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Sex and Gender - Fall 05 Papers Forum

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Being Embodied S*cks.
Name: Patricia F
Date: 2005-09-08 15:54:49
Link to this Comment: 16060


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

Memories are such a fascinating outlet. I still don't necessarily understand why I can remember detailed imagery of specific "inane" situations whereas the details of my time to shine as a flower-girl in my Aunt's wedding are very unclear. I think that, however, is the beauty of memory. There is something that catches our attention, even if we are too young to really understand it, but allows us to continue probing at the ideas and complexities for the rest of our lives. The two instances that I'm going to recount are just that—moments that were placed in a pigeon hole in the back of my mind for a reason. Now it's time to figure out why!

Age: 4th grade.
Location: Soccer tournament in Commack, NY.
Situation: Being the only girl on a traveling soccer team.

Coach Art came over to the team when we were shoving down our newly acquired ice-cream. "Alright, boys, who has to take a leak?" All the boys raised their hands like crazy and got up from the grass. I stayed sitting. "Oh, look, Patty can't come," said Craig. A bunch of the other boys started laughing. "Yea, because she's a girl. HAHA!" Zach added. The laugher continued. I started to get embarrassed, and my Coach could sense that, so he broke up the teasing and said, "Come on, let's go find some bushes." With the whole group of boys following in tandem, I headed towards my Mom. "Mommy! Why can't I go over to the bushes with the boys?" I whined. "Because you just can't, sweet heart," she said. "But why do I have to use the stinky porter-potty and the boys get to pee in the bushes?" Mom was getting visibly annoyed. Her freckled skin was getting flushed. She drew in a deep breath and said, "Because, Patricia, you are a girl. Girls can't pee in the bushes!" I wasn't sure what that meant, but I knew I didn't like it.

Initially, the most striking thing about this whole scenario is that before my Coach came over and announced the "boy" bathroom option, we were all getting along just fine. We were hanging in the grass, eating our ice-cream, and I was interacting with all the boys just as I always had. But, as soon as the gender issue was made an issue, it became an issue. The teasing ensued only after the gender divide was overtly stated. And, even more perturbing, was seeing that it wasn't only that the boys were making fun of me because I didn't have the physical parts that would let me pee in a bush effortlessly, but also how they turned it into something that I couldn't do—that it was something they could all do, but, because I was a girl, I wasn't able to. It was as though I was being made fun of for having a female body, and, also, being trapped by that body. I was being treated as though my body, since it was different, was lacking in some way in comparison to theirs.

I think that the most problematic idea coming away from this situation and gaining some perspective over the years was seeing how something "different" was so easily (and wrongly) perceived in the better/worse lens. My own and current idealist view on life believes that if people didn't automatically judge different people's lifestyles, this would be a world of more acceptances. That being said, I do really like Thorne's work because it brings hope to the table in the area of gender relations. She is not asserting the notion that gender is an issue only in the classroom, but, rather, she is saying that gender dynamics in the classroom can be changed for the better and that it is so important that we do so. If something is presented as "different" in a way that does not hold any kind of negative connotations to children, I really do believe that they will just accept it for it being different and go along on their merry way. Perhaps if my Coach had said something along the lines of "Well, boys, Patty pees in a different but cool way," (I know that sounds insanely bizarre), but it does follow in line with the progression of my ideas. I think it would have made me feel less like an outsider, and the boys less like insiders, and been significant in changing the tone of the situation.

Age: 21
Location: Family Court, Somewhere, Over the Rainbow.
Situation: Observing a case through my work with the GREAT WOMEN'S LAW ORGANIZATION this summer.

"Is this Judge Judy's court room?" I asked this to the seemingly nice clerk who was standing outside of the court room. He gave me a quick eye sweep, lingering, I thought, a little too long on my Visitor's Tag (you can imagine what I had stuck it) and responded enthusiastically that I was in the right place. He was extremely helpful in getting me through security, and even introduced me to all the other clerks and sheriffs working that specific court room. I entered the court room and sat down in my assigned seat in the back. The judge was still in his chambers, so the clerks were running around with paper-work and clients weren't being heard just yet. It was one of the first times I was observing court, so I was a bit nervous and I think the male clerk noticed it. He kept on giving me big smiles and joking about how this day was going to be a long one. He then came up next to me and asked, "What's a cute girl like you doing in a courtroom like this?" I just kind of giggled because I didn't know what to say. "It gets ugly in here," he said matter-of-factly. I nodded my head, and then proudly said, "I'm with the Great Women's Law Organization". I saw his face fall. I could read exactly what was going through his mind—oh, she's one of those. I knew he was thinking that at that moment. I could see it in his eyes! He forced a smile and quickly left my side.

Is my body preventing me from being taken seriously? That's what I found through looking at this experience. I speak of "my body" in the vain that it is emblematic of my entire womanhood. It seems as though my body is such a large determinant for others gauging what I should be able to do, and how I should be judged. I wanted to explore this constraining embodiment theme within this recent memory.

First off, isn't it interesting to note that the male clerk's attempt in making me feel comfortable was through flirtation? I think that there is something to say about that. He was presupposing that his "language"—those sexual undertones—were something he knew I, as a young woman, could pick up on and decipher. By being able to pick up on that suggestive flirtation, he felt that would help me feel more comfortable. Why couldn't he just use regular language and ask me a few things about myself? It was almost as if he thought I'd respond more comfortably to this kind of playful flirtation given the type of girl that I looked like.

Another issue of extreme importance is that I was seemingly "at work", but he felt completely fine "playing" with me. This links completely back to Thorne's observations of how young boys have no qualms about interrupting girls when they are playing. "Boys more often see girls and their activities as interruptible; boys invade and disrupt all-female games and scenes of play much more often than vice versa." It was as though he felt my "work" wasn't as important as his, and therefore could be penetrated by his flirtatious and playful remarks. Although this was "work" for me, he still felt completely comfortable interrupting my world of work without any kind of invite from me.

Furthermore, the fact that he asked the question about why I was in the court-room still simultaneously boggles my mind and sends my nostrils flaring in frustration. There was a (very small) chance that he was just being friendly and sweet, but I find it hard to believe that there wasn't some sort of subliminal meaning of trying to make me feel like an outsider, yet again, because of my body. His notion that I wouldn't be able to handle this kind of court room, is implying that my embodied mind, as a woman, is not strong enough to deal with these kind of issues. But, the most perplexing of it all, is that he was trying to put a spin on it in a way that I'd see almost as endearing. Did he think that I would say, "Aww! That's so sweet of you to look out for little me. I think you're right—maybe I should just go back to the mall." I mean, come on! It's one thing to state that being in a court room dealing with those sensitive issues will and, admittedly, do strike a sensitive nerve, but just the fact that he tried to presuppose that I wouldn't be able to handle it or that this wasn't the place where I should be infuriated me then, and continues to do so now.

Lastly, he probably couldn't have gotten away from me quicker than he did when he heard that I was with the Great Women's Law Organization. This is my own "Lakeoff"-induced perception process of the male clerk: Perceiving an attractive and timid female. Sensing her nervousness. Formulating some sort of comfort through flirtation. Enacting the pick-up line/flirtation. Searching for body cues. Comprehending association with the Great Women's Law Organization. Framing what has just been said. Making inferences about liberal and feminist political stance. Understanding that, as a result, flirtation attempt is not going to go anywhere. Leaving the conversation. Perhaps this is not as professional as Lakeoff's , but I felt this was very much in line with how the clerk's reactions were mapped out. It was as though he made the connection between my mind and body, and therefore was intimidated by that, or realized that, because of that, he categorized me as a certain breed of woman—one that would not be easily manipulated. I know that these are all assumptions about the male clerk, but I am just hypothesizing how he felt judging from his actions. I just know that if I had said, "I'm with the Nurses Association," he would have not run away so quickly.

In thinking about these two experiences together, it allows for some enlightening thoughts. It seemed to be that I was taken at "body-value" in these situations, which lead me to believe that my experience, as a woman, is very much a trapped embodiment. If I don't define myself by the things I'm not able to do, what significance does that have if all the men do? I think that is something that all "feminists" are afraid to think because it places some sort of power with the men, but I feel as though it is imperative to think about for any true action to take place. I can be as empowered as I can be, but if that man interviewing me at a law firm thinks women can't handle the intensity as well as men, then I'm fighting a battle that is already decided. What I'm trying to get at is these interactions are symbolic of how the outside world is something that needs to be reached. We can't rely on surrounding ourselves with intelligent women—like our classroom—for the rest of our lives, unfortunately. Ultimately, this brings me back to Thorne. If we take action early in the classrooms, when gender divisions and dynamics are still in such a fluid state, that's where the positive effects are going to occur. Some may think that it doesn't matter what men think, as long as women are united and proud, but I don't feel that idea is within a firm grasp of reality. In order to make actual changes within our reality, we have to work with the young and reconstruct their notion of difference.

Works Cited

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Thorne, Barrie. Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School. New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1993.

Just testing my computer..
Name: Patricia F
Date: 2005-09-08 16:08:09
Link to this Comment: 16061


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

I just need to test something...

Questioning Gender as a Central "Oppressive" Force
Name: Samantha M
Date: 2005-09-09 08:55:14
Link to this Comment: 16065


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

I have been struggling with this assignment for many reasons. What I have garnered from the discussions on both Thorne's piece in which she identifies school and teachers/educators as a location of the enforcement of gender roles and Lesnick's paper which questions the role of emotions, woman's work, and motherhood is this: it is difficult to extrapolate experiences of gender play or work that somehow does not encompass all of the intersections of my identity, whether as a Latina, or a working class person, or a dyke, or as a newly minted Mother.

My initial thoughts are that I have been playing with gender or working toward an understanding of myself with regard to the roles assigned to my gender in my culture, in my workplace, and in this heterosexist society for some time. How have I played with gender? Going back into my herstory, I have distinct memories of feeling I somehow was not conforming to what was expected of me as a girl. I got this notion mostly from my mother, and the women of my community who saw my style of dress (admittedly tomboyish), my hair (again, boyish), and my lack of desire to play the games their daughters played as some indication of my difference, my un-girly self. My grammar school, a Catholic/Parochial school, and being raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, also added to this sense of my non-conformity, especially after I came out at 18. Not only is the Catholic Church the epitome of a patriarchal system, but it expects women to be virginal lest they be evil and marry only a man and procreate. Anything else is not only scorned but demonized, especially homosexuality.

* * * *
Cutting my hair and its circumstances

As a young girl, cutting my hair was quite liberating, but it also forced me to claim my gender on an ongoing basis. I still remember the feeling of freedom from my long thick hair as the hairstylist snipped away and shortened my hair to an androgynous bob during a visit to Puerto Rico, the island's heat making my thick locks unbearable. Long hair meant having to endure my Mother's endless fight between the knots that twisted the strands of my hair and her mission to tame it to her vision of a young girl's perfect hairdo. Long hair gendered me because girls had long hair and boys had short hair and directed my experience as a child because then people expected my behavior and actions to conform to that of a young woman. Once my hair was cut, my 6-year-old child-self was (momentarily) liberated from conforming because people mistook me for a slender boy who liked riding a big wheel (not colored in the hue of girls bikes), playing basketball, wearing overalls, combing my hair like my father's, fishing, and running wildly around town. That is until my school uniform, a hideous pleated green and white plaid skirt, gave away that I indeed was a girl, a girl who looked like a boy. Or when my voice betrayed me. Or when someone would ask my mother what her son's name was and she would declare, "NO, she's my DAUGHTER." Then my playing with gender was seen as wrong, deviant and different, something that needed to be corrected. Looking back, I recall many soft-voiced assertions of my woman-ness. I also felt my mother's struggle of allowing me to express myself as I wanted and her desire for me to be like all other pretty, frilly, girls dressed in the lacey dresses Puerto Rican mothers adored.

Reflecting on this experience points to one of my questions of Thorne's analysis, specifically, she states that children are socialized by adults to perform their gender, but I would go a step further and say young people are socialized by all the influences of their lives as well as those that influence their caretaker's lives to perform their gender. Also, this experience speaks closely to what Lesnick points out in her discussion of gender play with regard to working class mothers and their daughters in which she states working class mothers do not allow for much "playing" with gender roles. I would add that this is also difficult in cultures that are traditionally conservative or follow closely the rules of a religious tradition.

Gender-Bending: An expression of sexuality, a form of security

At the age of 18, I came out to myself as Queer and in doing so felt liberated to be more open about bending gender rules and playing with the image of myself as portrayed to the world. I was lucky enough to live in a city that at least had a space for me to enact this exploration and a community that was thriving on breaking stereotypes, questioning roles, and politicizing our complex identities. So, I changed my style of dress, my hair, my walk, so that I was as androgynous as possible. This is one discussion that was lacking in both articles and in our classroom discussion: where do people who decide to bend gender rules learn this? What happens in a person's life that gives them the agency for this? For me, it was the exploration of my sexuality that gave me the agency to perform gender in a non-conformist way.

Performing Motherhood

One of my most recent experiences in gender play/work has been with the recent birth of my son and entering the world of Motherhood. Beside the fact that Motherhood in America is loaded with complexities, laws, and rules, being a lesbian mother is yet another complicated dimension. I perform Motherhood as has been taught to me by my own Mother and the other women in my family and community who have been Mothers, but I also play with this gender role because I am partnered with another woman who is also the Mother. At least, it feels like play. I struggle with society's expectations that two parents include a mother and father, and if I am not the biological mother, am I then the father? I have not lived this experience long enough to know, but none of my experiences with gender whether in the classroom, or, in my mother's kitchen, has prepared me for this type of gender play.

I titled this piece with the question of whether gender was an oppressive force in women's lives because it seems to me that it is too simple, or too easy to use gender as the sole force that can oppress women. While I agree that gender is taught or enforced in the institutions in our society, I do not think there is one single place that young people learn about gender roles. I also do not believe that we can separate gender from other aspects of one's life because I believe that there is always an intersection, always other factors that influence how they work and play or do not play with gender. Both Thorne and Lesnick provide good places to begin thinking about gender play but more should be done that does not exclude issues of race, ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic status, or sexuality from the discussion of what informs the making of an individual in society.

Woodchip Turtles and Bad Beer: Or, Not Much Has Ch
Name: Em Madsen
Date: 2005-09-09 11:56:38
Link to this Comment: 16068


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

A group of girls between the ages of eight and ten sits on a corner of the playground playing with woodchips. The smallest girl is forming a mound of dirt and woodchips into the shape of a turtle. It is fall, and the air is crisp, but the sun is bright enough that the girls have removed their jackets. A group of boys are running around on the playing field nearby. Periodically, the boys emit rhythmic shrieks, which the girls are familiar with--this particular group of boys plays a game called "Spies," and the shrieks are a code which they use to communicate with their team members. As recess progresses, the boys tire of running after one another, and their focus drifts towards the nearby playground. The group of girls has begun to build a tent out of sticks to protect the turtle shape. One girl remarks "If we hide the turtle, we can make it even bigger tomorrow." This is not meant to be--the group of boys descends on the group of girls, emitting the same high-pitched shrieks. A few of the girls scatter: the rest remain, for this has happened before. The tent of sticks is destroyed and the turtle is scuffed out. The boys wheel away and a few of the girls give chase, but when the boys cross the kickball field, the girls turn back.

In retrospect, I could ask why this interaction did not escalate into more of a disagreement. Unfortunately, this specific incident was one of many in which similar male intrusions into female space occurred during my childhood. Barrie Thorne points out in her article "Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School" that the majority of disturbances on the playground took place at the instigation of males. She even remarks that some playground aides would not give jump-ropes to boys because they would just want to use them for rope burns. I do not remember preemptory discipline like this on the playground, but I also do not remember the aides chastising boys for perpetrating this kind of intrusion. In fact, the only time I remember the boys being chastised in relation to a playground incident was during the fourth grade. Snowplows had pushed snow up in huge mountains at one end of the basketball courts, far away from the main blacktop and the typical location of the aides and teachers on duty. The entire recess period on this one day consisted of a very violent game of king/queen of the hill. The girls began at the top of the snow heaps at the start of recess, and the boys attempted to invade and take over this space. But we would not let them. I remember wrestling with a boy and kicking him very hard, harder than I've kicked anyone before or since, and feeling the exhilaration of maintaining a space of my own at the top of the pile. All the kids in my class filed back in to the classroom after recess, sweaty and excited, talking about what would happen at the next recess. We sat down and our teacher, a short gray-haired woman with bifocals, fixed us with a look. "I will not even attempt to describe the behavior that was taking place on the playground today, but I will say that it is never to happen again. Is that clear?" Stunned, we nodded our heads. I suppose we thought we were fighting unobserved, but the message was clear: fights between boys and girls were inappropriate. This is one reason why the first memory has such an unsatisfactory ending: since boys typically engaged in destructive and disruptive behavior on the playground, and fighting back only got one in trouble, there was little to do as a female in this situation. Better to rebuild the turtle the next day, rather than risk punishment.

The problem with writing down these memories and analyzing them from an observer's perspective is that they actually did happen to me. And I was a girl at the time and I am a woman now, so the lens through which I view them is influenced by gender. This contributes to the slanted nature of the first and second memories, and also to my analysis of adult reaction (or lack thereof) to these incidents. Today, I imagine trying to recast the first memory from the point of view of someone who is primarily focused on the boys: A group of seven boys is playing "Spies" on a soccer field adjacent to the playground. They wheel and dive towards each other in loosely defined teams. Each team communicates through a complicated set of vocalizations. After a short while, the boys become interested in a group of five girls sitting on the corner of the playground. The girls are constructing something together and the boys are curious. They know these girls from class and think they are interesting and maybe even cool. The boys approach the girls but lack the language and freedom to tell them these things, so they resort to the shrieks that accompany their game of "Spies," and in the throes of their exuberance, they destroy the artwork the girls are creating.

This is still difficult and slippery. However, it is interesting to "hear" from the boys. An ideal retelling would have some mixture of both. In either telling, we are left with a core issue, which is the lack of freedom between boys and girls on the playground--lack of freedom to openly confront and engage in conflict on the girls' side, and lack of freedom to express themselves in the way they'd like to on the boys' side. Who enforces these oppressions? The aides may enforce some of them by coming down more harshly on girls and boys who do engage in conflict, however, the lack of verbal interaction between the groups is also self-policed. Girls say "Oh, boys are so stupid." Boys say, "Ewww, you were talking to a girl."

Thorne suggests that classroom teachers can help students to examine this self-policing behavior by asking rigorous and demanding questions about gender roles. Why, for example, is it not OK for boys and girls to be friends? Why can't they talk and sit and work together? This is a good start, but this activity needs to occur in spaces besides the classroom: on the playground, and in the home as well. This way, interaction patterns between girls and boys do not become entrenched early on in ways that are difficult to disrupt.

For a current example of interaction patterns: Four young women between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one sit on the front steps of a dorm building. It is a Saturday night and they are dressed up. They are attractive and they are aware of this power. Two smoke cigarettes, three have open beers sitting on the steps in front of them. Closer to the doors of the dorm, about 20 feet away, sit four young men in their late twenties. They are also drinking and hanging out.

The young woman who has consumed the most alcohol is talking about the issue of hyphenation in last names ("And, well, if your last name was hyphenated, and then your husband's last name was hyphenated too, your kids would have four last names." "What if some of the names were the same? I mean, you couldn't be the Brown-Smith-Smith-Kelleys, could you?"). Gradually the young men notice the young women and begin speaking more loudly. They begin to tell jokes which begin with sexist themes and move on to racist ones. At one point, the jokes and laughter from the young men are so loud that the young women cannot hear each other. A disdainful glance in the direction reveals of the young men reveals that they are clearly and pointedly observing the young women and taking pleasure in disrupting the conversation, thereby drawing attention to themselves. One young woman stands up and says, "This is ridiculous. We're going inside. Come on," she tugs at her intoxicated friend, "there's a whole power play going on here that you're not aware of." As she pulls her friend through the doors, the friend leans back and shouts "You suck!" The doors slam shut behind her and there is silence from the other side.

Not much ground has been gained here since the playground days, unfortunately. The young women still avoid open conflict, and the young men still engage in behavior which asserts some kind of right to female space and attention. There is still no freedom for open interface between genders unless someone is willing to say more than "You suck!" So why doesn't one of the girls do this? (I'll say girls because as one of the girls, I'm wondering the same thing.) The behavior of the girls is just as set as the behavior of the boys--yet here there are no playground aides. There is nothing stopping open dialogue--the safety of the dorm is mere feet away, and there is safety in numbers as well. Yet dialogue still does not happen.

I'll argue that it still does not happen because of this same self-policing instinct which surfaces on the playground. Young men do not find it appropriate to come straight out and say "Hey, we find you interesting and attractive and we'd like to talk to you," although, if more alcohol had been consumed, this sometimes does happen (that's another study, another day--alcohol as a social force, breaking down our usual filters and allowing us to act in uninhibited ways...). Instead, it is appropriate to engage in behavior which endeavors to draw attention to oneself, thereby ensuring the approach and attention of said females. I don't even know if I can retell this story effectively from the viewpoint of someone watching the males as I did earlier on in this paper, because it makes me too angry. Does my reading of the situation suffer from this anger? It's difficult to say--anger can be a positive force if used wisely, I believe, and if my anger and frustration had pushed me to confront the young men and dialogue with them in a reasonable manner, that might have been beneficial. However, I did not speak up because I was worried that my anger might cause me to confront them in nonproductive ways. I have discovered in my brief time so far on this planet that the use of expletives and raised voices is usually a recipe for disaster, rather than any conclusive new ground gained. But is this just the "female" way of looking at things? Keep your voice steady and get what you want? Leave the violence and anger for the males? No, this is different, and it's not that black and white, male or female. I have got to come to the conclusion that there are no longer playground aides and grown-ups making sure I behave. I am growing up. I am a grown-up. I can misbehave, and I can misbehave in ways that are productive and generative. While I am not going to go kicking boys down snow-piles, I can begin to challenge my self-imposed rules, and that can happen in the classroom, that can happen in relationships I have, and it can also happen on the dorm steps with a lukewarm beer in hand.

"Ignore It!"
Name: Sarah Halt
Date: 2005-09-09 14:28:17
Link to this Comment: 16069

<mytitle> Sex and Gender
2005 First Web Papers
On Serendip

It was a hot July day, and so my girlfriend and I decided to take the Septa home instead of walking. We got to the station early, and there was only one other young woman waiting for the train. Across the tracks, a few people were standing around.

We had been at the stop for barely a minute when a tall young male called from across the tracks, "Do you two like each other?" It took me a second to realize he was talking to my girlfriend and me, so I was caught off-guard – Philadelphia's not exactly a friendly town, despite the name – and I answered, "Um, yes?" before I even thought about whether or not I should talk to the man. He was young and had a friendly face, and his voice held no maliciousness. But his next question floored me:

"Will you two, like, kiss?"

My girlfriend snapped, "No," and turned away. Blinking, I answered in a voice that I hoped was silky with coldness, "No, thank you," and I turned, too.

In the three years I had been with my girlfriend, something like this had never happened to us. I had been honked at once or twice in the street, and one time a man yelled, "Slut!" out a car window at me, but this stranger's question was new. It surprised me partially because the young man didn't look particularly slimy or creepy – he didn't fit the mold of a lecherous jerk. He had a bright, engaging face, he asked his questions in a friendly voice, and even as he continued to call to us for the next few minutes, he never lost that friendly smile.

The girl who had been at the station when we arrived turned to us then. "Ignore him," she said. "He was bothering me before." And a few minutes later, when another girl arrived at the station, the man stared to call out to her – again in that friendly tone – "Hey, girl with the red hair!" Over the next few minutes, we women slowly moved into the glass station house, and soon we were all standing in a tight clump. The man still shouted from time to time, but he made no motion to cross the tracks. I was glad when the train finally arrived for us.

It wasn't until later that night that I began to think about the situation in earnest. The incident had happened at four o'clock in the afternoon in an open station located near an upper-middle-class shopping area - you can see why I hadn't been scared in the least. But how we women had reacted bothered me. Here we had been, four strong, capable women, but when the man had started calling to us, all of us had turned away and ignored him. Not one of us had told him to stop or tried to explain to him that he was being rude.

The incident reminded me of the times in elementary school when a boy would bother me and I'd ignore him because it was "the mature thing to do," or so my elders had taught me. I didn't entirely regret our actions at the station – undoubtedly we acted like adults – but I did regret that not one of us had tried to talk to the man. And I hated the powerlessness I had felt – the feeling that I had no other option but to turn away. I thought to myself that if I been a man, I would have shouted back – but then again, if I were a man, I wouldn't have been in that situation in the first place, right?

Thorne says in "Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School," "Power is central to the social relations of gender" (159). I don't doubt that the stranger had the power at the station. Because of his aggressive approach – calling to all of us multiple times – and because of the sexual manner of his teasing, I feel I can accurately say he was threatening us. Like I had been taught in elementary school, I ignored these threats. But later that night, I began to wonder when I had first learned to ignore noisy boys. When did I first stop fighting for my rights, and start accepting that turning away silently was the only way to combat a threat?

My first memory of a boy provoking me verbally is from kindergarten. I used to ride the bus home from school. One boy on this bus, who I will call Shawn, liked to tease me. He'd tell jokes he called "eyeball jokes," meant to disgust and appall. He chose me as a target probably because at the end of the bus ride we were the last two students remaining. He took particular pleasure in teasing me because I didn't like a new, popular TV show, "The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

Thorne says, "Invasion, a final type of border work, also takes asymmetric form; boys invade girls' groups and activities much more often than the reverse" (76). The man at the Septa stop certainly invaded my space, as did Shawn every day of the bus. I complained to my mom about Shawn daily, and finally she suggested that I cross my eyes at him. "It'll surprise him," she said, "and then he'll not know what to do." I don't remember what I had wanted to do to Shawn – maybe I had wanted to hit him or get my mom to complain to a teacher. But Mom convinced me to cross my eyes at him instead, and then to ignore his further bullying. The next time Shawn teased me, he was probably confused when I made a face at him, but he certainly didn't stop picking on me. It wasn't until I watched an episode of the "Ninja Turtles" and decided I liked the show that Shawn and I became friends. Our friendship bloomed over the course of thirty seconds, like friendships do when you're five. Because I had shown myself to be worthy of his attention – I liked a "male" show like "Ninja Turtles" – I was no longer victim to his scorn. I even eventually learned to tell my own eyeball jokes.

Thorne says in her essay, "There is much to be gained by seeing children not as the next generation's Adults, but as social actors in a range of institutions" (3). This statement rings especially true if we look at Shawn's actions, and then at the actions of the stranger. Shawn teased me even when I ignored him, and he tried to make me feel like a lesser person, so his actions were much like the stranger's, just Shawn was five and the stranger was in his twenties.

Thorne says later in her essay, "Some boys more or less specialize in invading girls, coming back again and again to disrupt" (76), and Shawn was definitely one of these boys. I never fought back against him, and my only attempt to get him to leave me alone was crossing my eyes at him. My mother, most likely, had suggested the eye trick so she could prevent a potential fist fight between us kids, but what if I had been more assertive, told Shawn that he was being a jerk, or told him to get lost. Rather than ignoring him, if I had fought back, would he have left me alone? He respected me after I started to like a "male" show, so what if I had decided to approach Shawn on his own terms? Perhaps a display of male aggression would have helped me. But I can only comment on what I did do: I ignored him and hoped he would stop.

This method of ignoring a threat must have been further engrained in me as I grew, because my next memory of verbal abuse from a boy again has me ignoring the threat instead of confronting it. By seventh grade, I was at a private school. I was the quiet and studious girl and by no means a "loser;" however, popularity eluded me because of my shyness. A new boy, who I will call Eric, decided that he didn't like me. To this day, I don't know why Eric decided to pick on me. He was a small boy, fairly popular, and I had never spoken to him before he first started saying mean things to me in the hallway. I got along with his friends. But everyday Eric would call threats to me. I don't remember much of what he said, but I remember one incident in which I walked past him in the seventh grade locker room, and he said, "Oh, no, it's Sarah." I remember quite clearly the look of pure disgust on his face.

I complained to my mom about Eric, and I remember that she told me to ignore him. I did, and eventually he left me alone, but only after about six months. He stopped teasing me as suddenly and mysteriously as he began.

While I have had my share of fights with girls, I've never experienced such outright continual, verbal attacks as with these three males. All three of them invaded my space with no warning or provocation from me. Thorne makes one statement, a quotation from another gender theorist, that I think resonates with all three of my memories: "We do gender" (5), Thorne says. The actions of these boys are surely examples of them "doing" gender; they choose to pick on a girl, an easy target, and I ignored them, as I had been taught girls should.

Thorne goes on to say, "The harasser, nearly always male, often claims that verbal and physical intrusion into the target's personal space are 'all in fun,' while the target, usually female, sees it as unwanted and even coercive attention" (81). When I ignored Shawn, I was ignoring a low level threat – he was just a childish tease. He probably thought he was just having fun, but I came home from the bus ride cranky and tired. The threat increased with Eric: he never made any attempt to approach me physically, but he was crueler than Shawn, and I was scared of him.

Now twenty-two, the idea of "ignoring it" is so deeply entrenched in me that I don't even think about it; the stranger at the Septa stop harassed me, and I simply turned my back on him, as I always have. But the male threat has become steadily greater over the years. While Shawn and Eric were harmless, the man at the Septa stop shouted comments that were overtly sexual and, frankly, frightening. At one point in her essay, Thorne says, "Aggression and sex are the dangerous desires in school, as elsewhere in the world, and these are the messages that often lurk within the lightened frames of play and humor that surround episodes of border work" (79). There may have been prepubescent aggression and sexual themes lurking under the surface with Shawn and Eric, but the stranger's misogynistic and vulgar shouts were more obviously aggressive and sexual.

I'm not sure where these thoughts leave me. I can hardly speak for all women, and I'm sure many have approached their male bullies and empowered themselves by doing so. All I can do is consider the lesson I was taught ("Ignore it!") and think about where this lesson leaves me. I feel that I am a strong and capable woman, and yet when the Septa stranger threatened me, I did not raise my voice in protest. I cannot help but wonder what would have happened differently that day in July had I learned a different lesson when I was younger.

Paper 1
Name: Alex Heilb
Date: 2005-09-09 15:10:32
Link to this Comment: 16070


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

For the first seven or eight years of my life, gender did not play a large role in how I viewed myself and how I viewed others. I was a girl, and I knew the physical differences between boys and girls, but I was in no way concerned with these differences or their implications. I was raised in an environment that did not emphasize gender or the differences between genders; as a young child, there were more important defining characteristics, like whether you were four and three quarters or just four and a half, and whether you watched Barney, or thought it was for "babies." These examples may seem trite, but the life of a preschooler is much simpler than that of a teenager.

Of course, as I aged I became more and more aware of the gender roles often imposed upon us as children, and of the non-physical differences between women and men. I noticed my relationships with members of the opposite sex changing; I now find it difficult to have a friendship with a male peer without there being at least a small sexual undertone. Basically, I went from being a completely unsexual child to being a sexualized young woman in the span of ten years. This paper is an attempt to combine memoir and ethnography in a way that will explore how sexuality (particularly heterosexuality, which is the extent of my sexual experience) affects gender roles as we age.

As previously stated, my early childhood in no way focused on gender. My two preschool friends, Cortlandt and Russell, and I loved to make mud pies, watch movies, play tag, and wrestle. Looking back on it, I believe my early inter-gender relationships were very much like brother-sister relationships (though I don't have any brothers and therefore cannot actually say whether this is accurate). I never felt any pressure to be more "girly," or to spend more time with girls. Neither my parents nor my teachers ever put emphasis on gender; we were never divided according to gender (there were no contests where the teams were divided into "beastly boys" and "gossipy girls," unlike the teacher Barrie Thorne (Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School, 1994) interviewed), and when playing make-believe, I never felt restricted to typically female roles. I see this clearly when I look back on my Halloween costumes through preschool and elementary school.

Before I was old enough to choose my own costume, my parents always dressed me up as a pumpkin, a character that I associate with neither gender. When I began to pick my own Halloween costumes, I was a ninja turtle, a pirate, and a vampire—three characters generally associated with men. My parents were always enthusiastic about helping me accessorize these costumes; my mother made me a turtle shell out of a cardboard box, helped me find a hook and eye patch, and painted my face ghostly white to add an essence of the undead to my vampire costume. I was never interested in being a princess or a fairy, and the adults in my life were completely fine with that. At the time, it didn't even occur to me that I was choosing to be typically male characters; I just decided to be what I wanted to be, without concern as to whether or not I could be Donatello the ninja turtle and Alex the four year old girl at the same time.

As I got older and left preschool, I stopped spending so much time with boys. My new best friend, Hannah, and I did not play tag or wrestle. Rather, we played make-believe games with stuffed animals and Beanie Babies. We were the "moms" and the inanimate objects were our kids, sort of a warped version of playing house. This was my first experience putting myself in a gendered role, the role of mother. I continued to play rowdier games with my male friends, but began spending more time with girls.

Fast forward eight years. I am thirteen, painfully awkward, and have begun to look at boys less as playmates and more as potential love interests. I had my first boyfriend in seventh grade, though it was more about the title and less about us acting in any way like boyfriend and girlfriend. Since then, an interesting phenomenon has occurred: most boys I interact with, who I think are really great, kind, sweet, and such supportive friends actually think I am romantically interested in them. That is, they confuse my friendly affection for a desire to date them.

I remember the first time I noticed this pattern. I was about fourteen, and was overwhelmed with the question, "since when has it been impossible for girls and guys to be friends?" I thought back to my male friends from preschool through about sixth grade and could recall how easy it was for us to fully and wholly just be friends.

When you are younger, your life isn't controlled by hormones, and you are therefore free to think about members of the opposite gender without focusing in on their sexuality (not sexuality as sexual preference, but sexuality as just a general sexual-ness of their being) and then being drawn in to notice their gender. For example, wrestling was a pastime of mine when I was a young child, but it was considered inappropriate to wrestle with boys after puberty began. I recall someone else making this point, though I cannot recall if it was in the Thorne reading, Anne Lesnick's paper, or the Serendip message board. The obvious reason for co ed wrestling to be taboo after a certain developmental stage is due to the sexual nature it would take on were its participants sexual beings.

Since puberty, I have noticed that the boys I pay attention to because I feel they are my close friends tend to think I am paying attention to them because I want to be involved with them romantically (and as I got even older, perhaps just sexually, no romantic strings attached). From the time I was fifteen to when I turned eighteen, I can think of at least five boys (perhaps the more appropriate term would be young men) who thought I had a crush on them while I was happily thinking to myself, "oh what a good friend I have." This imbalance in our relationships permanently altered our friendships, as they resented me for "leading them on," and I resented them for the false sense of friendship they offered me when really they had ulterior motives.

In college, I have found that my male "friends" are not so much friends in the same way that my female friends are. Rather, they are boys that enjoy my company and invite me to parties at Haverford. This may be due to the fact that I attend a women's college, and am not put in living situations with males. I suspect that, were I to attend a co educational university and live on a co ed floor, I would have relationships with boys much like the relationships I now have with girls (more emotionally intimate and less sexually driven), as our relationships would be based on the brother-sister model of inter-gender relation rather than the boyfriend-girlfriend model.

Due to my dearth of brother-sister-style relationships, most relationships I have with males my age have a flirtatious, if not overtly sexual, undertone. When I was young, my male friends never told me I looked nice, or greeted me with a kiss on the cheek, or made sexual comments to me to see how I would react. This is not to say that every boy I interact with immediately starts hitting on me; I do have some male friends from home with whom I feel a closer connection than I do with my male friends at surrounding colleges. I suspect this is because I have known them longer, and have had more time to develop relations with them that are not based on casual conversation and flirtatious interactions at parties. These boys are my "brothers," in the brother-sister model of relationships.

Another interesting aspect in the development of my relationships with members of the opposite sex is the evolution of flirtation. What was considered to be a blatantly flirtatious comment in seventh grade is now, as a sophomore in college, considered to be a commonplace interaction between guys and girls. This is due to the sexualization that most people experience as they enter and pass through puberty; flirting is relative to the stage of life you are in, much like sexual experiences in general. A young teenager would be regarded as precocious and perhaps over experienced if she or he were sexually active, whereas many college students are sexually active and it is not considered inappropriate by the general college population.

Throughout this paper I have used terms for both genders that may seem inappropriate. I would now like to take a moment to address my use of language in this paper. Terms such as "guy" may seem overly casual, yet I feel the male people with whom I spend my time are not men, in the semantic sense of the term. The use of the words "boy" and "girl" may seem to refer to children, but I often consider myself to be a girl, especially when considering myself in relation to people of the male gender, boys. This seems to be socially acceptable for my peers, as we call our significant others "boyfriend" and "girlfriend," rather than "manfriend" or "woman friend." There comes a point where your peers are no longer boys and girls, but men and women. I feel I am not at that point yet, and it would be awkward to refer to my guy friends as my male friends, or the men with whom I am friends.

Undeniably, relations between the sexes change as you age. For better or for worse, gender categories become more concrete, and interactions between the sexes become more sexually oriented as we ourselves become more sexually oriented. The sexuality of a person has a strong effect on the way he or she interacts with members of the opposite sex, as one gender may no longer view the other gender as a population of playmates, but as a population of sexual or romantic partners.

Its "Fun" to be Misunderstood When Playing With Ge
Name: Anna Mazza
Date: 2005-09-09 16:22:40
Link to this Comment: 16075


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

NOTE: before this paper even begins, I want to clear something up. I use the term "wolf-pack" in a completely positive way. I think that the way boys congregate is a wonderful, wonderful thing - and wolves are near and dear to my heart. I like to think of them as my Lost Boys - always close, always wild.

"You were kind of a wild, little thing," my mother still tells me. She's not entirely incorrect. Well, ok, she's not incorrect at all.

From the time I was about five until the time I was about 10, boys were my primary playmates. They were my only playmates, to be exact. Football was the name of the game and for me, recess was a constant running-jumping-tackling experience. There was no question about my ability - I was "one of the boys" - I was, in a sense, sexless. My male playmates did not recognize me as the female that I was; though my name was feminine, I dressed like a boy, talked like a boy, and would run-jump-and-tackle like a boy.

I spent a lot of time on the bench for being "too rough" though even at seven years old I simply knew that I wasn't being any more rough than the boy I was busy tackling to the ground. I didn't always win - which could only mean I wasn't the strongest or most rough - well, that was my grade-school-logic at least. Even then I knew that it had something to do with the fact that I wasn't playing hopscotch or jump rope. At seven I was sure that the reason I was sitting on the bench while all of my friends continued to play was because there was something wrong with Anna playing football. There was nothing wrong with Jason playing football. Or Nick. Or Peter. But Anna. There was something wrong with Anna.

At seven I had no way to express these feelings. No way to turn around to my teacher and snap, "it's only because I'm a girl and you're embarrassed that one of your female students is playing football that you're giving me a 'time-out'". But what seven year old is going to say something like that?

It wasn't only at seven that I realized I was being treated differently though. From first grade until about fourth grade I recognized that I didn't have any girlfriends. A girl like this is apparently very dangerous. She's physically strong, rambunctious, and wise. She knows what it means to "run with a wolf-pack" and doesn't see anything wrong with it. She knows nothing of one-on-one or power-of-three "girl time" and doesn't feel as though she's missing something.

The interesting thing, however, is that I always went home to my Barbie collection; My thirty-some-odd Barbie and Ken dolls with fifteen outfits each, swimming pools, siblings, and accessories. I was a girl - I just didn't enjoy playing like one at school!

The transition period spanning from the middle of fourth grade to the beginning of seventh grade was awkward. Horrible is probably a better word. Because I hadn't made any girlfriends in first grade, I didn't have any group to latch onto when all of the boys decided I had cooties. Generally speaking, girls tend to be less "pack" oriented and are more interested in forming small groups that remain close for extended periods of time. The friendships were already formed and because I was too busy running, I got left out.

One of the last times I played football was in the middle of fourth grade. I was late (because I had had "bench time") and so I was eagerly hurrying to squeeze into the game. To my horror when I approached one of the captains, Mark, the other boys protested, "she can't play". Why the hell not? My mind screamed, but instead I said, "yes I can" and looked at Mark for support. "No way!" some of the boys shouted, "She really can't play - she's a girl!" Thank you, genius - I'm sure you'll make it all the way to law school with logic intuition like that. Again I looked to Mark. He looked at me a long time - almost to the point where I was uncomfortable - and then said firmly, "she can play". The other boys roared. "I said she can play" Mark said more firmly this time.

I don't remember feeling like I had defeated the guys. Instead I remember making a mental note never to ask them if I could play again. "She'll be on my team," Mark continued. I looked at him and said quietly, as the boys began to split into teams, "are you sure?" Now I felt bad; Mark had been put on the spot and I was feeling very singled out. "You're good enough to play. You're on my team". And so I played that time.

I can't honestly remember if that was the last time I ever spent recess with the boys, but I am sure it was one of the last times I played football. The shame I felt for being a girl was too immense for me to ever even approach the field again. I was embarrassed.

Years later, past the point in middle school where catching cooties is cool, I had two best girlfriends and a wolf-pack of boys to call my own. I was still somehow considered "one of the guys" but none of them mistook me for one. I dressed more like a girl and I am sure that my 34-D chest stood out fairly often. Though I was willing to throw a punch at the drop of a dime, the guys now also recognized that I was dating, crying, and wearing makeup (all of these, stereotypically girl activities).

The moment where I almost lost my wolves was when I co-founded a women's support group at the beginning of eleventh grade. The goal of the group was to strengthen ourselves through ourselves - one hand washes the other - to bring awareness to women's rights and related issues. We discussed sexuality, eating disorders, job opportunities, fitness, and raised money for breast cancer research. We didn't limit ourselves. We really just wanted to instill a sense of strength within the small independent school community.

The group, Women's Forum, was quickly renamed "the she-woman, man-haters club" - a remarkably un-crafty spin on The Little Rascals' "he-man, woman-haters club". My boys - the same boys who had pummeled me to the ground when I was eight - took tones of distrust with me and avoided me in the halls. I was a traitor. Or, more apparently - I really wasn't so completely "one of the guys". I was quite clearly "one of the girls" and not just any "girls". I was part of that "feminist" move - the movement that hates men. Spooky.

Aside from joking comments such as "hey woman! Go make me a sandwich!" most of my boys let the fact that I was busy thinking about women's rights slide. After a few weeks of at-arms-length, I was slowly accepted back into the pack. Or so I thought.

Apparently my little club had made more of a splash with some guys than with others. Nick. Nick and I had been going to school together since we were three and had pretty much always gotten along. Until biology, about halfway through junior year. We were working on a lab and I happened to have done the reading (a rarity) and Nick had not. We got into a slight tiff over a piece of information and I turned out to be correct. In a stream of pent-up, outraged consciousness, Nick growled, "just shut the fuck up you stupid feminist bitch. You should be dragged out into the streets and beaten with a club". My face burned. So this was it. This was what every guy had been thinking. This is why they wouldn't look at me for so long; because I was smart and aggressive - the same characteristics that made me a good football player were now dangerous. I was dangerous.

I didn't know how to react to that outburst at first. I think I left class. I went and found Jason - who'd always managed to stay my friend, even when he was sure I had cooties. He listened carefully and I realized that he was making sense of everything perfectly. The jokes about sandwiches really weren't funny, thoughts of creating a men's group called PMS (Packer - the name of my school - male support) was nothing to be proud of. He must have said something to the other guys because Nick's incident was not met with smiling eyes. To my surprise, the boys - my boys - sided with me.

Nick wasn't run out of town or stoned to death - nothing that extreme by any means - but it became very clear to the guys that maybe their first impression of the club was not accurate. That it really was just about women taking care of each other and had nothing to do with hating men.

Somewhere around then, the boy - my boys - let it go. "Sandwich" comments no longer followed me in the halls. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. The weight of being a misunderstood feminist! In my opinion, there are few things worse than being misunderstood. And that's what I've always been: misunderstood; from the time I was the girl playing football to the time I "became" a feminist. Even though my mother insists that it's our discomforts in life that help us grow (and I know she's right - she always is), being misunderstood is never easy.

Birthmark: Why categories hurt.
Name: Flora Shep
Date: 2005-09-09 16:24:41
Link to this Comment: 16077


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

My cousin and I are five years old, my brother, Kyle, is four. Visiting my aunt and uncle's new house in Texas, we are playing in my cousin's room while he is in school. My cousin walks into the room. I look up, watch his eyes widen, and he shouts, almost snarls at me, "NO GIRLS ALLOWED!!!"

Inside me is the sickening silence between an infant thudding on the floor and the first wail of pain. I run through the living room, the backyard, climb on the swing set, sit on the monkey bars, sobbing so my throat hurts. I won't come down. I want to leave. My father comes outside, picks me up and hugs me. My aunt and uncle are furious; I can hear them inside the house. Kyle looks scared and confused. This happened 16 years ago. But I remember, a multisensory snapshot, sitting on the gym, feeling the sun on my skin, staring at the tear-blurred sky and grass, feeling like someone had torn a piece of myself away.

Two weeks ago, I spend a night with my cousin. He is incredibly charming and genuinely nice. An avid musician, he takes time to remark that the movie we are watching is historically inaccurate because the baritone had not been invented in that century. My stinging childhood memory is still there. I know that that experience was probably a fluke. After all, he was an only child, he may not have been used to having girls over.

But then why does it stick in my mind, bumpy, ugly and slightly worn like the scar grown over a deep wound? It is like my bright red birthmark still outlined on my hip. It was the first bit of ugliness, of unfairness, in my bright, bright ungendered-childhood world and it struck deep, never quite healed. This relatively inconsequential scene was birth into adulthood, the beginning of understanding what the outside world was going to demand from me. It hurt. It still hurts to be put into gender categories that limit me.

I would never claim to have had a strongly gendered childhood. That statement is completely wrong. Did I have experiences that caused me to learn some socially approved ideas of gender? Yes. But did those experiences cloud my judgement to the point that I thought less of people or, worse yet, disallowed myself to pursue my dreams? No. The mere fact that I am writing this, with problem set scratchwork for my physics major still spread out on my desk, should prove the fact that whatever gender stereotyping I may have encountered in my early childhood did not stick. At that time of my life, my own ideas of gender was loosely rooted enough to remain unaffected by the machinations of what little patriarchy I encountered.

When I was very young, most of my friends were boys, like my brother. Kyle is just 16 months younger than me. We spent a great deal of time together on car trips and family outings together. Perhaps because my closest playmates were boys, we never engaged in very gender specific activities. After all, we had to compromise and do things all of us were interested in. We liked the Care Bears and the ninja turtles. Leaving dolls I received to collect dust, we played almost exclusively with stuffed animals. My Dad built us a huge jungle gym in the backyard. I don't remember playing with these objects more because of feminist notions, they just weren't anything I was very interested in. If I wanted to explore femininity, I explored it with Kyle. We'd painted our nails pink and my Dad taught us both to skate and play hockey. I didn'g get the girly socialization. I remember going to first grade, seeing all the girls oohing over someone's play bonne bell powder compact and wondering what the hell they were talking about.

My parents are hippies who really and truly did live in a van for quite a while, touring with their band. Now, they are self-employed artists. We were born and raised in New Orleans, (where my parents still (are trying to ) live) the melting pot, a city where diversity is not just tolerated, but embraced, a way of life. My favorite babysitters were a lesbian couple. My parents' friends were hugely diverse, when I think back on it. But at the time, it didn't seem weird to me that strong looking men would be artists and women worked in construction. That was my life. All my life, my Mom has worked during the day performing puppet shows and my Dad has worked at night doing gigs with his band. We never even went to day care programs. My parents shared housework equally. I did not experience stereotypical gender roles first hand.

We did family art projects, At night, sometimes my parents and their friends would sing and played music together, giving Kyle and I tamborines or letting Kyle play on his little drumset. My Dad would put on our favorite record, Santana's first album, and Kyle and I would put on our rollerskates and skate around the living room, dressing in sparkly costumes, dancing. Our childhood was one of performace, watching and participating as our parents performed music and theater; it was a childhood of constant dress up, of pretending whatever we wanted. My Mom remembers that once Kyle and I were playing with a neighbor. Kyle chose to be Princesess Cimorene, the heroine from "Dealing with Dragons," by Patricia C. Wrede. Cimorene is a smart, willful princess young woman who refuses marry a prince like her sisters, choosing adventures with her dragon friends instead. "You can't be Cimorene, Kyle. She's a girl, you're a boy," the neighbor said. But Kyle stuck to his guns, saying he could be whatever he wanted.

Some would make the argument that my household was a house to raise an unmanly child in. Kyle grew up to play three sports in high school: soccer, golf and roller hockey. Kyle and I weren't even allowed to have toy guns in the house unless they were water guns or our beloved pizza shooter from the ninja turtles. something that can hardly be considered masculine in the traditional sense. Strangely enough, neither my brother nor myself are very artsy now. Our upbringing did not force us into those categories.

Yet, despite our open minded childhood, when we got older, my brother's and my interests did separate along somewhat gendered lines. He played sports constantly, even running around playing hockey with himself in the yard, while I preferred to stay inside and read. I became much more interested in my mother's puppetry, continuing to perform with her after Kyle stopped. My brother spent more time with my Dad going to sports events and I spent more time engaged in my hobby of the moment: fencing, gymnastics, violin, accordian, piano, fine arts, theater, you name it. Were those just natural proclivities emerging as we grew older? Or did I react to the fact that people expected my brother to run around and me to stay inside be artistic and nerdy?

I'm afraid those are not questions that can be easily answered. I'll refer to Newtonian mechanics here and say that I, like any other mass, naturally follow the path of least resistance, which leads me to pursue the activities that are easiest for me: physics, writing, running. I was exploring different identities, finding the ones that fit best. But everything I explored as I got older became more and more uniquely feminine. I don't even know if I would be a physics major were I not in an encouraging, mothering all girls school environment. Is that because of how my gender has been constructed? That I have always been the one eager, no desperate, no needing to please? I don't know

I would not argue that my childhood is perfect, and I don't think that the whole world should be raised the same way just because I liked my childhood so much. I'm just trying to explain my world, why I loved it and why sexism would hurt me so much as a child. Regardless of how others may see or categorize me, I know that because of my upbringing, I rarely see others in strongly defined categories. It can remember how much it hurts.

Gender Play
Name: Elle Endre
Date: 2005-09-09 16:29:42
Link to this Comment: 16078


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

--If I am a child then gender is my playground. The play structure is brightly colored, with different levels; sandy tunnels lead to ladders; harder-to-climb stiff nets act as barriers as well as lattices that reach higher lookout points. The structure is courted off by a high fence to keep me inside. Even though it escape seems unlikely, inside those walls I am free to run.--

Gender is a constricting set of social rules that we are socialized to believe are valid. While the categories of "boy" and "girl" or "man" and "woman" are becoming more fluid, I would argue that study into gender oppression is not complete without looking at the ways in which we currently socialize children with the use of clothing. The following essay is about a personal inquiry into my own gender oppression in the area of physical appearance. While I acknowledge that my experiences with gender are not nessesarily the same as others, I do feel that something about the concept of gender was learned by inquiry, at least in respect to my own understanding of the ways In which I have been effected by gender socialization.

Prior to acquiring breasts I was a wild-looking topless child. Many of the photos of me as a child are of me at least somewhat naked. Naked wearing a rain coat. Naked wearing boys swim trunks. Naked wearing galoshes. Quite a few in galoshes. I had cropped wavy blond hair, loved Thomas the Tank Engine, couldn't understand the attraction to Barbie, and frequently told fellow class mates that I was a boy. I didn't "play rough", so to speak, but was quite an active, rambunctious child. Loud, independent and a presence among my peers. With a subtlety feminist influence up until the age of nine, I cared very little about clothing or my appearance as either "girl" or "boy". Growing up in Brisbane, Australia– where fashion sense is not a widely held value– allowed me a lot of physical freedom to dress in whatever my wardrobe consisted of (mostly oversized conference t-shirts and far from flattering spandex shorts). I donned a skirt for the first time by my own choosing at 13. "You're a beautiful young lady" I was told by parental figures. I put on makeup. "She's growing into such a beautiful girl" friends of the family quipped. My goodness, I had become a gender. While I will note that I'm sure there were aspects of gender socialization in my youth that I was unaware of, I did not actively start to resist and play with gender until age 17. This was when I became an activist in the queer community of San Francisco. There, somewhat re-conceived notions of gender play out in many women's relationships in the form of "butch" and "femme" (Footnote: "Femme" in queer relationships often contains an almost idolization of the feminine figure on the part of the "butch" woman, and contains many elements of gender play. However, queer notions of gender will not be the main focus of this essay).

By 17 I had come into my own curves, and played quite the high-femme. However, by 19 I was sick of playing for the home team. I put my poodle skirts, fishnets and halter tops into storage, and went shopping. I bought an entirely new wardrobe that consisted of mens clothing: un-tapered button-downs, baggier jeans, larger shoes, and I took off the make-up. It became almost a challenge, an experiment in gender play: could I cross that far across the gender spectrum? I cut my hair shorter, spiked it up and sat with my legs open. From August 2004- May 2005 I learnt a lot more about gender than I ever could have studied in a book.

While I recognized that more modern gender socialization is mostly mental, I wanted to work out just how much was physical. Also, as a person that enjoys playing with makeup and getting very dressed up as a "woman" I wanted to see if the assumption that "it is not oppression unless one feels oppressed" was true. Was I being playing a part in my own oppression, or in the oppression of women without realizing it? There were two different areas that my gender experiment can be broken up into: the treatment I received from others based on their perceptions of my gender identity, and the perception I had of myself within my gendered environment.
Kids in the playground

Initial responses to my play were shock. I had made quite the transition after all- from the poised "feminine woman" to the clean cut "masculine" figure. One of the first things I noticed was that it was presumed that If I dressed like one of the boys I would, or could, act in more "masculine" ways. In all of the environments I passed though, from casual to professional, it was acceptable to slouch, not cross my legs– in fact, sit with them wide open. I was not berated for speaking out of turn, and it was expected that I look my own age. I had no good or bad side, and very little effort was needed to dress up. Dressing up did not mean hours of getting ready, trying on outfits, make-up, hair, nails; costuming to perfection. Most men's clothing is incredibly similar. The difference was all in a shower, some hair gel and a nicer button down shirt than the one I was wearing earlier in the day.

Interestingly, more gender-mixed clothing ensembles that once had been acceptable for me to wear when coming from the "feminine" side of the spectrum were labeled "weird" coming from the other, more "masculine" side. After wearing "men's clothing" for such a long period of time I had grown accustomed to moving in ways that were more masculine without even realizing. When I donned tighter pants and a t-shirt with "girl cut" sleeves, I sat which ever way my body felt comfortable in simply out of habit; a typically masculine privilege. One friend who had known me both as highly "feminine" and more gender bending mentioned that the physically "masculine" traits with more "feminine" clothing "look[ed] weird" because I "look[ed] like a man dressing as a woman"(November, 2004).
My Child's Eye View

My perception of self increased greatly. I realized just how strict a social barrier existed between "maleness" and "femaleness". Dressing as a woman had allowed me to dress in mens clothes so long as it was perceived that I was not deviating from my gender role. For instance, it is no longer deemed cross-dressing for a woman to wear a man's business shirt, but if that woman is not at all "feminine" while doing so that is considered gender-deviant. I quickly recognized that I was not just playing on the other side of the fence; I had jumped it and run to the far end of the field. As I learned first-hand, clothing is merely the beginning of gender. There is, or I should say isn't, an expected "masculine" way of holding one's self in that clothing: walking, sitting, or eating. There are, however, different expected ways of approaching or being approached by potential partners, and different ways of speaking. These socially based rules are the bases for what has been named by some feminists as male privilege.

The few times I crossed back over to the girly side of my wardrobe well into the experimental year was where I learned about the different ways I had physically been socialized as a "woman". I dressed up in one of my once-usual three-quarter length skirts, tight fitting tank top and matching heels. I slicked down my hair and put on makeup. Aside from the fact that you have to walk differently in heels anyway, what I slipped back into was far more revealing. The way I walked, held my bag, used my hands when talking to people, sat, and the way I held my body while doing all of these things suddenly felt taxing. I realized the amount of time I spent pulling down my clothes, re-arranging, paying constant attention to how I carried myself, and the extra time I spent in the bathroom "fixing" myself up. Now, I accept the fact that women and men can swap clothing and be exactly the same people that they were before. However, I do believe that girls and boys are socialized to act and look physically different. I also believe that most girls, at least in American culture, are socialized to believe that there are certain minimum standards of "femininity" that go into looking presentable. Take a look at Barbie. If, as human beings we start tabula rasa, Barbie is a classic example of the extra pressure it takes to be perceived as "feminine". Apparently, Barbie was born with a full set of makeup, permed hair, and her feet on tip-toe so that she can wear only things with high heels. This kind of appearance play can, of course, not be seen as pressure. Many women, including myself, see make-up as something fun and creative. However, I found that what it takes to be physically at a base level of "feminine", not just biologically female, is a much more specific set of criteria than what it takes to achieve a base level of "masculinity". I would direct any questioner of this statement to take a trip to a public bathroom to compare the length of the men and women waiting in line. Women are socialized to see their appearance as a priority, and thus spend much greater amounts of time looking in mirrors and thinking about how they look.

It seems strange to make the post-modern feminist that I am sound like a trapped housewife from the 1950's. After, all, I really enjoy wearing women's clothing. However, in setting out to discover if there were any privileges that came with the physical appearance of the "masculine gender", I came to see that part of the oppression of women has become embodied in the costumes we perform gender in. Most women may not be getting about in girdles, however mental energy spent thinking about one's "feminine" appearance can easily make up for the lack of physical constriction. Since learning and respecting what it takes to be create the appearance of a "woman" and how little effort it takes to maintain the appearance of a "man" I chose to live an appearance that is much more gender fluid. I fluctuate from androgynous to glamorously feminine, all the while very aware of the game I am playing, and the power structures that I make my choices inside of. While I would never argue against another persons' individual choice of appearance, which ever place in the gender spectrum he or she, or sie or hir might choose, I do want to argue that there is social weight attached to gendered forms of clothing that must be taken into consideration when looking at gender oppression.

Easy to play, not so easy to win
Name: Lindsay Up
Date: 2005-09-09 18:18:04
Link to this Comment: 16081


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

When I was nine years old, I had an au pair from Denmark who joined a tae kwon do studio while she was living with us. I really looked up to her at that age and thought that if she was doing it, it must be pretty cool, so I gave it a try and until I was twelve, I went to tae kwon do class three or four times a week. It sticks out in my mind as an activity I became really involved with, but there is also something about the gender dynamics of the do jo—an itch that was never really scratched—that makes me wonder now why I stuck with it for so long.

On a typical day at tae kwon do class I would be the only girl in a group of about ten boys. The classes were divided by what belt you had but also children under eleven or twelve were separated from teenagers and adults. I usually had the best flexibility and balance of any of the students, so the instructors, also male, would often use me as an example during exercises that tested those skills. Sometimes they would say something to the effect of, "You're letting a girl show you up," to my classmates in an attempt to make the boys try harder. This was probably effective many times, but in retrospect it makes me uncomfortable to think that the students may have interpreted the instructors words as "If you cannot do as well as a girl, you are inadequate." The sense of competition between boys and girls was thus fostered by recognizing not only my stronger abilities, but my sex.

The instructors made an effort to be encouraging with me since they assumed I was feeling out of place. On the other side of that encouragement, however, I often felt the implications that I really did not belong. As one becomes more advanced at tae kwon do, sparring becomes a necessary skill to move on to the next belt. When we sparred, we had to wear a lot of padded equipment and try to kick or punch our opponent's chest or head. I hated sparring because so often I would hear a boy say "I'm not going to fight a girl." I didn't understand why one would say this, but it certainly made me feel more singled out and uncomfortable. Was it part of some code their fathers taught them that they should never strike a girl? And in that case, was fighting between boys always OK? Sparring wasn't supposed to be personal; we were at a school that was training us to defend ourselves. I don't think it was insecurity on the boys' part over the possibility that a girl might actually beat them, because I wasn't a very good fighter. In fact, I never had a chance to become skilled at sparring—I was never seen as an equal opponent, and I certainly never felt like one.

I see attitudes about my role as the only girl in a martial arts classroom aligning with the only girl on the high school football team, or the only woman in NASCAR. Everyone says how wonderful it is that girls are finally doing all these things, but a large part of what makes it so impressive to people is the sense that they have to overcome some sort of obstacle. Girls have to cross into an alien domain and confront people who say things like "My daddy told me not to hit a girl," and then what they are doing turns into some kind of inspirational Disney movie when all I wanted to do was get some exercise and have some fun, like all the other kids in class. There was a girl kicker on my high-school's varsity football team, but she was an extraordinary player whereas many of the boys who went out for football feel comfortable doing so and just being mediocre players. It is OK for girls to play or to compete, but they had better bring their A-game and be serious about it.

By contrast, my fondest experiences of gender play have been upon leaving the classroom or the gym when all competition falls away. In high school, my best friend had a large family with three brothers, whose home became my second one over the years. Her parents had emigrated from Guatemala and dancing was a big part of their leisure time--and, by extension, mine. My friend and I would come home from school and practice to salsa and meringue music for the next time we would go to a party or a club with her family of friends from church. In salsa, you dance with a partner and move around in circles so it is quite a lot like sparring. You are conscious of how your body is moving, and there are many different moves and very specific kinds of contact between you and your partner (the only things that should really touch are your hands). I suppose the main difference is that you aren't competing, but working together.

When I danced salsa, the boy got to lead, but I got to do all the fun spinning stuff. There were distinct roles for the man and for the woman, into which I could easily and comfortably fall. No one was competing and although I would compare myself to others who danced near me, no one was going to make a comment if I missed a beat or did something particularly impressive. We were just having fun; it wasn't serious like tae kwon do was.

It strikes me that part of what made that dancing atmosphere so comfortable was our acknowledgement of our differences as men and women. It was a more conservative atmosphere than I had been raised in, with stricter roles for men and women. However, we were all playing a familiar game and there was no challenging or overstepping of boundaries. In tae kwon do, my presence alone was a challenge to a competitive game the boys were already used to playing. In a neutral environment I would have felt much more comfortable throwing a tornado kick than I did dancing, because I was much better at the former. But due to the social implications outside of me, it was much easier to fulfill the role that had already been set out for me and dance, than to make a statement by kicking some kid in the head.

Looking back and acknowledging that as I grew into a woman I chose dancing over fighting makes me feel like I took the easy route (well, I did). But the truth is that the other path would have been challenging not just because of the competitive nature of tae kwon do, but because we don't play in a vacuum. Even though I wore the same uniform as the boys, our ideas and feelings about gender followed us into the do jo. It was fine with everyone that I had just as much ability as any of the other students, but when confronted with a situation like sparring that would force the label "winner" or "loser" on one of us, the fact that we were not the same sex suddenly took on much more meaning. It created space for a possible shift in the traditional ideas about boys and girls that we experienced each day at school or at home.

I do not want to assume that we all had the same reasons for being in that classroom. Most of the boys bonded over mutual martial arts heroes, all of whom were male, which I had no interest in. For me it was more about my personal physical and mental growth. These factors might have played into the separation between me and them, but they might also be rooted in more general concepts of what it means to be a boy or girl. When I went dancing with my friend's family, we all basically had the mutual goal of socializing and enjoying ourselves. However, in order to accomplish our goal we had to work –however much it seemed like play--within the framework of a clearly defined set of rules about women and men.

All the Small Things: An Exploration of Gender Per
Name: Amy Philli
Date: 2005-09-12 13:12:42
Link to this Comment: 16102


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

n what ways do little things that happen in our lives amount to who we are? What overarching themes of our gendered existence shape us? I want to explore how seemingly innocent happenings in our lives shape the way we do our gender. As a child, I had experiences that greatly shaped my gender and my perception of what gender was. Today I am still struggling with these issues, attempting to understand what gender I am, if I want to believe in gender at all.

The memories I have of my childhood weave a picture of perhaps enlightened teaching staff and a strongly gendered peer group. While I highly doubt that my classmates created their own categories, I do not know where my teachers attributed to it. My classmates definitely helped to shape my won gender performance through gender roles and gender differentiation.

In the classroom, I do not recall being discriminated against by the teacher on the basis of gender. I was the kind of kid that was always raising my hand and being called on, and when I wasn't called on, it was because the teacher was trying to get someone besides me to answer the question. I think that my teachers realized my potential as an individual rather than a girl. Perhaps this reflection is biased by hopeful memory rather than reality. I say this in contrast to my markedly gendered experience with my peers.

Before I got to kindergarten my favorite color was blue. When I got to kindergarten, one of my female friends told me that blue was a boy color, so I had my grandmother buy me lots of pink clothes and had my aunt paint my room pink. This lasted for a couple years, when my favorite color became purple (a mixture of the two).

My grandparents politically sit on the left side of middle. They most certainly are liberal by the standards when they grew up. They were liberal enough to allow my favorite color to be blue. My grandparents did not discourage me from liking blue. My grandmother did help me participate in my socialization by allowing me to convert to pink, even if she suspected it was peer enforced. I'm not sure she could have done much to stop me from liking it at the time, nor should she have, but maybe she tried to reinforce that I could make my own choices.

I was very influenced by my peers. I am hesitant to use the words "peer pressure" because I don't recall the exact situation in which I was socialized. It is possible that my color conversion was brought on by a peer telling me specifically that blue is for boys and pink is for girls. It is also possible that I overheard someone say this, or that there were no girls wearing blue and no boys wearing pink. The manner in which I learned this is significant, but unfortunately memory does not serve me well. In the absence of memory, we can however say that learning this lesson is significant enough.

My willingness to change my favorite color because I learned that my favorite color was not appropriate for my gender shows children's flexibility and willingness to participate in their own socialization. We see that in my kindergarten environment, gender was relatively rigid, with little room for deviation. It shows how malleable my gender was at this point, and its willingness to morph to fit into a mold. Suggestion is a powerful tool in the lives of children.

Sixth grade was particularly traumatic in gym class because we did square dancing. This meant that you had to find a partner of the opposite sex and dance with them, as well as your corner partner. One boy asked me to be my partner, and I said no, even though he was my second choice. I ended up with the boy that no one wanted to dance with. I cried in the bathroom. A female friend of mine came in to comfort me. When we actually began to dance, I was positioned catty-corner from one of my most loathed male classmates. We didn't want to touch each other when we did doe-see-does, so we pretended to link arms without really touching, a performance that we both actually found amusing. The gym teacher caught us doing this, and made us do it correctly by ourselves in front of the whole class. Not only did I severely dislike touching him, but it was extremely embarrassing to have the whole class watch this display.

The square dancing activity specifically defines some individuals as male and some as female. They are seen as two different entities, and are not flexible for those who may not fit in the rigid gender binary. Not only are girls and boys defined as different, but they are also set apart. Since no one really wanted to be dancing with each other at this stage in our development, square dancing was a sort of torture, using each other as the punishment. My catty-corner partner and I actually did work together, but to the extent to not have to actually be together. We were parodying the gender divide and performing it at the same time through this cooperation.
The square dancing model doesn't just separate the sexes and pit girls and boys against each other however. The square dancing model reeks of compulsory heterosexuality. Girls dance with boys and never dance with other girls, and boys certainly do not dance with other boys. Square dancing formalizes the rigid heterosexual path that children are destined to take. With no room for same-sex romantic coupling, those who may be interested are forced to hide their curiosity and go with the flow of heterosexuality. Square dancing sets up boys and girls as potential mates. The term is a dancing "partner," which has larger implications for later partners, domestic partners.

I had positive influences in my life to create a more fluid gender. My teachers and grandparents did not limit me due to my femaleness. They did give me room to be female, which should be allowed. Both of my experiences point to my own willingness to participate in my own socialization. By assuming the girl color and playing out the battle of the sexes, I was molding myself into what I thought female was supposed to be.

Shifting in time-space forward ten years, I embark from the gendered kid-space to a gendered adult world. Being a dyke in a heterosexual world creates different communities for me to inhabit, with different gender performances. The exploration of queer versus straight space leads me to see that both are highly gendered despite their different goals regarding this gender.

Queer spaces are a unique opportunity to explore gender and its performance. In a lesbian space, there is an implicit lack of biological males, but not of masculinity. Looking at butch, femme and everything in between we can see how women perform their gender, and if they perform it differently than in a heterosexual space. My experience with gender this summer has been an exploration of where I fit into this.

I perform my gender differently in different spaces. This summer was a big experiment on performing gender. At the beginning of the summer I discovered a pair of boy's shorts in the free box and began to wear them constantly. I bought a wallet and chain and wore that too. I bought a sports bra that I had originally got just for running, but began to wear that in order to feel more butch. I haven't identified as a girly-girl since I renounced pink as my favorite color. Still, I had never dressed in a remotely masculine way before this summer. When I went into gay spaces though, I found it very hard to dress in this same manner that I was enjoying experimenting with by myself. I was very comfortable wearing more masculine clothing when hanging out with friends who were straight, but when I was in queer spaces I felt like an imposter, compared to the "actually" butch women or the lesbians who dressed androgynously.

My experience speaks to the influence that others have on one's own gender. Without the presence of others to compare my own gender to, I felt comfortable exploring. When there was a measuring stick, however, I felt like I came up short. With the notion of "not fitting in," there must be a way to "fit in." I feel at times with my long hair and my feminine features that I do not "fit in" in the lesbian community. I feel that this uneasy feeling is due to the socialization processes of the community. It manifests itself in seemingly small ways, but these are effective. Butch women go through so many struggles in their daily lives that it almost seems disrespectful for a feminine woman like me to assume a manner of dress and behavior that I do not have the compelling need to assume.

The performance of femme has resurged in the last several years as some lesbian women became able to admit that they liked dressing traditionally feminine. The pressure in the lesbian feminist community to remove all influence of patriarchal oppression included the call for removal of gender roles. However, what ended up happening is that most women looked butch rather than androgynous (the ideal). The performance of masculinity in women was supposedly still conformity to the patriarchy, but in recent years has been seen as its own subversion.

In my struggle to not appear falsely butch, I have been performing as falsely femme this summer. When I went into Philly for the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, I never dressed remotely butch. I always wore feminine clothes. Not high femme with lots of make up or high heels, but enough to identify me as more femme than andro or butch. I also felt a need to look feminine. While I intellectually aware that since lesbian feminism, most of the butch women want to sleep with each other, I felt in some way my feminine dress signaled my place in the existence of a femme-butch continuum. It was my misunderstood way of saying "hey all you butch women...I think your hot!" However, when I was actually in those spaces I felt like I was being labeled by everyone as an outsider, maybe straight, or bi, or curious.

Currently in the lesbian community there is a purported openness to all different genders, however the reality is that if you look a certain way, you will still be labeled. In trying to be labeled as a suitable partner for a butch, I dressed femme, referring to the 1950's trend of lesbian couples. But since femmes are rendered invisible unless they have a butch on their arm, I came across more as a straight woman.

My feelings of alienation are intrinsically oppositional to feminism's tenet of inclusion. Shouldn't any woman be able to perform any gender at any time that she would like? As a friend pointed out last night, queer people are probably least likely to care. At the same time, the lesbian community does not have to be a politically motivated one, as there is a wide range of views from those of us women who like women.

In the context of heterosexual space, the dynamic alters. In some cases, I feel obviously lesbian, for example when I dress more butch. However, I am still rendered invisible when I wear my more feminine clothes, despite plastering myself with rainbows.

On the first day of classes, I went to Trader Joes. I was wearing a black t-shirt with a logo on the front. The logo was of a fist, making the shape of the sign of woman. The whole time the cashier was looking nervous and fumbling around, unlike he had done for the previous customer. He did not give me correct change, and I asked him to correct this. He needed to call a manager over for this. When the manager came over, he said something like "Oh these women always demanding money." I was so taken aback by this that I couldn't even respond. The cashier kind of laughed. The woman behind me in line remarked about men being nervous in front of a beautiful woman. I looked over at her and said, "They can keep dreaming" and left the store.

I was unsure if the cashier perceived me as feminist or lesbian or both, or even if he noticed my shirt. In any case, he acknowledged me as an attractive female, rather than just a customer. This led to poor service on his behalf. I'm almost positive the manager noticed my shirt. He verbally defined me as woman, and lumped me into the category of women. I found his comment so offensive, and it was difficult for me to verbalize why at first. First it was because he lumped me into the group of women, rather than acknowledging me as a person and as a customer. His tone of voice was very condescending, creating the atmosphere of women as an inferior category. He linked women in the context of men and money, implying that women were always taking men's money, especially when they didn't deserve it (which I did!). He positioned women below men in the economic scale, making it seem like women did not have their own source of income. The manager appeared uncomfortable in the situation, yet had no qualms defining my gender. The fact that I was wearing a feminist t-shirt complicates this situation, as it seems as though I have personally identified myself as female, since feminists are lumped into that category. I wonder if these men would have reacted differently if I had been wearing a different shirt.

The need to "fit in" to the queer community implies categories of belonging. Whether these categories are upheld by the community or transplanted from heterosexual socialization remains an unanswered question in my mind. In this context, the personal question of gender is highly political. Choosing to dress against society's stereotypes is visible evidence of one's politics and is an important component of being a member. On the other hand, within the heterosexual mainstream, gender expression is rendered more invisible. It is assumed to be a certain way and therefore, unless contradicted, is not seen as a demonstration of politics. Gender is still highly political, but instead of going against the status quo, it upholds it. My contrasting experiences in both straight and queer spaces demonstrate these differences. My gender as woman in straight spaces is taken for granted and exploited, whereas in queer spaces is challenged and recreated.

In the end, how do these experiences of gender relate to each other? We are constantly in space that is creating, shaping, defining, and reinforcing our gender. From a very early age there are forces, for me my classmates, in our lives that shape who we are as individuals through gender. When we go from spaces that feel gender neutral, my classroom, to spaces that are strongly gendered, my gym class, our senses of gender go from unimportant to central. In our adult lives this categorization does not disappear, but remains a constant source of definition. When in the highly gendered queer space, our gender is constantly being monitored and assessed, as gender is slightly more fluid and therefore confusing in this space. In straight space, we are put into simple categories of man and woman, with little toleration for fluidity and variation. With the ubiquity of gender, in some ways I suppose that it is easy to overlook it, since something that is everywhere can be rendered invisible. However, we need to look at the ways that this ever-present category shapes us to create the gendered beings that we are.

Summertime Packing
Name: Orah Minde
Date: 2005-09-12 19:43:28
Link to this Comment: 16111


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

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"Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." The New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV, Exodos, 3:5

In order to create an independent self one may attempt to realize something that cannot be taught by external forces: a something that is absolutely internal without surface space. An absolutely internal object seems to deny logic, there are, however, some who believe in it, and search for it. If this something exists than one may exist disentangled from the web of external influences. This is a form of self-realization. The person who realizes an essence that is absolutely contained within the self, a part that has no contact with anything that is not self and, for that matter, any part of the self that has contact with that which is not the self, this person eliminates the risk of falling into other's patterns and failing to establish a new pattern. The end of this paper describes one who is looking for this autonomous self: a self that is not influenced by patterns: pre-plowed paths made by others. What the character does not realize at the end of this essay is that her beginning resides in her end. The past is never lost. Everything sensed, if not remembered, is planted into the woven fabric of the self. The living self is wrapped into the folds of the world. Time is not flat, but swaddles us so we cannot escape from it.

There are, however, other forms of self-realization. Instead of detaching oneself from influences, denying them access into one's gullet because of their foreign taste, one may acknowledge these influences and in so doing digest them into the matrix of the self. This is a form of integrated self-realization. There is no demand to choose which of these views is better. Those who live by the latter are more peaceful. Those who live by the former are busy searching. Those who live by both live in shards.

The day before a mid-August family vacation is the hottest day of the year. The day is endured in the aura of the air-conditioner, interrupted only by sprints to the Popsicle-filled freezer. Despite all efforts, the heat finds a way to saturate our moods. The light morning conversations yield to a sweat-drenched, soggy silence. By four o'clock we emit only steam. We feel melted and grumpy. Like trees hung with heavy moss along southern highways, we are still lest our sagging spirits slip from us and we become puddles of once-personality. The unmixed ingredients for an argument wait to be poured into the open.

Inevitably, it is my mother's responsibility to demand that the spirits stop their sagging, that the puddles form coherent matter, that we wash our faces and drink cool water and help her to pack the car. Some mothers cook dinner. Some mothers drive the kids to school. Some mothers shop for clothes. In mid-August my mother packs the car in the late afternoon.

My father does not pack the car. A car packed by my father looks like a compressed junk show ready to be exploded onto a random side-of-the-road lawn. The process of piling suitcases and removing suitcases and realizing that doors will not close because of suitcases and the inevitable rearranging of suitcases, is not in my father's motor skills vocabulary. His lack of car-packing skills may be due to the fact that my father's family did not take family vacations. My father never watched a car being packed. When, therefore, he is put to the task of filling an empty car with suitcases, he inevitably creates the illusion of a vehicle filled with an impending junk show. I cannot refer to this act of vehicle loading as 'packing.' My father stuffs cars.

My mother, on the other hand, grew up in a vacation-taking-family with six children and two adults. My mother's father might not have had to put effort into the packing of the car if he had driven his eight-person family in a big yellow school bus to all vacation destinations. Since, however, he did not own a bus with ample space to transport a pack of children, a wife, and weeks worth of clothes and food, his only option was to pack the meanest vacation ride on the east coast. My mother follows the tire-marked-path of her father's well-packed car.

Since my mother always packs the car, my father has never had to study the art of car-packing. He is entrenched in his passive role as one who receives commands from my mother. Each year he enters into his passive role as she toils over suitcase placement. One would think that after 25 years of summer vacations an amoeba could decipher a difference between the act of 'stuffing' and the act of 'packing.' These 25 years, however, seem to have entrenched my parents deeper into these stagnant roles. Their roles grow more stable each year. Routine flows from them as if the years of habit have imprinted the motions of the day into their muscle memory.

I have learned in the years since I noticed this imbalance of leadership roles that it is not to my advantage to agonize about the dynamics of my parent's relationship, but rather, to be aware of how the role playing models they perform are translated through me as one who acts in the world. I try to observe them with a distance similar to that which separates a member of an audience from actors on a stage. I watch with a critical eye how their choices inhabit their lives. I am critical of my parent's play not because I want to alter the choices they've made, but rather, in attempt to use their model as I form my own life. There is no reason for my parents to know these criticisms. The detachment of the critic allows me to make these observations, to watch my parents as players, without becoming entangled in the frustrated emotions of wanting to change their relationship.

Frustration arises no longer from an urge to project myself as a catalyst for change into my parent's relationship, but rather, when I feel unable to change something in myself because I have been presented with only one model. Sometimes when I look into the landscape of the future it seems already tilled, with rows to walk that tell of the hoeing and shoveling of others. I grew up in fields plowed by my parents: carefully grooved so I would not fall into dangerous pits. I learned to walk by watching them walk in their fields. My feet and heart fell into a rhythm dictated by the shape of their land. Time stretches out: disappearing at the crest of both horizons. We are taught by our parents to walk in time. Our hearts learn to step in pace with our parents. At the edge of the fields, however, there is a place where the rows stop. My parents do not walk beyond into the untilled fields. 'That land in the distance,' they explained to me, 'is land upon which no one walks.'

'There,' they said, 'there are no footprints.'

'That land,' they said, 'is yours.'

It was an early morning in late autumn, before dawn. I walked down the plowed rows of their field. As the sun began to rise I reached the end of the rows. No matter how well a path is paved, how easy the walking, one is helpless in a terrain that is not her own. When walking on such land one runs the risk of falling into a pit dug by another. My heart must learn its own rhythm. My lungs must feel the sting of the uncontained world that spills over the frontier horizon.

Tilling does not come naturally to me. Walking on unpaved terrain is a skill that I am learning. I do not want to plummet into roles: pack cars well because my mother packed cars well. I do not want gravity to drag me into my future. My land must be marked with intention. I do not necessarily move with direction, with an end in sight, but I do move with purpose: to weave myself beautifully into the landscape of my allotted time.

This summer I began to learn how to walk into frontier landscapes. I participated in a forty-day expedition with the National Outdoor Leadership School in the northern Wilderness of Alaska. On July 8th I was taught to pack a backpack with the supplies needed for forty days in the Wilderness. On July 9th, 10th, and 11th I traveled deep into the Wilderness. On July 12th I started to walk, with a backpack holding all that I needed strapped tight to my hips and back. There are no paths in the Alaskan Wilderness. Each step must be thought out: which tussock can hold my body and pack? Or, if I step between the tussocks, at what angle will my feet stay the driest?

For the next 40 days I walked land that had never before been walked. The smell of a newborn world lingered on the air. We walk these lands in our bright apparel: stains against the flow of natural colors. We are strange in the Wilderness: first breaths that startle the infant lung. The summertime sun keeps a careful watch over the untilled lands at the top of the world, never allowing the night to drop its heavy shawl against its parent-gaze. Only for brief hours does the sun sink lightly beneath the horizon. Summer nights in the Arctic are the hours when the infant world, relieved from the sun's hot gaze, exhales morning dew. I rise in these hours to feel the vague remembrances of misty nighttime clothing against my skin. This is the scape of my land: an unaccented stretch of unwatched time into which I will place mark.

Gender and Sexualities Paper # 1
Name: kelsey
Date: 2005-09-12 20:33:18
Link to this Comment: 16112


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

Kelsey Lee Gaynier
Gender and Sexualities Seminar
8 September 2005

"From kindergarten to sixth grade, my recesses were consumed with flag football. It was a playground sport that I looked forward to everyday, not that because I was necessarily good at it, but because it was the one hour of the school day that granted me the freedom to be myself. This was not a game I performed; performance was reserved for the classroom, ballet classes, and family functions. Instead, it was a game that I did, meaning that I felt no pressure to act in a certain way. Due to puberty, at the age of twelve I began to wear a bra. Although this annoying, but necessary, garment differentiated me from my male flag football teammates, it was not something that I had thought too much about. One day when we were in the middle of a game, one of the girls in our sixth grade class wandered over to the field to flirt. I, annoyed that she was interrupting the game, threw a football at her. In turn, she and her group of cronies snuck up behind me and unsnapped my bra strap. To make matters worse, the pack of she-devils proceeded to run around in a circle with it in front of my teammates while loudly laughing and giggling. That day was the last time I ever played flag football."

Since I am not addressing sexual orientation issues in this paper, I am defining my use of the term "gender" to that of one's biological sex, therefore, using the two terms interchangeably. Also, because I am writing from a western perspective and addressing a mostly western audience, I am limiting my use of the terms "gender" and "sex" to that of male and female. My focus is not to analyze the different ways in which western society creates gender division; instead, I hope to present this complexity of gender division as a resulting from a combination of biology and psychology. Drawing from a personal childhood experience, I hope to present the early stages of a young girl's physical biology and emotional psychology as tools for asserting individual agency within the context of both the opposite sex and her own. More importantly, I hope to articulate gender positioning not just as a dichotomy between opposite sexes (male vs. female), but also within the same sex (female vs. female) by examining examples of how women and girls, themselves, create gender boundaries in opposition to the male sex while still remaining within their own gender realm.

Flag football is a game where children, usually boys, compete with one another out of free will. In other words, it is an interactive activity that children willingly participate in for the purpose of both interaction and competition with one another. Whether or not this entertainment is for competitive or social acceptance purposes is irrelevant; children engage in this game because they choose to do so. This is important because as a child, I chose to play flag football with boys instead of jump rope with the girls. However, as soon as a gender signifier (my bra) was overtly displayed in front of these boys, I then chose not to participate in a game that was male-centered.

A young child is always conscious of his or her own sex, however, children do not often think of gender as a tool for either alignment or alienation to the opposite sex in the same context as adults. However, there is a peak moment when he or she becomes more aware of their own gender and the implications of how this must affect their social interactions. At what point does a girl's physical biology begin to alter her psychological attachment to one sex or the other? Puberty is a biological change in the human body that functions differently from that of a male to that of a female; and therefore, on the surface, separates boys and girls both physically and psychologically. It is physical because boys and girls experience different changes in their bodies, but it is also psychological because these changes place boys and girls in two different evident categories; and therefore, creates a dichotomy where male and female biology are placed in a highly visible opposition. Most often times, children identify with the same sex due to social or biological commonalities; and therefore, feel more at ease interacting and playing games with friends of their own gender. However, in this case, it was not puberty, but the signifier of puberty, that caused me to feel alienated from male-centered flag football. Although I was most likely conscious that a bra marked me as biologically female, as a child, I had not thought of it as something that should stop me from playing flag football with male friends until it was publicly displayed to them.

What I wish to draw attention to is not the social implications as to why I chose to separate from male playmates, but to who initiated this separation. There are two different types of social interaction concerning gender in this playground scenario: A single female acting within a social realm of males, and a single female acting in opposition to the social realm of other females. Why was it other girls, and not the male playmates, that chose to draw attention to both my gender difference and their own? To simply label this act as a reaction to jealousy or disgust is not necessarily true, nor is it helpful. What is more important is the fact that it was girls that chose to draw attention to the difference of their biological gender to a large group of boys. In using a bra as their gender signifier, these females boldly stepped onto the football field and displayed pride in "being a girl."

However, we must remember that this group of girls did target a member of their own sex with the intention to embarrass and humiliate; and therefore, their actions exemplify potential consequences to stepping outside your childhood gender role. Social institutions and its "adult" members do indeed actively contribute to the gendering of children; however, it is also the children themselves that participate in this regulation. However, in this particular example, it was not a case of opposite genders creating a separation between themselves, but of a single gender (girls) creating this division with their own member (a girl). Thus, although as children we are placed into separate gender categories that sometimes oppose each other; we must also remember that the conflict does not necessarily exist between sexes, but within them.

Even in adulthood, there still exists this female double edge sword when it comes to gender difference and acceptance. For example, if you are a female college student, you are expected to interact on an equal basis with both genders because now you are "mature." However, if you are a female college student who interacts on a close personal basis with primarily males, then she is often labeled as either a lesbian or a whore. There is an irony behind this marginalizing act: It is other female college students, not males, who are creating these categories. By labeling these women as whores, the female categorizers are justifying the woman's acceptance into the male realm by claiming her to be sexually promiscuous. On the other hand, in labeling these women as lesbians, they are justifying her acceptance into the male realm by claiming her to share a common sexual orientation with heterosexual men.

We as a society so often assume that since boys and girls are biologically different, it is impossible for children to think of both themselves and their playmates in a non-gendered way. But yet, we forget that these people are in indeed children; and therefore, we must be conscious of the fact that they think in more simplistic ways. For example, when I was a young, of course I was aware that I was the only girl who played flag football during recess. However, I did not view this as a "gender inequality," in fact, I never really thought about it at all. As a college student, I am the only female in my apartment. Still, after studying gender and sexuality both in class and in life, I never really think of myself as a female existing in a "realm of males." Instead, like my flag football teammates, I view my roommates as people who I willingly interact, compete, and have fun with.

Both western academia and society tend to equate gender to biological sex; and therefore, male and female categories are developed to serve as easy foundations for gender analysis. Yet, in creating this practical binary opposition, we run the risk of limiting our analysis to that of only male versus female. In creating a gender dichotomy that contrasts women to men, the possibility of neglecting the gendered activity existing within same biological sex groups develops. By addressing the various tensions and social pressure existing within same biological sex groups, and then discussing how these tensions may lead to increased segregation among opposite biological sex, I hope to promote the complexity of gender and biological sex as not just a binary opposition between male and female, but also that of female and female or male and male.

From Nail Polish to Not Crying: How I Learned to P
Name: Kathryn Co
Date: 2005-09-13 11:52:26
Link to this Comment: 16119


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

I attended the same school, a Montessori school, from first through eighth grade so I grew up with pretty much the same group of kids during my "formative years". My middle school was very strict in terms of female-male interactions and forbid us to date or wear makeup/nail polish to school. Interestingly enough, it was fine for us to wear nail polish in elementary school. However, once we reached the age where sexuality began to creep into the picture, my teachers found it essential to our "learning experience" to eradicate it altogether. And that also meant eliminating all superficial ways to make ourselves more attractive before we even consciously understood why.

I specifically remember one time in seventh grade when my grandmother had come down to visit. She came down on a Thursday evening and we did our tradition of nail painting that night. I figured since we had a half day on Friday, a few hours of nail polish wouldn't matter. I was so wrong. I came into school the next day and was instantly greeted by my male teacher with "Good morning Katie. What is on your fingernails?" I thought I would be able to get away with a quick sorry but instead, I received a 5-minute verbal rebuke that included talk of "sexuality" and finished with a "don't do it again"/detention. I was pretty angry that putting some colored paint on my fingernails had warranted me my first and only detention in middle school, but I was especially angry that someone who wasn't me or closely related to me was trying to control what I could or could not do to my body. I was too young to understand that my teachers were simply trying to protect me from something I was better off keeping under wraps as long as possible but I was too smart to just let it go and not understand that my "sexuality" could somehow be used to my advantage. I never went through the stage where boys had cooties and "good" girls should stay away from "naughty" boys. I was one of the "mature girls" Thorne refers to; the ones who developed early, the ones who boys were aware not to grab in the chest area. Did I understand then that my physical maturity gave me an advantage not only over less developed girls my age but also over boys? Absolutely. Did I understand why? Not really, but the fact that I knew I could use it at such a young age only reinforces Thornes proposition that sexuality is an integral part of interactions between the sexes.

My physical maturity caught up to me, however, when I developed a huge crush on a boy in the seventh grade. His name was James; he was extremely cute, extremely funny, extremely athletic and extremely popular with all the girls in my class. Fortunately, I was raised playing sports, so I figured this would be my way to get him to notice me without sacrificing any of the feminism my mother had preached to me since I was in the womb. I never allowed myself to go the "I'm acting dumb so you think I'm cute" route because, to me, it always just seemed dumb to act dumb. Basketball was the big sport during recess. All the guys played, no matter how good they were (or weren't) while the girls either played jump rope or sat on the bench and watched attentively like Stepford Wives. I didn't like to jump rope because somewhere along the line, my hand-eye-foot coordination went wrong, and I definitely didn't like to sit, so my alternative was make up a new game or play basketball with the boys, which is what I decided to do. On that day I started my own revolution. I threw myself into the group of boys and demanded that I be picked on a team. Shockingly, I was the third person chosen out of a group of about fifteen. I would be lying if I honestly thought I got the spot because of my skills, which were mediocre at best. Had I been a boy I would have been much further down in the pecking order, but being a girl gave me two advantages over the boys. First, they didn't want to be as rough with me as they were with their male peers simply because of some quasi-chivalrous rules implemented by society and reinforced by authority figures. Second, they underestimated me. True, I was no Diana Turasi, but when someone who knows how to play the game is left unguarded, it is only a matter of time before pure probability catches up despite their skill level. I was also stronger than most of the pre-pubescent boys I played with, thanks to early development and genetics. Combine strength and probability with the quasi-chivalrous attitude I mentioned earlier and I was golden. The next day, there was no "evening out of the teams" and the boys started considering me one of their strongest assets.

Once the other girls stopped playing jump rope long enough to realize I was playing with the boys, they approached me about playing too. I told them that asking the boys if they could play was not an option. Invoking an even bigger revolution than the one I had begun for myself, I said if they wanted to play, they had the right to play and they should just do it. I guess the boys were a bit overwhelmed by six more girls wanting to play in addition to me because they pitched a fit to my teacher about there being "too many people" which then turned into "too many girls", an argument that my Title IX-generation teacher wasn't having. So as a compromise, we all ended up playing, with a mixture of girls and boys and teachers, just to make it seem less strange. But something interesting happened the day I empowered my girlfriends to play with the boys: I lost some of my prowess on the basketball court. Since I had been the only girl playing, I naturally stood out. Looking back on it now, I realize that what I coveted from a young age was a bond with boys that was thoroughly equal and had that competitive element to it. I liked the fact that the quasi-chivalry went out the window as soon as they recognized that I was stronger and faster than they were (I believe it was day three). I enjoyed (and still do enjoy) being the only girl in a room full of guys because it gives me a huge sense of empowerment and incredible stomach butterflies at the same time. I love being able to hold my own among what society, and science, considers the "stronger sex" because it shows how far women have really come in this struggle we call feminism.
When my role as the sole source of estrogen among a mass of testosterone was taken away, incidentally by my own doing, I began to feel a bit resentful of my girlfriends and wished that I hadn't actually suggested they play in the first place. While it was sometimes fun to have other girls there, and I was still appreciated as the most skilled female player, I now had more than myself to live up to. I had a whole group of girls I was constantly in competition with for the affections of boys. Thorne mentions the pressure on girls from a very young age to look and act pretty to "get a boyfriend". Since makeup and nail polish were outlawed and natural beauty is a rare thing at age 12, one had to depend on personality and prowess to attain male attention. I have never thrived well under competition for boys and during that awkward middle school phase, I gravitated toward the attention I got from being a good female athlete.

Apparently not much changed as I made the transition from middle school to high school because I still coveted being the only girl among a group of guys and gained attention for being a good athlete. The feminist was still within me, although there was a more conscious aspect of sexuality to it than in middle school. I still loved sports and played three a year all through high school. Growing up with a father who played college football, I loved seeing games on television and playing catch in the yard. Football looked like a lot of fun-it was fast paced, required quick thinking and included a little bit of roughhousing, something I loved. I never played "real" football when I was younger because I was an only child and there weren't many boys in my neighborhood. When I got to high school, my best male friend was, coincidentally, a football player. I had always been friends with guys who played sports, probably because we had something in common but also because I think they respected the fact that I wasn't afraid to play rough with them.

During my junior year in high school, I went to a picnic held for my class. There were all the usual fun things: friends, food, face painting...and football. I noticed a group of guys, some who I was friends with, some who I wasn't, playing a rather raucous game of no pads, no rules, full out tackle football on the field. My best friend, Jeff, the football player, was assigned to guard me but not before making a few quasi-derogatory comments about having to "guard a girl". After a few plays where I didn't get much action (read: none), I decided to use my quickness to outrun my defensive linebacker friend (read: not very difficult). I ended up in range of the pass and somehow jumped high enough to catch it. Unfortunately, I also caught Jeff's elbow, right in the face. I came down hard, still holding the ball. I figured the guys were yelling because they were happy I had made a touchdown. Turns out, I had the bloodiest nose ever created, or so they thought. I have a fairly strong pain threshold, so I don't cry much when I'm injured and at that moment I was so ecstatic that I had caught the ball and made a touchdown, I barely even noticed I was bleeding.

After leaving the training room, with an order not to play contact sports for at least a week in case of a concussion, I walked back up to the picnic and continued to go about my business. I specifically remember one guy, who had never said more than 5 words to me despite the three classes we'd taken together, came up to me later and complimented me on my touchdown. I was ecstatic! This guy who was a good football player and rather cute, who had never taken notice of me before, had now noticed me because I had done a terrific job of outplaying all the guys. However, my moment of intense self-pride turned into intense anger when he also complimented me on the fact that I hadn't cried. Although I know he meant well, the comment perturbed me because it was exactly what I had been trying to overcome for all these years; it was the reason I had joined the game in the first place. I know he would have complimented a guy on a nice touchdown but he would have teased a guy mercilessly had he cried after getting hit in the face, a fact which only bothered me more.

I understand now that wearing nail polish doesn't make you a piece of meat, just as not crying when you are injured doesn't make you tough. While the dynamic of my relationships with guys has changed, in that the sexual aspect became less avoidable and more acceptable to promote, the foundation of a need for equality still remains. I get intense self-pride out of being better than guys without having to try too hard and an even more intense feeling of self-humiliation when I am "given" something because I am a girl. I still compete with guys to see how I do and I know that if I do something better than them, there will be a nasty backlash of snide comments because a girl won. But I'm trying to change that with each little act of "basketball revolution".

Let's Talk About Sex, and Gender
Name: Talya Gate
Date: 2005-09-13 18:31:36
Link to this Comment: 16129


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

"Let's talk about sex, Baby. Let's talk about you and me. Let's talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be, let's talk about sex."
~Salt 'N' Pepa, "Let's Talk About Sex"

Sex, in a biological sense, has become easily definable. It is something tangible. Most people are born either one way or another. Granted, those who are not are ostracized or simply ignored. Salt 'N' Pepa's song "Let's Talk About Sex" is speaking about the action and about how it's something that happens and therefore shouldn't be ignored or forgotten. However, there is one aspect to this song, and to most thought processes, which is forgotten: gender. Does gender mean the same thing as sex?

Gender is more difficult to comprehend let alone explain. In most politically correct communities, gender is considered a spectrum, something fluid. Gender is all about self-definition; sex may be predetermined but gender is not. There is no right or wrong gender; yet despite that, our society has come to accept and expect certain things from certain genders. Rather, it has become so engrained in us that we simply consider it human nature to believe that actions and emotions accompany a gender.

Recently, there has been a surge of pressure for individuals to reevaluate their "roles" and expectations to help tear down the boundaries that stereotypes and titles create. There has, however, been confusion and debate over the cause of gender. Is it something that is inherent in human evolution or is it socialized?

My parents raised me in the most balanced way that they could. They taught me to play in the mud and to bake challah. They encouraged me to play sports and to properly set a table for a seven-course meal. They encouraged me to play with boys and girls. They quizzed me on my math times-tables and tucked me into bed every night while giving me "good-dreams".

"Adults can help kids build relationships based on mutuality and respect" (Thorne, 159). Most children are not as privileged as I was. I not only grew up in a safe area but I grew up with loving and caring parents who pushed me to discover who I was whether or not that person would "fit" into society. I did not get "stuff" but I developed a strong sense of self which they challenged, and still do challenge, on a daily basis. My older sister, Naomi, also took part in that adventure toward self-discovery, and she offered a perspective that my parents could not. She was the older sister who, in response to my biting and drawing blood, said, "I can't bite her back, she's too little" yet had no qualms about teasing me mercilessly.

Naomi and I were always very different. It was first noticeable when we began choosing our own clothes and played dress-up together. I always chose pink and high heels that could have fit, literally, three of my feet; she always chose earth and matte jewel tones. She put her hair up to get it out of her face and I put my hair in whatever way I thought that it looked prettiest.

We went to the same school through 8th grade. By the middle of preschool, I had become a socialite. She had become the teachers' favorite; she was a dedicated student who never came into class hyper after (or before) lunch, she spent her free time reading and being "the good little girl". She watched someone French-braid my hair, once, when she was seven, and she learned how. I, on the other hand was a hyperactive and dirty child: I was the "tomboy" who wore dresses. I still followed directions, for the most part, but I was also in a dream world for most of the day. My world involved building forts, watching "The Sound of Music", and playing Tunnel or Candlestick Tag. If I asked really nicely, I could convince her to do my hair; however, I was not a child who sat still for more than three minutes. We decided to create a game, which she, then, took part in: I sat backwards on the toilet seat and we timed her as she braided. One-day, when she was in 4th grade, she managed to double French-braid my waist-long hair in 3 minutes.

Throughout her high school years, she wore really baggy jeans and sweatshirts; I became "preppy". I encouraged her to alter her attire simply because I knew that she was gorgeous and, in her choice of clothing, did not feel it. The irony in our choice of clothing is that while I was wearing the "girls" clothes, I was still constantly dirty and while she was wearing the "boys" clothes, she was compulsively clean.

Naomi was in college across the country from me by the time I was a junior in high school. She had just ended summer vacation and left for school the day before my senior portrait. I called her the morning of and was frantic: I did not know what to do with my hair. I wanted it to look nice, but more importantly I wanted to feel pretty. Naomi laughed and said, "You know, it's sorta funny, I know how to do hair and make-up and you're the girly one". I didn't really know how to respond: she was right, right? Needless to say, I managed to get through that day without too much pain.

"Don't sit on the ground, your ovaries will freeze and you won't be able to have children. Boys, you carry the desks and tables; Girls, you sweep." I was livid the first time I heard this and realized that it was said seriously. By the tenth time, I realized that it had less to do with me than it did to do with the society that I was in. I was informed of the ways of the world; well, at least the ways of Former Soviet Union Eastern European countries. I thought of my sister: I reminisced about the experiences that we shared.

Throughout our lives, we chose to describe ourselves and each other. We both took our turns at the "girly" and "tomboy" phases but we didn't know that they meant anything or came with negative connotations. "...provide mutual support as they go through the dangers of the forest. They each take the lead" (Thorne, 172). We still count on one another: often for encouragement, frequently for criticism, but mostly as a dose of twisted sisterly reality. Some might say that we still go through phases; however, I have come to accept it, not as a phase, but simply as part of me.

As I look back I realize that there isn't, inherently, a problem with having traditional gender roles. When gender roles become a problem is when people stop treating them as possibilities and start treating them as truth, and truth alone. Is gender socialized or biological? Contrary to popular opinion and stereotypes, current and archaic, it is not as simple as biology. Some things are biological and some things are sociological.

"Yo, I don't think we should talk about this. Come on, why not? People might misunderstand what we're tryin' to say, you know? No, but that's a part of life."
~Salt 'N' Pepa, "Let's Talk About Sex"

"How do children actively come together to help create, and sometimes challenge, gender structures and meanings" (Thorne, 4)? Is there a need to talk about gender? No. Is there a need to create a world where men and women, girls and boys are treated with the same expectations and opportunities? Yes. How do we achieve that utopia? We talk about gender; we talk about language; we talk about miscommunications and interpretations; and, we talk about ourselves.

Salt 'N' Pepa; "Blacks' Magic," "Let's Talk About Sex"; Herby Luv Bug; 1990.

Thorne, Barrie; Gender Play: Girls and Boys in Schools; Rutgers University Press; New Brunswick, New Jersey; 1993.

A Journey in Gendered Play
Name: Amy Pennin
Date: 2005-09-14 12:17:39
Link to this Comment: 16132


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

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Barrie Thorne argues in her analysis of gender play among schoolchildren that, in opposition to more traditional conceptions of children as being socialized by adults into gendered roles, children themselves also "come together to help create, and sometimes challenge, gender structures and meanings" (4). Children and young adults are social actors, constantly playing a starring role in their own constructions of gender identity. Nevertheless, the roles available to children and young adults as they act out their gender are firmly limited by two factors: the narrow scope of socially recognized gender roles and relationships between the genders, and the further limiting factor of the actor's individual status within his social group (usually of schoolmates). Through the following ethnography of my own personal experiences of gender play, I would like to complicate Thorne's notion of the factors which limit children's gendered interactions and relationships by demonstrating the ways in which individual social status further narrows each child's scope of possible gender roles and actions, past the wider defining lines of socially recognized possibilities. In other words, I hope to show how, within the set of "painfully sparse language that kids have for relationships between boys and girls," each child's potential 'vocabulary' is further limited by their status within their social group. Thus, this essay will use the term gender 'play' primarily as defined by two of Thorne's four OED defintions: as "dramatic performance," and as "scope or opportunity for action" (5).

One of my earliest memories of gender play occurred in Kindergarten. I met Johnny Beski on the first day of school: we began talking and soon discovered our mutual love for playing checkers, so we set off to find a board and were soon playing a competitive game in the hallway amongst the milling crowds of children and parents. While cross-gender friendships were not too common in our class, I was a precocious, confident little girl who had developed a preference for nerdy boys at a very early age. Though I don't have many memories of it, I believe I was one of the less popular, less girly girls in my class; I do remember watching Saved by the Bell and thinking that if I was Jessie, I would totally have dated Screech . At this time in my life, my social status provided me with a wider scope of potential roles in performing and exploring my gender; the fact that I didn't care what other girls thought was, in large part, what allowed me to form my relationship with Johnny. Johnny himself was a nerd, and got picked on by other kids because his ears stuck out so much. As a result of his lowered social status as a boy, Johnny had less concern with establishing himself as 'one of the boys,' and thus was also free to choose from a wider range of gender roles and actions. In this way, Johnny and I came to call ourselves "best friends," and would spend many afternoons together after school, watching "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" and playing checkers. In our day-to-day interactions, our genders were insignificant.

However, the ways in which Johnny and I defined our relationship was still constrained by the "painfully sparse language" of which Thorne speaks. Despite the lack of salience of gender in our play, and despite our young age, Johnny and I were already highly attentive to the limited possibilities for boy-girl relationships which were displayed in after-school specials on TV, as well as amongst our peers and parents. Thus, Johnny and I always told people, along with the fact that we were "best friends," that we were also going to get married. Despite the total lack of sexuality in our little bodies, Johnny and I were highly aware of the fact that socially recognized friendships among men and women were almost inevitably tied to romantic interest, being "girlfriend and boyfriend," and future plans of marriage. The influence which common social definitions of male-female relationships had over our friendship increased over time, and was made evident in one interaction which I remember extremely well.

My mother took Johnny and me to the Stock Show in Denver when it came into town; as a part of the rodeo, a stock show comes into town every year, and includes petting zoos and activities for kids as well as the display and sale of high-quality livestock by farmers from all over the state . We all bought hot dogs after visiting the petting zoo and sat down to eat. My mother had brought a camera, and while we were sitting there, I asked her to take a picture of me kissing Johnny on the cheek. This was certainly an act of play, as Johnny and I were both in excited, silly moods and laughed quite a bit about the whole thing. However, this performance was also extremely significant, as I remember regarding that trip to the stock show afterward as a sort of 'first date,' and an event which solidified Johnny's and my status as 'boyfriend and girlfriend.' This performance of gender on my part not only displayed the ways in which cultural notions of acceptable male-female relationships had already been impressed upon me at a young age. As I took a very active role in defining and exploring my own gender identity and the possibilities of definitions for Johnny's and my relationship, I proved not only how significant a role children play in the construction of their own gendered identities; my insistence upon the taking of a photograph in which Johnny was the focus, while I kissed him on the cheek, signaled my simultaneous recognition of the 'proper' power differential between male and female in a romantic relationship. While I showed bold initiative in acting out my own gendered identity, I was also already submitting to the assumed relationship of domination and subordination implied in 'normal' heterosexual romantic relationships.

The salience of this specific power dynamic, as well as the limitation of my scope of gender play opportunities by social status, would become far greater in my middle school years. After losing touch with Johnny and switching schools, I had no other close male friends, though I continued to talk to and play with boys at school. However, with the arrival of middle school, social dynamics between girls and boys changed immensely. The boundaries of male-female relationships which I had already begun to acknowledge eight years before seemed to crystallize overnight, and the "painfully sparse language" within which we could act out and define our cross-gender relationships became much more painful, and much more sparse. Now, I was triply limited, not only by the narrowing of the scope of possibilities for gender roles, but by my status, first as a girl, and second as a less popular adolescent.

Incidents of bra-snapping amongst the kids in our grade prove especially useful as an example of the interaction of gender, social status, and previous gender socialization which would limit to varying degrees our possibilities for gender play. Bra-snapping was an important act of flirtation between boys and girls governed by varying levels of power hierarchy. Firstly, only boys could snap girls' bras; girls had no physical recourse, and could only verbally protest in response. In other gendered interactions, as well, the girls at this age had an extremely limited scope of actions available to them, and were limited mainly to verbal expression. This pattern mirrors the playground behavior observed by Thorne, in which "boys more often see girls and their activities as interruptible," while girls' only recourse is to complain to an adult, as well as adult patterns in which "men more often interrupt or violate the space, as well as the talk, of women" (83). Thus, by middle school, the subordinate female role I had recognized in kindergarten had become highly enforced among all female students. Secondly, this power differential had become highly complicated by the role of status hierarchies within our class. Only certain boys dared to snap the bra of a girl; if a low-status boy were to engage in such flirtation, such action would inevitably be perceived as inappropriate, and he would be ridiculed. Low-status girls had even less power over gender interaction and play. Only the most popular girls, whom it was recognized were already highly desired by the boys, could initiate the verbal teasing which might lead to an incident of bra-snapping. Other girls, uncertain of their status in the eyes of both their male and female peers, could not initiate such interaction for fear of being deemed inappropriately annoying or socially inept, and had only one option: to wait, desperately hoping to have their bra snapped by even a mildly popular boy, and thus have their status upgraded to that of a legitimately attractive female.

Such was my position in seventh grade. In all gendered interactions, as well as in same-gender relations at that age, Thorne's description of girls' induction into heterosexualized femininity on page 170 is incredibly salient:
It is during the transition from "child" to "teen" that girls start negotiating the forces of adult femininity, a set of structures and meanings that more fully inscribe their subordination on the basis of gender. "Emphasized femininity" is based on accommodating to the desires and interests of men. Girls are pressured to make themselves "attractive," to define themselves and other girls in terms of their positions in the heterosexual market...(which) all too often involves exploitation...and the culture of romance perpetuates male privilege.
Thus, for girls especially, in early adolescence both social status and the limited number of socially recognized cross-gender relationships play limiting factors in one's enacting both of gender play and daily life. Girls of low social status, I would argue, suffer the most from these constraints, as they lie nearly helpless at the bottom of a highly imbalanced social hierarchy. While a certain measure of low status provided me freedom at a younger age, my new adolescent self after "the fall" of my self-esteem and confidence was utterly constrained by my low social status. As I watched Titanic over and over again in the theaters and pasted pictures of Leonardo DiCaprio all over my walls, I truly felt that my self-worth was entirely dependent upon my "emphasized femininity," upon whether a boy would deem to rescue me and take me for his girlfriend (Thorne 170).

Looking back on these experiences, I find that I am much more fond of the girl who befriended the smart boy with the big ears than the girl who pined after mean 13-year-old boys and wasted approximately 36 hours of her life watching Titanic (yes, I am still ashamed). And in recognizing the ways in which social status hierarchies served first to liberate me in kindergarten and then to imprison me in middle school, I wonder what it really is that causes girls to experience "the fall" in their transition from childhood to adolescence. Only now, years later, have I managed to recover my balance and learned to prefer the nerds over the jerks. Perhaps if, back in kindergarten, I had been able to be Johnny's best friend and nothing more, or had I been able to tell him to kiss me on the cheek, I wouldn't have fallen so incredibly hard. I hope that if I can provide my daughter with what Thorne calls "more images of, and more experiences with, cross-gender relationships based on friendship," she'll have the chance to stay standing and stick with Screech.

In Foucault's "Age of the Critical Analysis of Rep
Name: Flora Shep
Date: 2005-10-21 08:25:45
Link to this Comment: 16575


Sex and Gender

2005 First Web Papers

On Serendip

Flora Shepherd
Seminar on Gender and Sexuality
Fall 2005

In Foucault's "Age of the Critical Analysis of Repression", the realist is king:
Why we need rules to play with gender.

My earliest memory: a shaft of sun on my face. I am in the kitchen at the old house. Mom is showing me how to grate the zest off an orange. The sharp scent bites my nostrils. I am giddy, grinding fruit against metal. But I grate my hand! My palm is bleeding, the citrus burning the wound. I was having fun. How did this happen? Sobbing, I jump off the stool and run to my room. My bedroom door looms in front of me (white boxy molding) and the memory is over.

Seventh grade: retreating from the soccer field sun, I join the girls in the middle school courtyard. We throw tennis balls against the wall and try to catch them. Whoever misses has to run across the wall and without getting hit by a ball. But it is boring to throw and catch. Everyone throws harder at the girls running across the wall. Screaming and giggling, I do not mind when a ball pelts me in the thigh. I run back out and throw the ball as hard as I can. It hits Amanda's head; her glasses break; her face is bleeding. Coach blows her whistle and wallball is over.

And now I am listening to the discussion in my college Gender and Sexuality Class. I try to flesh out my ideas, play with categories. Barrie Thorne wrote that, "... children's collective activities should weigh more fully in our overall understanding of gender and social life. One of my goals is to help bring children from the margins and into the center of sociological and feminist thought"(4). I will take up her challenge. I recall my childhood experiences: my bleeding hand, Amanda's face and other memories. How do these lessons apply to my understanding of the gender and sexuality studies discipline?

Childhood games are closely connected with the body. One can see and feel the consequences of these games. But while discussing gender, we play with invisible ideas. No one can see casts over broken ideologies, braces for twisted perspectives or the bandages wrapped around the gash where faith was torn away. Since ideological and emotional wounds can be just as real and painful as physical ailments, it is important to find a way to draw the line between discomfort and pain, between useful and destructive discussion. How can we prevent the severe damage that can come from discussing categories? Thorne offers guidance on children's play in the following passage, but the content is just as applicable to discussions of feminist and gender studies.
The 'play' frame, like the related frame of 'humor,' brackets an encounter, setting it apart from ongoing, more "serious" life. Situations of play and humor have a loosened relationship to consequences; if pressed to take responsibility for their actions, participants can say, "we're only playing" or "this is just a joke." Thorne, 79
If the words spoken in the "bracketed" discussion are protected by virtue of their being uttered in a setting "apart from", how can we regulate discussions at all? I am not satisfied by this explanation. Social responsibility for another does not go away in a classroom setting. If anything, emotions and ideas are magnified. This discussion bracket is an explanation of a certain phenomena, not a solution.

It is especially difficult to create rules for human gender and sexuality discussions because we are discussing more than just ideas. By definition, we are discussing ourselves. Thorne explains that "...children, like adults, live in present, concretely historical, and open-ended time...Children's interactions are not preparations for life, they are life itself" (3). Since students and "... children act, resist, rework and create..." it is difficult to separate abstract theory from concrete experience (3). If theory is shaped by experience and experience is tied to identity, then it may be impossible to discuss theory without encroaching on identity. And since identities are so diverse, safety rules may have to be abandoned in favor of trust in the other members of the discussion: trust that everyone acts in pursuit of the goal of the game. But what is that?

Rules are necessary as more than just a safety measure. In all sports, especially nonphysical ones, rules shape the game and define the goal. The exact goal of gender and sexuality is unique for each scholar. But I would venture to assume Barrie Thorne describes the general goal best:
As adults, we can help kids, as well as ourselves, imagine and realize different futures, alter institutions, craft new life stories. A more complex understanding of the dynamics of gender, of tensions and contradictions, and of the hopeful moments that lie within present arrangements, can help broaden our sense of the possible. 173
And how can one "broaden our sense of the possible?"

Foucault and Laquer argue that the most important rule in gender and sexuality studies is not to take any facts for granted. Foucault primarily discusses the history of discourse on sexuality. Not only is the discipline itself complex, he argues, but our relation to it is extremely complex also.

"...for decades now, we have found it difficult to speak on the subject without striking a different pose: we are conscious of defying established power, our town of voice shows that we know we are being subversive, and we ardently conjure away the present and appeal to the future, whose day will be hastened by the contribution we believe we are making. 6-7
The question I would like to pose is not Why are we repressed? But rather Why do we say, with so much passion so much resentment...that we are repressed?"8-9

This passage suggests to me that the study of gender and sexuality and the study of the study of gender and sexuality could each be its own discipline, each more complex than the other. How can we focus on the subject without acknowledging the subjectivity we have when studying it? What's more, Foucault writes that "The statement of the oppression and the form of the sermon refer back to one another; they are mutually reinforcing" (8). How does he propose to elude this catch-22? Are we destined to discuss sex without gaining any ground on our understanding or broadening our sense of the possible? I think his solution lies here, "All these negative elements,--defense, censorship, denial...are doubtless only component parts that have a local and tactical role to play in a transformation into discourse, a technology of repression ..." (12). The key rule then, is to remain aware of the presence of this "technology." We must acknowledge that our thoughts may not be revolutionary or useful. By remaining aware of this continual, obtrusive presence of societal technology in our thought processes and society, we will ask more relevant questions and, hopefully, obtain a better understanding of gender and sexuality.

One find Foucault's "technology" even in the writings of Thomas Laquer He critiques those who rely heavily on modern science and biology to explain gender and sexuality. According to biology, relying on modern science alone to understand sexuality and gender will not give anyone a broader understanding of the subject, "there is no "correct" representation of women in relation to men and that the whole science of difference is thus misconceived..." (21). However, if one studies the history and context of modern moedicine, more knowledge may be gained. He notes that "In terms of the millennial traditions of western medicine, genitals came to matter as the marks of sexual opposition only last week.. .(22) So, what can one trust in science? Laquer states that "The record on which I have relied bears witness to the fundamental incoherence of stable, fixed categories of sexual dimorphism, or male and an/or female."(22) The one thing that science can teach us, unequiviacobly, is that the study of gender and sexuality can sometimes be incoherent. The situation is not as simple as it may appear.

Foucault explains that is not enough to base inquiry solely on our own personal experiences and Laquer says not to rely on instantaneous science alone. So? What can we rely on? What rules are we left with for this game? Both emphasize the importance of context. I've only been able to find three rules.
1. Gender is hard to study.
2. Remain aware of your bias, "the technology of repression" inside of you as much as possible. It pervades theory, science and your discussions.
3. Trust that your colleagues want to help despite how much their experiences or thoughts may hurt or disagree with your own.
Now let's play!

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. 1966;
rpt. and trans. New York: Vintage, 1973.
Laqueur, Thomas. "Of Language and the Flesh." Making Sex: Body and Gender from the
Greeks to Freud. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1990.
Thorne, Barrie. Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School. New Brunswick, Rutgers
University Press, 1994.

veriwald fbaj
Name: pvqbhjym@m
Date: 2006-06-28 02:33:37
Link to this Comment: 19608

Date: 2007-09-28 18:14:39
Link to this Comment: 21945

Very Interesting.

Holiday Cards

Date: 2007-10-17 21:48:06
Link to this Comment: 22061

Date: 2007-10-30 18:19:59
Link to this Comment: 22066

you learn something every day


Sex, Gender and Weddings
Date: 2008-01-12 10:15:03
Link to this Comment: 22067

Brides searching for wedding invitations are more concerned about the invitations than there groom to be.


Bridal Wedding Invitations

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