By now you must be asking yourself ‘why we are doing this?’ After all, it seems odd that someone who comes from a culture that clearly identifies the differences between the two classical interpretations of gender would want to highlight them so blatantly. Surely, the author would be biased into either a) perpetuating the stereotype or b) rebelling against it fully. Your author here would like to state that, regardless of what may be written, there is scope for everyone to eclipse their own tags, titles and labels and subvert the foundations of societal categorisation that in itself helps to create insurmountable boundaries and divisions within our communities.
The Problem With Labels
Labels are so common that their function has become redundant. I am not saying that labels don’t serve a purpose, or rather, that they weren’t intended to serve a purpose, but I think that by overusing them, we may have undermined their initial usefulness.
People in the beginnings of humanity were reliant on being able to communicate with others about danger, and so certain threats would get their own name. The problem is, over time you need to give a label to everything (if you’re using this idea). OK, so I’m speculating here. But still, bear with me. If you’re going to label some things, then you need to label others.
So, labels began and then we as societies couldn’t stop ourselves! These labels and names became fundamental to our world view, morphing and changing with our expanding and waning influences on regions and populace, until we as humanity reached a point where cultural expression explodes with the advent of the internet. See, this is where the problem for labels arrives. Now there are different people seeing things differently, their labels contradicting one another, and we are left with a problem of how these labels are going to move forward with us.
A World Without Labels
Imagine a world where you substitute the name of something for ‘thing’.
“James, can you pass me the thing?”
“The thing by the thing. There, by the thing. No, THE OTHER THING!”
It would be horrific. I’m not here to ask you to start a word revolution that leads to many deaths at the hands of the frustration of tedium. No. In fact, I’m not even here to try to change the labels themselves, either. What I think is much more important is to assess the damage of preconceptions about content and value based on a label. We as humans are prone to prejudice. We are hard wired to save our brains time by filling in the blanks in the world around us by using experience and prior knowledge. It’s a survival tool. The article Research states that prejudice comes from a basic human need and way of thinking on psychologicalscience.org says, referencing a paper by Arne Roets and Alain Van Hiel of Ghent University:
‘[Roets] argues that this way of thinking is linked to people’s need to categorize the world, often unconsciously. “When we meet someone, we immediately see that person as being male or female, young or old, black or white, without really being aware of this categorization,” he says. “Social categories are useful to reduce complexity, but the problem is that we also assign some properties to these categories. This can lead to prejudice and stereotyping.” ‘
Boom. We categorise to save ourselves time, but the damage from this short-cutting can be socially impactive and lead to prejudice.
Take marriage for example. For hundreds, nay thousands of years, there has been a celebration of the link between two lovers of the opposite sex; an institution so fundamental to how we see love that it cannot be shaken. What little girl or boy hasn’t grown up thinking, at least briefly, about the person of their dreams, and how they would treasure the chance to make a promise to that person and unite with them in a bubble of eternal devotion?
That is how it stood for many years. Nobody questioned it’s meaning because there was little cause, and yet here we are in 2015 (guys, it’s the future), and this expression of love seems to be developing exclusivity. Some would have you believe that marriage is only available to partners of opposite sex. Mindy can marry John, but Mindy can’t marry Melissa (or John marry Joseph, for that matter). Seem fair? A quick Google will bring you the definition of marriage for yourself:
“The legally or formally recognized union of a man and a woman (or, in some jurisdictions, two people of the same sex) as partners in a relationship”, from OxfordDictionaries.com
Thus far, we have a definition that clearly states the allowance in some cultures of marriage between same sex adults. Already, the label has shifted. In a world that should be pushing an agenda of love and togetherness, not hate and segregation, wouldn’t the ultimate celebration of love be something you’d want to advertise, and wouldn’t you try to get as many people as possible to do it?
The Opponents of Change
Unfortunately, there will always be opposition. A married couple in Australia has vowed to divorce if same-sex marriage is allowed. See it for yourself here. This is their choice, and ultimately I think the ability to express who you are, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, should be encouraged. Nay, it should be a given! They claim that “Marriage is sacred and what is truly marriage will only ever be what it has always been” (a direct quote from the article). I think that defending your culture and your local identity is important. It’s that kind of stuff that ties us together in communities. But to exclude some for their choices, or not allow them to indulge in something you hold as sacred, is a shame. They have their opinion, and are they hurting anyone? This couple are defending their traditions, but at what cost? Their right to choose to divorce over their opinions is as important to liberty as same-sex marriage is to lovers of the same sex.
I hate this idea of sacred tradition; as if somehow tradition cannot adapt with the future and absorb changes in society. I think some traditions are important in expressing ones culture and therefore ones identity, but there are plenty that also restrict that right. To say that genders are ‘traditional’, and therefore shouldn’t be tampered with, is nonsense. It used to be traditional in America for a wealthy family to own a slave. Are you saying that such a tradition shouldn’t have been tampered with? Comparatively, both restrict freedoms and the ability to express one’s identity. I am of course not claiming that gender repression though constriction of identity should be compared to the disgusting practice of slavery, but please forgive my transgression as an attempt to give clarity to those claiming gender revolution or rediscovery is a bad thing. It’s not, it’s a good thing. Challenge normality, embrace diversity!
So, if labels are redundant, and the world is now building towards a new and fresh definition of what such fundamental concepts as gender actually are, how can we examine where to begin with this new process of the deconstruction of gender identity?
Our sex, as mentioned in part 1 of this series, is something that we are born with. Gender is how we express ourselves, and how we choose to align within the paradigms of gender identity. It is who we are, not what we are. If someone wants to change their appearance, or align with the opposite (or any alternative) gender, why should it be a problem for us? By confusing the two, we are forcing some to abide by a false sense of self, and crushing their individuality. The article Seperating Sex and Gender on ourbodiesourselves.org puts it like this: “In this binary way of thinking, our genitals, not our internal sense of self, are the deciding factor.”
Where do we get our preconceptions from? It is widely accepted in Western culture that boys like blue and girls like pink. Research has been done that actually contradicts this, however. It would appear that much of our understanding of such fundamental differences in gender as this are based on biased upbringings and environmental opposites. And as Anna Fausto-Sterling writes on footnote1.com:
“instead of viewing gender as something inherent and fixed, we should understand it as a developmental process involving the ongoing interaction of genes, hormones, social cues, cultural norms, and other factors” (from Where does gender come from?)
In the fifth and final instalment we will look at how some people are looking to change their sex, as well as their gender identity, through various methods, and what this means for the future of gender.
Special thanks to cescassawin, imagermajestic, stockimages, Stuart Miles and suphakit73 @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.
© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015