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culturehandy
I pitched this in the Community Forum and it was well recieved.

This thread is all about the politics and cross cultural and societal views on gender.

I started thinking increasingly about gender when the media frenzy about Caster Semenya emerged. It is my opinion that the only reason people questioned Ms. Semenya's gender is because she appeared to be "masculine". That is, she looked masculine according to the ideas of society at large. Had she had softer, more "feminine" features, questions of her gender would not have come up.

So, what is gender? We know that there is sex, your biological sex, but gender is a social construct.
koffeewitch
I (and I assume many feminists) would agree with you culture, that gender is only a social construct. Are we the minority? Is this one of the reasons women claim not to be feminists...they believe there is some sort of genetic basis to gender that makes our sexist society "natural"? And of course if gender is COMPLETELY a social construction would there be so many people who feel that they were born the wrong sex? When I've listened to transexuals talk about their feelings it always seems to me that they are refering more to gender than biology...can these things (gender and biology) be completely separated? Someone wiser than I, please jump in...
deschatsrouge
In our culture I think we associate Gender and biology so closely because our culture only has two genders. Some cultures like Samoa and India have a third gender. I used to date a Transgendered person and in that experience all the social constructs of gender were pointed out to me. Like knitting. Men can have the ability to knit but it's a "woman's" pastime. She explained to me that some times transgendered people take on the roles of their target gender just to appear more similar to it. to me this points out how little biology plays in gender.

Humans can't really live without culture. I think this is the reason we are so apt to accept gender roles. Culture tells us what gender is, but because in our culture gender is tied with biological sex we think in black and white, male and female terms. If I understand correctly transgendered people in other cultures are satisfied sometimes with just taking on gender roles and not altering their anatomy to match their desired biological sex.
sybarite
I am really pleased this thread has been started; this is a fly-by (for now) but this story brings up interesting quetsions about the degree to which gender is constructed IMO. The story is about a Swedish couple who have decided to raise their child gender-neutral.
koffeewitch
QUOTE(sybarite @ Oct 1 2009, 06:21 AM) *
I am really pleased this thread has been started; this is a fly-by (for now) but this story brings up interesting quetsions about the degree to which gender is constructed IMO. The story is about a Swedish couple who have decided to raise their child gender-neutral.

Wow, I cannot believe how furious the comments at the end of that article are...People go crazy and lose their minds over this issue. I remember another couple who had a boy they were raising in a non-sexist, non-gender specific manner. I was actually extremely impressed. I remember a story of this little boy going to kindergarten with barettes in his hair because he liked barettes. His peers immediately informed him that boys do not wear barettes. His reply was to show the other boys his penis and reply that having a penis and scrotum made you a boy, not what you wore in your hair.
As a parent myself, I try to avoid as many references to gender as possible. In our household Mommy is the one who can fix cars, but she also knits. Daddy likes to bake pies and scones. When I;m knitting (children love to watch knitting for some reason) I tell my kids (true) stories about how cowboys used to knit their own socks at night by the camp fire. (THe lesson here is not only about gender but the importance of self-sufficiencey). It does seem to be true when kids hit about the age of 4-5 they get very interested in identity and ask "what do boys do/what do girls do". The problem in our culture is they are not asking "what do PEOPLE do,what do kids do/what do grown-ups do" etc. And ANY exposure to television, any at all, even one hour per week, even only PBS will give kids EXTREMELY sexist views about gender.
Deschat': I really like theories about more than 2 genders...I think along with 3 genders, we might also consider 6 or 8 or maybe none at all...or maybe we should think of it as a continuum with all of us somewhere in the field of gray. But you're right, we definitely look at it as black/white.
I love the ideas you guys hyave brought up, this has been so interesting already...
culturehandy
How much gender is a social contrsuct is something I've thought about a fair bit. In my studies, I've seen it is, but how much does biology play a role in what is "masculine" or "feminine"? Perhaps we've just ignored what is intrinsic about humans and it seems only natural for us to go with society...

Even then, how much is cultural and how much is biological? it's the age old nature vs. nurture question.

In reading the article, I found this quote interesting;

“Ignoring children's natures simply doesn’t work,” says Susan Pinker, a psychologist and newspaper columnist from Toronto, Canada.

They are letting the child do what they wish, how is that ignoring the child's nature? This pink-blue ideology did not come from the idea of being a child.

Further, she also says; Child-rearing should not be about providing an opportunity to prove an ideological point, but about responding to each child’s needs as an individual

This is *exactly* what the parents are doing, they are allowing the child to be an individual, not an individual with strings attatched.

Then she goes on to discuss one childs loss of his penis during circumsicion. This family is raising Pop to be who they want, not going against what the child is biologically. The parents are open about the fact that pop knows what a penis and a vagina are, so clearly, the child is aware of what they have. They are choosing to do things against a cultural norm, not a biological one.

Koffee, your theory on gender being a continuum is very clever, I like it. what exactly constitutes a man? Or a woman? Is a woman who fixes a car less than a a woman who bakes because she does a "masculine" activity? Or what about those who choose to enter more traditional male feilds? what about men who sew? Does that make them less of men? I think that culture is so obsessed with the idea of gender because it appears that it is tied so much to who we are. Isn't there more to it?
bob4both
Very interesting thread! I'm mulling all this over and don't know exactly WHAT to think, but something deep down doesn't agree with the general premise of the conversation. But when I slow down & I dissect the comments they make more (agreeable) sense to me. I can't quite put my finger on it, though.

When I digest all this & find the words to add to this conversation, y'all will probably hate me! But keep it going; I'm intrigued by this thread.
koffeewitch
QUOTE(bob4both @ Oct 1 2009, 01:23 PM) *
Very interesting thread! I'm mulling all this over and don't know exactly WHAT to think, but something deep down doesn't agree with the general premise of the conversation. But when I slow down & I dissect the comments they make more (agreeable) sense to me. I can't quite put my finger on it, though.

When I digest all this & find the words to add to this conversation, y'all will probably hate me! But keep it going; I'm intrigued by this thread.

b4b (and lurkers) you are in NO WAY required to agree with us. I would love for someone to jump on here and make a case for biology just to get us thinking in a different direction. Feminists aren't made from cookie cutters; we can agree to disagree (apologies for the lame cliche).
jsmith
I don't think it comes down to nature v. nurture. I don't think anything comes down to that. It's always a combination of the two, not one or the other. I think some behaviors/attributes that are allegedly peculiar to one gender or the other are biologically based. SOME. But I think that most attributes that our society deems "masculine" or "feminine" are simply social constructs with no good basis in reason.
I agree with the poster who suggested we all fit on a continuum ranging from black to white, with gray in between. I know that I've thought about my own attributes, to which gender they allegedly belong, and why I choose to embrace or obliterate these attributes. There are things about me which are distinctly "feminine", and things which are distinctly "masculine" (as defined by society). I don't behave in a certain way simply because society says it's what is appropriate for a woman, or actively try to go against social mores. I do what I'm comfortable with, and to hell with everything else.
If I ever have kids, I'll make sure to raise them without impressing gender stereotypes on them. I think parents who do this are doing the future a great favor.
mumblestutter
nice thread! this may or may not be totally coherent b/c i may or may not be more than half a sleep right now, but here goes. gender is totally a cultural thing. activities and preferences that are associated with being masculine or feminine arbitrary. things that are considered "masculine" or "feminine" can change over time, or be assigned to different gender categories by different cultural groups.

the simplest example i can think of here is the "pink is for girls, blue is for boys" convention. there's no reason why a person should have innate attraction to these colors based on their sex. children are rewarded positively for modeling "gender appropriate" behavior and so often comply with convention. even children of gender neutral parents will receive positive feedback for modeling gendered behavior at school and around friends.

the "pink/blue" dichotomy did not emerge until the mid 20th century. before then powdered blue was the color for little girls and red was the color for little boys! pretty much the opposite as it is now. you can see this in early disney heroines like alice & sleeping beauty with their powder blue gowns.

i'm fascinated (and dismayed!) by the extent commercial enterprise now informs our personal concepts of gender. i think there may have been more rationality to gender concepts in the past, but now with television & mass media, people over wide distances can see the same definition of gender roles.

when it first hit the market, marlboro was a brand marketed as feminine & for women. later the company took a U-turn and decided to market their product at men creating the familiar marlboro man/cowboy killer imagery. there's NO reason why a cigarette should be feminine or masculine, but the campaign worked, resurrected a fading company, and created a lasting image of a "masculine" product.

jsmith, you mentioned a continuum of gender. have you ever read about alfred kinsey?

also, this american life produced a fascinating show where they interview two transgender children and their parents. it's fascinating to hear the children describe struggling with gender-identity at such a young age, as well as how their communities and parents react.

so, sorry for being a gigantic nerd. :) i love this topic & really did pare down what i had to say.
koffeewitch
I love this thread! I've been thinking about inherent/biological aspects. I've already agreed that gender is cultural, but there are cultural traditions surrounding biological phenomena, like menstruation. And childbirth. I do wonder if we women's ability with language is now rooted in our brains because women usually did the raising/nurturing of their children (teaching children to talk/warning them of dangers). Did culture affect biology? Did thousands of years of sex-segregated tasks give us any inherent abilities for those tasks?

When I was in my early twenties I think I was afraid to talk about ANY link of gender to biology. I felt I had been shoved into a pink box for so long; I only wanted to free myself of it. In my late twenties I found myself with an unwanted pregnancy too far advanced for a legal abortion. I never wanted children. I hated children. I was furious and desperate and trapped. Then in my second trimester something happened. I felt some overwhelming, overpowering, insane love and protection for this baby I was carrying. I've since learned this is a common experience. (Childless busties will just have to take my word on this one. I would never have believed it either). Anyway, this desire did NOT come from anywhere in my personality. This was my first experience as a biological animal. As a mammalian creature. So now I'm a bit more open to the role biology can play into our personalities. I bet the peri and post-menapausal women out there could tell us some stories, too.

I've hogged this thread enough. I was hoping someone would jump in and disagree with us by now to get a different perspective going. I would welcome such a discussion with open arms (HINT HINT).
culturehandy
I thought about the masculine vs feminine, especially with regards to foraging societies. Even in terms of evolution, does the issue of sexual dimorphism have anything to do with gender.

If you look at many other members of the animal kingdom, female animals raise their young and often do the child rearing, I know this isn't the case in all, but a majority of the time. It's similar with humans. Child rearing and raising, even to this day, are something that is falls primarily on the shoulders of women (again, not all the time, but using generalizations). In the animal kingdom, more often than not, males are the most aggressive of creatures, (mind you, we've all seen the consequences of a pissed off female bear protecting her cubs), what I'm getting at is how much does biology contribute to the idea of "gender". hence, the nature vs nurture.
justF
Interesting topic, so even though its my first post (I did introduce my self in the introductions forum a while back) can I add my two cents? Coincidentally, we are covering gender issues in my biopsychology course this week, and after reading a stack of textbook chapters, I can weigh in on the biology/gender questions.

First of all, mammalian brains of males and females are different, in more than one way. Researchers have not yet determined what the purpose of these differences are, but it has been suggested that behavioral differences between males and females may be attributed to the brain differences. Also, of course the amount of specific hormones in males and females are different, with males having more androgen and females having more estrogen. It has been proven that hormones do affect behaviours.

Differences in behaviours have been seen between males and females since birth (even prenatal), but the question is, how many of these behaviours are really the effect of the biological differences? People start applying sexual stereotypes on babies as soon as they are born, and children grow up modeling the behaviours of those around them. Short of raising a child in a completely gender neutral environment, I am not sure if the nature/nurture question will ever really be answered when it comes to gender.

In my own family, I try not to impose any gender stereotypes on my children, but i have definitely noticed a difference in the behaviour of my daughter vs my son. She plays with toys differently, likes to model the behaviours of others more, and she loves shoes.

My children are growing up thinking that anything is ok when it comes to gender (I hope). Today my six year old son had an absolute ball playing with the pink princess castle that my daughter just got for her birthday.

Thanks for letting me join in....
stargazer
Good thread, CH! smile.gif

I'm working with a predominantly male population, both staff and clients. It is interesting and frustrating at times. There is a strong adherence to traditional gender roles. I will definitely use the thread to vent or seek feedback from others.

I think the thing with gender roles is the expectations people have of one another. Myself included. I still find myself reacting from a more traditional place at times with men and women. I find myself continually reflecting on my reactions and origins of such "beliefs" of men and women. Alot of this information is social constructed by the media and marketing that it seeps into my everyday language and responses in conversation. I guess that would be my take for the influence of our environment. As for the biology speak, I think I've had this experience in the talk of phermones with males who hold a higher amount of testosterone. Like, I find myself reacting differently to these select men. So, I've been surprised myself by my own behavior and wonder about the whole biology thing.
jsmith
QUOTE(mumblestutter @ Oct 1 2009, 09:09 PM) *
jsmith, you mentioned a continuum of gender. have you ever read about alfred kinsey?


Nope, can't say that I have. What are his ideas?
angie_21
In my anthropology classes, I was taught to use the word "sex" for biological distinctions, and "gender" for sociocultural constructs that are loosely based on sex. Even with biology it can be hard to define real categories of male and female sex (as the Caster Semenya case has made us all aware), but with culture and gender its even harder because things change from century to century, and decade to decade.

Up until the 20th century in "Western" culture, women were considered to be passionate, sexual temptresses with little self control, while men were honorable and pious. Somewhere along the line that changed, and for the last hundred years people seem to believe that real women should be chaste and calm, while men are hot-tempered sex-fiends. What made people suddenly change these ideas? I can't imagine women and men suddenly biologically changed from one polar opposite to another.

I can't imagine how difficult it would be for a child to be brought up gender-neutral in our sex-bsessed culture. From day one, boys are bombarded with shame when they act feminine, and girls are still, despite the attempts of feminism, chastised for being unladylike. It's probably the strongest indoctrination our culture will ever enforce on us (other than the growing pressur eof consumerism, but I digress...) and to be raised the first 5 years of your life outside of that paradigm, and suddenly be thrown into it and teased mericlessly by your peers for being "weird" and different, would be tough. Like it or not, humans depend very strongly on these cultural constructs to understand the world they live in, and we're still teaching our children to be pretty mean when people don't fit in.

Wow, CH, I love your comments on that article! So true!

But in regards to the whole thing about nature and mammal biology - A lot of our ideas regarding animal sex and reproductve roles are also really strongly influenced by the gender ideas of the scientists studying them. People choose to see what makes sense to them. It took a long time for biologists to notice, for instance, how sexually promiscuous female chimps are. It isn't always empahsized how very agressive female mammals can be, both physically and socially. Also, there's a wide range of gender and sex roles even in nature. I think it's orangutans (maybe also gorillas?) but non-dominant males never reach sexual maturity, they stay in a kind of semi-adolescent phase unless they are strong or lucky enough to become a dominant male, in which case they can biologically progress to sexual maturity way later in life, long after adolescence. There's so much more that goes on in the world that people are only starting to see now that we realize that things aren't as black and white as they seem, and that culture can actually influence biology instead things only happening the other way around!

I'm reading a textbook on race and racism, and it's almost exactly the same question. If something is biologically not real, but believed by so many people, it becomes "real" in a very different, but equally powerful sense.
culturehandy
angie, that's exactly what I'm thinking of when it comes to sex vs gender. I was an anthropology major, and I wonder how much of this gender business is so heavily engrained in the cultural psyche, that even if one wanted to deviate from the cultural norm, how much could they actually do it? Not only because of their own engrained beliefs, but also the beliefs of others around them.

from a theoretical perspective, raising a child as genderless sound absolutely fabulous, but how possible is this to do when almost everyone else around you generally goes with cultural and societal beliefs when it comes to gender.
stargazer
QUOTE(angie_21 @ Oct 4 2009, 04:14 PM) *
If something is biologically not real, but believed by so many people, it becomes "real" in a very different, but equally powerful sense.


Dude, you just blew my mind. blink.gif Seriously though, this topic is almost similar to the talk about reality vs. socially constructed realities in the philosophy thread. Whoa.
jsmith
QUOTE(culturehandy @ Oct 4 2009, 04:23 PM) *


from a theoretical perspective, raising a child as genderless sound absolutely fabulous, but how possible is this to do when almost everyone else around you generally goes with cultural and societal beliefs when it comes to gender.


Y'all are right about this... I guess one would just have to hope that her child is hard-headed enough to ignore the attempts at indoctrination by people who aren't her parents (school, peers, extended family, etc).
angie_21
I think my parents had a good idea, which instead of insulating me from all gender concepts (oh, they tried to make me wear dresses, even if I refused! lol) was to be very moderate about it, staying away from the most harmful stereotypes about boys being smarter and girls not liking sports, or needing to be pretty or thin. More importantly, instead of teaching me one way or the other, they always encouraged me to think for myself, and evaluate why things happened the way they did. They did make sure I knew that being a girl should never, ever hold me back, and they encouraged any interests I had, masculine or feminine. Questioning gender stereotypes, on my own terms, followed pretty naturally from there.

It does interest me though, watching my friends raising small toddlers, how hugely important gender is in their world right now, although not in the ways you'd expect. I wonder if the fact that people are waiting until the baby is born to learn if its a boy or a girl, has anythign to do with trying not impose gender on the baby too early, for instance. No one can buy lots of stereotyped clothes for a baby shower if they don't know which stereotype to buy for!
girltrouble
.
koffeewitch
Reading through all the new posts, it still seems as a group of feminist women we mostly agree on this topic. But outside the Lounge I feel like people might even be a bit offended by our viewpoint. In fact I HAVE had women get extremely angry with me. Where does this anger come from? I hate to say that some women are afraid that if they walk into auto zone, buy a fuel filter and install it in their own car, their menfolk won't see them as sexy (helpless) anymore. But what else could it be? If women's attractiveness is based on their being helpless/dependent, who wouldn't want to rebel against that?
culturehandy
GT, I read your previous post, and it does make sense, the whole nature vs nurture.

I was especially curious to get your thoughts on the subject of gender as well, as you always have such a way of putting thigs that sometimes we may over look.

what about the idea of how gender is so engrained with sexuality. For example, when a person meets a man who is an interior decorater or hairstylist (yes, stereotypical I know...but it's the first things I thought of), so many people automatically go into issues about the persons sexuality, assuming that he'll be gay. Same with women in more "manly" fields are labelled as lesbians.

jsmith
QUOTE(culturehandy @ Oct 5 2009, 09:27 AM) *


For example, when a person meets a man who is an interior decorater or hairstylist (yes, stereotypical I know...but it's the first things I thought of), so many people automatically go into issues about the persons sexuality, assuming that he'll be gay. Same with women in more "manly" fields are labelled as lesbians.



I know you're not stereotyping, but I just wanted to say: I've seen a couple of interior decorators on TV who made me purrr biggrin.gif Anybody watch Clean House? Mark Brunetz = yum! wub.gif
/derail
angie_21
CH, I'm also pretty interested in that, not just in terms of jobs, but in terms of physical appearance. Things as simple as long hair = girl and short hair = boy, breast size equalling womanliness, and the importance of body hair. Even though things change completely across cultural boundaries, most cultures do get totally wrapped up in physical symbols of gender.

Reading about this yesterday also made me think about physical appearances, looking at it from a different view, I wonder if the opressiveness of these stereotypes is why I think girls look amazingly stunning with short hair, and can't help but be attracted to David Bowie in drag... when people knowingly and agressively throw gender stereotypes out the window, it seems to bring out a non-gendered (maybe more accurately, hyper-gendered?) sexuality that's so much more interesting.
stargazer
GT, why did you remove your post?? You made some great points. blink.gif

Well, going along your previous post. I've often wondered if men and women dressed the part of their associated sex. Makes me think of something RuPaul said that in a sense we dress in drag on a daily basis 'cause our sexuality is so socially constructed based on ideals. I grew up feeling pretty ambiguous. I guess that is always what I struggled with in terms of my own sexual identity. I didn't feel like a woman or girl 'cause I didn't totally get alot the things other girls my age were into. I felt forced in a sense to idealize marriage and children at the age of 9. I remember being focused on what type of career I wanted for myself. Ideas associated with men, therefore masculinity. Then, my late teens and 20s were about trying different dress types, etc. I didn't like the feeling associated with being feminine, for example, submissive, passive, mother, wife. Probably why I've avoided those roles and still do for some reason. I felt and still do to some extent trapped in gender roles, particularly feminine gender role.

Gosh, sometimes, I do feel like that Liz Phair song, Polyester Bride, "Do you want to be a polyester bride? Do you want to hang your head and die?" I wish my individuality didn't matter so much. I guess I still struggle with how much of my constructed feminine self is mine and how much is co-opted.

Dude, I hope I'm making sense. unsure.gif

ETA: Here's the link about Kinsey Scale, JSmith.
girltrouble
i deleted it, because, well, i've been enjoying reading what everyone has posted. you know me this is usually the sort of topic i jump into with both feet, but with the reel life thread, i've been wanting to lay back more, and occasionally post stuff. i'm really enjoying this singing without adding my voice just yet, and if i did i wanted to dip my toe in...

but to be concise on what i posted and deleted, when dealing with the subject of pretty much anything that deals even tangentially with queer issues, it is useful to make some clear delineations, the most basic of which i got from a book about gender, which used some very curious (and compelling) terms. they suggested that we use the initials, SSG to stand in for the three relevant areas of sex, sexuality and gender. they often seem to overlap, but in using ssg, we can keep them relatively separate.

SEX is supposedly the most obvious, it is what is between your legs, but when we did deeper as in the case of ms. castor. going by the most colloquial means listed above, ms. castor is female if we look between her legs. (ugh, that phrase curdles in my mouth), yet we are told genetically she is intersexed, but her hormone levels are not that of a male, but that of a post hormonal woman. so does that mean hot flashes are nature's way of saying, you've got male (hormones)!? or is it just an arbitrary line in the sand? my vote is the later. basically her hormones are probably xy, but that doesn't make one female any more than having four wheels makes you a rolls royce. but lets move on to the other initials, with the caviat that our binary perception of male and female is a combination of genetics, hormones, primary and secondary sex characteristics and several other things it only appears binary because these things are ignored for simplicity's (and patriarical) sake.

SEXUALITY simply this can be boiled down to who you are attracted to. this is why male to female transexuals aren't ipso facto attracted to boys. (and why female to male ones can be) sexuality isn't tied to sex. it can change, and is more fluid that we are told.

and finally the subject of this thread, GENDER. which is probably the most complex one to explain. it is a culture's assumptive norms of sex codified. sorry english. basically it is stereotyped signs or accessories of sex. gender is technically not you. it is the signs that you give off of what is supposed to be between your legs. and this is my long winded way of saying that i think what you post is absolutely true star. gender is just as much a role as being say, mother or father. fireman, doctor, or any other role that one can quickly short hand. gender is little more than a drag. we go along with the drag or don't when it suits our purposes, but most of the time we go along.

and you always make plenty of sense moonbeams. smile.gif
candycane_girl
Okay, this is off topic but GT, whenever I see a period posted by you does that mean that you've deleted your post? All these times I wondered why you posted random periods.

I haven't felt able to contribute because I haven't even had time to read all the posts. I hope to contribute soon, though.
koffeewitch
An observation about gender by Phil Donahue: (I'm paraphrasing) "Watch how differently men and women communicate. When a woman is talking to her friends and tells them she just got hit by a car, the other women all chime in with , "oh my god; what happened? Are you okay"? When a man tells HIS friends that he was just hit by a car, there is a beat of silence. Until one of the other men pipes up with, "oh, yeah, well wait til I tell you guys what happened to ME today".

This little excerpt speaks volumes and volumes to me.
(CCGIRL...thanks for asking. I've had the exact same question).
girltrouble
that's an interesting point koffee(so glad every time you contribute, btw), and some people hold that up nature, but i think a lot of that is socialization. i think girls are taught to respond one way, boys, another. as one who has had/is relearning those rules, it is the hardest to break, because often we have no idea we are doing it. i think this is also a good reason to push/hope for raising gender neutral children.


@candy. yup. and i'm a cronic deleter too. since we can't actually delete, i do the only thing i can, edit it down to a "."

....that said i like the idea of posting random "." but i'm too lazy. i'd rather write a novel of a post, and then decide i'd gone entirely off topic, said something wholly inappropriate/offensive/stupid/self involved/personal, or that i'm dominating the conversation then delete the whole thing in favor of "."
culturehandy
GT, that post is magnificent!!

I was going to add, that some people cannot seem to wrap their mind around the fact that sex, gender, and sexuality are not always perfectly black and white, hell, they are almost never black and white, there are so many shades of grey. The case of Ms. Caster is a perfect example, humans want to label things and put them into neat little categories, but when there is something that cannot be labelled or intersects too many categories, they get angry and confused. They are bound by their narrow-mindedness.
ketto
QUOTE(stargazer @ Oct 5 2009, 07:04 PM) *
Well, going along your previous post. I've often wondered if men and women dressed the part of their associated sex. Makes me think of something RuPaul said that in a sense we dress in drag on a daily basis 'cause our sexuality is so socially constructed based on ideals.


I've just been lurking in this thread, but this made me think of a great quote by Marilyn Frye.

"It is wonderful that homosexuals and lesbians are mocked and judged for "playing butch-femme roles" and for dressing in "butch-femme drag", for nobody goes about in full public view so thoroughly decked out in butch and femme drag as respectable heterosexuals when they are dressed up to go out in the evening, or to go to church, or to go to the office. Heterosexual critics of queer "role-playing" ought to look at themselves in the mirror on their way out for a night on the town to see who's in drag. The answer is, everybody is. Perhaps the main difference between heterosexuals and queers is that when queers go forth in drag, they know they are engaged in theatre - they are playing and they know they are playing. Heterosexuals are usually taking it all perfectly seriously, thinking they are in the real world, thinking they are the real world."
hcbeck
QUOTE(ketto @ Oct 6 2009, 02:26 PM) *
Marilyn Frye:

"...when queers go forth in drag, they know they are engaged in theatre - they are playing and they know they are playing. Heterosexuals are usually taking it all perfectly seriously, thinking they are in the real world, thinking they are the real world."


This is probably true for the way people speak too.

When I was growing up I considered why some gay men affect a sibilant 'sing-song' voice. One explanation was so that they could telegraph their sexual preference to others. If that's true, I guessed that heterosexual men must also affect a specific way of speaking, to communicate their sexuality. This might be adopted so that people wouldn't 'get the wrong idea' (for the homophobes, being 'accused' of being gay is a great fear). As this 'straight-male' way of speaking is so common, we all consider it natural - instead of being as much an affectation as speaking any other way.
koffeewitch
I'd like to ask you all a personal question(s). At what age did you first start to feel aware of and limited by gender? How did you cope with your feelings of anger/frustration/guilt/sadness?

Here's sort of what I'm getting at...I remember feeling extremely angry at being told to "act like a lady" at a really young age. "Act like a lady" was the grown-up's mantra used to keep me from asserting myself, expressing an opinion, asking questions or having fun. Certainly by the age of 5 I was really struggling with this issue. I was sort of a little tomboy who prefered playing with spiders and bulldozers rather than other little girls and dolls. I had already ascertained that men got to be Jacque Cousteau and Captain Kirk and Spiderman and the President. Women, if they were lucky, got to be Pretty.

Even as a kid this made me furious. Other girls seemed perfectly happy with this set-up, to my complete and total bewilderment.. When I asked them very pointed questions I got responses like "I think men are meant to be the leaders". It's like they felt that gender is ordained by God. Scratch the word "like" in that previous sentence. People feel that gender is something ordained by god. (This is probably also what led to my rejection of Judeo-Christianity at a very young age).

I grew up in a rural area completely isolated from others who thought and felt as I did. I guess I'm asking if others had this same sense of "crisis" as young children. Often times, forced gender roles suck for men, too. "Real men" support their families and take on back-breaking labor until they are old/worn-out by the time they are 45. Real men enlist in whatever war our nation is waging at the moment to die for a cause they may not even agree with or understand. Rigid gender roles deny us all our own sense of self, our own internal truth. They goad us into accepting roles for which we personally were never fit. Why are so many people (the majority, it seems) so determined to buy into these myths about gender?
jsmith
Your post strikes a chord with me, koffeewitch. When I was a very little girl (like you, around 5), I was keenly aware of the things you mention, but what really got under my skin was when I would see TV ads for phone sex agencies, ads for pornographic magazines, movies that depicted women as sex objects, etc. These things baffled me. I would ask my parents over and over "Why are they making fun of women?" (yeah, I looked at these things as 'making fun' of women, I wasn't articulate enough to phrase it in a different way). I knew these things cheapened my sex, and it made me furious. I'd sit and try to read the bible when I got a little older, but never got past genesis because the obvious misogyny in it (I now reject Judeo-Christian theology. Well, actually, all theology) made my blood boil.
Eventually I took a closer look at the things you mentioned that angered you, and naturally, I got angry. To this day I'm angry. I can't watch movies where a woman is depicted as a sex object, I can't walk by a magazine stand with porno mags without having my blood pressure spike, I refuse to watch crime shows where they're discussing an instance of rape (I get so unbelievably angry), I bust a vessel when I see ads for GGW and the like, I will jump down someone's throat if they try to tell me a certain behavior is unladylike or they use a slang word for the female genitals as an insult to another person, I'll probably lynch a fundie if s/he tries to justify the oppression of women using the g*****n bible, etc. It's all very distracting.
I deemed myself a feminist as soon as I heard and understood the word, and I would always tell anybody who seemed to want to know, and would take great pride in it. It's funny... one time my mom and I were arguing about some little thing (this was when I was a pre-teen, I think), and I held to my (militantly feminist) stance on the issue, when my mom disgustedly declared "You're a feminist!" to which I replied "You bet your ass I am."
angie_21
GT, thanks for laying out those ideas and definitions for us! It's definitely a good thing to have at the start of a discussion like this, and also for all of us to be more informed if we're ever trying to discuss these issue with the outside, non-feminist world.

koffeewitch, I have a very tenuous, conflicting set of beliefs about the stuff you and J brought up. I've also felt strongly about these things cine I was very young, but was lucky to be surrounded by many positive influences. It's confusing though - despite having a very politically progressive, left-minded family in most ways, in others not so much. Even though my mom worked most of the time I was growing up, most of my aunts stayed home and raised children as their "careers." I stumbled more than once on my dad's porn collection, and found out after I moved out that he also goes to strip clubs. Yikes, I'm so morally against that! Also, gross, ew, no one wants to know that about family! But my dad is extremely respectful of women in every other aspect. I guess I've learned to create separate categories of feminism for myself, one in terms of career and intelligence (emotional), the other in terms of sex (physical). They shouldn't have to be two different categories, but somehow our society has created this dual identity for women, now we're supposed to be intelligent and support ourselves financially, while still being sexy, pretty, and take care of our men. At least, those are the expectations I feel, and that I put upon myself.

I do think that gender stereotypes hurt everyone. Not only do men get stuck having to hold back they emotions and get subjected to being conscripted and expected to carry the financial burdens of their families, they lose out on their relationships with women, because the women in their lives feel they have to hide their true identities behind a mask of what's "nice" and "feminine."

I think some people react to femininsm so strongly because they somehow feel we want to force all women to be manly, all men to be ladylike. But that's not it at all - some of us would prefer to express some of our more so-called masculine qualities, others more feminine, but in the end we should just be allowed to express ourselves!
stargazer
That's a great quote, ketto. smile.gif

koffeewitch, I remember feeling different since the age of 5. I remember being confused about the messages I was receiving from my parents and others about being a young girl, how a young girl "should" act, or be. Alot of those messages didn't make sense to me. Like when my father would tell me that a woman should know how to cook and clean. Really? Says who? I had female friends who seemed to enjoy being in the traditional role of women and it felt so awkward and alien to me. So, I thought I was not really much of a representation of a girl. My focus was wanting to be viewed as an intellectual equal to my peers (especially men). That's what I've worked for in my life. To be continually objectified based on what my sex dictates, having others project the type of woman I am on my external self....is just so dehumanizing and depressing. I guess I can say that I've grown up and still do feel pretty androgynous.

GT, I think I've enjoyed drag queens and kings because I've appreciated the gender fuck of the whole scene. I know some feminists feel drag queens mock women, but, I've appreciated the expression of flexibility in dress. I guess when you think about it...we all do some form of dress up on a daily basis. I guess part of it is holding a level of awareness of role play and not being too attached to the current identity.

I know the issue of gender has been important to me in my field (heavily populated by women), but, the positions of power are held by the few men in the field. So, I still feel the split in views of gender roles in these settings. Men are viewed as knowing better and women are viewed as needing to learn. It can be pretty frustrating for me.
jsmith
QUOTE(angie_21 @ Oct 6 2009, 05:49 PM) *
I think some people react to femininsm so strongly because they somehow feel we want to force all women to be manly, all men to be ladylike. But that's not it at all - some of us would prefer to express some of our more so-called masculine qualities, others more feminine, but in the end we should just be allowed to express ourselves!


Totally agree with this.


Stargazer - some feminists think that drag queens are mocking women? That's a totally new one on me. I myself have always thought that these men just prefer to wear 'women's' clothes. And if it's what these men truly want, I can't see that as mocking. Why do some feminists think it's mocking, do you know?
stargazer
Kim France's article about drag and feminism. Hopefully the link works.
culturehandy
I have never felt bound by being a woman, or when i was growing up a girl. My parents always raised me to believe that I could do anything. gender never played a role in that.

I was taught about social etiquette, but never in terms of being lady like, it was just the stuff about closing your mouth when you chew, be polite because it's a nice thing to do, but if someone crosses you dont just take it, say something (but be eloquent about it).

Did I have barbie's? Sure, but I also had a really cool fire truck, and tractor and "boy" toys.

Even now, my parents still pretty much tell me there is nothing I can't do, it's my mind that holds me back, not what's between my legs.
koffeewitch
Wow! Thanks to all you who responded to my questions. I loved reading what each of you had to say; what a special place The Lounge is! (Busties are the greatest)! I wish I had had friends like you when I was a young girl. I, too, considered myself a feminist as soon as I was old enough to comprehend the word. JSmith your "you bet your ass" story absolutely thrilled me. It reminded me of the time my exasperated father yelled that I was such a "nonconformist". When I got him to tell me what the word meant, I was delighted. There was a word for me and what I felt! (Somehow I imagine this was not the reaction my father had been going for...)

Now what bums me, is I refused to learn so many of the skills that would've given me more independence as a very young woman. I was too proud to learn to cook, sew, knit a blanket, darn a pair of socks. NOW I love being able to do these things. Our culture thinks of genetically-modified, processed, cardboard crap as food. It seems if a person wants to take proper care of her/his own body, they must be able to cook with natural whole foods. I think of these skills as my rebellion against corporate capitalism...and I wish I had not been too defensive to learn them as a child. I think these are neccessary life skills all children should learn.

Stargazer, thanks for the interesting link. I have always reserved my opinion on drag queens for each individual. I love it when drag artists mess with society's preconceived notions. I think there are a few drag queens out there who are straight up mysogynist...and why not? There are also plenty of women out there who are clearly mysogynists. sad.gif
koffeewitch
QUOTE(culturehandy @ Oct 7 2009, 08:40 AM) *
I have never felt bound by being a woman, or when i was growing up a girl. My parents always raised me to believe that I could do anything. gender never played a role in that.

Even now, my parents still pretty much tell me there is nothing I can't do, it's my mind that holds me back, not what's between my legs.

But culture, what about being a little girl and seeing only male presidents and "founding fathers of our country" and male writers in our lit. books? Okay, so there's a little paragraph or two about famous women in most textbooks, but that hardly makes up for the bias. I remember asking myself if women really were inferior to men because we never wrote/invented/excelled at the things men did. I certainly didn't FEEL I was inferior to boys, but I couldn't explain (at that naive young age) why the women were missing from my textbooks. Then I immediately wondered how the children who were racial minorites must feel. I didn't believe they were inferior either...but why didn't we have black senators? I can answer these questions NOW, but all this had a devastating effect on me as a child.
culturehandy
Being Canadian and all, I didn't see the founding father crap, Canadian history was learning about the first nations populations and small pox, and Quebec vs English Canadian and zzzz....

Plus, my parents were still up front, did I feel it was unfair, sure. but, there was also a series of adds in Canada (that still run) that highlight the accomplishments of all Canadians.

I still see the accomplishments of people as just that, accomplishments. Do I see the glass ceiling that exists, absolutely, but even despite all of this, I still didn't feel bound. Even when I was in grade school, our teachers taught us that any of us could do anything we wanted, again, regardless of gender.

Women weren't missing from our textbooks, we were taught about Laura Secord, Marie Curie, Suffragets, etc. History is dominated by men, sure, but I didn't think too much about that, i was too busy thinking about how dreadfully boring canadian history was (and it is boring) it wasn't until they got into scandal that it got interesting.

my current feminist fight is for things that are currently affecting women, and it was like that when I was growing up as well. I wasn't concerned about what happened in the past, some x amount of years ago. the fight I fight is for women of today. I recognize the past and using at a point of knowledge, but also acknowledge that I can't change the past. I do have the power, however, to change tomorrow.
girltrouble
ketto, i love that quote! thank you!

beck, i think you make a good point too.

to call it all theater, i thing is the point. we swim in this theater, and don't even notice it till it's pointed out. one person i always admired was this girl i knew. to say that she played with gender and that theater is and understatement. her day job was a stripper, but she was the best damn drag king you ever saw, and she would hop back and forth over the gender fence constantly. she would arrive at a show, in drop dead butch mode, do the show and leave for a date in high femme mode. if i didn't know better i would have thought she was two different people. but i think she is probably the only person who was always cognizant that it is all facade. it is all feigned. most people, even the queer fall into the trap that that costume is them, not a costume. the repetition makes it feel natural, in the same way that all those cutural signals we've consumed have left no tracks.


[eta. posted this at the same time as koffee and culture's posts]
i really think, star, that it comes down to the performer with drag if it is mocking or not. seattle is a good case in point. there are two main camps and then subcamps, but in each case you can divide them into those that adore women, and those that loathe them.

the two basic groups are those that are "pro" beauty, (the camp i came up in) and the anti beauty. the pro are probably the group that most people are familiar with, the emphaisis is trying to be 'lady like', feminine, pretty, etc. and the anti beauty, that work very hard to be, quite frankly, as ugly as possible. i don't say that as a critique, that is just the aesthetic. they tend to be more mocking, although in a few cases, it is done in a lovingly humorous way.

i can think of one rather affectionate anti queen who has her own cottage industry here doing seasonal shows that are always packed. she comes of like your crazy, but lovable old aunt who accidentally picks up slang words, referring to her circle of friends, and the audience as her "peeps." there are others on the anti camp who are much more hateful, being ugly seems to be their honest assessment of women, externally and internally. it's all shrouded in an intellectual veneer, but you don't have to scratch past the surface to feel the disdain.

on the other end, the pro beauty side of things, there are a couple of queens i adore. in or out of drag, they are sweethearts, they don't like to gossip, be catty, or any of the other things some on this side of things do, but more they are more than happy to give their time to women's causes as much as queer ones. then there are the bitches, who spew hate on everyone but to hear them talk about women.... i have seldom heard anyone talk so hatefully about a fellow human being. they delight in talking about women's bodies with disgust to the point you wonder why they would even want to touch anything associated with women let alone dress like one. the thing that kills me is when these queens decide to become transexuals. but then, there is a group of men who specifically date transexuals because they hate women and are so afraid/offended by feminists, that t-girls are a female substitute they can take their rage out on.
koffeewitch
Ahhh, yes. Canada (longing sigh). There are SO MANY things I wish the U.S. would learn from watching Canada. I've long wished to jump the border (I'm SO close; just on the other side of the Great Lakes). I've spent a bit of time over on the Pardon Me (I'm Canadian) forum chatting with Canadian busties about what makes our two cultures so different in terms of things like violence and murders per capita and illiteracy when we have so many similarities as young nations.

But, I'm not trying to derail our discussion. Quick poll: In an envionment like the Womyn's Music Festival (held in Michigan) should transgendered women be included? Important background info: The WMF is a "safe place" for women and women only. Even male children are not allowed in past toddlerhood. Many/Most participants spend part of the festival running naked or topless. It IS essential to preserve the sanctity and safety at the festival. But would transgendered women threaten that sense of safety and "sacred woman space"??
culturehandy
Koffee, with something like this, that goes to show my point about how much people want to be able to label something as black and white, no grey.

At an event such as this, what is a gay man going to do? or someone who is trans. what if it was someone like Caster semanya
ketto
QUOTE(culturehandy @ Oct 7 2009, 08:37 AM) *
Being Canadian and all, I didn't see the founding father crap, Canadian history was learning about the first nations populations and small pox, and Quebec vs English Canadian and zzzz....

Plus, my parents were still up front, did I feel it was unfair, sure. but, there was also a series of adds in Canada (that still run) that highlight the accomplishments of all Canadians.

I still see the accomplishments of people as just that, accomplishments. Do I see the glass ceiling that exists, absolutely, but even despite all of this, I still didn't feel bound. Even when I was in grade school, our teachers taught us that any of us could do anything we wanted, again, regardless of gender.

Women weren't missing from our textbooks, we were taught about Laura Secord, Marie Curie, Suffragets, etc. History is dominated by men, sure, but I didn't think too much about that, i was too busy thinking about how dreadfully boring canadian history was (and it is boring) it wasn't until they got into scandal that it got interesting.

my current feminist fight is for things that are currently affecting women, and it was like that when I was growing up as well. I wasn't concerned about what happened in the past, some x amount of years ago. the fight I fight is for women of today. I recognize the past and using at a point of knowledge, but also acknowledge that I can't change the past. I do have the power, however, to change tomorrow.


Culture, this is an interesting post because we both (as far as I know) grew up in the same city. I felt much the same way you did as a child. I felt equal to my two brothers and my parents always made it clear we could all do whatever we wanted to. I was a very girly girl who loved playing 'house' and dressing up in dresses and having long hair and all that jazz. I took ballet and Tap dancing classes for years, but I also played soccer and baseball at spent my summers playing football, baseball, tag, hide and seek, and just being outside with the neighbourhood kids. There was a group of 7 of us who lived within 3 houses on my street (4 boys, 3 girls) and we would set up tennis tournaments, make movies, put on concerts for our parents, build forts in the basement, build lego towns, and all that kind of stuff. We didn't feel bound by much at that point. TV and magazines weren't very prominent in our house when I was growing up so I don't remember having any feelings tied to them in particular.

It wasn't until I got to late middle school/early high school (when I was 12-14) that I started to realized things were missing. I never learned about Laura Secord or Marie Curie in my school. I don't even remember talking about suffrage but I'm sure we must have. I know we watched all the Canada Heritage Minutes (the commercials culture mentioned) in a grade 11 class and I liked that THEY touched on Laura Secord, Emily Parsons, suffrage, but that's the extent I feel I learned about women in regards to history. We talked about the role of women in first nations communities historically, but I don't even remember going into that in high school, just middle school. I did feel cheated in regards to the amount of attention paid to women's historical contributions.

In high school it was obvious that certain teachers favoured the guys in the class and that alone greatly contributed to me never wanting to speak up. I also became keenly aware of femininst issues intertwining with GBLT issues in grade 11 when 3 students switched schools because they were being harrassed from homophobic students who called them gay. When we tried to form a gay/straight alliance, the parents in the neighbourhood refused to let us call it that and we instead called it the "Human Rights Group". I definitely found that I wanted to be involved in activism by grade 12 but I didn't really know what it looked like yet or what to call it.

In grade 12 I probably discovered feminism, but it wasn't until University when I found my home in Women's and Gender Studies that I realized it was what I had been looking for in High School. Answers to my questions about oppression, racism, sexism, gender identity, etc.
culturehandy
I found that our teachers engaged all sutdents.

If there is one thing that enrages me, it's the idea that advertisers put forth that it's only Mom's who know. Really? Fucking really? Advertising agencies play a huge role in reaffirming gender and gender roles and it pisses me off. the way jsmith feels about dancers and women being objectified is the way I feel about women in commercials. It fills me with such a rage.
jsmith
QUOTE(koffeewitch @ Oct 7 2009, 08:14 AM) *
Now what bums me, is I refused to learn so many of the skills that would've given me more independence as a very young woman. I was too proud to learn to cook, sew, knit a blanket, darn a pair of socks. NOW I love being able to do these things. Our culture thinks of genetically-modified, processed, cardboard crap as food. It seems if a person wants to take proper care of her/his own body, they must be able to cook with natural whole foods. I think of these skills as my rebellion against corporate capitalism...and I wish I had not been too defensive to learn them as a child.


Holy crap, I had that exact same problem... still do... LOL It's something I'm trying to get past.
Any time one of my parents would ask me to make a salad or do dishes, I would erupt. "Ask your SON to do it!"
Even now, if someone asks me to do something domestic, I have to try to stop myself from getting angry and feeling like I'm only being asked because I'm a female. The truth is, my dad does pretty much all of the cooking for the family, and does a great deal of the dishes (he likes to keep them done up while he's cooking).
As a consequence of my refusal, I'm pants at cooking. Well, the fact that I'm not terribly creative might have something to do with it, too tongue.gif If I wasn't a broke-ass college student and lived out on my own, I'd be in trouble blink.gif


I'm pretty sickened by the glaring lack of prominently discussed women in history. It seems that if you want to learn about more prominent women who make/made big contributions, you have to look in the present. Today my Cell Bio instructor mentioned who the Nobel Prizes in Chemistry and in Medicine went to. In Chemistry, there were two men and one woman, and in Medicine, there were either 3 women, or 2 women and 1 man. I'm delighted to see these things, because it's proof against the naysayers that women are every bit as capable as men are in the scientific fields. Hell, one of the biggest names in Immunology is that of a woman, and she's really revolutionizing our understanding of how the immune response works (her name is Polly Matzinger, if it interests you. She proposed the Danger Model).
koffeewitch
QUOTE(girltrouble @ Oct 7 2009, 09:52 AM) *
the two basic groups are those that are "pro" beauty, (the camp i came up in) and the anti beauty. the pro are probably the group that most people are familiar with, the emphaisis is trying to be 'lady like', feminine, pretty, etc. and the anti beauty, that work very hard to be, quite frankly, as ugly as possible. i don't say that as a critique, that is just the aesthetic. they tend to be more mocking, although in a few cases, it is done in a lovingly humorous way.

i. it's all shrouded in an intellectual veneer, but you don't have to scratch past the surface to feel the disdain.

but then, there is a group of men who specifically date transexuals because they hate women and are so afraid/offended by feminists, that t-girls are a female substitute they can take their rage out on.

girltrouble, you always bring so much food for thought to the table! I hardly know where to begin...First off, do you feel there are ANY "anti"s who are mocking the trappings of womanhood and not women themselves? Laughing at the ridiculous plastic boobs and tawdryness of it all? To me, drag queens have never been men who dress as women but more like men who dress as Barbie Dolls. The idea of someone using the props and costumes of "femininity" to make cultural/political statements really appeals to me. I think good drag is mutifaceted and even elusive in purpose at times. But I digress...

On men who use t-girls to take out rage/(self-loathing): I have seen so many sexualized images of transgendered women that terrify the living fuck out of me. (I guess we hardly ever see images of t-women that are NOT sexual, right)?? Anyway, the images I've seen always have a way of presenting transgendered women as some kind of freaky sex doll made for sadistic rape/mutilation fantasies. I guess men want to abuse a representation of their own feminine side. What better way to unleash all your self-loathing, your secret fears of being a fag, your shame over being intimidated by women than to take it out on someone you refuse to see as a real human being. I guess I feel transgendered women are pretty much always depicted as sex toys (atleast in those "chicks with dicks" type ads). When I consider the type of person who would find a walking breathing sex toy appealing, I literally shudder. The underlying message is that men who give up their male identity are not worthy of our respect and consideration, or any respect and consideration. I've seen the corresponding jokes in the media that imply when transgendered people are subject to violent crimes or otherwise victimized it is supposed to be funny. The only time I've seen t-women NOT be depicted soley as sex objects is when they are being depicted as pathetic/ridiculous. Or as cunning villains out to fool innocent red-blooded men into sex acts.

I don't know quite where I'm going with all this. I guess I feel that our society's treatment and attitudes toward those who have stepped out of their assigned gender box reveals something significant. I'd like to know current stats on rates of violence against gay/lesbian and transgendered communities. And the reaction of law enforcement and judges to such cases. I feel pretty confident in assuming this is another case of blame the victim.

JSmith: Actually learning to do handicrafts has been ironically one of my greatest joys. I strongly STRONGLY feel that self-sufficiency is a feminist virtue. And I'm so sad that the word "culture" now means something that we purchase and go to museums to find. There is something so satisfying about the process of creating things. Sometimes I think that we are a people dependent on anti-depressants because we have alienated ourselves from this universally human need. We now have networks of feminists who "take back the knit" and acknowledge that we should not look down on our foremothers who had these tremendous skills. Why did I look down on these useful skills merely because they were done by women? I SHOULD be just as proud of knitting warm mittens for my family as I am to flush and re-fill the antifreeze from the radiator.
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