Posts Tagged gender
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.
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.
“And to all those young girls…guard your bodies and guard the precious miracle of your own life,” spoke Kevin Costner with precaution at the late Whitney Houston’s funeral. As the ceremony came to a closing, I rested still gazing at the television screen as Houston’s casket was carried out of the church. Though the ceremony spoke to the exuberance as well as bereavement often expressed when an icon is lost, Costner’s words hit a core I had not yet physically, mentally, or spiritually acknowledged: the state of my body. Though Costner speaks of Whitney’s body and the ways it was abused and treated by external and internal pressures Houston encountered that eventually lead down an inevitable path of demise, his warning comes from something much, much deeper: the loss of agency women have over their own bodies.
From the recent contraception controversy to the long history of the media’s role in the portrayal of women’s body, women have begun to lose power of their own bodies as they are blatantly commodified and placed under the scrutiny of the public eye. When I was an adolescent in the early 2000’s, I vividly remember my attempt to emulate the clothing, the dance moves, but most importantly the confidence Destiny’s Child oozed during their notoriously named “Bootylicious” music video. It wasn’t because I looked up to the members of the group or aspired to be a singer, but my arguable subservient behavior formed from a desire to practice and mimic the unfamiliar: embracing one’s promiscuity by choice. And to me, this acceptance was seen an alternative form of female empowerment I had not yet been exposed to. The mere idea of these females showcasing their sex appeal as a form of self-expression and liberation excited my inner rebellious spirit as I sought after anything and anyone that was far from what was deemed “appropriate” in my household. Looking back, I see now that my adoration for these females were only temporary as I was to grow and learn more about my relationship to my body within the context of my surrounding socially constructed structures.
No matter how women try to retain their bodies in the public sphere by speaking out against criticism, such as Tyra Bank’s memorable “Kiss my Fat A**” rant (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SQdga4qTF4) or in Nigeria (http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/bibi-bakare-yusuf/of-mini-skirts-and-morals-social-control-in-nigeria) where women’s expression is undermined by the country’s strict policing and censorship, they are continuously subject to the oppressive nature of our patriarchal society. As Loretta Ross firmly states in her work “The Color of Choice: “The regulation of reproduction and exploitation of women’s bodies and labor is both a tool and a result of systems of oppression based on race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, age, and immigration status.” Growing older, I’ve begun to understand the different yet just as explicit implications my role as a black female present in context of my “gendered body”.
The exploitation of black females’ body interlocks with the already complex matrix of white supremacy as it embodies multiple layers of oppression (i.e., racism, patriarchy, anti-Semitism, etc.). From the “dominating cultural historic abuse and exploitation of African-American women’s bodies in the nineteenth century” (Williams, 24) to sexually-driven and misogynistic perceptions most commonly found in rap and hip-hop (http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/hiphop/gender.htm) the pairing of ‘bodies’ and ‘being black’, specifically in America, is inevitably destructive to the development of solidarity among black females. Oftentimes black females cannot just expose their bodies as “females” but rather class and race are mutually inclusive. What I mean by this is that when black women attempt to liberate themselves physically to embrace artistic (http://www.racialicious.com/2010/04/05/window-seat-does-erykah-badus-booty-obscure-her-artistic-message/) or spiritual expression, the act is often used to further promote their defilement in what Williams calls “American national consciousness” (Williams, 28). The only way to disintegrate this obliviousness to the subjugation of black women in American culture is to demolish the double standard all women are held against and to accept the various ways of self-expression.
As I begin to grow physically, mentally, and spiritually, I will undoubtedly be confronted with obstacles that pose a threat to not only my relationship with my body but my experience as a black female.
Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious”-Source: (http://musicjuzz.blogspot.com/2009/08/destinys-child-bootylicious-mp3.html)
Shot from Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat” music video (Source: http://hypetrak.com/2010/08/erykah-badu-pays-fine/)
As an Art History major, I have seen one too many female nudes in art. Although many of these works, like Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres’ Grande 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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m a person who is annoyingly in tune with her body. For me and people like me, we note how sluggish we feel after devouring a pizza drenched in liquidized fat. We feel the way our bones and muscles move when we shift a bit in uncomfortable wooden seats. We’re aware.
I wasn’t always one of those people. Part of this connection stems from accepting my body for what it is, not what it isn’t. I’m sure I’m not the only girl who’s stood in front of a mirror and nitpicked about not having a shape like Beyonce. Therefore, my connection to my body was closely tied to my “femininity.” As someone who perceived herself as “unfeminine” thanks to her height, aspects of my gender identity came from other places that had less to do with my physical body and more to do with societal perceptions of it. Sure, society may exaggerate the minimal biological differences between male and female, as Julia Serano wrote in her article Boygasms and Girlgasms: A Frank Discussion About Hormones and Gender Differences. We still exist in a society that largely perceives gender as binary. If someone is not that feminine, they must be more masculine. If someone looks like a female, they will be treated as a female.
Shared experience significantly contributed to part of my identity as a female when I deemed my physical body as a bit less “feminine.” For example, many women have stepped outside to be greeted by wolf whistles and saucy remarks about their appearance, often by men they did not know. I could relate to that with my other female friends, their responses varying from, “I feel like I’m being treated like a piece of meat” to “I take it as a compliment.” Catcalling is another manifestation of how women’s bodies are the subject of criticism – from magazine covers to YouTube comments to a walk down the infamous and now-defunct cafwalk. Take, for example, Adele. She’s a talented artist and a beautiful woman, but she was recently called “a little too fat” by one of the biggest names in fashion, Karl Lagerfeld. If ladies on the thinner, less curvy side, they still get criticized. There is no winning.
External criticism is, unfortunately, a shared experience for women that attacks their femininity regardless of their size or shape. It’s the shared experiences that make me most aware of my gendered, female body, as opposed to having female “parts.”
I have to start by being brutally honest. Prior to enrolling in my current Ecofeminism class, I had never encountered the term “ecofeminism.” What on earth was “ecofeminism” I thought. The ambiguity of the term was one of the main reasons I eventually decided to take the class and although I am nowhere close to understanding the complexities of the movement, it has caused me to ask myself questions I had never thought of before. As a woman, what is my opinion on gender and the way it’s molded in our society? Have there been times in my life when I have felt “oppressed” by either men or culture? Did I buy that there is a direct link between women and the environment? How much do I actually care for the empowerment of women and the well-being of our environment?
Although I can’t say that I have concrete answers for any of the questions above, I do know that the issues they raise are connected to my life, especially as a Hispanic American woman. Living as a “minority” in this country, I have experienced that hierarchies still control our everyday lives, and that there are many inequalities within our society, whether transparent or not. Throughout my life I have experienced that at times, being woman, especially a Hispanic woman, does put me at certain disadvantages in comparison to Caucasian women, let alone to Caucasian men. As a senior in college with graduation looming around the corner, the pressure of finding employment and transitioning into the “real world” is daunting. Not only is it scary to think that we will all soon be competing for jobs in this unpromising economic situation but that as a woman, I might not be considered as a serious candidate next to my male peers. According to a report issued by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, even though the “Gender Wage Gap” has decreased significantly in the last six decades, the ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly earnings in 2010 was approximately 81%. This means that even if I do find employment after graduation, I may not be paid as much as a male peer pursuing the same field. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but to me, there is something inherently wrong with that fact.
Now, the other component to Ecofeminism is the injustices done to the environment, which is argued to be oppressed by culture in similar ways that men dominate women. When considering my views about nature and the environment, I realized that I associate with this aspect of the movement much less. Yes, I do recycle, but the main reason for my separation from the environment comes from growing up and still living in New York City. Although I will always argue that NYC is the best city in the world, analyzing it through ecofeminist lens made me realize that it encompasses many aspects that ecofeminists are against.
As a New Yorker, I have to admit that I have been soaked into the fast-paced culture of the city, controlled by technology and constant consumption. I had to ask myself: am I wrong for participating in this “cosmopolitan” lifestyle? Was I thus supporting forms of oppression to the environment and to my own gender?
As I begin to wrestle with these issues, there is one component of Ecofeminism that I struggle with the most. In Andy Smith’s piece, “Ecofeminism through an Anticolonial Framework,” she begins by quoting Karen J. Warren’s idea that, “All feminists must also oppose any isms of domination that are maintained and justified by that logic of domination.” According to Warren and Smith, ecofeminists should not only be concerned with the oppression of women and nature but with all forms of oppression. While I understand this argument, it highlights one of the movement’s biggest issues that we discussed in our last class, that of Inclusion v. Exclusion. If what Warren and Smith argue is valid, is there any hierarchy or injustice that would not be included in the ecofeminist critique? Furthermore, if ecofeminists choose to stand against all forms of oppression is the name “ecofeminism” now inaccurate? It looks like for now, I am only left with even more questions to ponder.
When I was 6 years old my family moved from one of the most populated places in the United States (Brooklyn, NY) to one of the least (Coudersport, PA). With that came a shift from living surrounded by mountains made of concrete to actual mountains. Nature was the only thing to do in Coudersport, and for a group of city people it was a bit intimidating. Luckily, my father was a self-proclaimed outdoorsman who attempted to pull my mother and I out of the house and into the wilds of Potter County.
In that respect, my experiences lead me to associate nature with my father, male, than how society associates nature with female. My father was the one who urged me to sit outside or go for a walk, or the two of us would go through drives through the northern Pennsylvania countryside together. My father encouraged me to experience nature, yet he also encouraged me to preserve it. Despite living where there was plenty of room to plant a garden, my father still stuck to the city way of sustainable gardening. He cobbled together self-watering containers made of recycled buckets and bottles.
Ecofeminism is part of personal experiences – as Gaard discussed in “Ecofeminist Politics: Ecofeminists and the Greens,” like others proclaimed themselves and their work as ecofeminist after the fact. My little corner of the ecofeminist experience comes from living in the country most of my life and my father’s earth-preserving hobbies. Now that I have a better understanding of what ecofeminism is, I recognize how its ideologies work in everyday settings. Humans need to see themselves as a part of nature, not at war with it, regardless of if they live in the middle of the woods or the middle of a metropolis.
I do recognize that I come from a place of privilege – I am a white, educated, middle-class, cisgender, able-bodied female. Although it lends me privileges that others lack, I recognize that they exist and perhaps I can utilize my place of privilege for good. I am in a position to spread awareness and give back in other ways, perhaps in ways more difficult for the less privileged.
“C’mon! We’re better than that!”
Binaries. Dualisms. Dichotomies. Opposites. Distinctions that can assist human understanding, but also limit the clarity of connections between that which is supposedly oppositional. Val Plumwood lists various dualisms in her book Feminism and Ecofeminism — reason vs. nature, male vs. female, mind vs. body, human vs. nature, self vs. other — showing that the different distinctions form a matrix of separation. It is also easy to tell which ones society commonly considers as good or acceptable. During the first few weeks of my study in the Ecofeminism course we “laid the groundwork” of theory and criticisms, especially of binaries, for the rest of the semester. We read a chapter from Julia Serano’s book Whipping Girl, another exerpt from Anne Fausto-Sterling’s book Sexing the Body, and the chapter from Plumwood’s book, critically considering these dualisms, their interconnection, and how they affect our perspectives towards the various supposedly “opposite” entities. It was clear that understand and deconstructing these dualisms was pertinent for our study in Ecofeminism. Direct quotes from the Course Objectives on the syllabus: “Embrace systems-thinking, non-binary thinking, and critical thinking skills […] Unravel and critically examine deep-seated binaries.”
After reading these criticims, I personally fell into the mindset that binaries are bad! That whoever created them and employed them as subordination tactic was bad! It’s not that binaries are bad, like Ramsay said in class: it is hard to reconcile the philosophical use of dualisms for understanding different concepts. It makes perfect sense for the human mind to psychologically categorize in order to understand. However, binaries do not allow us to make connections between various entities, meaning they disable systems thinking and the ability to see the interconnected web of all life, whether human or not. As Plumwood says, “It it not just the fact that there is a dichotomy […] it is rather the way the distinctions have been treated, the further assumptions made about them and the relationship imposed upon the relata which make the relationships in question dualistic ones” (Plumwood 47). Difference happens over and over in nature, but dualisms point out the differences as defining, thus limiting, and dividing. They focusing on how various ideas or entities are dissimiliar, justifying their domination. This is plainly seen in the distinction of nature as different from mankind, allowing the exploitation of various natural resources.
I was worried that we would only bash binaries for the rest of the course, but was pleased that a few weeks after reading the dualism criticisms that our class discussion turned towards connections, instead of focusing on discussing the negative aspects of viewing the world through a dualistic “lense.” What made a specific impact on me was Sarah Brylinsky’s discussion and drawings of a balance beam and a wheel. Dismissing the idea of finding a balance between different aspects of our lives (I’m a Libra, no fair!), she showed that thinking in terms of interactions, like the spokes of a wheel, actually makes much more logical sense when considering humans, nature, culture. Each of the different spokes of the wheel is an individual, yet important element in the function of the bike as a whole. It is just as Julia Serano shows in her book, that we can acknowledge differences and the variety of individual experiences! They don’t have to be hierarchical or dualistic. They can be appreciated for their unique contribution. This idea is also found in one of my favorite articles from crimethinc.com, called “One Dimensional Life in the Three Dimensional World.”
I am glad that as a whole we have begun to establish connections and think more in systems rather than focusing on dualisms and their negative effects, for these new ways of thinking are very important for forming an ecofeminist view of seeing, and ultimately healing, the world.
“All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man does not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
I owe my perception of gender, nature, and my body to the phantoms of my childhood. Back in those days, my head and heart were young bonsais ready to be wired and arced into desired forms. Because my sire was one of those absentee fathers, my mother did most of the shaping. Virtually all the fathers in my microscopic hometown spent most of their time holed up at the local chemical plant, “working.” Mothers – especially mine – did everything else: ice-skating, cooking, cleaning, teaching, playing, dancing, story-telling, and general awesome-doing. Many of them had money-making jobs themselves, yet they still managed to be vital parts of their children’s lives. If I needed something, the solution was intuitive as breathing: go to Mom. Mom worked miracles. Mom made the world go ‘round. Dad, however, seemed only to come home to eat, sleep, and lose arguments with her. It was obvious to me that females were the stronger gender. I had to be careful not to make my older brother feel handicapped by his masculinity. If I’d read Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body, which mockingly quotes the founder of the modern Olympics, who stated that “women’s sports are against the law of nature,” I would have submitted my mother’s cross-country metals as evidence to the contrary (2-3). If women weren’t supposed to be athletic, Mom and I played way too many games of Ninjas vs. Pirates.
My mother played a less direct role in my developing relationship with Nature. Determined that her children wouldn’t suffer the zombifying condition she termed “brain rot,” she banned most television shows and made us play outside. In the dirt. As a result, when I wasn’t making mud pies, one of the only cartoons I watched was Captain Planet. In the programme, teenagers from across the world become the heroic defenders of the Earth and the sworn enemies polluting industries. An enthusiastic disciple of Captain Planet, I made a point to treasure all the trees in my neighbourhood, which I already believed to be magical, thanks to Mom’s fairy stories. As far back as I can remember, I’ve felt a companionship with the natural world. It’s home. Captain Planet Introduction on YouTube
Unsurprisingly, Mom’s ideas about the body and how it should be perceived and cared for washed into me, too. She taught me to be healthy and to love my body, imperfections and all. When I’d come home crying because the boys teased me for having freckles, she told me that freckles were kisses from angels. How could I wish away angel kisses? Well into my days in middle school, she warded off door-to-door salespeople peddling subscriptions to Cosmopolitan and Seventeen in order to protect me from the idolization of too-thin bodies and sexy tummies. She might have saved my life.
True, the foundation of my perceptions of gender, nature, and my body were based on the naïve assumption that my mother is the source of all wisdom. However, I don’t regret my childhood, who I am, or what I believe about gender, nature, and the body. I know her teachings of the indomitability of women, the magic of Nature, and the inherent perfection of the imperfect body contributed to so much of my enduring happiness.
Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “Dueling Dualisms” from Sexing the Body (New York: Basic Books, 2000).
Honea, Whit. “The Real Reason Tom Cruise Backed Out of Captain Planet.” Babble. 2 Feb. 2008. Visited 7 Sept. 2010. http://www.babble.com/CS/blogs/famecrawler/archive/2008/02/02/the-real-reason-tom-cruise-backed-out-of-captain-planet.aspx