Tag Archives: gender

The Punk Singer

The documentary “The Punk Singer,” which chronicles the life of Kathleen Hanna, explores the stage as a feminist space. As a young artist, Hanna sought to combat the violence and the sexism that usually rules punk rock music shows. She did this by ensuring that her concerts were targeted to a female audience both figuratively and literally. Hanna would call women to the front of the stage protecting them from the dangerous mosh pits that were known to erupt. Hannah’s supporters explain that this small request was actually revolutionary for gender relations as men are accustomed to dominating a room. In addition, the content of the music focused on women’s issues, such as rape and gender prejudice. Instead of music normally acting as escapist, it forced listeners to confront the issues head on; Hannah “screamed what was unspoken.” Concertgoers expressed that Hanna’s stage presence was that of a man’s; she was known to act aggressively and crudely. In “Ways of Seeing,” John Berger asserts that women behave according to how men will perceive them. However, Hanna destroyed this idea by rejecting a man’s idea of how a woman should act through her behavior and through the content of her music. It was difficult for me think of an analogous figure in music today that approaches feminism with Hanna’s aggressive approach. Has this type of feminism died in today’s culture?

Sources
Berger, John. “From Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. By Amelia Jones. London: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.

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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;

How Are We Responsible For Our Gender?

People who decide to transition[1] from one sex to another[2] face the issue of proving their gender through medical “evidence”, as seen by, among other challenges, their struggles to change their designated sex on their birth certificate (Spade 16-17). That is, society makes people responsible for proving their identity. This imposition causes an adherence to a binary system of sex and gender, and as a result, the system disregards anyone outside of it. But as an identity, something intangible that is not determined by the medical world alone, gender is dependent on one’s self. Spade responds to therapy for transitioning as follows: “Ultimately the person you have to answer to is yourself” (19). It is the people themselves to whom their gender is responsible, especially for those outside the binary system. And if the system will not acknowledge the identities of those people, they should have no responsibility to prove their gender to said system. One speaker in the film Diagnosing Gender asserted that people who questions their gender and explore their identity are the normal ones. Under this claim, people’s responsibility to gender is not to what society imposes, but to discovering themselves, even, and especially, if it challenges the normative.


[1] I do not specify transgender people because they are not only people who transition and face struggles related to transitioning.

[2] Note the use of “another” rather than “the other” or another binary phrase.

Works Cited:
Spade, Dean. “Resisting Medicine, Re/modeling Gender.” Berkeley Women’s Law Journal (2003): 15-37. Print.

No, William Still Can’t Have That Doll

This advertisement for Barbie’s Dream House represents a highly gendered toy. The color scheme for the toy consists of entirely pinks and purples – colors traditionally associated with female children and often denied to any boys. Barbie herself, along with all of her friends, is also female – the only male doll is presented in a context that makes it clear that he is meant to be treated as Barbie’s boyfriend, not a separate entity. The “highlights” of the house are also highly gendered, with emphases on the kitchen and closets – “there is even a second elevator… just for clothes!” Finally, the 2 glimpses of models that we see are also female, made clear by their similarly pink and purple clothes.

 

Martin discusses a new-wave of child-rearing, in which parents “encouraged expanded roles for girls at home, at school, at work, and in the media… they encouraged renouncing or at least limiting, for example, dresses, makeup, fairy tales, and housework, all understood as constraints on girls’ lives,” (Martin 458). Yet this Barbie ad betrays a world in whcih such movements are not being embraced. That the various household activities Barbie can now accomplish are glamorized in the commercial reflect similar societal pressures on the girls who play with these toys. Furthermore, that the only Barbie set sold is a house makes it clear that Barbie’s sphere is meant to be interpreted, as are all women’s, as remaining in the home – a sad state indeed. 

 

Sources:

Martin, Karin A. William Wants a Doll. Can He Have One? Feminists, Child Care Advisors, and Gender-Neutral Child Rearing. Gender and Society,  Vol 19, No. 4 (Aug., 2005), pp 456-479.

Big Question: What is motherhood?

As our understanding of gender evolves we must ask, “What defines motherhood?” Until the mid-twentieth century, motherhood was generally confined to reproduction, childcare, and housework. [1],[2] Despite many decades of change, this traditional understanding of motherhood remains the basis of our social knowledge. Nonetheless, with the groundwork done by previous waves of feminism, today’s mothers are challenging traditional feminine motherhood unlike ever before.

With third-wave feminism’s reevaluation of femininity, mothers are uniquely challenging the presumed responsibilities of motherhood. Specifically, they are exploring different divisions of childcare and housework. Instead of accepting traditional motherhood responsibilities such as feeding and clothing, women are asking why they shouldn’t be the ones to mow the lawn. Moreover, many are noticing and demanding change in the unequal amount of time they spend (while working full time) on household chores and childcare compared to men.[3] Today’s women are increasingly focusing on inequalities in their family lives, meaning tomorrow’s mothers and fathers may approach the world from a different perspective.

The question of what motherhood is must also be asked in the context of family variability. Increasingly, there are families comprised of two gay or lesbian parents. Can a family have zero or two mothers? For many today, motherhood is separate from reproduction. Outsourced childcare, especially to nannies of vastly different cultural upbringings, is increasingly common.[4] Many women have children through alternative processes such surrogacy or in-vitro fertilization, meaning children may not be biologically related to or physically born from their mothers. Variability means that today’s motherhood is about complicating, if not transcending gender.

Ultimately, our evolving answer to the question, “What is motherhood?” is of particular importance due to the historical role motherhood plays in the family—humanity’s foundational social unit. In considering the bigger picture, we thus must ask, “As motherhood changes how will our society as a whole change?”

 


[1] Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, “The Sexual Politics of Sickness,” in For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women, 2nd ed. (New York: Anchor Books, 2005), 113.

[2] Ruth Schwartz Cowan, “Household Technology and Household Work between 1900 and 1940,” in More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 189.

[3] Lisa Belkin, “When Mom and Dad Share It All,” NYTimes Magazine, June 15, 2008, 4, accessed November 25, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/15/magazine/15parenting-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

[4] Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, “Global Woman,” in Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology, by Estelle Disch, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006), 445.

Big Question: What is the gendered body?

To put a gender onto a set of organs is inaccurate at best and incredibly harmful at worst.  In Dean Spade’s reading “About Purportedly Gendered Body Parts,” he talks about how reinforcement of certain organs being attributed to certain genders is inaccurate and enables the perpetuation of stereotyping and enforcing certain gender norms. It additionally presents unfortunate consequences to the people that don’t align with the gender that people typically associate with that set of genitals.  This can also pose problems, as brought up in Spade’s other reading “Resisting Medicine Re/Modeling Gender”  with regards to there being such a heavy influence on organs and gender that people who identify as non-cisgender who would like top/bottom/”facial feminization”surgeries (I recognize the also heavily gendered connotation of the phrase “facial feminization” however that is the only current term for what that surgery does) need a special diagnosis of GID to even get it because of how heavily gendered the body parts are. Another way that gendering body parts is dangerous is very explicitly outlined in “The Sexual Politics of Sickness” where it is discussed that not too long ago, all ailments of cis women were blamed entirely on the uterus and ovaries.  There was an assumption that cis women (which was really the category of “all women that anyone cared about”) and the gendering of that specific body part led to thousands of women being forced to lead a life that caused them nothing but depression because of some “mysterious” illness that was the “female condition” relating heavily to the uterus and ovaries.