Posts Tagged Femininism and Ecofeminism. Julia Serano

Connections to My Body and Gender

Grande Odalisque (1814) by Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres

 

 

 

 

 

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

Lady Lilith (1868) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

 

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

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

 

Shakira

Shakira – HIps Don’t Lie

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

Cover of Middlesex (2002) by Jeffery Eugenides

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

, , , ,

No Comments

My Gendered Body and Me

The first question everyone asks about you the moment you are born is: “Is it a boy or a girl?” From that moment forward we are forced into the tiny gender box we have been placed in. We are assigned clothing colors, so that our gender can determined with just one glance; we are assigned bathrooms, so we never have to be confused about where we belong; every standardized test, survey, and application drills into our head which side of the binary our gender is on with the check of a box; we have presumed occupations and job aspirations, since men and women are considered unequal in our patriarchal society; even our behavior is gendered: women cross their legs to take up less space, men speak loudly to assert their dominance, and so on. We have pushed, through this forced gender binary, our own society off balance and into rampant sexism, cisexism, and discrimination that has yet to be checked in any significant way. In the essay “Boygasms and Girlgasms,” by Julia Serano (from her book Whipping Girl), that we read for class, a phrase that stuck with me was when she stated: “Gender is not socially constructed but socially exaggerated” and that “while biological gender differences are very real, most of the connotations, values, and assumptions we associate with female and male biology are not.” This speaks to me because I can definitely see a few inconsequential but undeniable biological differences (what stimulates us, or methods of processing for example) but I too believe that as a highly gendered society we have blown these differences completely out of proportion to fit the needs of those in power. Through this dynamic I am privileged, which contributes to my gender identity. I am cisgender, so I don’t have to ever question the gender that has been assigned to me; I am heterosexual, so I never have to question my femininity based on my sexual preference; I have white privilege, this allows me to been seen as valuable, a luxury many minorities are forced to go without (as we discussed in class, around the article “Sin, Nature and Black Women’s Bodies” by Dolores A. Williams, where women of color are not only gendered but also dehumanized and/or over-sexualized). These privileges mean that I don’t always catch the gendering of our culture right away, however, I believe it is my duty to make myself more aware of these issues. The gendering of society hurts everyone; no one can escape its impact. My body is gendered because of this and due to the impact it has on gender roles and gender inequality in my life.

The gendering of my body is made most relevant to me in the female side of the spectrum due to how it has created gender roles and gendered body image. When I was younger I hated tights. I would refuse to wear them until my mother would finally grow impatient and force me to. They are itchy and uncomfortable and none of the boys I knew ever had to wear them, to me this seemed like a great injustice. They were, I was told, something that women had to wear to avoid indecency, a statement backed up by the women always modeling them on the package, and yet, as I have grown older, I view them more as shackles to an ideal beauty that I just don’t fit into rather than a magical key into that beauty’s world. That is my first memory of my body being gendered. My body, however, has been gendered in a much more significant way: by an irrational goal to reach the body type ideal that my full senses were barraged with daily. I was told one thing by the media, television, radios, magazines, and pictures: To be truly beautiful I must be skinny. This led to a lot of self-hate and negative personal body images in my life for a while. Society puts such a stress on women to be feminine that they have narrowed down their definition of being a woman to a degrading and almost unreachable goal. I must be quiet, submissive, passive, nurturing, caring but never overly emotional, bad at math and logic, unfit for politics, crazy when my period comes around, pure and virginal, catering to my MALE partner in the kitchen, home, and bed, and always grateful that men are around to “protect” me, all because I am a woman. My body left my mother’s uterus, a doctor assigned me the gender of female, and now I must fulfill every sexist stereotype and ideal or else it I am ugly, unseemly, or just plain undesirable.

 

The male gendering of society has also impacted me, in its creation of a patriarchy, gender inequality, and disrespect for other women’s bodies and mine. By gendering people’s bodies, and forcing them into these hyper masculine or feminine states, we have created a disrespectful and hate charged atmosphere. Men are forced into strict behaviors that leave no room for expression or emotion. They must be “manly” and strong at all times. As we discussed in class, the portrayal of this role instills in men the idea that their needs are the most important, that a “real man” always gets what he wants and that they must constantly prove and validate their own “manhood” for fear of being called that scary word, a girl (which is of course the worst of all insults). This not only reinforces the gender binary’s idea that there are stark differences between the genders (an example of Serano’s exaggeration of gender differences) but also the propagation of violence and disrespect towards women. Street harassment and sexual assault are very much tied in with the gender binary; we create this system that perpetually separates the sexes while media states that violence is ok, or even sexy, and a pattern quickly forms where men feel entitled to comment on and take what they want from a women’s body simply because society tells them that that is what a real man does; while on the other side women are told to be passive and take it or even, horrifyingly enough, to view it as some sort of warped compliment. Growing up in Baltimore and now living in Carlisle, I have had my own share of harassment over the years. This has affected me by perpetuating my own gendered views of men and my own female bodies self worth.

The gendering of my body, and the discriminating social structures it creates, have led me to feel more connected to the environment and to other women. I feel, despite our many other differences, that when I meet a woman we have a shared fear and hope, heritage of discrimination, and impact of gendering on our bodies and so, for a split second, we share an identity before the rest of us comes crashing down. I feel my connectedness to the environment in a different manner however. As we have discussed in class, physically the gendering of my body impacts me because it places environment-based gender roles, such as gathering fire or providing food for a family, on my shoulders but also it links the attacks on/of the environment, such as natural disasters or harmful drilling, with those of women. I find similarity between the defacement of nature and someone harassing me on a street, between the government taking advantage of natural resources and a man taking advantage of me. Our society is not so diversely oppressive that each attack is so unique as to exclude it from any other. In this way it is nearly impossible to deny at least some small connection to our environment.

 

  “Miss Representation”: Official Trailer – YouTube

To combat the gendering of my body, I have decided: If I want to share my opinions I will, if I want to eat I will, if I want to spread my legs when I sit, or wear baggy clothes one day and tight clothes the next I will. Most importantly, if I want something then it matters and it is just as god damn important as it would be if I were a man wanting it. Society has gendered me, but I am fighting back.

 

P.S. This is an interesting documentary on challenging the gender binary and intersexuals, check it out if you have time (it is a bit dated but still good).

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

, , , , , ,

No Comments

Beyond Bashing Binaries

“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.”

-Chief Seattle

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No Comments