Tag Archives: Big Question

What is family?

As we move toward a more tolerant society, variation in the structure of the nuclear family is becoming more and more common. While the traditional family is still the most widely adopted model, we’re seeing important shifts away from this longstanding norm to include families with gay, and queer parents, and families with nontraditional relationship structures- single parents, or others. Articles like the Belkin reading make it tempting to say that family models that share parenting roles evenly ought to be the new norm. But I believe we ought to move away from normalizing particular models altogether. Instead, we ought to focus on creating accessible avenues for people of all family structures. Our reading on the Swedish parental leave policy is a brilliant example because it provides space for new dads to be a part of their children’s early lives if they choose. The policy does not force dad’s to stay at home, but they have the option to (and 85% take advantage of it). Family ought to be determined by whatever structures and roles make its members most happy. Maria Bello’s Coming Out as a Modern Family is an excellent example of such an alternate structure. As long as we encourage and make space for alternative models of family, we’ll hopefully see greater numbers of fulfilled families, that foster acceptance both within and without the family unit.

Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share it All.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/15/magazine/15parenting-t.html (accessed December 15, 2013).

Bello, Maria . “Coming Out as a Modern Family.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/01/fashion/coming-out-as-a-modern-family-modern-love.html(accessed December 15, 2013).

Bennhold, Katrin . “In Sweden, Men Can Have It All .” New York Times . http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.html (accessed December 15, 2013).

What is Fair Representation?

As we have seen in Dreamworld 3, the mainstream media has been a historical tool to distort people’s ideas of each other. It sells misogynistic images, exploits the queer image for financial purposes and perpetually marginalizes transsexuals. Knowing this, it is a fitting exercise to critique representations that are not only disrespectful but on the whole, contradictory. However, when do we know what is too much or too little representation (i.e. heterosexual couples)? When do we know that the representation is genuine (i.e. queer couples behaving heterosexually)?  When do we know if it’s enough to be fair?

            I would contextualize the answer to this question with Samuel A Chamber’s definition of a norm. He says, “A norm implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, demands, presumes, expects and calls for the normal. This means that norms construct and continuously reinforce (even if only in the background) our idea of ‘the normal’…” I would argue that any type media that promotes egalitarian norms, or is one consistent with the love of humanity, can be fair. Those that are not informed of past oppressions, or at very least, remotely aware of themselves, are promoting an individualistic mindset that assumes depictions of human life are neutral. Depictions of human life can never be neutral. They assert norms and therefore, behaviors.

To assess if a type of media is unfair, we need to evaluate the extent to which it “expects and calls for a norm” that falls outside the aforementioned parameters. The discrepancy between what is considered normal in the media and what is the real-world experience of its audience (more likely, a diverse world), hints at the extent of the injustice produced. 

What is Gender Fairness?

Throughout our time exploring gender, we have seen several feminists denounce its purpose. As Judith Lorber explains, gender can be broken down into three components: process, stratification, and structure. Each of these components highlight that the gender binary is not only endogenous within its social function (a structure assigning men and women roles) and conception (the process by which we conceive an identity) but, more importantly, its implications (an unjust, gender hierarchy). Simply put, we see that gender serves to stratify the human race into two hieratically constructed roles.  When we consider these critiques, a question becomes fiercely present: what would be a just alternative?

In her piece, “Should There Be Only Two Sexes?,” Fausto-Sterling humors alternatives beyond our rigid, gender binary. She proposes a utopian alternative where the “cultural genitals counted for more than physical genitals…” Fausto-Sterling meant this when discussing legal battles where the legitimacy of a heterosexual couples was in question. The plaintiff was “surprised” to discover his transsexual partner. It becomes clear that Fausto-Sterling is for not just open-mindedness but a paradigm shift. I agree. We need to become open to the variability in people’s bodies and more importantly, respect people’s right to self-identify.  This is what Fausto-Sterling meant by “cultural genitals.”  Our culture needs to allow people to develop a deep understanding of their body, their sexual tendencies and then, what they would expect from others. Gender, then, can actually become the individual’s process- not society’s preconceived notions of physical genitals.


What is privilege?

Different parenting styles call attention to the vast differences in lifestyles between people of different socioeconomic classes. The historical precedent of women serving a “childbearing and childrearing role” (Firestone 233) has persisted to the modern day, as mothers are more involved than fathers with the childrearing process in the majority of families. While it is simple to acknowledge the need for mothers and fathers to share in the responsibilities of childrearing, this is simply not possible for all families. Equally shared parenting, in which both partners “spend equal time with their children, take equal responsibility for their home” (Belkin 1), is a privilege that most parents do not have.

Equally shared parenting requires a high amount of resources and stability. For example, the Taussig parents described in the New York Times article was only able to make the arrangements necessary to spend time at home because they had stable jobs that permitted them to take time off. Additionally, time spent at home displaces time spent at work, resulting in a loss of income. Even though “equality in parenting should be every couple’s goal” (Belkin 6), it may simply be impossible for lower SES families to practice equally shared parenting, due to time and money constraints.

While I agree that we should be wary of stereotypical gender roles within families, I also think that equally shared parenting is an ideal that most parents do not have the means to actualize. We should not be too critical of families that do not practice equally shared parenting, since it is a privilege based on socioeconomic status. How can we create conditions that are more conducive to equally shared parenting? It may be necessary to restructure the economic system, as Sweden began to do through implementing and normalizing paternity leave (Bennhold).

Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

Bennhold, Katrin. “In Sweden, Men Can Have It All.” NYTimes. The New York Times, 9 June 2010. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.

Firestone, Shulamith. “Conclusion: The Ultimate Revolution.” The Dialectic of Sex ; the Case for Feminist Revolution. New York: Morrow, 1970. 233. Print.

Equal parenting: What is fairness?

In reading The New York Times’s article “When Mom and Dad Share It All” by Lisa Belkin, I could not help but think about whether or not the “equal shared parenting” described here is really the best option in a household. It seems that what we have read about and what tends to be posed in literature when it comes to the splitting of parental roles are the two extremes: the traditional model with the maternal figure being the primary or sole caretaker and this “equal parenting” with a 50-50 split between the two parties. An example of this latter strategy can be seen in the Vachon family, where “They would work equal hours, spend equal time with their children, take equal responsibility for their home. Neither would be the keeper of the mental to-do lists; neither of their careers would take precedence” (Belkin).

But what if one has a naturally more demanding career and does not have as much free time? Or what if one person loves cooking and another hates it? Should these things still be evenly split no matter what? Perhaps rather than splitting each task itself in half, tasks can be split according to skill set or flexibility. Even in just remembering that long list that we came up with as a class of household tasks one must oversee, it seems inefficient to try to split every single one up, and potentially unfair if it puts more of a burden on one parent to meet those needs.

Judith Warner supports this notion and even takes it a step forward in her Time post “Equal Parenting: Why We Need to Rethink a 50-50 Split.” She talks about how, if one partner wants to do more of the caretaking role, should they not be allowed to because it would break that balance? Or if the breadwinner of the family — and in her case she talks about instances where the wife inhabits that role — feels they are unable to dedicate their full half, does that make them an inadequate parent? I think that rather than “equality” necessarily, we should focus on the concept of “fairness” when it comes to the matter of shared parenting.

Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

Warner, Judith. “Equal Parenting: Why We Need to Rethink a 50-50 Split.” TIME.com. TIME, 1 June 2012. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.

Is There Such a Thing As Free Choice?

There is such a thing as free choice—but free choice does not exist for all people.

For women in our modern society, free choice does not exist. This is true for many reasons. The first and foremost is that women, as Shulamith Firestone explains in her writing The Dialectic of Sex, are restrained by the “tyranny of their reproductive biology.” They are subject to their “biological destiny,” the family. The expectations placed on women, as well as the limitations, make free choice an impossible concept. While women’s freedom has increased over time, modern society places more expectations on women that limit their free choice. They are expected to have successful careers, maintain the household, and take care of children. These expectations are severe limitations on free choice. Almost any decision that a woman makes is guided by the fact that she is a woman and any choice can be limited by this fact—which makes it inherently unfree.


Firestone, Shulamith. “Conclusion: The Ultimate Revolution.” The Dialectic of Sex ; the Case for Feminist Revolution. New York: Morrow, 1970. 233. Print.

Big Question: What Is Normal?

In reading about trans* issues, and reading the works of trans* author Dean Spade, I thought about one question that really stood out in my mind: What is normal?

When I ask that, I’m thinking more specifically about Spade’s piece “About Puportedly Gendered Body Parts,” where he mentions that our language regarding people’s bodies is quite cissexist by saying things like “male body parts,” “biologically female” or “female-bodied” (Spade, 2013). In our current state of the English language, we assign certain body parts, such as uteruses, penises, etc. to specific genders (in a very binary fashion) and then we claim that these assignments are “normal”.
I guess the big question could be tailored even more to say, “Does our language have a large effect on how ‘normal’ cis-identities are or are there other external pressures and factors that influence our language?” or “What is the standard we should set in our language to make sure that all identities, including trans* identites, are considered ‘normal’?” Spade has suggested that “We can talk about uteruses, ovaries, penises, vulvas, etc. with specificity without assigning these parts a gender” (Spade, 2013).
While Spade’s idea could potentially catch on in a social context, will this normalization of not assigning specific body parts to specific genders catch on in the medical field, since that seems to serve as a big hurdle in normalizing trans* identities?
Works Cited:
Spade, Dean. “About Purportedly Gendered Body Parts.” Dean Spade. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2013. <http://www.deanspade.net&gt;