Posts Tagged Eco Feminism and Social Constructs

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-Jessica Libowitz

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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).

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Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…?: Revolution within a Paradigm.

One’s opinions on body image, ideas about gender, thoughts on nature, and how they are all connected are strongly influenced by the society in which we live and how those issues are portrayed from various sources. For me personally, in addition to the influences of the media, politics and social environment, my parents and my religious beliefs have also guided my perceptions of my body, gender and nature as well. Strong societal messages though do shape who we are and what we think of who we are, and that in turn, shapes what we think and feel. It is a cycle that we allow to perpetuate, despite our knowledge that this is occurring and regardless of how adamantly we believe we are not affected by it.

The body, especially the female body, has always been objectified in one way or another. Society dictated norms of beauty and male fantasies of subjugation, have resulted through the ages in an accepted role for females, that women have not only allowed, but also to some extent encouraged. In current times, though the feminism movement is on the rise and women have asserted themselves within a previously ‘male-dominated society,’ everyday women still spend too much money on cosmetics and diet supplements in the quest to obtain an unrealistic and completely arbitrary definition of beauty. There are countless magazines, books, commercials, movies, etc. that focus on a certain insatiable need to feel beautiful. There is nothing wrong with feeling that you look your best, but this societal predisposition for perfection, often encourages an unhealthy lifestyle in order to conform to unnatural and exaggerated expectations on what makes a woman beautiful. The women that we try to emulate, those famous celebrities that are constantly in the media, are perpetuating these ideals by becoming exactly what society dictates. While I do not believe they are the setters of these trends, nor do I think they give much thought to how their conformity to these so called ‘standards’ are perceived by other women, they are nonetheless responsible for the preservation of these ridiculous ideals. Real women: the soccer-mom, the business woman, the cardiologist, don’t often look perfect, nor should they. They have husbands, children and friends who love them for who they are and what they do. Yet, the front page of People Magazine is telling them that they can lose weight in 8 easy steps, or that this particular product is the right shade for their skin tone. And the everyday woman buys into this need for perfection. Not only is this a horrible gimmick for the capitalist empire, but it is also convincing women that they are not good enough the way they are. It is also a preservation of ideals that support misogyny. The only way women feel they can compete is through sex appeal and the exploitation of their body. Yet, despite knowing all of this, I still find myself going to the gym and buying certain clothes. I may try to convince myself that I eat well and exercise to be healthy and I buy clothes because I like them and for no other reason, but I would be remiss to not understand that to feel attractive I also feel the need to conform. I buy into the need that to be thin or have a certain feature or own something coveted is to be respected and admired. This thought process is ingrained in each individual since birth, and unfortunately, the birth of this idea started a long time ago.

Gender roles and how I perceived them were influenced from a variety of sources growing up. In my house, my mother had the corporate job. She got up, put on her suit, had my father make her coffee and worked a full day. While my father owned his own business and was fairly successful, he worked out of the house and therefore filled the role of a stay at home mom. My opinions of the gender roles didn’t really develop until I was old enough to understand that even though it was the end of the 20th century, that was slightly unusual. Once I did realize this, however, my thoughts didn’t change much. I thought that if you were qualified enough and had the appropriate education, there was no reason why you couldn’t have whatever job you wanted and, if you were so inclined, you couldn’t choose to stay home and take care of your children, no matter your sex. But the older I got the more I realized it was not that simple. I noticed the disparity and the sexism most in the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primaries, between Hillary Clinton and her male counterparts. Rather than focusing on the content of her ideas, the media instead reported her possible face-lift, the size of her hips, the supposedly plunging neckline of one of her suits, and the genuine display of emotion as trading on her feminine wiles. This astounded me. New York Times writer Gloria Steinem was equally as confounded and had a lot to say on the issue. And her opinions embodied much of what I thought about the situation. The whole experience made me realize how “certain individuals are predisposed toward patriarchal dualism”(Wang 2413). They saw no shame in admitting that the country just wasn’t ’ready for a woman president’. I realized at this moment that it was still a man’s world, no matter how qualified the woman. Another aspect I saw as having an impact on the treatment of women in our society, is religion. America is primarily a Christian nation, and while I did not grow up with these particular beliefs, though I grew up protestant, they are very prominent with many people in the US. “A part of ascetic Christianity imagined women becoming freed from subordination, freed both for equality in salvation and to act as agents of Christian preaching and teaching. But this freedom was based on woman rejecting her sexuality and reproductive role and becoming symbolically male…Obedience to God was to be expressed in total obedience to male ecclesiastical authority”(Ruether 18). While this is a little strong, the concept of a hierarchal structure being based in religious convictions is strong enough to persuade the followers of that religion not to question that structure. And while I feel that this should have no impact on my life as a secular member of society, many of the men in influential and dominant positions in government and business hold these religious beliefs. Once again, my concepts of gender roles in terms of lifestyle choices and the quality of the individual are overpowered by a traditional societal structure that has yet to reform.

I feel I am fighting against society the hardest in support of my views on nature. Growing up the child of a hippie, and later becoming an environmental studies major with an agenda to save the world, I work to think of nature as a supreme force deserving of respect and dignity. However, I did not start out this way. My whole frame of thinking was developed and nurtured by a capitalist society. I lived my life with the idea that I worked for money, money would buy me what would make me happy and although I cared about the trees and the Panda, it was more or less irrelevant to the goal at hand. It was only later I realized how interconnected everything I did was to the well-being of the planet, and how the health of the global ecosystem, humans included, hinged on this relatively new technological progression that I so admired. I now am determined to learn and understand as much as I can so I can alter this us-and-it mentality. This separation and superiority complex humans have about their relationship with the world, and their participation in the global environment is detrimental to the existence of life on this planet. If we don’t start considering ourselves and nature as one-in-the-same, we are ceding any future we have.

There is a growing awareness of these traditional norms dictated by society among the global population, and especially women. We must encourage this new trend of thinking for it will lead to a more just, ethical and sustainable future. But this new awakening this not enough to escape the traditional structure within which it is trapped. We must perpetuate a new and broader definition of gender roles, a more genuine and accepting view of individual beauty, and a respect and appreciation for the natural world of which we are a part. We must create a new paradigm.


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