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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Gender Issues » fears about gender

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Author Topic: fears about gender
CJT
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I wanted to start a new thread about this post that pcwhite made because I'm thinking that there's a LOT of conversation to be had about it.

pcwhite wrote:
quote:

Originally posted by CJT:
I think that our world is a really gendered place, and pretty much wherever you are, the first thing people will judge upon meeting you (and I think this is often done unconsciously) is decide whether you are a guy or a girl and act accordingly.
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This point is resonating with me because of several arguments I've had with my mom recently and it's always about the same thing. It always comes up when we're (I'm) discussing how aggressively adults impose a gender identity on little boys and girls...she accuses me of taking the "most extreme" position when I tell her I would dress a boy in pink frilly skirt if that's what he wanted (or something similar). Her argument is that allowing children to just dress however they want to is harmful, because little children are traumatized in some way when strangers confuse them for the opposite sex. Is this *actually* true? And if so, could we eradicate this response just by teaching our kids that both sexes are equal? (Her position chafes with me because it's mostly concern about a little boy freaking out about being mistaken for a girl...misogyny, much?)

Perhaps more relevantly, it makes me think of the way people snidely make fun of strangers they've encountered by speculating on whether the person is a guy or a girl. As if this alone is something worthy of ridicule. I'm also thinking of the way people even get their babies' ears pierced or dress them entirely in blue to guard against the chance that a stranger could (horror of horrors) mistake the kid for the opposite sex. Or people feeling uneasy about being unable to gender a stranger they're talking to (I used to feel this myself). Why the social terror? I suspect it's because of many things, but it strikes me as a very odd fear if you're interacting with the person him/herself, to be terrified of mistaking the person's sex. As if you'd ever address the person in third-person pronouns in conversation. It seems like the person is afraid they'll treat people like the wrong sex...while simultaneously denying that this is precisely what they do. ("I would treat you exactly the same way if you were a man!") Of course, people understandably don't want to offend the person they're speaking to, but I think this point is undermined by the fact that people viciously make fun of those who are sexually ambiguous as soon as they're out of the room. That type of viciousness, to me, is indiciative of the perception of threat, and not the type of anxiety that is about trying to please. Or, in the case of "girly boys", it's about misogyny.

One more thing I'm chewing on...would people abandon their gender insecurity if we did reach a point when sexism has disappeared? If we no longer had an advantage to reap by constructing differences between males and females, would we then abandon our insecurities about being mistaken for the "wrong" sex?

Insofar as I can see, a lot of this has to do with one of the most fundamental ways that most people have come to understand the world around them: that there are two and only two genders, and everyone fits into this box.

This binary (the belief about two and only two) allows for a pretty easy (but rigid) way of understanding the world around us. Things fit. We make them fit. And then we don't need to worry about it or stress about it because everything fits into a little box.

I've often wondered about the same thing you have: if there was complete equality then would it matter? Would people give up on trying to place people into artificial boxes? I obviously have no way of knowing but my guess is that we'd be a lot less worried about gender if we truly believed (and acted as if) all people are equal regardless of their identity.

What do others think about any of this?

Posts: 384 | From: Philadelphia, PA | Registered: Sep 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
AnansiGirl
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In a nutshell - jumping in here since I was lurking all through the last thread and followed it here - I think it sucks.

When we are children ourselves, we're taught that 'everyone is equal'. Then when we grow older we have to learn by ourselves that 'some are more equal than others', which is so wrong to me that I just can't comprehend the mindset of the people who carry it through - rascists and homophobics, misogynists and even those who are anti-animal rights.

From the point of view of someone who is bisexual fem-preference, as well as very totally equal-rights, I don't understand - and therefore deeply dislike - the obsession the human race seems to have with labelling. You're no longer just allowed to be 'that person over there who is that person', you have to be 'that dyke over there' or that 'girl over there'. Like the very idea of not slapping something with an instant nametag is terrifying.

Even this recent thing with proposition 8 leaves me gaping at the stupidity of the human race. It's as though being no longer allowed to be directly racist towards people with a different shade of skin, they turn on those with a different orientation, claiming that it is unnatural. I really don't understand it. And maybe that's the probelm - people only fear what they don't understand, which is a massive cliche as much as it's true. Maybe all the straights and binary-thinkers of the world simply need to be re-educated.

And maybe that entire speech is massively out of context...I think I deviated there.

--------------------
"I'm bouncing off the walls again, woah-oh~
I'm acting like a fool again, woah-oh~
Threw away my reputation,
For one more song on the RADIO STATION~"

Posts: 29 | From: England | Registered: Jun 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
CJT
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AnansiGirl, I don't think you deviated at all. In fact, I think you made some really great points. Part of the reason I work in the fields of sexuality education and public health for a living is because I believe that far too few people have had to challenge their beliefs or examine why they believe what they believe.

I think that progress is possible, and that education plays a huge part in that. It's not so much the teaching of facts...facts don't always do so much to change attitudes or behaviors...but helping people really be reflective and examine the social justice issues underneath the facts.

Science is all about finding names for everything, because once there's a name we can categorize, and once we can categorize we can understand. I'm very pro-science, but think that it's sort of a shame that we forget the affective, or FEELING, part of this stuff. It's often a lot easier to name the problem than to figure out how to work the solutions.

What do you think that we can do on an individual level to help fight this stuff that you're noticing? What ways can we create the changes we want to see?

Posts: 384 | From: Philadelphia, PA | Registered: Sep 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
AnansiGirl
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quote:
Originally posted by CJT:
It's often a lot easier to name the problem than to figure out how to work the solutions.

Which is exactly my concern with the direction the human world appears to be taking in general. It's not even the fact that there is a probelm; it seems to be that many ignore the base roots of the conflict in the first place. I'm reminded of pulling weeds in my garden, such as dandelions - it's very easy to take out the flower and leaves, but much of the time it's all too easy to overlook the stubborn taproot that began the whole mess. People, in general, unfortunately, have a bad habit of always taking the easy road out. Easy does not necessarily mean right. And people have another very bad habit of being horribly stubborn and insisting that their point of view is the right one, even if they themselves understand that it is not.

In my personal belief, there are no absolute truths, and from that belief I find scientists as irritating as evangelists or devout muslims. But again, this is only my personal opinion.

'This is my belief, that is your belief. Even if they contridict each other I will not fight you over it, and if your lifestyle is offensive to me because of it, I will not denounce you.' If everyone could learn that as their personal mantra, I think we would live in much more peace and harmony. Everyone is, or should be, equal. That's up to and including the 'animal' kingdom of which we are a part, yet somehow delude ourselves that we are beyond and above. In the wide sceme of things, a great figure of world history is no more important than a fox who lived long and successfully. Someone with one view and/or orientation is no more great or important than someone else with a different world-view and orientation.

All animals are equal. Not just all humans - although humans seem to suffer the unique distinction of being entirely mad on our own power. Personally, I don't see what's so different and grand about being a hairless bipedal ape that acts, as a whole, more like a nest of termites than a pack of mammals of any kind.

There is no 'normal'. There is no 'this is the truth, and if you don't agree you are a fool'. There is, or should be, only absolute equality. How to get that into the skulls of a few billion insane primates is quite another matter, one I have no idea on how to even begin to solve.

--------------------
"I'm bouncing off the walls again, woah-oh~
I'm acting like a fool again, woah-oh~
Threw away my reputation,
For one more song on the RADIO STATION~"

Posts: 29 | From: England | Registered: Jun 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
pcwhite
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quote:
What do you think that we can do on an individual level to help fight this stuff that you're noticing? What ways can we create the changes we want to see?
aye, that's where it gets difficult. What I've been doing is essentially spreading word about LGBT issues to anyone who'll listen. It's working pretty well...but one problem is that the people I have the opportunity to talk to are already decent liberal people who think oppression is wrong and f'd up. I also find the points resonate a lot more with people when I say them in the context of being an out queer, than they did when everyone assumed I was their normal (straight cis girl). It makes us real and not some abstract concept that classes (rather insensitively, I find) debate about when we're weighing the pros and cons of giving people basic rights.

So, my activism is coming in spoonfuls...I look for insensitive sh*t in conversations with my friends (e.g. callous remarks about freaky "trannies") and use it as an opportunity to say "actually, these people are real and they face real oppression, and it's very insensitive of you to treat them like freak show science factoids." People get the message pretty quick, although the last time this came up I don't think it really sunk in. It was more like, "yeah, okay, but they're not here, so I don't feel bad." uuuggghhhhh. I should have segued into an argument about how perpetuating these attitudes at all is part of the scaffolding holding up tangible oppression and violence, but I wasn't thinking quickly enough and (this is a crap excuse) I didn't want to bring the party down with too much seriousness.

I'm really not sure, though, on how to reach people who are already hardened bigots. I'm thinking that you can't start soft on them (e.g. gently pointing out their insensitivity) - they'll just get desensitized to the criticism and even wear it as a proud badge of edgy political incorrectness. You'll have to strike with something shocking enough to shake them up, like ACTUALLY coming out to a bigot and making the group instantly visible, and viscerally real. But that is literally dangerous. I might be assaulted if I stood up to a bigot at my table and said "hey, a***ole, I'm a dyke and I can hear you." And this is the type of thing where I don't expect a lot of support if I'm ridiculed or shouted down or maybe even hit, because people would just tell me I should have kept quiet. That makes me so damn mad.

Another tactic I've heard from another person is to go all out and say, loudly, "You are a racist. You are a bigot." or whatever the situation demands. That might pose similar dangers, but I thought it was interesting because it was like fighting fire with fire - bigots maintain power by inflicting shame on their targets and forcing us into silence, lest we be ridiculed by the crowd for speaking up: by saying "you are a bigot" to somebody, YOU are using the power of social humiliation to shut the bigot up. I don't personally have enough courage to try this, but the prospect is intriguing. (The pessimist in me thinks this would only really stand a chance of working if I had a man's voice, because a "woman" yelling is hysterical rather than righteously angry. arrgh.)

Posts: 21 | From: guelph, ON | Registered: Dec 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
CJT
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I always think it's interesting to figure out whether you want to change someone's knowledge, attitudes, or behavior. That can help guide a plan for how to move ahead. Sometimes I truly don't care what someone thinks about a matter, as long as they act appropriately. I find this working in health care with LGBT folks...an x-ray tech or orthopedic surgeon or whomever can believe what they want to believe, but I need for them to treat my patients with respect, use the proper pronouns, etc. Other times I'm educating and I really want to get at the underlying values and belief systems. It depends.

You rightfully mentioned that you can't do these things at the risk of your own safety. And while you thought it was a bad excuse, you also spoke a bit about when the right moment is (maybe not at a party). Timing and audience can be key.

I think there's also something to be said for working with youth. I'm 28 and in my lifetime I've already seen huge changes in social attitudes. While I know that not everyone is willing to change, younger folks are often open to expanding their ideas changing how they think if they are taught. We have to pick our battles, though. While it might be nice to be able to be on top of things all the time, it can also be consuming, exhausting, and leave us feeling kind of angry and jaded.

It sounds like you are being a great advocate and educator in your community [Smile]

Posts: 384 | From: Philadelphia, PA | Registered: Sep 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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