Archive for February, 2012

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:

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 -> 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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More Green Less Grey

As a Long Island native I’ve had the luxury and pleasure of growing up on the water and overlooking the Long Island Sound. I did not always have this luxury, but when my family and I moved when I was in 6th grade to a wonderful house on the water, I suddenly found myself immersed in lush greenery and a beautiful waterfront. I guess I never appreciated what a luxury it was to grow up around such beautiful surroundings. After listening to a compelling presentation by Majora Carter, I never realized the issues cities were facing with keeping up with a green environment. Granted, I’ve been aware of environmental concerns such as global warming and climate change, but I was never educated on greenery in the inner city, or the lack there of.

The Long Island Sound at sunset.

As a native of the South Bronx, Majora Carter grew up in the backyard of power plants and sewage plants. 40% of the waste in the city was in the Bronx and serious health effects began to take shape. Childhood obesity and asthma begin to rise dramatically due to the lack of space and parks for children to play and exercise. Children also began developing learning disabilities by the constant emission of fossil fuels from thousands of trucks passing through the city streets. Carter was severely displeased with the “environmental inequality” in poor inner city neighborhoods and was inspired to push her own “go green”  campaign when she recognized a dump at the Bronx River. While it was not an actual dump it more or less acted as one, as piles of garbage filed along the shores of the river, one of the few freshwater rivers in the city. Carter brought the dump to the local authority and raised the issue of environmental hazards to find a lush green park built there just 3 years after. Carter was so impressed with the efforts of the Bronx community to create a true park for children, families and couples to walk through, play in, etc. that she and her husband were married there. After having received the satisfaction of getting the park installed, Carter began to express the cities need for “green rooftops.” In the bronx, an area with little room for greenery, Carter suggested green rooftops, which would more or less be gardens on top of the city skyline. Green roofs are also better for the atmosphere because they act as horticulture therapy and release water into the air which helps purify it. With the addition of green roof tops there would also be a reduced dependency on sewage plants.

This is what Carter hopes the city will look like in years to come.

As a native Long Islander, as well as New Yorker, I’ve never felt the effects of power plants and garbage dumps. Living in a rural area such as Cold Spring Harbor I was always privileged with the view of the water and had several playing fields and backyards to play on. After listening to Majora Carter’s presentation on the problems of pollution in inner cities areas such as the Bronx, I immediately became inspired. The green rooftops in my eyes is an amazing idea and I think it’ll soon become a phenomena if people commit to getting involved. People living in the city should experience what rural areas have to offer. Carter also focused on making the city a safer place to live by eliminating areas of hazardous waste disposal. By bringing this attention to the forefront of society, Carter has been successful in making people aware of the change that needs to take place. It is my hope that her awareness continues to spread and I am eager to see where she is in her progress within the next year or so!

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Be the change(s) you wish to see


If Gandhi, Angela Davis, and Al Gore somehow conjured up a sustainable yet socially-conscious plan to conceive a love child, I’m almost certain that modern day environmental justice advocate and social entrepreneur, Majora Carter would be birthed.

Sitting across from Ms. Carter at the Clarke Forum dinner last Monday, many thoughts (most driven by relentless fluster) crossed my mind: 1) Why did I let my professor (still thankful though) coax me into switching tables with her so that I was strategically placed directly across from THE Majora Carter? 2) Did I really just finish a Dickinson prepared meal without having to question the contents of the meal? 3) How could someone so potent in actions and strategies be so graceful with words and in presence? Well, it’s been a week and I still cannot adequately answer these questions, but what I can share sheds little light on my “wine and dine” experience and more so on the lecture Majora Carter presented to the Dickinson community afterwards.

For someone who classifies ‘growing communities from the inside out’ as her “side hustle,” Carter definitely made an effort to captivate the audience’s crowd with an opening set of beautifully-photographed black-and-white images taken in her South Bronx neighborhood of her parents, friends, and other childhood memories, which was juxtaposed with her refreshing, rough around the edges, personal anecdote.  Throughout her talk, Carter spoke of her beginning steps towards “greening the ghetto,” which inevitably lead to future green social and economically-advanced projects such as BEST (Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training), and encountered obstacles that may have contributed to or slowed down her success.

While other audience members may have been fascinated by Carter’s ability to take on so many roles and projects willingly and effectively, I, on the other hand, was more fixed on exactly how she was able to manifest her skills and ideas to residents in these neighborhoods stricken with social economic downturn, environmental racism, and reoccurring gentrification while maintaining a holistic and optimistic attitude.  I believe Carter alluded to her strategies at achieving common ground with the residents various times throughout her talk even through the brief moments of silence; it was her passion.  Major Carter’s passion initiated her start and surely enough is accompanying her along the rewarding path of environmental justice change.

Apart from her TED video and various articles read, I had little knowledge of Majora Carter’s modest yet extensive work as an activist who promoted social, economic, and environmental development.  Nonetheless, her words and courage also resonated with me as I somehow found a piece of me in her. Each day I come to terms with the many opportunities I have been blessed with not only because of my self-driven and proactive nature, but also because of my support system comprised of friends, family, and mentors that has kept me grounded my entire life.  The truth is, anyone and everyone wants to lead an extraordinary life. But the other truth remains untapped for many individuals: you must help others to help yourself.  As I continue to grow and develop as an individual, I only hope to meet Majora Carter at least halfway in her unremitted graciousness and infectious alacrity demonstrated in each word she professes and action she takes.

If there were one thing from my evening with Majora Carter that I’d connect to the understandings of Ecofeminism, it would be the importance of building coalitions.  Building coalitions with like-minded individuals and groups and even sometimes groups radically different from your own sheds an entirely different light on collaboration and success.  Regardless of the outcome, working together towards one goal or many goals will undoubtedly reveal an even greater understanding of the world around us; that is progress. As Gandhi once said, “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.


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Majora Carter’s Passion

I was another one going into this lecture with an open but very confused mind. I was trying to stay excited for the interesting things I might hear, the odds that my teacher would intentionally send us to a bad lecture was unlikely, but work to improve the city seemed far away from Ecofeminism. However Majora Carter used environmental health to improve the lives of those who live in the Bronx. She genuinely cared enough about her loved ones and their environment to try. One of the most important things to take from the lecture of Majora Carter about her legacy and her work is how much of what she accomplished is directly connected to her understanding of her community.

Majora Carter and her puppy enjoy the park.

She grew up in the Bronx and fundamentally understood the people who lived there. Going to a small liberal arts school gave her the tools to know a green solution to help her community’s air problems but to get people to support her she couldn’t talk about German experiments, no matter how cool, or toxicity. Ms. Carter had to understand her audience and instead discuss issues that mattered to them: such as the rate of asthma in their children and how a park would help get everyone the exercise they needed. She cared about her friends and family, using her understanding of sociology to recruit ex-cons and locals to work on the project together. Like we’ve discussed in class she applied her knowledge and used it to make the city more natural for the community. She’s working on opening up a fresh market. She’s exploring abandoned buildings and negotiating with the city so that everyone gets what they want. And by what they want I mean what she wants- just with the right phrasing.

She’s inspiring- that’s why it was so very interesting to listen to her speak. She loves what she’s doing so much that she makes you, for that moment as you listen to her explain, passionate about it too. May we all make such a difference in our lives.

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Carter and Ecofeminism

Last week I attended Majora Carter’s lecture “Greening the Ghetto.” I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went in, but figured it would be a mishmash of ecofeminism and community activism. In the ghetto. With trees?

Majora Carter speaking at Dickinson College

Well, it did have to do with ecofeminism, community activism, ghettos, and trees, but it was predominantly a story. Majora Carter reluctantly returned to her neighborhood in the Bronx, and she made something happen. She changed a dump into the Bronx’s first riverside park, created a company to add rooftop gardens to neighborhood homes, built a greenway through her neighborhood, and started the organization BEST (Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training). She cared about her neighborhood and its environment, so she made change happen.

Carter’s work was very locally focused. Although she wished to expand the programs to other parts of the country, she was predominantly concerned with helping her neighborhood. Her organization BEST trained and employed local workers to stabilize streams in the area. She also built a greenway specific for her lower-income neighborhood – greenways are more common in wealthier neighborhoods. Ecofeminism often starts with bettering the immediate area.

Her methods held strong with the ecofeminist readings we did in class. She inspired people to help by bringing it back to their children. For example, people started to care more when they realized the neighborhood children were suffering from asthma and childhood obesity because the air was unsafe. The air was unsafe because the government put a highway through their neighborhood. The government put a highway through their neighborhood because it was a poor neighborhood. It’s NIMBYism – show people how events affect what they care about, in their home neighborhoods, and they will be more willing to fix it.

Ecofeminism can be a bit of a mood killer. We learn about how society is harming so many people on so many levels. It’s disheartening when the discussions tend to be a bit circular and no solution is reached. Carter’s lecture showed us how ecofeminist elements can make a significant change and positively impact a community.

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The possible benefits of Green Infrastructure

One of the great things I learned from Majora Carter’s lecture on “Greening the Ghetto” is the possible benefits of investing in green infrastructure such as roof top gardens. Roof top gardens can not only provide an urban oasis but also provide valuable employment for the unemployed in this economy recovering from the Financial Crisis of 2008. Unemployment levels are still at double digits and many fear the economy might fall back into a second recession. Thus creating jobs has become a main priority but the government and the private sector have failed to do.  Thus it is now up to individuals to come up with plans to create jobs.

Rooftop gardens significantly reduce pollution in congested urban areas, greatly reduce storm water by absorbing it and can even provide seasonal fruits and vegetables. Pollution in city levels is quite high and planting roof top gardens can considerably reduce pollution and clean the air. Major cities in America such as New York and Philadelphia are struggling with the increased amounts of storm water entering the sewage system constructed centuries earlier. Roof top gardens can significantly reduce storm water by absorbing. Quite amazingly, rooftop gardens can be used to grow seasonal fruits and vegetables which can greatly reduce the carbon footprint of bringing the fruits and vegetables from faraway places such as California and Latin America. Just imagine how much energy is used to transfer a pound of blueberries from Chile to New York. Although cities like New York will never be sufficient in producing all the vegetables and fruits they consume from roof top gardens even a small change can have a significant impact on the carbon footprint.  And most importantly roof top gardens can create jobs.  For instance Majora Carter started the BEST Green job training program that can train individuals to do outstanding work in sustainability arenas across the country.

A roof top garden in New York City

Sustainability is one of the most important buzz words of this new millennium as the world grapples with rising energy demands from emerging countries such as India and China. It is now the right time to invest in renewable energies such as solar and wind energy and electric cars. The world clearly does not have enough fossil fuel for everyone in the globe driving a car or following a traditional American lifestyle. Thus we need to change our habits or we need to change what we use as energy to fuel our homes, cars and factories.

The zero emission Nissan "Leaf" can run 73 miles on a single charge and since it runs only on electricity does not release any greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.


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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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Your Body is a Wonderland? A closer look at the socially constructed female body

“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 ( or 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 ( 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 ( 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: (


Kevin Costner’s Euology at Whitney Houston’s funeral


Shot from Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat” music video (Source:

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