March 19th, 2011
It’s been awhile since I’ve been on here, but it’s been even longer since I’ve had a good idea worth writing about. I was recently invited to publicly speak in a college classroom about gender roles by a professor who works in the same college as I do. She is of Hispanic decent and has an educational background similar to mine. We’ve had casual banter over lunches of salads, soups, (steak in my case) and our latest readings. She studied issues of race, gender, identity, etc under the umbrella of sociology in college. I have a degree in English with an emphasis in writing, but split up my electives and core classes up with critical theory because a professor that fascinated me taught those.
She and I become animated about women’s issues, patriarchy and flare up over racial reparations and what’s going on in other countries. We quiet down when someone else walks into the break room and slip into the palpable walls of cold ice. They won’t understand.
Anyway, the reason why I was asked to speak in this classroom is because the professor was lecturing on American stereotypes and asked the class to think about their neighborhoods and describe them in this context, if possible. One student said her neighborhood was un-American when prompted—the reason being that there aren’t any blonde haired blue eyed people in it. The professor was astonished. She said “I’m American.” And pointed to a girl of Cherokee decent and said “She’s American.”
The professor asked me to come in and speak about race and gender hoping that the class wouldn’t think it was all in her head because I am as white as it gets and I am relatively the same age as most of the students in our school (I am the youngest person working in the building—my boss playfully jokes that it’s becoming a daycare. I tell him it looks more like a retirement home). Back to whiteness—my family is of Swedish decent, we all have blonde hair and my face is as round as a bowling ball. So, I agreed to speak. She gave me an hour’s notice. That’s how professors are. They become so good at pulling material out of their asses that they assume others can too. Luckily, I have a huge ass so I managed.
I walk in fifteen minutes late. I got held up in a meeting. She’s moved on already on the power point. She turns it off and the lights go on. I stand in front of the class trying to use this moment of introduction as warm up. No jitters. I clumsily leaf through my laptop bag for hand written notes on recycled paper. Gender, social constructs, John Money…crap. These don’t make sense.
“Um…” I grab for a marker and draw a horizontal line and write sex on one end and gender on the other. “Who knows what the difference is, if any?”
In the back of my head Gloria Jean Watkins (popularly known as penname Bell Hooks) words from “All about love: New Visions” come to mind. I stop and change directions.
“Ok. First we need to talk about something important. When having discussions like these it is easy to get frustrated. I remember my second year in college hearing about feminist and queer theory and religion and being upset. You will all go through this. It first begins with denial. We shut down our teachers and refuse to listen beyond the grading system.
Then, for some of us something they say one day makes a little bit of sense, or we like an assigned reading and begin to open up hesitantly, of course. Then they crack us open and we are naked—stripped of some of our beliefs and even some of our core values. Then we get angry about our own circumstances and feel we’ve been lied to by the world. We can’t let the anger get the best of us. We need to move beyond it into a spiritual place—a place where bitterness and fear are replaced by love, accepting personal responsibility, and curiosity. A place without the ego, living without taking offense.
So, when I talk today I want you to all be open to the possibilities of love and being accountable for and to yourselves.”
I go through the basic definitions of sex as biology and gender as a role or an identity, and sexologist John Money coining the difference in 1955, how it changed in the 70s, and that we are still battling with definitions and that’s why we are still talking about it—not reading a summary of it in the back of an old history book. We discuss the debate of our biological structure and what that means in terms of femininity and masculinity, we talk about natural science vs social science, and then I define a social construct and use money as an example of a social construct because our entire society agrees upon its value. They are easing right into this. No folded arms or frowns. I ask “can a woman or a man be a social construct?” heads cock sideways. We talk about our clothing as a construct. I point at my high heeled boots. These are a construct. It is acceptable to society for me to wear them, right? What if a man were wearing them? Ok. So gender can be a social construct.
We discuss the roles Indian women played in some tribes. Many led wars and hunted while men stayed home to cook. Many didn’t force their people into roles. Then Europeans came to America with very set gender roles (baby boys get the blue blanket and girls get a pink one). Women were to stay home, rear children and cook while the men worked. We violently forced many Indians to conform to this using Christianity as the backdrop. Then we brought blacks over here. We decided, with the support of our interpretation of the bible, that black males and females were equal to one another. We put women into slavery working in fields’ right beside men. That was a concise history of the identity crisis that led to what we face today as different races with societal roles. Black feminists do not necessarily have the same social issues I have with identity and vice versa.
I can see the men tensing up. Enough about the oppression of women throughout history.
Aren’t men equally oppressed? Didn’t Freud study male psychology and tell us what they were to behave like? What they thought? He certainly didn’t touch on the psychology of women—so we are free in this sense. Maybe men don’t want to play these roles either. In patriarchy we see women mixed up in subordination. But what about the men out their plowing their way towards the American Dream for our vacations and homes? Do all men want to do that? What if the Dream is a myth anyway? That pressure must be awful if a man feels more naturally inclined to play another role—one that comes more natural to him.
We end with a youtube clip of Professor Sut Jhally’s in his Dreamworlds 3: desire, sex and power in music videos. I love all of his work. The link is attached: Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video
Essentially, I am grateful for this opportunity because it woke me up again. I got to discuss the things I love and see other’s learn it for the first time. I have had two more opportunities open up this week for me to see even more—way more. Way beyond the text books and lectures I’ve hid behind. I got an invite to observe a small niche in the Salt Lake City area of men and women who swap gender roles via sadomasochism. And I get to meet a transsexual for the first time. I mean, I could have met one before. I just don’t know it. And this person is an extremely educated person and publicly speaks often, so I don’t have to worry about making him uncomfortable with too many questions.
I intend to write more on here regarding my social discoveries. Hope you’re still reading.Share on Facebook