example would be myself while growing up. I wasn’t the stereotypical little girl who likes dolls and pink, instead I liked playing sports and toy trucks. I was often pushed into the gender role of “tomboy”. In class we talked about “hysterical housewives” being a gender role as well. I can think of several women I know who would fit this description.

Examples of sexual stereotypes.

But I can also see how your gender or your sexual orientation could be determined by your genes and therefore be considered physical.

In High School my friend Zach was interviewed by ABC about his sexual orientation. This is the article: http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=4529843&page=1#.T0vH5Rwyy58

Even though Zach “came out” in 7th grade, he had known he was gay since he was very young. Its these types of situations that make it hard to dispute the claim that sexual orientation is genetic. He was very young when he realized he was gay and I can say for sure from growing up with him that he had no gay friends and or relatives. That reduces the chance that his behavior was learned.

So if your sexual orientation is genetic, and your sex is genetic, then is your gender also genetic? Do I have “tomboy genes” that make me predisposed to like playing with bugs instead of dolls? Unless they sequence my entire genome I’ll probably never know. But I do believe that a lot of our personality is genetic. And if you view gender sort of like a mix between someone’s sex, their personality, and their sexual orientation then I would say gender is genetic.

For example, this story -> http://abcnews.go.com/Health/identical-twin-boys-transgender-brother-sister/story?id=15142268#.T00BKRwyy58 about twin brothers shows that from a young age some people already know they are transgender. Like my friend Zach, this girl was too young to have been influenced by others. Nicole knew she was transgender from the age of 4. I can’t see how that could be anything other than biology.

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Gendered Bodies

On the day of a baby’s birth, either he or she is immediately swaddled in a blanket of a specific color.  Infants that are considered to be girls are immediately surrounded by pink blankets, clothes and toys.  The same occurs for boys, with blue.  These colors denote adherence to the gender binary.  But if an infant exhibits genitalia that is not clearly female or male we do not swaddle that child in purple and celebrate them as transgendered.  In Western society, most doctors immediately choose the sex of the infant, under the supposition that a 50/50 chances of correct assignment are better than living as an individual who does not fit within the gender binaries.  This period of gender assignment is important within Western society because it determines the process of socialization that will follow.  Gender socialization instills beliefs and expectations on individuals to act within accordance of their gender role.  Girls are given toys that instill the values of domesticity and femininity in them.  Boys are taught to value strength and given materials that reward this.  Trucks, action figures, and toy guns are the playthings of boys.  In most circumstances boys’ masculine behavior is rewarded.  Aggression and dominance are considered normal for boys, while passivity and gentleness are expected from girls.  The traits expected from either gender constitutes normalcy.  These behavioral traits are coupled with outward performance.  Females are expected perform femininity through clothing choice and the application of cosmetics.  Wolf states that the “heightened standards for women’s physical appearance is the “replacement shackle” for domestic work” and further explains this expectation as the third shift.  Women must have jobs, raise a family, and look presentable.   Kang further explores females’ gender performance by asking women why they do their nails.  A woman she interviewed named Alia saw her nails as “the ticket to claiming membership to a club which she has been excluded for most of her life- the club of women who take pride in their appearance.”  This ornate display of gender is an obvious performance that woman are socialized to view as desirable.  In contrast, the gendered performance of a man is simple.  Men are expected to dress within a spectrum of what is considered “normal” and “masculine”.  But what happens when people refuse to adhere to the binary? What becomes of the purple adult?  Are they innately less natural because they don’t fit into the roles proposed by Western society?  I would argue, that transgendered and transitioning individuals are actually more in-tune with their identity as gendered or consciously ambiguously gendered because of the societal pressure forced upon them.  In Boygasms and Girlgasms the author is conscious of his performance and actions within each gender because either she feels foreign in her role as a man or society is perplexed by her performance as a woman.  The consciousness forced upon the author by societal or personal turmoil forces the author to essentially determine their gender in a way that reflects them best.  Because this gender performance is essentially free of, or antithetical to the way in which they were socialized as children, I would argue that these individuals perform their selected gender in a more natural, organic and authentic way.  This of course, is in comparison to those who adhere to their pre-selected gender assignment.

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Trickling through the Hourglass

Relationship wise, me and my body are terrific friends. Not just because we occupy the same space, but I sincerely feel as though I have forged a strong bond with my body. I feel harmony between my mind and body. My mind has the ability to affect my body physically. When I discover things that really move me, I feel it transcend to my body. My mind can make me feel physically sick, while sometimes it can place me in a reassuring place. Conversely, my body can influence my mind. An orgasm, a post-workout runner’s high, or a lingering pain can form mental states ranging from euphoria to catastrophe.

One of the main areas of influence that a child experiences when forming their idea of gender roles and their relationship with their body is the family. I grew up with a mother who cared too much about her body. Fortunately, I was too stubborn to be affected negatively by her obsessiveness, but I remember clearly thinking that she was a terrible body role model. She was always watching her weight, which was certainly below her BMI. She was constantly exercising and her night would be ruined if she ate too much at dinner.  And she believed that having small breasts should make someone feel less like a woman. Now, I’m a slim girl, and I have been my whole life, but I’ve always loved being a woman and never questioned how much of a one I am. I can’t help but refer back to a documentary I watched while browsing Netflix’s Instant Play catalog. It was simply called Breasts: A Documentary  and it featured women of all ages, sizes, shapes, and backgrounds discussing their breasts in humorous and sometimes eye-opening ways. Of course, some of these women share their own stories of how society has imposed its views upon their chest. Men (and women) are gendered from a young age to appreciate and hope for large breasts, but whether this is a biologically explained or not, biology likes to get creative when shaping breasts. There is no doubt social pressures for a feminine appearance that is both slender and athletic while maintaing voluptuous, “womanly” curves. I’m sure some men and women, when asked what an ideal female body is, will conjure up images of the Hooters girl and other famous hourglass shapes.

 

The infamous hourglass figure

Unlike my mother, I recognize where I came from, what I am, and what I have. I love being able to go bra-less (Let’s burn some!). I like my body and like being able to convoy my inner self to the world through my outer self. I love traditionally “feminine” things not because I was told to do them, but just because I’ve developed an interest in them, whether it be sewing, fashion, or cooking, which I like to do with my dad. Julia Serano, in the “Boygasms and Girlgasms” chapter of Whipping Girl discusses some of the biological differences in men and women on the hormonal level. Sure, testosterone is known to increased sex drive and estrogen is known to increase the intensity of emotional feelings, but as Serano says, “if one were to argue that this biological difference represents an essential gender difference-one that holds true for all women and all men-they would be incorrect.” Just as one can find incredible variety in the beautiful, bountiful breasts owned by women across the world, it is the differences between individuals that makes each person so fantastic. I am a woman, I am a woman with emotions, but I get emotional for different reasons than the woman down the hall would. I am a sexual woman, but I find pleasure in different things than the woman I sat next to on the train might. The differences that distinguish us, and the common similarities that unite us, are what construct the overarching web of womankind that I identify with and enjoy contributing to in my own way.

-Amber McGarvey

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Being a Boy in Mainstream Society

It wasn’t until I came to Dickinson that I realized gender assignments are all around me.  Without my knowledge, I grew up fitting into a norm that was right in front of my face.  I was raised in a very small, conservative town located in the north shore of Long Island.  Social status was a main staple of society, where meeting new people within the town usually started with a question like “which country club do you belong to?”  Or “how often do you vacation in the Hamptons?”  My relationship with my body has very much to do with where I was raised.  I grew up with the belief that I would go to college, get a job, raise a family and be a “man”.  Although Manhasset fits many of the stereotypes that define gender roles, in some aspects it has brought me closer with my body and being able to be myself.  At home, all kids played sports but they were very rarely co-ed.  Not to say that boys and girls didn’t play the same sports, but it was preposterous to think of a girl playing on the football team.  Because I was exposed to so many different sports, I was able to conclude that I excelled better in sports like swimming and rowing, rather than contact sports.

I never thought being a swimmer made me less of a man that being a lacrosse player, even though that was the golden sport and it was expected that all the boys would grow up to play in college.  I never questioned what it meant to be a boy other than the fact that I had a penis and it served its purpose accordingly. Now that I live on a college campus where gender is a topic of discussion rather than plainly just male or female, I’ve come to realize that I have ignored how gendered my body really is.  I never questioned the clothes my mother set out for me to wear, and I never questioned why the girls swim team didn’t practice with the boys.

The stereotype of men and women came into perspective for me when I read  “Boygasms and Girlgasms” by Julia Serano, she says “While many gender theorists have focused their efforts on attempting to demonstrate that this sort of socialization produces gender differences, it seems to me more accurate to say that in many cases socialization acts to exaggerate biological gender differences that already exist.  In other words, it coaxes those of us who are exceptional (e.g. men who cry often or women with high sex drives) to hide or curb those tendencies, rather than simply falling where we may on the spectrum of gender diversity.”  Maybe I’m just lucky, and growing up in Manhasset was the perfect fit because I always felt comfortable as a boy in mainstream society, or maybe I was never given the option to think otherwise.

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I (am learning to) Share My Body

I’d like to say that my body was my first love, but I’m pretty sure it was my magenta flece blanket. I truly don’t think I began a relationship with my body until I entered High School. I say this because I did not start treating my body with conscious compassion and importance until the ninth grade. In any relationship, an effort must be made to maintain a comfortable homeostatis–of emotion, physical attraction, and spiritual wellness. Prior to high school, I couldnt care less if I fell and cut myself, or if my pink jeans would match my purple sweater. Instead, I went through life doing what I had to do to get through the day. As naive as it sounds, I was unaware (and most likely didnt care) of how people percieved me.

Once I entered High School, my body began to change. I got my periord 10 days before my 13th birthday and my physique began to evolve. I developed breats and my butt grew…FAST! It is a phenomena my friends comically refer to as pastel, or cake. During that time, I made an effort to look nice and make sure every part of me looked good and was never overwhelming to my non-black peers (especially, my pastel). My awareness of my physical body reached its peak when I realized that I was not the only one that critiqued my body. Walking down the block in my neighborhood, or any predominantly African-American neighborhood in New York City (more often than not) means that some guy (age aside) would look at my body, interpret it, savor it (without my permission), and worst of all, let you know he was doing it by shouting “Mmh, girl you look good” or “I can taste your pussy.” Women, especially black women have made it clear that they will jump, kick, and scream if we are unwantingly touched. Responsively, men have decided that they will assert their power through vision. Although it pisses me off, I can’t blame them. They are working within the boundaries I (and other women have set for them).

To combat this custody battle over my body, I’ve turned to art. By looking at images of powerful, authoritative, sexy, and curvacious women, I am reminded that I ultimately have control over my outward appearences. More importantly, I have come to the realization that I control my mind and reactions to the hollering men that I will encounter. Sources like Essence Magazine, Anthea Paul’s Girlosophy series, Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly documentaries, and my mother, have uncovered the sources of my emotion, validated my thoughts, and offered potential methods to deal with my emotions. Most of all, they have helped me to take pride in my body; the way it looks, the way it moves, and the way it feels.

Essence Magazine cover featuring Anika Noni Rose. She is the Voice of Princess Tiara in "The Princess and the Frog."

Anthea Paul's book, Girlosophy: A Soul Survival Kit

Jean Kilbourne's most recent documentary on the opression of women through popular advertisement.

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Gender Identity in Hockey — My Identity

How is your body both gendered and not gendered?

Gender identity, according to Julia Serano in her article “Boygasms and Girlgasms”, is based on the hormones that are in your body.  Because of all of the testosterone in my body, the active steroid hormone (as well as physical male features) makes me identify myself as a man.  Serano suggests that gender identity — how a person understands themselves with relationship to gender role — is based on the hormone balance in your body; if you have more testosterone than estrogen you will identify yourself as a man, and if you have more estrogen than testosterone you will then be considered to be a woman.

Having taken sex-ed classes in high school and middle school, my body is physically male gendered.  Although hormonal balance plays a part in gender identity, so does your physical appearance I suppose.  I have dressed as a male over the years and once I got to Dickinson College, I suppose that my wardrobe evolved from typical jock clothes (sweatpants, sweatshirts, etc) to more “preppy” clothes (button down shirts, corduroy pants, etc).

Growing up my role models were my father, my older neighbor who I looked up to as an older brother (I only have two younger brothers), my coaches at the given time, as well as my favorite hockey player for the Bruins Ray Borque.  They taught me and sent me messages on what it means to be an athlete, scholar, gentleman, and brother.  My father is a stay at home dad, something that in my hometown of Wellesley is not too uncommon but something that is abnormal and almost frowned upon.  Day after day he makes our meals, cleans, takes care of us at home, and would shuttle me to hockey practices and games when I was still at home.  He is my role matter for that reason, he does not care about what other people think about him.  My father does a lot for my family and sent the message to me that I have to be the man of the house when I have a family.

 

What other identities contribute to your gendered identity?

The identities of white male, hockey player, student, and fraternity member all contribute to my gender identity here at Dickinson College as well as at home.  I feel as if I do not play the stereotypical hockey player or fraternity member role.  Firstly, I do not play the role of a typical hockey player as they are all seen by society as tough, mean athletes who play hockey to fight and beat each other up.  In my 14 year hockey career, never once have a been in a fight, something that most hockey players find themselves in at least one a week.  That having been said, I am not a stereotypical hockey player; I play the game of hockey much like how I live my life.  I try to play as gentleman-like on the ice at all time, while more importantly being a gentleman off the ice.

Fighting -- something that most hockey players do not actually do.

 

How is your body separate from and connected with the environments/systems/people around it?

At home, I am very close to the natural world and the community around me. Every winter since I could remember, my family and I make a hockey rink in our backyard and play outside in the cold/snow everyday (as seen in the picture below).  Making a hockey rink every year has made me closer to the environment and nature around me.  Our hockey rink has become a foster shelter if you will for all the hockey players around me, a community if you will.  Having built a rink has brought me closer to the environment and natural world , as I have payed more attention to the weather conditions around me during the hockey season.

Our annual hockey rink -- yes I realize there is no snow in this picture but it was early in the season.

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Connections to My Body and Gender

Grande Odalisque (1814) by Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres

 

 

 

 

 

As an Art History major, I have seen one too many female nudes in art. Although many of these works, like Jean-Auguste Dominique IngresGrande Odalisque (1814), for example, place the female as the main object of the male gaze, several artists chose to represent a different version of the woman; a woman that is strong, confident, and potentially dangerous in their sexuality. Known as the femme fatale or “fatal woman” to art historians, some artists decided to portray a woman that was so overtly beautiful that she stood as a symbol of power and danger to all her male viewers. One of the better-known representations of the femme fatale is Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Lady Lilith (1868). In this painting, you see a beautiful woman sitting on the left hand side of the work, staring at herself in a hand-held mirror with vanity in her eyes. She combs her unusually long, golden, curly hair with her other hand, making it the focal point of the painting. The myth of Lilith, states that she was Adam’s female counterpart also created by God, who chose to refuse him and eventually went out to be the destroyer of children and men, with her consuming beauty. Lilith’s hair, as we see in Rossetti’s work, has been portrayed as the symbol of her overpowering femininity and sexuality.

Lady Lilith (1868) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

 

When I first encountered Rossetti’s painting there was something terrifying yet something very familiar to me about the image of Lilith. Although I would not consider myself to be a woman consumed with her own looks, I realized that, just like Lady Lilith, I too had a connection with my hair that defined my sexuality and my gender as a female. For as long as I can remember, I have always had long curly hair and until this day I have never allowed anyone to convince me to cut it short (which for me would be should length or even shorter). As we have been discussing gender and the notion of gender identity, or the gender you identify with and how you understand yourself in terms of that gender, in my current Ecofeminism class, it pushed me to analyze the parts of my body that I identify with my gender. Even though for some women female genitalia and other more overtly sexual parts of their bodies stand as symbol of their gender, for me it is my hair. For me, my hair is the ultimate symbol of being a female, and cutting it short would leave me insecure and incomplete. My hair, of course is not the only gendered part of my body, but to me it is the most important of them all. Ironically, I have always said that it takes a truly beautiful woman to go bald and still look stunning and I truly respect women with short hair, but for me my hair makes me female; it is my strength, confidence and my sexuality.

The attachment to my hair probably derives from my Colombian culture, where femininity and sexuality are very important to women. To put this into perspective, I must introduce you to my life-long idol and beautiful Colombian icon, Shakira. Known for her beautiful looks, peculiar voice, but overall her unstoppable hips, Shakira is the ultimate Colombian woman, a woman that I have looked up to imitated my entire life. Shakira’s physical attributes, which of course her long hair and her hips, make her the ultimate symbol of the female gender in my eyes. Like the artist, I think of my hips and my love for dance as gendered aspects of who I am. When I dance, I feel my femininity and I am completely comfortable in my body and its relationship to the people around me.

 

Shakira

Shakira – HIps Don’t Lie

However, I am fully aware that there are people out there who do not feel completely comfortable associating with one or either gender. During my junior year of high school, I read the novel Middlesex (2002) by Jeffrey Eugenides, a book about a transgender man named Cal that struggles to define their his identity as well as make sense of his family’s socially “unacceptable” past.

Cover of Middlesex (2002) by Jeffery Eugenides

Through this book, and again through reading Julia Serano’s piece, “Boygasms and Girlgasms: A Frank Discussion About Hormones and Gender Differences,” I realized just how frustrating and confusing life can be for people that identify as being transgender or are unsure of their gender. Although I have never questioned my gender, there have been many times when I’ve said, “God, I wish I was born a guy and I would not care so much about anything.” Thus in Serrano’s piece where she states, “In retrospect, when testosterone was the predominant sex hormone in my body, it was as though a thick curtain were draped over my emotions…but on estrogen, I find that I have all the same emotions that I did back then, only now they come in crystal clear,” I realized that I too had been informed by social assumptions of gender that cloud the truly biological differences between the female and male genders. It was refreshing to know that many of the emotions that males and females have are not actually different but that they are just experienced differently. This distinction, among many other things, has made me even more proud of being a woman.

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Bodies, Gender, and “Special K” Bars

Whenever I have to fill out a form that asks for my gender, I check “female” without thinking. I have boobs and a vagina. I am a woman. It is simple.

After our class about gender, I realized my physical sex was just a part of my gender and my body. Physical sex is so socially exaggerated and simplified in my every day life, I did not ever question identifying myself as being a female solely based on my physical body.

The media, biological differences, and culture limit gender identity roles in society. If watch almost any TV show or read almost any magazine, there are depictions of two individual, mutually exclusive genders. Men are tall and strong. Women are skinny and flawless.

The media reflects the gender binary in relation to weight and dieting. Women are subconsciously conditioned to be obsessed with the ideal form. Diet drinks, Special K, and “100 calorie” snacks are always advertised using women.

I do understand that people want to be healthy, but the women that advertise diet products are often gaunt and need to eat some cake. The skinny, happy woman twirling around in a red dress in the Special K commercial is why little girls are obsessing about their bodies from the time they are toddlers.

I have been taught ever since I was a little girl when I saw all of the Disney princesses that I should be skinny with big boobs and long flowing hair. I have been taught that I should eat salad, not cheeseburgers. My 8-year-old cousin told me when she came to visit that I “should not eat candy because it fills up my belly with bad stuff and makes me fat.” My physical body is part of me being a woman, but does not begin to define my gender identity. As Serano describes in “Boygasms and Girlgasms,” there is so much natural variation from person-to-person, we cannot be overly simplistic regarding gender and bodies. Gender is not even just physical, but it is also behavioral, cultural and psychological. It is stupid to think that everyone can be placed in either a “male” or “female” category.

I, for one, certainly know that I will never choose a side salad over cheese fries.

 

 

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My Gendered Body and Me

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.

 

  “Miss Representation”: Official Trailer – YouTube

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).

http://www.isna.org/videos/boy_or_girl

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