Because sometimes, cutting it doesn't get rid of it
Due: Sunday, October 4, 2009
GNST 290 – Webpaper 2
As much as I say that I love school, that I love learning and that I love being challenged, I really longed for those days when school wasn’t in session. The clock will strike 3pm in 5 minutes and I will finally be able to leave class? Yes! Today is Friday so I don’t have to wake up for school for two whole days? Yes!! Tomorrow is a Jewish holiday so I don’t have to come to school? Yes!!! When you finally decide to be honest with yourself (which is very hard to do when you’re 9 years old and rather watch Scooby Doo reruns than read about dead people who played a role in some battle that no one will ever talk of outside this history class), you realize that you’re not in school very much during an academic year, as little as 12 hours a week in college. You go to class from 8am-3pm, Monday-Friday and have a lunch break in between. You are off for every national holiday; you get extra vacation time during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter and you get months off during the summer. Factor in half-days, days when the teacher is sick and snow days and you realize that you spend much more time outside of class than you do in class. So why then was I longing not to be in school when I spent so little time in school to begin with?
Because they never taught me anything I thought was truly important. Sure grammar was helpful and math was useful too but school never gave me the answers to the questions I thought needed serious answering. Why was it that I had to wear a plaid skirt or dress to school when my male peers were allowed to wear trousers? Why were the boys allowed to play on the jungle gym during recess and I was told to be more ladylike? Who was ‘ladylike’? Where did she come from? As one can see, my knowledge of gender and sexuality may have been peaked during school hours, but there came with it no formal training. Instead, my formal training began when I was 5 with the asking of “why can he and I cannot?” And one can imagine (perhaps from my tenacity) that “because you’re a girl" was not enough.
My informal training of gender and sexuality informally began with an episode of Family Guy. Peter Griffin, the show’s main character, had eaten too many coins and went blind. His wife Lois then decided that since Peter could not see, there was no point in going through the trouble of putting on her makeup. Their talking dog, Brian, then told her that she might want to go back to putting on eyeliner. I learned from this that women were always to look beauteous. My semi-formal training came from the Lorena and John Bobbit story. A husband was mentally and physically abusive to his wife and raped her. A traumatized Lorena snapped, chopped off more than half of his penis and threw it out the window of a moving car. When his charges of domestic abuse and marital rape were dropped and she was considered insane, she was forever known throughout society as a ‘penis-hacker’, constantly ridiculed whereas John had his member restored and began doing pornographic movies. Even with a dismembered ‘member’, he was still a man. My more formal training came from the class “Seminar in the Religious History of African-American Women”. I recall watching a video about the African woman Saartjie ‘Sara’ Baartman, who was forced to dance and perform nude for white spectators because of her unusual shape: large breasts, wide thighs and a larger than ‘normal’ buttocks. She was constantly satirized in cartoons and even after her death, she was not at peace. Her female parts were removed and put on display in a museum in France until very recently. It seems very much like a woman’s worth will only ever amount to the sum of her parts.
While my training varies from informal to formal, from news clippings and personal experiences to prime time television shows, I find myself asking the same question I did when I was told that I should be a princess for Halloween instead of a ninja: “why?” As a Biology major, I find the division trying to establish certain universal truths and always coming up short. No matter how hard society (and often ourselves) try to squeeze ourselves into very tight boxes, we will always find parts that leak out. Reading sections from Roughgarden’s novel Evolution’s Rainbow made me realize that biology wasn’t about the establishment of universal truths. It wasn’t about women having to wear eyeliner. It wasn’t about girls having to play with dolls. Biology is about diversity. Thus, diversity is the universal truth. She provided numerous instances where commonly held biological views on gender and sexuality fell such as same-sex and transgendered organisms. While Roughgarden’s statement that biology is diversity is largely true, biology is also incredibly ordered. More so, if we know that biology is diversity, that we are, from a biological standpoint, meant to be different, why is it that we are not accepting of each and everyone’s differences? Why wasn’t Lois allowed to go without wearing eyeliner? Why was Lorena ridiculed when she decided she would no longer be dominated by her husband? Why wasn’t Sara’s different body type appreciated?
Sherry Ortner’s novel Making Gender opened my mind to a truth so universal that I was temporarily blinded for a few seconds: “the secondary status of woman in society is one of the true universals.” (Ortner 21) Since Roughgarden believes that biology is diversity, we cannot find a genetic reason as to why men dominate in society. Ortner, too believes that it is isn’t due to some ‘natural’ aggressiveness. (Ortner 176) Instead, she believes that it arose as “the unintended consequence of certain functional arrangements and other paths of least resistance.” (Ortner 176) So because women have to carry a child to term for 9 months and nurse thereafter, functions men do not have to and are unable to do, men had more freedom and were responsible for the breadwinning? This can help explain why women often serve as the caretakers however, how does this line of thinking explain things as simple as why women and not men, wear lipstick? Furthermore, we have evolved tremendously as a people. Medicine has improved child rearing and technology has made it so that women can pump their own breast milk into bottles. Why then, is it that after all these improvements, after changes to what were in the past ‘functional arrangements’ are women and men still so greatly divided in their accepted societal role?
As we have learned, Lorena Bobbit chopped off her husband’s penis, something that has long symbolized what it is to be male, and still he was considered a man. Women no longer have to nurse their children and they still have to be the caretaker. Thus, changing the functional arrangements that have led to these gender roles doesn’t really change these gender roles. In other words, “cutting it doesn’t get rid of it”. So what then is the reason for these pan-culturally established gender roles?
I hypothesize that there is no reason; there are reasons. To alter one factor in the establishment of gender roles will not, as we have seen in the natural progression of our society, cause the necessary change. We need to tackle with as many of the factors contributing to gender roles as possible in order to truly break down these walls. Thus, in the rest of the course, I propose we explore the following:
Women in International Societies: As stated by Ortner, women as inferior are a universal fact so to focus our studies only on America will do us a great injustice. I propose the studying of cultures foreign to ours. By learning about the secondary status of women across the globe, we can begin to ask why that is the case. Since we are also very diverse, we must not be quick to compare (find commonalities amongst the cultures) but also look at the diverse issues of women. A great source would be the documentary "Crimes of Honour" directed by Shelly Saywell. Focusing on the lives of Islamic women we will realize that the secondary statuses of women differ greatly in different regions and we can understand how politics and religion affect the societal construction of gender roles.
Gender and Sexuality as Seen by Men: One mistake that is often repeated when discussions of gender and sexuality arise is the exclusion of male experiences. Men too are the victims of constructed gender roles and sexuality. When they do not dominate enough, engage in sports or fall in love with other men, their gender and sexuality is questioned. Thus, I propose the reading of the two books Boyhoods: Rethinking Masculinities by Ken Corbett and The Daddy Shift: How Stay at Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms and Shared Parenting are Transforming the 21st Century Family by Jeremy Adam Smith. These texts can serve as the starting point to helping us understand the experiences and views of men on gender and sexuality and will challenge our belief of men as the sole source of our problem.
Women as Re-definers: Women have not only fought for rights equal to those of men but have also taken the defining of themselves in their own hands. Exploring some of the ways that women have redefined themselves will help us on our journey to making true, long-lasting changes to gender and sexuality as we currently know it. We must also explore failed attempts so that we may learn from our past errors. Songs by female rappers will serve as primary sources since the rap industry is known for being male-dominated. Listening to the song "Ill Na Na" by Foxy Brown (1998) and "I Get Crazy" by Nicki Minaj (2009) will allow us to see how women in a patriarchal industry have redefined themselves over a decade. In addition, the workbook My Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein, a transgendered woman, will help us begin to make these vital changes within ourselves.
Sometimes one cut doesn’t get rid of it. Maybe a few cuts will.
Ortner, Sherry. Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.
Roughgarden, Joan. Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2009.