Defining Gender for an Androgynous Future V; Fluidity

title

As most of you regular Itchers will know, recently on IQ we have taken a special interest in the role of gender in the modern world, and how stereotypes and ideas about gender expression are changing in our modern world.

In part 1 we looked at the expectations we place on each other to conform to pre-determined rules about engagement between the sexes, and how we are expected to uphold our gender roles through our behaviour and our activity.

In part 2 the focus was more about what the gender roles are, and how they define what we are ‘allowed’ to be in terms of gender conformity.

Part 3 took a closer look at how appearance has defined gender, and how this is changing now.

In part 4 we looked at the pitfalls of a world obsessed with labels, and how this can be detrimental to gender expression and realisation.

In this final part we will be looking at how some people can change aspects of themselves so as to realign with another gender and realise an existence that reflects how they feel inside. This state is known as gender dysphoria, and though it is becoming more well documented, there is still a lot of confusion around what it represents. A broader term to describe those who identify as the other, neither or both genders would be gender nonconforming, and those who identify as the latter two may also refer to themselves as genderqueer. For more information on the different terms and also more information about gender dysphoria, there is a wonderful explanation here on WebMD.com.

“Never mind male or female; there’s a skeleton living inside you…!”

What are your options?

Ok, so if you do believe that you are born in a different body to the gender you feel, what can you do about it? For a full blown life change, the steps are myriad and often expensive. You will need to start to find peace in yourself, and then share your realisation with your loved ones. After this, it is important to find a therapist to give you the mental support you will inevitably need to work through how this will change your life and to also give you help with the commonly associated distress, anxiety, dissatisfaction and/or restlessness, and then start to look into hormone replacement therapy. This is also a good time to consider changing your name and living as the gender you feel. Eventually you will reach a point where surgery is necessary, and from there you can change your legal gender status, finally making it 100% official that your full transition from a to b is complete.

Sounds easy, right? Of course not. And this list doesn’t reflect the various pitfalls and monsters lying in wake to disrupt your progress, such as ignorance, abuse, bullying, financial implications, societal stigmas, hardcore traditionalists and non-accepting loved ones. For more information, Transsexual Road Map has a much more detailed version of the list above.

Imagine going through all that just to get to a stage where you feel you can truly be yourself! I tip my hate to everyone who is doing, has done, or will do this. It must take a lot of strength.

“Dig deep and find the strength within”

Imagination Station

If you are someone who feels you were born in the wrong body, what would you do? Imagine you’re a little girl. You’re given toys to play with like brushes and dolls, and dressed all the time in pink. But you want to play with the boys, and their soldiers and toy cars. You tell your parents and they laugh, saying ‘no sweetie, girls play with dolls’.

When you start school, the other girls all want to sing songs and comb each others hair, but you want to play football and climb trees. You walk over to the circle where the boys are playing and they all stare. ‘Can I play?’ you ask. ‘No girls allowed’ they shout. Ok…

Now it’s high school and puberty has hit you. Your body is changing in lots of strange ways, but you’ve learned enough about the world to know that you are a boy, not a girl. You know that the only thing that stops you from being a boy is biology. You dress in ‘boys’ clothes, and think and act like one. Literally the only thing that makes you female is your anatomical design. What kind of problems do you anticipate facing? Obviously, there will be the non-acceptance from some strangers, and from the uneducated, naive or ignorant. You will probably by this point have built up quite a thick skin to the sniggers and comments due to the fact you are happier being true to your gender identity than being friends with everyone you ever meet. You wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who didn’t get it anyway. You couldn’t be…

“Later, hater”

The Reality of Normality

A story about this appeared in BuzzFeed news recently, in an article titled Teen Sues School District In Potentially Key Federal Case For Transgender Restroom Rights.

It’s a story about a transgender boy named Gavin Grimm, 16, a resident of Gloucester County, Virginia, in the United States.

The problem he had is essentially this: “Put simply, Grimm was banned from the boys room — where he had been using the restroom without incident for seven weeks with his high school’s permission before fervent religious groups and fearful parents found out.” (BuzzFeed).

According to the article:

‘Last fall, the Gloucester County School Board held two rounds of meetings — packed with students and parents — over a proposal aimed at solely Grimm. While he sat in the room, public testimony called Grimm a “freak” and compared him to a dog, while some speakers debated his anatomy as a transgender boy. … the board passed a policy to prohibit transgender students from using restrooms that don’t correspond to their “biological genders.” ‘ (BuzzFeed)

The result was:

‘“The people of my community had a discussion about where I could use the bathroom — and my genitals and anatomy — that was mortifying and dehumanizing in a way I can’t begin to describe,” ‘ (BuzzFeed)

Now this case is still open, citing certain legislation that has already been used by the Obama administration to make it legally permissible for transgender students to use the facilities that align with their gender identity and not their anatomy.

The argument from Gavin’s attorney, as well as citing the above legislation, is that he has Gender Dysphoria (the incongruence between a person’s sexual anatomy and gender identity) and that a common treatment for that is to live as your gender identity defines before further surgical treatment. The school had been fine about it before. What changed?

Potentially, if this case goes in Gavin’s favour, it would be another huge step for transgender individuals in society. I thoroughly suggest reading the article in full for more information.

Exactly...

Exactly…

The Power of Choice

Do we honestly believe that we should be able to tell someone who they are? A huge part of what makes us individuals is our ability to rationalise our own existence, and analyse the elements of our character that define our identity. If someone thinks they were born in the wrong body, who are we to say otherwise?

Suneela Mubayi identifies as a male-to-female transgender. In a rather powerful article called I claim the right to choose my ultimate gender she wrote for ourbodiesourselves.org, she states:

“I claim the right to choose my ultimate gender beyond my traits, looks, qualities, and features, even if it is different from the sexual organs I possess. And whether that’s feminine or hermaphrodite or my desired blend of masculine and feminine is my choice.”

That’s the whole point; choice. She has chosen to empower herself. Even her name was originally used by a boy in class to tease her, but she took it as her name to take back control of it and disarm the bullies.

For some, being true to yourself can be a lonely experience

For some, being true to yourself can be a lonely experience

Further Choices

We have already spoken in previous instalments about the recent transition of Caitlyn Jenner. However, she is not the only high profile person to make such a change to their life.

A personal hero of mine, Martine Rothblatt, describes herself as a ‘transhumanist’. She lived her life as a man until 1994, aged 40, when she came out as transgender. She is a huge advocate of transgender rights, and one of the wealthiest CEOs in America.

In an interview for TED.com she claims that she ‘always felt her soul was female’ but she didn’t want to show it for fear that she ‘would be laughed at’. As a result, she spent 40 years of her life feeling unable to truly tap into a fundamental element of who she was. In her book The Apartheid of Sex, Rothblatt claims that ‘there are seven billion people in the world, so there are seven unique ways to express your gender’. She is also a stout believer that gender is not defined by your genitals. The book covers how we are forced into categories of male or female, restricting us from the choice of gender expression that should be a given. She says ‘separate male or female genders is a constructed fiction, the reality is a gender fluidity that crosses the entire continuum from male to female’.

See the interview for yourself here.

Is gender a journey not a destination?

Is gender a journey not a destination?

The Backlash

Inevitably, some will find the whole process of gender transition difficult to accept. In rare cases, this can lead to poisonous vitriol on a level far surpassing the language of decency and humanity. The transgender movement has been labelled as sick, wrong, against god and a disease or mental illness by some. What I find interesting is if it is a disease, then people need treatment, not bullying. If it’s a mental condition, people need treatment, not bullying. If it is against God, I’m sure God is more worried about the “2% of priests being paedophiles’ claimed in this BBC article.

If something is ‘wrong’ in the sense that it is a negative action with negative impact, it is normally because it is based on the fact that it harms others. But does being transgender actually affect anyone but the person involved? I’ve said it before, but if we all just forgot about Caitlyn Jenner and let her get on with her life, would it affect us?

Unfortunately, there are some who don’t see it this way. Ian Tuttle wrote an article for The National Review with the rather antagonistic sub-title Do those who voluntarily undergo unnecessary amputations deserve praise and support, like Caitlyn Jenner?

The article goes on to compare Jenner’s desire to transform her anatomy from male to female as being comparable to sufferers of Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) wanting to amputate limbs or become deaf, blind, or dumb. His argument is that if it becomes socially acceptable to align the physical body with the mental identity in such a way, how can you say one is OK and the other is not.

To debate that Jenner was undergoing an amputation is to imply that her standard of living would decrease from such an act in a way similar to losing an arm or a vital sense is ludicrous (unless, of course, you are talking about the affects that being a woman versus being a man may have on salary or job opportunities – but we’ll save that for another post). Gender identity is something that defines us on so many ingrained levels that to deny someone the chance to be what they have always felt is surely a constriction of liberty? If a skinny kid wants to be a body builder, do you go and tell him he can’t be? If a man is born with a crooked nose, is he not allowed the plastic surgery to change it? I mean, does Mr Tuttle believe women shouldn’t be allowed to have their armpits lasered as it messes with their anatomy?

The line, again, comes back to what we said before. If someone wants to do something and it doesn’t affect anyone else, nor put them themselves in serious danger, then what is the big deal? With any such existential question, there will always be the opposite side, capable of creating abstract examples to try and circumvent this idea of liberty and lead us back towards a debate about ‘nature’ and ‘normality’. For every one that they can create, we can create more. The best answer? Ask yourself, as a human, ‘do I want other humans to be miserable?’ If you don’t, then how can you help people feel comfortable enough in themselves to enjoy life? If a celebrity you’ll never meet wants to adjust their anatomy, is it affecting you? Even if that inspires your own child to do the same, is that the end of the world? Wouldn’t you be happier that your child found a way of expressing who they truly were, instead of following a societal doctrine on gender, and forcing themselves to conform to a fiction perpetuated by each generation?

“I just wanna be meeeeeeee”

Reactions of a More Positive Nature

Scruffy yet loveable funny man Russell Brand talked recently about the world’s reaction to Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation on his YouTube Channel. His daily news segment titled ‘The Trews’ claimed, in episode 334, that the overwhelming response to Jenner’s transformation is a reflection of society’s desire for a new goddess. Religion, he argues, is full of androgynous deities. The very nature of gender is fluid, for humanity is united as one by a shared consciousness, and gender is just an expression within that. We all encompass different elements of both male and female traits, and yet by living in a largely patriarchal society we are forced to champion traits deemed masculine such as individualism and ambition, and we often forget qualities that are perceived as feminine, such as compassion and community. Whether you agree or disagree, he makes some interesting points. Is our male dominated society one of the reasons why transgenderism is so vehemently rejected by some? Ideologically, could we benefit as a society en masse from embracing a little more femininity anyway?

Watch the video here.

“Weeeeeeeeeee”

The Trickle Down

So, how can we measure whether this is becoming more of a trend, and if it is changing society at large? Well, let’s welcome back those plucky young things, the generation Z’ers, and their predecessors, the Gen Y’ers. In the article 10 Magazines Agree: Gender Is Hazy For Millenials on doingwhatsgood.us, it is claimed:

“Powerhouse brands such as Bic and Honda are finding that this group isn’t very receptive to tried-and-true male and female societal roles, and even color palettes, long the way to differentiate baby girls from boys in their early years and shape their future aesthetic preferences. And Gen Z, the 5-17-year-olds coming up right behind them, are simpatico; they find gender-specific products a turnoff. ”

We see the two largest generations in the history of planet earth are already moving towards this gender fluidity, escaping the shackles of conformity and gender targeted marketing. If we are already refusing to recognise gendered products, it is another level of the gender construct that is being peeled away. The article goes on to claim that it’s not even a conscious decision, but just a product of the environment.

“A Northwestern University professor attributed the desire to be able to choose gender identity at will to the Internet, specifically playing computer games against competitors worldwide whose gender one doesn’t necessarily know, according to USA Today. And living so much of their lives virtually—gaming, communicating and even shopping—helps explain why nearly two-thirds of Millennials and Gen Zs believe gender lines are blurred, according to a study by the Intelligence Group reported in USA Today.”

Not sure if you believe this? Check out this article about thirteen unnecessarily gendered products, and see for yourself if you feel gender roles forced upon you are not a little bit disconcerting. For example, male sunscreen? Female pens? Any Brits reading this will be familiar with Yorkie Bars – they’re not for girls!

“Whadoyamean not for girls?”

The key point though is that as we move forward, the wheel is already turning. Like it or not, we are heading towards a much more gender fluid and androgynous future. The same article on doingwhatsgood puts it like this:

“Millennials and Gen Z parents are allowing their children to explore their gender identities and not limiting them to traditional stereotypes.”

It’s happening, one day at a time. Each generation more adept at seeing through gender stereotypes than the last. What will it mean for us as humanity? Who knows. The slow march towards AI and the potential end of biological humanity, moving instead into robotic, engineered life feels like one possible outcome that would also render gender virtually obsolete. Is that our destiny? I think gender is one way to aid personality and identity, and your personal expression of whatever you see in you is part of the make-up of who we are. Denying it is pointless, and so any cultural environment that allows for this expression should be celebrated.

What are your thoughts?

Special thanks to chokphoto, Chris Sharp, David Castillo Dominici, imagerymajestic, nongpimmy, pat138241, stockimages and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

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Defining Gender for an Androgynous Future III; Uniform

title gender 3

In the last instalment, we discussed how the changing face of a society can help to alter how it is interpreted by the younger generation. There is a strong case that environment, especially one of concrete norms and ideals, can influence the younger generations to either do as they are told, or rebel entirely. If they are rebelling, they need the freedom to express themselves within that environment, or they will carve out that freedom for themselves.

How does that work in action? If we enforce a rule upon a teenager, are we asking them to conform for our benefit, or for theirs? The common misconception in my school days was that we had to follow the orders of social constructs, indoctrinated within these roles and expectations, purely to follow suit and prepare us for a ‘normal’ life. ‘Don’t be a freak’ was the catchphrase, and conformity did promise a life much freer from bullying and stigma. A friend of mine wore bright purple flares to a youth club meeting when we were 12 and faced a night of verbal barrage. Insults such as ‘gay’ and ‘girl’ were levied upon him, and yet as an adult I must ask; is calling someone gay really an insult? Equally, is calling someone a woman an insult either? My friend was not wrestling with a gender crisis, but was in fact more of a fashionista than many at the time realised. This was the nineties, bear in mind. Things were, different…

Yes... 'the 90s'

Yes… ‘the 90s’

So, where can we look for an environment today that will help to push us towards a more gender enlightened future? To be honest, the polarising of opinion on such a subject is far from surprising. The fact it can be tied into political, social, judicial, religious and cultural objections and praise is also interesting. If you are feeling ‘misgendered’, it must be your choice what gender you are and not anyone else’s? My generation were told they can be anything they want to be… except the opposite gender. Alas, it always has to about more than that.

Schools are notoriously the home of strict dress codes (with gender reinforcing uniforms), arguably one of the first encounters many of us may have with tight controls on our expression of our gender. When I was at school the boys wore shirts and ties with trousers, while the girls wore skirts (no trousers were allowed until my fourth year at secondary school), with blouses, or female cut shirts, and no ties. In summer, the girls would mock us for overheating in our lengthy trousers and constricting ties while they pranced about in their skirts in the warm breeze. Was this fair? As we were not allowed to wear shorts, should all the boys have donned skirts and been done with it? Hardly. As stated before, to do such an act would have been to invite untold ridicule and isolation. Only the bravest and most headstrong of teenagers are capable of such subversion. But why is that? Everybody enjoys dressing up from time to time.

Let's face it, kids like to dress up

Let’s face it, kids love to dress up

But what if the children themselves did start to accept themselves as what they are, and not what they are told to be? In The New York Times article Can a Boy Wear a Skirt to School, Jan Hofman reports:

“In September, a freshman girl at Rincon High School in Tucson who identifies as male was nominated for homecoming prince. Last May, a gay male student at a Los Angeles high school was crowned prom queen.”

So if the younger generation are already embracing the fluidity of gender, and the freedom to be neutral, unisex and carry a multi-faceted gender expression, who is perpetuating the aforementioned status quo?

“Adults… “become the gender police through dress codes” said “Diane Ehrensaft, an Oakland psychologist who writes about gender” when interviewed for the same New York Times article as above.

That’s right. This level of conformity, rightly or wrongly, is definitely being continued, at least in part, by the structures of identity inherited from our parents, and their parents, and theirs, all the way back to our cavemen selves. It does make me chuckle.But every generation puts its own twist on the gender identity.

When I see old photos of FDR in a dress, I am reminded of how fragile the modern idea of gender expression actually is. As Daniel Fromson writes in the article FDR Grew Up in a Dress: It Wasn’t Always Blue for Boys and Pink for Girls, appearing on theAtlantic.com:

“[FDR’s] unexpected childhood look is a reminder that our cultural norms about gender-specific clothing for children are a surprisingly recent historical development.”

Somehow, between various generations, we have managed to actually lose sight of this gender control to such an extent that we have gone full circle. Wearing a dress was normal for boys in the time of FDR’s childhood, and yet now for a boy to wear a dress is deemed to be inappropriate. Anyone else getting confused? You should be. The twisted logic of such demands of conformity are forcing individuals, with personal cares, affections and tastes, to fit into a uniform of gender, donning a costume so as to be able to pass though the journey of life and tick the boxes expected of us. By demonstrating the fragility of such a construct through the reappropriation of such a practice already, surely the validity of such measures can be seen to be pointless?

We may as well surrender

We may as well surrender

The buzz word at the moment seems to be ‘fluidity’. It is impossible to escape the headlines about Caitlyn Jenner, and rightly so (more on that next week). Yet I worry that the media, in it’s unending quest to perpetuate conventions it deems integral to supporting the current, restrictive status quo, will often portray these cases with an element of ridicule. Their propensity for tongue in cheek, for mockery, shines through the journalism, and fails to fully tackle the nature of what is being expressed. The ridiculous nature of celebrity news notwithstanding, there will be little room for such a tentative issue — in need of serious academic debate and an open dialogue in society — to get the attention it deserves. It is a golden opportunity for a mainstream debate about the nature of gender identity, and yet I know that such a discussion is still a few years away. Still, it’s nice to see the world is at least talking about it, even if some of the comments on sites such as Twitter are derogatory or satirical.

To help us with the transition, the twitter account @she_not_he was set up by of The Washington Post. She wanted to politely remind people of the ‘misgendering’ that was happening at Caitlyn Jenner’s expense. Though, expectedly, it got a lot of stick from the Twittersphere, and many ignored it or retaliated with ‘whatevers’ or even silence, there were a few who took the comments on board, and offered promises of change. As Caitlin herself writes:

“…there were those few precious apologizers, the ones who said sorry, that they’d “get it right” next time. In some ways, their heartfelt responses to a dumb Twitter bot aren’t just surprising or gratifying. They’re kind of, sort of, revolutionary.”

“Come on Dave, say something indigo for heaven’s sake!”

And that is exactly the point. Such a dialogue, though messy and obtuse and even a little hard to even take seriously in a domain like Twitter, was still able to shift the mentality of a few. That few, hopefully, can walk away with lessons learned, the world a better place. With that happening, it shouldn’t be long (one hopes) before a critical mass is reached and the exponential growth of the kind of gender reclassification, the induction of fluidity and neutrality against the obstinate nature of traditionalists.

Ultimately, does it really matter? We should be free to be what we want to be. If nobody actually mentioned Caitlyn Jenner again, would any of our loves change? No, they wouldn’t. She could go on doing her thing, and we could go on doing ours. And that is the crux of all of this; why should someone else’s decisions about their life, their personality and their identity, matter to anyone else? If they are not harming anyone by expressing themself, then surely they are free to do as they please? You can choose to be offended by someone’s choices, that is your right as an individual. But forcing your rhetoric and beliefs upon them is not, as they are not forcing theirs upon you. Let each other be free to be what you want to be, and watch the world prosper from the celebration of individualism and of the self.

Next week we will be exploring further the idea of the uniform of gender, but with a greater focus on labels and the associated stigmas.

Special thanks to  @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

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

Defining Gender for an Androgynous Future I; The Expectations

gender title

I recently read an article in Time magazine titled Meet the New Generation of Gender-Creative Kids. It explores what life is like for a child in a summer camp designed only for children who are growing up in a household that encourages them to find their gender for themselves. I can’t help but think, how can you ‘find’ gender?

I must admit, my view of gender is itself a little skewed. I was raised in a house of women, one woman (my mother) filled the role of a classic matriarchal figure, teaching me love, compassion, care and sensitivity. The other was my older sister, a much more aggressive, dominant, overbearing and yet emotional, delicate and insecure person. Through their eyes, I saw the world around me, and they helped me define a niche of my own.

The classic ‘father’ roles of provider and protector both fell to my mother, and it was with her that I learned hiking, football and writing and countless other hobbies and skills. She encouraged my studies and yet gave me the freedom to be myself and grow on my own too. My sister taught me to shave, badly. But the point is, I was learning how to be a man from two women who had had their fair share of shitty men. They had an opportunity to craft a new man from their own experiences, without the worry of society’s moulds there to constrict me or damage me. I still played army, I still wanted to be a spy and travel, and I still wanted to be a hero. Are they masculine traits? I learned how to be sensitive to other’s emotions, how to talk to anyone for any period of time about anything (especially on the phone), and I was able to show compassion. Are these feminine traits? If I’m honest, I didn’t really notice the difference as a kid, as I was too busy just running around in the mud and trying to be a mad scientist or an astronaut. As an adult, years after I’ve left the company of my mother and sister, I’m in the world and I’ve had to learn certain traits so as to ‘fit in’. I’ve adapted, often unconsciously, only aware of it afterwards when I look back on things and think ‘man, I’ve changed’.

For survival and protection, I assume

For survival and protection, I assume

So, what is a man? After watching the recent Avengers film, The Age of Ultron, it’s tempting to want to say that a real man should be big and strong, and capable of protecting the world from invasion should such a reality take place. Perhaps a man is more than this though. To be honest, maybe the labels themselves are the issue. Let’s zoom out and look down on masculinity from above. Is it a construct or an innate character? Is it an assumed identity taught from birth, or is it the by-product of natural thirsts and impulses that drive most men toward a similar set of priorities?

Ok, so before we get bogged down thinking about the etymology of the words, allow me to define what we are talking about here. Sex is biological, and we are defined ‘biologically’ as boys or girls by the type of body we own. I am not here to discuss this, most often it is straight forward. As an adult, can you cross your legs comfortably? Yes, OK, you’re probably not a bloke.

Gender is how societies expectations of behaviour and action from boys and girls defines what we are able to do. For example, is it a social norm for young men to play with Barbie and not Action Man? No, on the most part this is still seen as a feminine behaviour, and so to play with a Barbie as a girl is adhering to your gender role, but to play with one as a boy is to flout your gender role.

Gender identity is how we feel inside about our role, and how that manifests in our appearance and actions. This is our reaction to gender roles, and often in teenage years you find a chance to experiment with your gender and your place within society. David Bowie was famous for utilising his naturally androgynous look to break down classic gender conformity expectations, especially in his Ziggie Stardust phase. Sometimes, when people feel their gender identity doesn’t fit with their biological sex, they identify as transgender.

Just because you're tall, doesn't mean you're a basketball player

Just because you’re tall, doesn’t mean you’re a basketball player

Gender Tags

So what is feminine, and what is masculine? These are the labels given to certain sets of behaviour that are identified with either being a woman or being a man. It’s important to note here that ItchQuill is not trying to tell you what is masculine and what is feminine, but instead explore what we as societies around the world are told is masculine and feminine.

To help with identifying what is seen as male and female, a quick Google search brings up a list of adjectives on PlannedParenthood.com’s article Gender & Gender Identity. They say that words often ascribed to femininity would be ‘passive, weak, emotional, dependent and nurturing’ to name but a few. For masculinity, some of the words were ‘aggressive, rebellious, hard, competitive and self-confident’. The list goes on, and it is not meant to act as a list of things to look for to describe the next woman or man you see, but more as a reflection of attributes that are often associated, rightly or wrongly, with either gender. Few could argue that these words are used in such a way, however.

“Man stuff”

Let’s look again at that masculinity list. Is it seen as ideal that men behave in these ways, or is it just expected? Let’s not forget, as masculinity and femininity is not defined by our biology but by our mentality, it has the potential to adapt and transform within different nations and cultures. These often get lost in stereotypes and can be part of a confusing and contradictory fabric of identity much larger than gender itself (such as the emotional Irish male stereotype, the dominant Latina female stereotype or the well-groomed and orderly British gent stereotype).

The question is; do we have an innate sense of masculinity, or is it learned? It is inescapable, the gender roles pumped at us from the news, our education, the media, advertising and such. We are constantly bombarded with messages on what we need to be, and how we need to behave to be seen as conforming to our gender roles and therefore ‘fitting in’. This stays with us for our whole lives, often influencing us in ways we are unaware of at the time.

“Lady things”

As Faulkner states in his book Doing Gender in Engineering Workplace Cultures,Cultural notions of “feminine” and “masculine” behavior are shaped in part by observations about what women and men do. This kind of “gender marking” tends to discourage women or men from entering “gender-inauthentic” occupations” (Faulkner, 2009).

In the next instalment, we will be looking further at the roles of gender in society, and how this is changing with our younger generations.

Work Cited: Faulkner, W. (2009). Doing Gender in Engineering Workplace Cultures: Part II—Gender In/Authenticity and the In/Visibility Paradox. Engineering Studies, 1 (3), 169-189.

Special thanks to hin255, marin, Praisaeng and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015