Defining Gender for an Androgynous Future II: The Roles

gender 2 title

What makes a good fireman? Strong, agile, cunning, brave… male? What makes a good nurse? Caring, affectionate, patient, nurturing… female?

Occupational stereotypes expand far beyond the two basic examples I have given. Do they hold any merit? The idea of gender appropriation in employment is slowly being eroded, and yet we still see shocking numbers that demonstrate the difference in gender representation across many classically male or female occupations. Silicon Valley has a well documented gender gap. As USA Today reports in the article Silicon Valley gender gap is widening: “Women made up just 26% of computing professionals in 2013, substantially less than 30 years earlier and about the same percentage as in 1960. In engineering, women are even less well represented, making up just 12% of working engineers in 2013.”

As always, this phenomena flows both ways. Men are historically under-represented in careers such as nursing, primary (or elementary/middle school) teaching, and child care. The stereotypical view, it could be argued, is that these jobs play to women’s ‘strengths’. By acknowledging this mindset however, we are also alienating a whole wave of men in society who may be naturally good carers, educators and compassionate employees, and damning them to work the rest of their lives in a ‘masculine’ career that doesn’t utilise their true talents. Without ever being able to find such a heady outlet for their natural qualities, these men may find that societal pressure leads them to behave in traditionally ‘manly’ ways to compensate for their own insecurities about not fulfilling their gender role. If one were to speculate on this, one could claim that there could be a link with this lack of fulfilment and the culture of drinking and fighting that exists, for example, in England.

“Beer and fighting; it’s what we do” – Men

In fact, this macho culture could work both ways, alienating both women and men from certain jobs. Many men who don’t identify as ‘manly men’ will be put off joining certain career paths as they may not see themselves as ‘man enough’. Take the British Marines for example. Recruitment is closed to women, so you expect that the culture will be predominantly one of masculinity. A study published in the British Journal of Psychology, and reported in the Daily Mail article Men put off by macho culture: Workers avoiding some jobs because they think they are not ‘man enough’ for the role, states that: “Researchers following marine commandos found that new recruits who did not see themselves as meeting masculine stereotypes struggled to motivate themselves.”

We have a clear example here then of gender stereotypes already working to actually alienate men… huh? This could be interpreted in two ways. Option one; you need a certain set of characteristics to succeed in the Marines, such as toughness and a lack of compassion, which are both regarded as typically ‘hyper-macho’.  Or option two; ideas about masculinity refer to a by gone time when men were expected to be different than they are these days, and an organisation or field of employment that tries to keep these expectations alive will find less and less recruits as time passes, as people adjust to shifting ideas of what masculinity means. OK, so nobody wants a war fought by people who cry every time they fire a gun (for starters, the tears will ruin your aim). But isn’t the point that nobody wants a war… full stop? We adjusted society for a utopian future where war and fighting would cease, and we would embrace all cultures, creeds, colours and constructs equally. It appears that while this level of maturity exists, it is far from the norm as society has been slow to catch up with mentality and foresight.

“We need you (so long as you’re not a woman, or a womanly man, or a sissy, or scared, or enjoy romcoms…”

Before we get ahead of ourselves though, let’s take a step back again. In Part I we established that biological sex, gender and gender identity are not all necessarily one and the same. You can be born with male genitalia, be forced to wear baby blue clothes as a baby and only be given guns and footballs to play with, yet still identify as female just as easily as you can be born with both genitalia, wear pink and play with dolls before getting up as an adult and identifying as male. The key point we can’t escape is the gender marking presented to us from youth through observations of men and women actually do will largely influence our expectations of what men and woman actually are. As a child in hospital, I am likely to have seen more female nurses in 1980 than I will now, hence my subconscious view will be that ‘well, I saw mostly women doing it, so it must be a woman’s job’. Ask a current kid the same question and they have a much higher chance of seeing a male nurse, and so they will be more likely to subconsciously tag the nursing profession as one of dual-gender appeal and appropriation.

Equally, we as animals respond to reward too.

As children, we will repeat actions that lead to praise and positive reinforcement, and slowly wean out the actions and behaviours that lead to negative reaction. Hence children will often ‘fall in’ to their gender role by an early age so as to accept the reward of being ‘right’ and ‘normal’. As we saw from Part 1, even parents who are happy to let their children discover their own gender will face complications when that child attends school, as societal norms so deeply embedded can quickly remove any home-based training and priorities shift from pleasing parents to gaining popularity and friendship. Few children under the age of eight are capable of the maturity of character required to wholly rebel against gender conformity and ideologies of gender and correct behaviour, and so often our children will be potentially ‘mis-gendered’ or at least forced to hide their less gender flattering traits. They will instead conform to what is expected by their peers and by their society so as to avoid “shame, ridicule and punishment”, according to Gender and Gender Identity on PlannedParenthood.org

“But I really want to be a Marine Surgeon Pilot Footballer”

Raising this paradox with a rather open-minded friend of mine recently, I met a far from accepting response to some of the ideas I was presenting. ‘Are you saying that all our ideas of gender come from society and that nothing is innate?” was one of his points, and I understand the confusion. What I’m actually trying to do is present information, not necessarily with an overt agenda. Yet, I must say, I do feel that the evidence I am gathering does lead me to believe almost entirely that gender is a construct, and that the perpetuation of it is a human choice, not a human given. After much debate, it turns out the friend in question agreed, at least in part.

As a Jungian, they reminded me of idea of the ‘anima’ and ‘animus’ (read more here). Essentially, in all of us there is an element of our opposite sex, and this informed opposite acts as an archetype, telling us what to expect of our opposite gender, and therefore defining our attractions. By finding the other who fits this archetype means for us to find completion. It could be argued that Jung had actually stumbled upon the blueprints for us to discover our own inner gender fluidity, and that in fact we all contain within us the mask of both masculinity and femininity. One could even claim that we all therefore have the potential to complete ourselves by exploring the inner polarity of our gender.

If your animus or anima is too large, it can in theory lead you to have characteristics that seem to subvert your biologies’ expected mannerisms, or if it is too suppressed you can enter the realm of hyper-femininity or hyper-masculinity. Potentially though, accessing either at a given moment pushes the other into the shadow, and yet leaving it easily available. It appears me and my friend may have been agreeing all along (albeit stubbornly).

“Wait a minute… I know you”

This is a key point though; that we all shift from gender to gender (at least in terms of expected behaviours) based on situation, cultural expectation and life stage. Nobody judges a man caring for his children as too feminine, and yet the classic gender role would be for men to ‘win the bread’ and women ‘to bake said bread’. If a woman fights off a burglar in the night, is she accessing her masculinity? The gender role of protector falling often to the man, as women are normally expected to play the part of protectee; the damsel in distress awaiting her knight. Those who argue against gender marking in society, I must know; how can you explain Disney? It is essentially a company who has ridden the wave of gender roles for the best part of a century. Of course, they throw in the odd character to subvert the norm, but more often than not they revert to type and cough up princess after princess, prince after prince, and reinforce upon us the roles we are expected to play.

Even as the world moves towards the future, embracing equality and understanding the nature of humanity as one soul connected in sameness, can anyone really claim they see a transgender princess in a Disney film happening in the next one hundred years? Scratch that, can you even imagine a gay character? It’s just so far away from the protected and defended idea of societal normalcy, the machine’s answer to what is and what isn’t, what should and what shouldn’t, that we won’t see cracks of true reality in it for a long time.

“Don’t crush my dreams before I have had a chance to form them”

That being said, the fundamentals of what makes gender roles so concrete are being eroded. Just take a look at the last three generations on this planet; X, Y and Z (find an interesting breakdown here). I myself am a millennial, or ‘generation Y’, and I know that my generation are already helping to turn the tide. The current youngsters, known as generation Z, are already being cited as the first generation to be non-gender specific; having a hard time differentiating between the genders and responding negatively to gender specific products and marketing. The worm is turning, bit by bit…

In Part III we will be looking at how the current generations hold the key to gender in the future as we move towards androgyny, and how their expectations will define how society on whole will regard gender identity based on media and advertising’s response to a shifting world view.

Special thanks to David Castillo Dominici, digitalart, imagerymajestic, Phaitoon and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

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Finding Translation; Investing in Your Future With a Second Language

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你好! I have been studying Chinese with extra vigour recently, and I have to say that watching a page of seemingly meaningless characters turn into a page of slightly less meaningless characters gives a real sense of accomplishment and a true moment of ‘I-did-this’-ness. Why am I learning Chinese? For that matter, why am I learning the traditional and not the simplified version? Well, I live in a country where traditional Mandarin is the official language, and so firstly it would be darn rude of me not to, and secondly, the opportunities to learn it from native speakers for relatively cheap are rife. My cup doth overfloweth.
Having learned languages in the past (French and German), and having been an English teacher (or as the industry would have us call ourselves “language enabler”) I have a pretty rounded view of what it means to learn a new language from both views of the whiteboard.
Why do people learn a second language? For work? For social motives? To emigrate? For fun? For brain food…?
I come from a city in England with a strong mix of cultures from around the world. It is a place full of pockets of different cultures, which is only heightened by the constant stream of foreign students who head to the city for either of the universities, or to study English in one of the billion or so language schools.
It shouldn’t be forgotten however that each of those students is fluent in another language, and that English is their second language. That is a whole group of people who get to travel to a distant land for work or knowledge.
Why shouldn’t we, as English speakers, give ourselves the great wonderful experience?
Now we know some of the reasons why people do learn a language. Here are some reasons why we should learn a new language…
ahem...

ahem… “fun”

It’s impressive
Who isn’t impressed  by the sight of a foreigner, in any land, being able to bust out some mad local lingo? It’s a skill that takes time to master, but once you have a language, you can channel the Fonzie and be the cool kid everyone wants to hang out with.
If not, it will at least impress the locals, who you will have a slightly better conversation with after you’ve shown you’re not just there to try and speak English louder and louder until you make your point. You’re actually trying. My bad Chinese is often a wonderful icebreaker with old ladies in markets.
Obviously, make sure you know what you're saying...

Obviously, make sure you know what you’re saying…

You gain perspective on another culture
Who hasn’t heard the one about Eskimos and how many words they’ve got for snow? Though this popular theory was thoroughly debunked recently, the idea remains the same; a people’s language reflects their culture. Culture comes from the environment, the history, the traditions, and the people themselves. If culture is the story, the language is obviously the words used to tell that story. History, and the journey of it’s people, is inevitably locked in it’s words. By learning the language, you are learning the culture. It’s inescapable. Just the fact that they have words for certain things means that those things are common, or were common, enough to warrant verbal expression.
Living in another culture advances your understanding of the world. Immersing yourself in the ways of others helps to flesh out your character, giving you new insight into different world views and mentalities. Some are happy to spend their lives in an area 50 miles from where they were born. I have constantly chased the sunset, and language learning is a tool to facilitate that adventure.

“Anyone know the Marathi for help?!”

It opens doors in life and work
On a personal level, I cannot visit another country without thinking at some point ‘I wish I knew the language’. You get a real sense that you are only experiencing the surface of a place, and that if you could only scratch that surface, there would be a world of wonder under there, just waiting to be seen. Imagine how much more you could gain from a trip to Paris if you could chat with an old artist in his mother tongue in some smokey cafe, or sit and play dominoes with some older ladies in Bangkok? These stories, these experiences, are the bread and butter of travel. A little language goes a long way in these moments, and they are the things that will linger long after the tan fades.
As for work, you make yourself infinitely more employable by being able to speak a second language well. We  live in the global village, like it or not. A range of different industries now rely upon their ability to communicate worldwide, and to establish such links they require staff capable of bi-lingual expression. You can’t expect the world to learn English, after all. As an example, China is a vastly influential industrial nation whose current economic boom has meant the expansion of many companies to oversees trade. Though the English learning industry is currently exploding within its borders, there is still a dearth of people with an English level necessary for business correspondence. If you can appear to your boss and say ‘it’s cool, I got this’ and then rile off some supreme mandarin (tones and everything), you can go right ahead and upgrade your hero status from ‘Nigel’ to ‘Thor’ as you close the Wang account.
Go  me!

Go me!

It increases creativity
Your first language, like the ability to walk and the ability to wash yourself, is a skill you learned at a young age. It is the fundamental way you express yourself, and many people live their whole lives utilising only that initial guise. But language, like any skill, has different forms. We can walk, but we can also run, jog, skip, pirouette, jive, samba, walk like an Egyptian, crawl, slither, wriggle…
Recent evidence has demonstrated a potential link between second language learning and divergent thinking. That is, how to think in alternative ways. This study focused specifically on the difference in foreign language learning from school learning, and how learning a foreign language as an adult often involves fluency, elaboration, originality and flexibility; all skills that can help you develop your inner Van Gogh/Picasso/Lady Gaga.
Bonjour, I'm an artist!

Bonjour. I’m an artist!

It unlocks new horizons
Though language, as stated previously, opens new horizons in the literal sense of enabling a fuller travelling experience, it can also open them in a figurative sense too.
For example, if you are a lover of classical fiction and are reading your way through the western canon, you can expect to encounter a range of writers from non-English speaking countries such as Dumas (French), Hesse (German) and Dostoyevsky (Russian). Perhaps you are more interested in Classic Chinese poetry and can’t decide who was greater, Li Bai or Du Fu? Their wonderfully romantic imagery tickles the imagination to this day (that is, if you love drinking and moon light).

“Who doesn’t? AmIright?”

If you are able to read in these native language, you can read the classic stories as they were written, not as they were translated. Authors choose their language carefully, and when this is translated, some of the meaning may be lost as some words don’t have direct translations in English. Most modern translations are fantastically well done, but that doesn’t mean the original doesn’t give something more.
What about world music? Or cinema? There is a profusion of different artistic areas in the world that you will never encounter if you can’t understand them. Learning a language is a key to the arts!
You can study or live abroad
This is my second time living away from my home country, and each adventure has brought with it a whole range of experiences (some expected, some not) that have shaped me and my mentality. I am thankful for these experiences, but there are always more to be had. With a couple more languages under my belt, I could fit seamlessly into tens of others countries and be amongst the people.
In Taiwan there is a great relationship between the universities there and some of the big ones abroad in countries such as America, Germany and the UK. Many students move both ways to study amongst a different culture, and this requires the learning of either traditional Mandarin or English. Even those whose language might not be perfect before they leave will see a huge improvement by the time they return, as to be amongst the language is the best way to learn.
For a work example, if your company has an office abroad and a promotion comes up in that city, they are probably going to be looking for people who will relish the challenge and won’t struggle to adapt. If you can demonstrate a competence in the native language of that place, surely that makes you a front runner?
...should have studied

…should have studied

You can improve your English
Ok, so this may seem a silly reason to learn a foreign language, but stick with me, Quillers. By looking at the grammar structures, how vocabulary is made and how we gain meaning from context, you are wiring your brain to analyse language in a critical way. This mindset will transfer naturally into your first language, as the human brain will always apply new knowledge against that which is known. You will find yourself trying the new rules out on your own language, and even if they aren’t compatible, you will be equipped to critically analyse your own language for it’s own rules. How many of you know the difference between the present perfect simple and present perfect continuous? It is rather a tenuous difference, I know. Hence why many of you probably aren’t familiar with the terms, even though your knowledge of the difference is there, buried in your unconscious mind.
Brain fuel

Brain fuel!

It can save your life
Ok, so this definition needs to be stretched as far as is physically possible. I am not trying to say that one day you will be trapped in a house that is burning down when suddenly you use some Spanish to carefully negotiate with the fire and save your life. No, not at all, (though there is room for an argument that knowing another language could save your life in some situations, such as being held hostage…).
I want to focus here more on the argument that being bi-lingual could actually help to prevent the onset of brain degenerating illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and other dementia.
There is a body of evidence to support the idea that learning a second language in early life could help thinking in old age, and by extension this could not only improve your standard of living as an elderly person, but also keep you safer and help you to avoid dangerous situations too. Another study suggests that quality of life is vastly extended, which would also imply a longer life as the longer you are living well, the less chance you have of dying young from health related issues.
Money can't buy you love, but language can give you youth and happiness

Money can’t buy you love, but language can give you youth and happiness

Phew! That was a lot, right? I almost feel like I’ve done enough learning for one day!
Tell me though, who amongst you can speak a language other than English? Is English even your first language anyway? Do you agree with these points or are you thinking I missed something?
For the language learners amongst you, watch this space, as the IQ team will be posting a list of the best apps and programs for language learning, in the near future. Find it here.
Every day’s a school day!
Freeze frame

Freeze frame

Special thanks to arztsamui, Chiwat, graur razvan ionut, imagerymajestic, Naypong, samuiblue, stockimages and Witthaya Phonsawat @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Getting Lost to Find Yourself; Why You Should Travel Solo at Least Once In Your Life

The journey not the destination matters - T. S. Eliot

The journey not the destination matters – T. S. Eliot

I was in Shimla, Northern India, about five years ago. Sipping a warm Chai tea at a curb-side café and enjoying a glorious sunset over the mountains, I patted myself on the back for completing such an epic journey. It had taken me three weeks to get there from the UK, slowly meandering my way and stopping to see everything that presented itself. I was alone, as I was convinced that I only needed my own company after many trips before with friends and various organizations.

As the sun fully set, and the last dregs of my chai were cooling at the bottom of the cup, I realised that I had nothing to do. All the bustle and excitement of crazy Tuk-Tuk drivers, the double-crossing travel agents, the cramped train carriages – they were all done. Now, I merely had time to sit and relax, and ponder. Is this what I wanted? I didn’t want to admit it, but I was already missing the craziness of my journey. Arriving there, knowing the journey was over, it made me feel… sad? Sad at the end of a journey that was terribly fun. Sad at the end of an experience I hadn’t realised I could have.

After a few more drinks I got chatting to a man, let’s called him Jez, about what it means to travel. He was a well travelled man, a Ramblin’ Man, who’d seen more of the world than most, though he remembered little. He had recently crossed into India from Bangladesh, having spent several months moving around the rural parts of the country. After chatting for a while, I felt my frustrations bubble to the surface, and I admitted to him my feeling of unease at arriving. He just smiled at me and said:

“It’s empowering, isn’t it? Seeing who you really are, when nobody is around to remind you what you’re supposed to be. Why would anyone ever stop moving?”

From then on I realised one thing about myself; I was destined to wander on, possibly forever. Our history is riddled with idioms and tales that have shown us this is the truth. I wanted to be the rolling stone gathering no moss, the leaf on the stream.

I have been very privileged to travel widely in my relatively short life, and I have many places yet to see. The reasons? Why, they’re myriad!

So here’s your Itchy Quill breakdown of some justifications for why you should travel solo at least once in your life!

... it doesn't look that far away Dave

… it doesn’t look that far away Dave

1. The challenge

There is no greater feeling than accomplishing something (well, nothing safe for work anyway), and the opportunities to accomplish while travelling are endless. It could be anything from finding an address in the Souks of Marrakesh to ordering food in rural Mongolia. Whenever new challenges present themselves, you will amaze yourself at how you adapt and survive. It can be hard, frustrating, and sometimes lonely, but it’s not forever. The person you come back as will be far superior to the person who left. Things you never thought you could achieve become commonplace, you just need to show yourself you can do it!

"Make sure you get the view... no, no, get the view... I mean the view behind me... make sure I look dignified... yeah, the view though

“It’s so peaceful, you just forget about the world up here, with no technology or- quickly, this would be a great profile pic!

2. You will appreciate what you have

It’s easy to focus only on first world problems, and forget how good your life actually is. Returning from work, you open the freezer door and see that your house mate has finished the chilli pizza bites. You cry out “why lord, why have you punished me so?!” Equally, running for the bus you see the no. 888 pulling away and cry up to the heavens “my life is ruined!” as you accept you will be ten minutes late for work. Ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating, or maybe I’m not. Either way, after spending a few weeks travelling around a backwater of Peru, you’ll quickly forget about deodorant and shaving, and picky food habits you might have had will soon vanish when you become aware the only thing the tribe you are staying with eat is goose guts and chicken feet.

Hey, water fight! Wait, is that tear gas?!

Hey, water fight! Wait, is that tear gas?! Ruuuuuun!

3. It gives you perspective

Every country teaches it’s children about history from that country’s viewpoint, and the media comments on the present using words sourced locally. This is why travelling is crucial in giving you a better understanding of the world by simply showing you that the way you see things isn’t necessarily how the rest of the world does. Cultural, traditional, economical and historical factors all play a part in shaping national identity, and consequently local worldview. Challenge your idea of the world!

top of the world

4. You can see a new culture from the inside

Speaking of within, as clandestine as it sounds, you get to be ‘behind enemy lines’ and discover from the inside what a country or culture is really like. As ridiculous as it sounds, you will often be surprised at how redundant stereotypes can be, and how wrong your perceptions of the world are. Peel back the surface, scratch underneath and dive right in. Look back on your culture from the outside while people show you theirs from within.

Probably should have mentioned the fear of heights before we left, right?

Probably should have mentioned the fear of heights before we left, right?

5. Your ability to communicate will change

While not speaking any other language than English will not always completely stop you, it can sometimes make things take longer than they would if you were a native speaker of the country you are in’s language. You will pick up local words, often colloquial language that you wouldn’t be taught in schools, plus your ability to read people and understand gesture and intent will sharpen. Your ability to express your feelings and desires will greatly improve too.

I'm so f#cking lost :)

I’m so f###ing lost

6. You’ll have tons of story-topping tales

Nobody likes a story-topper, and yet everyone does it. And while nobody likes people who return from travelling and boast about how amazing their time was, you can be safe in the knowledge that your stories are probably better! Regardless of that, travelling is becoming more and more of a great icebreaker as more and more young people look to faraway lands as the places to spend periods of their early twenties. Join the conversation!

Remember that time I ran away from home?

Remember that time I ran away from home?

7. It teaches you… a lot

The merits of education cannot be taken for granted, but let us not forget that any form of schooling is no replacement for experience. Truth be told, there is a strong argument that the closer you get to education, the further you are from wisdom. I won’t comment, but I will say that some of the skills you will learn from travelling can seldom be learned easier elsewhere. Some learn how to be humble, some learn patience. I learnt how to play Mah Jong and how to spot fake diamonds. The point is, there is a world of knowledge out there. The onus is on you to go and find it.

Who knew I loved sleeping so much?

Who knew I loved sleeping so much?

8. You’ll grow

Now, I’m not talking about the ‘my, haven’t you grown’ kind of growth only grandmothers seem to notice. I’m talking about the undeniable personal growth you will undergo from broadening your horizons. Your mentality will widen, your worldview will expand, and your appreciation of the other will advance. The strength of character and confidence you will gain from surviving on your own will become a backbone to future conquests, and you will have travelling to thank for it all!

Auld map of Africa (pre-1800)

Auld map of Africa (pre-1800)

9. You might find yourself

And this, I guess, is the clincher. It sounds so horribly tacky to say it with a straight face, but it is so true; sometimes you’ve got to get lost to find yourself. I spent my late teens and early twenties wandering the globe in search of god knows what, and I couldn’t find it on the beaches, in the fields or at the end of the camera lenses where I was looking. What I did discover was many things about myself I would probably never have learnt by shaking cocktails or typing in an office.

I am not saying life sucks, and I am certainly not looking down on those who haven’t travelled. We all have our own path, and we are all our own mysteries. I just know that for me, travelling made the difference in my life. And as it did, and continues to do, exactly that, I just want to share it. So what’s stopping you? Book a flight, pack a bag, and see where you end up. It will be the best decision you ever make.

This list is by no means definitive, and I am sure there are other advantages to think of. What do you think? As always, comments are welcome. What would you add/subtract?

Special thanks to PhoTrablogger for reminding me why I love (and dearly miss) India.

taj silhouette

Not all those who wander are lost – J. R. R. Tolkien

Special thanks to africa, graur razvan ionut, khunaspix, taoty, naypong, num_skyman and varaorn @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015