Posts Tagged cisgender

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).

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What a feeling~

Is this kind of passion possible without personal identification with the problem? We are all connected and affected by the same problems eventually... how can we help everyone to realize this? Evan made an important point in class that is sometimes overlooked due to its simplicity: all we can do is educate each other on the issues. Education is key, as always.



SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read this post until after you’ve seen “The Skin I Live In”; trust me, the experience is worth it!

Last week, I went to The Carlisle Theatre to see “The Skin I Live In.” I love seeing a good movie; without providing an in-depth explanation as to what constitutes a good movie, I’ll say, at least, that it is a necessary condition that it challenge the viewer to think critically. “The Skin I Live In” certainly meets this condition. It begins with a scientist who is informing his peers about his attempts to develop a kind of indestructible second skin. Burn patients, for example, would highly benefit from such a scientific invention. During a conversation following his presentation, the scientist is warned by a peer that he’d better have been conducting these experiments on rats (as opposed to human beings), because if not, he would be in major violation of bioethical regulations. Immediately, I was reminded of Professor Howard’s lecture. Although we talked specifically about toxicology and epedemiology in class, the underlying ethical assumption (that while it is acceptable to experiment on animals like rats, it is wholly unacceptable to do so on human beings) is the same.  When the realization hits, and the pieces of the movie begin to come together, uncovering the truth that the scientist has actually been doing his experiments on a human being, there is this visceral reaction of horror. How could one human being do that to another human being? Are we so shaken by this realization because we can identify with that human being who has non-consensually been operated on? Can we not believe that any human being would treat another like, say, a rat? Does our empathy only stretch as far as to those who we immediately identify with? Hearing that some “lowly animal” is being experimented on tends to incite no reaction at all; it is an expectation. The contrast of the two reactions is quite telling. Almodovar, the director, is counting on the viewer going from zero to horror upon realizing what the doctor has done. What does this tell us about society? Whose lives are valued? Maxwell’s Environmental Health begins by stating, “The traditional concept of the ‘environment’ is human-centered, with everything that surrounds us defined as the environment” (2). It is all about our frame of reference; who and what we identify with. The connection to ecofeminism here seems obvious; just as human beings do not identify with other animals and therefore have no problem exploiting them, we could easily fill in “other animals” with any variation of the Other. Women, one version of the Other, are closer to nature as a result of identifying with this Otherness. Identifying oneself with the subjugated appears key in having the potential to be affected by  the repression and being further motivated to work towards a change; is it a necessary condition, I wonder? Does it all just come down to some version of NIMBY? This is an important question because the answer will certainly direct the strategy of the movement of any subjugated group.

The cool thing about this movie is that the reaction Almodovar elicits forces us to confront how we think about issues like this one. In the best situation, it conflicts with other views we have, and upon reflection, we are forced to reshape the way we view the world. Seriously, how cool is that? That was just a little introduction into the movie, though. The big reason that I decided to write about the movie is that the gender issues it brought up BLEW MY MIND. The movie pushed me to reflect on my relationship to my body. I identify as a cisgendered female. This, I know. If you ask me how I know this, it would be like asking me how I know that I love strawberries. I could talk about my taste buds, but some scientific explanation still does not answer how I know that I love strawberries. It might explain why I do love strawberries, but not why I know that I love strawberries. So, how do I know? I don’t know, I just knowI was born this way?

Gotta love that double-standard, especially when it is coming from an authority figure.

Okay, that was a fun little dance break, but in all seriousness, I actually think the answer “I was born this way” is perfect in the sense that it speaks to this crucial point: I may be correct or incorrect regarding a plethora of assertions that I make, but so long as I am talking about how I feel, I can’t be wrong. If you identify as cisgendered, have you noticed that you don’t get questions about how you know that you are that way? You only get that question when you are Other, in this case, transgender. What up, double-standard? Why must transgender people answer this question, when we never pose it to those who fall within the ‘norm’ (cisgender). If you were crying, and ran up to me and exclaimed, “I’m sad!”, it would be absurd for me to ask in response, “But how do you know?”. Can you imagine what kind of a response you would give to that question? I would be confused at first, and if the questioner were persistent, I would quickly become infuriated. Yet, we don’t see the absurdity in posing the exact same question to transgender people, as if this case warrants the question due to a significant difference it has to the former. But if I had to guess, I’d say that the difference between the two situations lies in the questioner’s ability to identify with the other. We all know what it is like to feel sad and to exclaim, “I’m sad!”; we can all identify with this. We do not all know what it is like to be transgender; we cannot all identify with this. So the distinction between asking an absurd question and a legitimate one in this case lies in an entirely subjective ability to identify with the situation. Those are horrible grounds for a distinction.

But how about I relate this back to the movie? The scientist’s experiment was to turn this cisgender, heterosexual male into a biological female. Essentially, he made him transgender. In doing so, he utilized this “second skin,” hence the title, “The Skin I Live In.” Vicente, the man operated on, was literally trapped inside of this synthetic skin. The entire movie, I identified Vicente as Vera, a woman. When it is revealed that this biological female is actually Vicente, it is a moment of cinematic brilliance. Know why? The biggest problem that I outlined above regarding the ignorance and skeptical attitude toward the transgender community is that those cisgender people are not able to identify with the transgender people. Just as human beings are not able to identify with the rats until they  imagine themselves as the unwilling victims of experimentation, the cisgender community are unable to identify with the transgender community until they identify with them. This can appear discouraging. How can someone who is cisgender ever really understand what it means to be transgender? Through his creative powers, Almodovar provides us with a possibility. Vicente experiences the closest thing there is to being transgender, without actually being born transgender. As a result of the experimentation, he is rendered transgender. Vicente is trapped in the skin of a biological woman. This is an image that a cisgender can identify with: the confusion of realizing that you have been placed inside this body that is not representative of who you are due to some experiment you had no say in. It throws you into this foreign realm and forces you to think in a totally new way. We, the audience, empathize with Vicente. We can all imagine being put unwillingly through this operation, and in the end not physically being ourselves. We would not question Vicente (how do you know that you identify as a man?), because we met his character before the operation; we perceived Vicente as he perceives himself.

Let’s take this a step further, shall we? This scientist represents Nature, God, fill in the blank. Before we are born, we are all at the mercy of whatever makes us the way we are. We have no control over the bodies we are born into, just as if we are all non-consenting experiments of some scientist. We are born this way; it is that simple. “The Skin I Live In,” provided me with this perspective, and I think it bridges the gap between the cisgender’s ability to identify with those who are transgender. As the final scene closes and the credits roll, my mind is going in all sorts of directions. I am truly disturbed, and can’t imagine a better feeling.

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