All Gender is Just Performance

17 Aug

I can’t think of a better way to start my day than with a peer-reviewed article from the UK Guardian!!!

Today’s food-for-thought: whether or not gender differences are innate biological differences or constructed by society in order to live up to cultural norms. Throughout my undergrad degree, this topic seemed to be a hot one. We often discussed gender and biology, sexuality and gender roles in many of my psych classes and women’s studies courses. The consensus of academia (or at least my academia) seemed to be exactly what this study concluded: that gender is completely socialized.

I think the primary motivation behind gender norms is to create categories. Subconsciously, whether we admit it or not, we all like to fit into types. Belonging to a group, knowing the rules of that group, and the sense on community that comes with it, is comforting to most people. It’s the prime motivation for why people join political parties or religious sects. In the case of men and women, masculinity and femininity, fitting into one or the other makes our lives easier, or so we think. The problem is that there are only two choices and more importantly, it’s not a choice at all, we are assigned to either one group or another upon birth and it’s dictated by biology.

From the moment our sons are born we dress them up in blue and decorate their nursery in cars and sports. Likewise, our little “princesses” and “divas” are pinkified into conformity, taught to be ladylike and sweet. Society tells us that boys are to be active participants in the world (pilots, athletes, construction workers and engineers) and girls are to be the passive, non-active counter group, in need of protection, respect, and a “good husband” to buy them pretty gifts. Girls are the ballerinas, homemakers, nurses and elementary school teachers. Our lives are about taking on nurturing, non-threatening roles, staying youthful and pretty, and landing a good man. In essence, gender is very oppressive, very archaic, and as a woman, I find it very degrading in general.

As the mother of young boys I often find that my world view concerning gender is confusing and uncomfortable for other people. In my son’s preschool, they spend more time stressing the differences between boys and girls than the similarities. I’d rather my son learn his ABCs than what a girl is “supposed” to look like, or what a boy is “supposed” to be interested in. I understand how some people can think this might be somehow harmful to my children’s self-perception, but what I find harmful is this glorification of extreme masculinity versus extreme femininity. The quest to fit in to one of these two stereotypes leads women to think fake boobs, fake hair, fake nails and a fake demeanor is a good thing, a womanly thing. They give up challenging careers in favor of stay-at-home motherhood, are guilted into lives of servitude and superficiality. And men are forced into breadwinner roles, and are so dangerously taught that the worst thing a man could ever be…… is a woman.

Think of what these messages do to our society. Across the gender binary, the wide spectrum of gender norms, most people fall somewhere in the middle. But what we are taught is that there is no grey area. You are male or female, pink or blue, you’re either into makeup or hunting, chocolate or steak, glitter or camo. These social restraints we place upon ourselves only serve as a straight jacket with which to limit our full potential as human beings. My sons might have been born biologically male, but their gender is self-defined and I hope it takes them a lifetime to discover exactly what that gender is.

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The Smart Dutch Take on Teen Sex…

10 Sep

Provocative title for sure, but once the shock of this article passes, the conclusion can be made that the Dutch certainly get teen sex right.

Abstinence-only-until-marriage education is definitely on the rise in United States, despite the fact that study after study has conclusively shown that abstinence-only sex ed not only doesn’t postpone sex among teens, but makes them less likely to use birth control and/or condoms because they’ve been told that either carrying a condom makes them a slut, or that birth control in general is ineffective; both of which are complete lies of course. The Netherlands takes on the whole “morality” cause, putting more emphasis on teens being “ready” for sex when they do eventually have it, instead of demonizing and slutifying sex. I have to admit the idea of allowing my son or daughter to have their boyfriend or girlfriend sleep over at my house is going a little too far. I’m not Dutch afterall, but this article makes a good point:

 “Dutch parents, by contrast, downplay the dangerous and difficult sides of teenage sexuality, tending to normalize it. They speak of readiness (er aan toe zijn), a process of becoming physically and emotionally ready for sex that they believe young people can self-regulate, provided they’ve been encouraged to pace themselves and prepare adequately. Rather than emphasizing gender battles, Dutch parents talk about sexuality as emerging from relationships and are strikingly silent about gender conflicts.”

 The gender angle is an interesting one and certainly a perspective I appreciate, coming from a gender studies background. In Western cultures, such as ourselves, we have an unhealthy obsession with girls’ virginity and often associate morality with sexuality. For example, it’s the notion than as long as you’re not a slut, you are moral and righteous person. We all know this isn’t the case.

Young people have a right to privacy, a right to explore their own sexuality on their own timetable and with whomever and with however many people they want. Parents have an obligation to educate their children on how to avoid the negative consequences of being sexually active, how to be assertive when it comes to practicing safe sex and avoiding pregnancy. The focus should be on teaching your child to wait until they are ready, whether that be at 15 years old or 28. Sex should be celebrated, not demonized.

The best piece of advice regarding sex I’ve ever had given to me came from my church: your level of physical intimacy should match your level of emotional intimacy and readiness. Which is to say you shouldn’t just jump in bed with every person who winks at you, but you also shouldn’t judge yourself too harshly for enjoying an act that’s as natural as eating or sleeping. Sex within a committed, monogamous relationship, regardless of marital status, is not a bad thing. These are the positive messages we should be feeding our children. Maybe if we did, our teen pregnancy would be an eight of what it currently is, maybe someday we’ll have a teen pregnancy rate as low as the Dutch.

Eat, Pray, Spend…

12 Aug

Priv-Lit and the New Enlightened American Dream, by Joshuna Sanders of Bitch Magazine.

I fell in love with this article half way through the first sentence. As a twenty-something woman I’ve often felt the pressure to live up to some kind of happiness ideal that is difficult, if not impossible, to attain. I’ve heard of the Eat, Pray, Love book but I’ve never had any real desire to read it. Self-help books have never interested me because of the whole “one size fits all” approach.

The article in Bitch magazine goes beyond the skin-deep to get at the heart of the wellness movement, and quite simply, the article surmises that the movement has no heart. It’s based upon dollar signs and consumerism, exploiting people’s (and mostly women’s) insecurities and promising everlasting happiness for an exorbitant fee.

One thing I’ve discussed with colleagues of mine is this notion of selfishness. The wellness culture’s foundation is based upon self-fulfillment through focusing on “you” and disregarding the kinds of gratification that come from serving others. Also, the wellness culture is anti-family, anti-marriage/partnership, and most definitely anti-children. Afterall, why would you focus any of your energy on maintaining a healthy marriage or raising children or caring for an ailing parent? That only serves to diffuse energy away from yourself and “jeopardize” your eternal happiness.

Consumerism seems to be the new religion of America and it’s troubling. Even more troubling is that with women’s increasing financial independence comes the increasing tendency for women to squander it away on useless crap, by buying into this selfish, consumer-driven culture that lacks substance and depth and real meaning. In conclusion, wellness is crap.

I wish I could turn this into a logo.

26 Jul

On Women in Pop Culture. Defining Sexism.

26 Jul

                                                                    I don’t pretend to watch HBO’s True Blood. In fact, I’ve never really seen an episode from start to finish. The whole vampire thing has never done it for me, but this article peaked my interest and touched on a topic I’ve been interested in for some time: Hollywood’s obsession with linking sex with violence.

The article brings up several valid points in that True Blood’s violent “hate sex” is written off as edgy and artistic and not held to the same standard as say, other television programs. Afterall, vampires are always misogynist and violent.

The author writes:

“True Blood buys into the same myths about violence and rape that do real harm to women today: that men have more sexual drive, that rape is an act of passion rather than domination, that women mean yes when they say no, that violence against women is part of the natural order.”

And I agree. These portrayals are most definitely harmful to women.

On the other hand, I am a huge fan of AMC’s Mad Men, which has recently come under considerable criticism for the blatant sexism it portrays. However, unlike True Blood, Mad Men depicts a historical trend of sexism in the work place; what it was like to be female and live in the oppressive 1950s and 60s. The message behind Mad Men seems to be a warning of some kind, a cautionary tale of how society has historically resigned women to a second class citizen status and how our cultural norms do not reflect the kind of egalitarian society women need in order to be fully functioning, independent, and fulfilled beings.

While I would most definitely say True Blood glorifies violence towards women, Mad Men, I would argue, does no glorify women’s oppression.  The creator of Mad Men believes (and I agree) that ignoring the sexism women endured would be the equivalent of acting like it never happened. It would be the same as not talking about slavery because the topic is too uncomfortable. The difference between the two shows is that while both are fictitious, True Blood is not depicting any kind of historical event, it is bringing to life the sick fantasies of a closet rapist. Mad Men is edgy because of the writing, the depth of the characters, the fierceness of its female roles. It’s real, it’s tangible, and it’s brilliant.

PETA: Animal Rights at the Price of Women’s Progress.

20 Jul

PETA really really pisses me off. 

It’s not their cries that Ben & Jerry’s needs to start using human breast milk to make ice cream because milking cows is somehow inhumane, and it’s not even the fact that some members go to the fanatical extreme of throwing blood on fur coats. Really, that’s kinda my sick idea of entertainment. What does piss me off is this: 

Because Carving Up Women Makes For Great Political Symbolism.

 

Contexts.org has a great post about how women, and more specifically, feminists (which are not exclusive to women) have been fighting for nearly half a century to see an end to the association between women and meat. Thanks to PETA and Pamela Anderson, the link blazes on, which is both disheartening and enraging. The article also makes reference to the horribly misogynistic hustler magazine cover of 1978. 

Because Mutilating Women is Entertaining. You Didn't Know this?

 

Pam Anderson makes a good point when she says she has every right to use her body in such a way as to promotes good-intentioned political ends. And I agree. It’s not the overt sexuality expressed in the PETA ad that annoys me. Sexual expression is good. It’s the tired old objectification scenarios that make me roll my eyes and sigh in disappointment. 

For all of PETA’s progressive messages, the misogyny, sexism and degradation they attempt to pass off as legitimate activism makes me cringe. I guess the real message is “Animal Rights at the price of Women’s Rights.” And it would seem, sadly enough, that PETA will continue to run these types of ads as long as people continue to support their organization. 

What they perhaps fail to consider is that most animal rights activists are also women’s rights activists. I never took a marketing class in college but that’s probably not what I would call “good strategy”. 

And with that, I conclude my rant for the day.

The Women of The Daily Show

8 Jul

I opened up my Facebook news feed this morning only to be inundated by words like “sexism!” and “Playboy!” and “inequality!” And to my surprise, it was all referring to none other than The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, one of my favorite shows ever!

But before I jumped on the bandwagon of “let’s defend Jon,” or “good feminists decry all sexism,” I wanted to do my research.

One of the biggest issues it seems, and the one that irritates the hell out of me, is that the feminist blogosphere is going nuts about Olivia Munn, the sex bombshell just hired to be a correspondent. The fact that she’s posed in Playboy and has a rockin body really seems to piss some women off. It seems you can’t be both hot and funny at the same time. I find it sexist that attractive women are written off as not smart, not talented, and certainly not funny. Perhaps Playboy was an empowering experience, maybe Olivia Munn enjoys attention (don’t we all?).

Secondly, the women of the Daily Show wrote this statement in their defense, which I found to be lacking, but none the less sincere. Amanda Hess then goes on to “analyse” the statement (i.e draw conclusions that have relatively no grounding).

While I agree that comedy is overwhelmingly dominated by men (name five female stand-up comedians, you can’t), it is no different from virtually all other domains in this country. Whether right or wrong, women must prove themselves as we have been made to do so for hundreds of years. Jon Stewart could help the women’s movement along by inviting more female guests on his show, there’s no doubt about that, but just because he interviews more men than women doesn’t mean he’s a closet sexist. He has an audience to pander to, and if the audience responds more to men than to women, the problem is with society, not Jon Stewart.

The whole debate seems silly to me. It’s easy to write successful men off as exploitive and sexist, and attractive women as stupid and incompetent. What we must remember, however, is that Jon Stewart is funny and Samantha Bee is funny too. They aren’t funny because they’re male and female, but because they are talented. Gender is so pervasive, so limiting, and it would seem even feminists can get it wrong.