Defining Gender for an Androgynous Future IV; Labels

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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.

They might sometimes be pretty, but they're still in the way

They might sometimes be pretty, but they’re still in the way

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.

Stuart Miles

A World Without Labels

Imagine a world where you substitute the name of something for ‘thing’.

“James, can you pass me the thing?”

“Which 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.

and this judge dreads stereotypes!

and this judge dreads prejudice!

Traditions

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?

Love is love, regardless of gender

Love is love, regardless of gender

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!

“In my day we had no choice. You do!”

Expression

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

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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