Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Notes Towards Day 3 (Tuesday, 9/10): "Working" Gender

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Couple of striking passages from your Sunday night postings:
One-word naming is stingy with language--it allows a full-bodied experience one encompass everything that it means.

Erin: My image in class was that of a rock [but] the aptitude test in The New Gender Workbook declared me a gender outlaw, and I'm starting to think of all the ways I don't really fit society's box for my gender.

[On] the personal information section of the PSAT...were six categories listing specific races...I was told that I could only check one....How can something that is so classified as one small thing?

I was often labeled a "tomboy", but I never liked that...then I wasn't allowed to like fancy shoes or pretty dresses and lipstick....I felt like I had to pick a category--it was an either/or situation....ridiculous...I wasn't being an oxymoron--I was being me.

Let's use these quotes to prompt today's "getting acquainted" exercise:
tell the person next to you your name and 3 ways that you (in Erin's words)
"don't really fit society's box for your gender." Three examples of how (in
Kate Bornstein's words) you are not "perfectly gendered."
Go round and introduce one another (just names, not all the outlawry/piracy!).
Listen carefully, because we will reverse!

Welcome back!...still figuring out who came back, who's new (pass around checklist)
does everyone in the room have a Serendip account?
has everyone in the room used it? posted their username, image and some thinking...?
(see me afterwards if not/if you need a hand up w/ this process)

One of you missed class for Rosh Hashanah, and I asked for an extra posting.
That's my policy: I expect you to attend class (I will take role, as today),
and if you have to miss, I'll expect two postings from you that week--
one saying "what you would have said," had you been here.

comments = posts (or better; maybe this weekend I'll assign 1/2 of you to comment on others,
then reverse? Kelly following up on Caroline, re: performing for an audience--goes deeper...

using the 'net: sam's radiolab link, Piper's image (cite these)

reference user names, not meatspace ones? (list is @ top of home page)

II. Let's get to work!
Last week we used the questions from Ewing's Comic About Gender
to conduct interviews w/ one another, asking
what the difference is between sex and gender,
what gender we consider ourselves to be,
whether our gender presentation has ever been questioned, and
how we feel about terms and labels--then we created comic figures to
represent what we heard, about our partner's gender presentation.

Then we looked @ Kathy Acker's "Seeing Gender";
I focused our discussion on her idea about a non-mimetic language:
language that invites play and possibility, that represents dreaming and imagination,
rather than copying the world as we know it and have been taught to see it
(that is, in simple, bounded, binaries...).

today I asked you to  work your way through the first 1/2 of
Kate Bornstein's New Gender Workbook
(if you haven't finished the whole thing, do so by Thursday...)

BMC is a member of the Greater Philadelphia Women's Studies Consortium,
which each fall brings a well-known feminist to the area to visit 1/2-dozen schools
(and I always make sure they come to BMC, talk w/ my gender studies students);
this November we are bringing Heidi Hartmann, an economist
and President of the Institute for Women's Policy Research;
in November 2009, we brought Kate Bornstein, and
I posted on Serendip a record of some of the conversation:

* "There's always a need for people to come together consciously around identity,"
[but] "a cloistered existence accomplishes nothing politically."

* "The first line of attack for gender studies and gender politics has to be violence against women; in the bi-polar gender system, that is the site of triage. If we are not generous enough to do that, we are not ready for the age of coalition."

* "Queer and straight are political terms, describing not who you fuck, but how you talk about it. There are straight lesbians, gays and bisexuals; there are queer heterosexuals."

[share my get out of hell free card...]

That semester, my gender studies class was using the first edition of her Gender Workbook:
How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely

The new edition we are using this semester has a very different subtitle,
clearly far more ambitious/far-reaching--and less ironic:
A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving World Peace Through Gender Anarchy and Sex Positivity.

for me, what is deepest is Kate Bornstein's challenge to the gender binary (=all binaries):
From Gender Outlaw: "no question containing either/or deserves a serious answer" (46).

"The choice between two of something is not a choice at all, but rather the opportunity to subscribe to the value system which holds the two presented choices as mutually exclusive alternatives" (101).

"Gender is not the issue....The issue is us versus them. Any us versus any them.
One day we may not need that" (222).

So she has upped the ante considerably from our discussion on Thursday:
Kathy Acker's patriarchy--> Kate Bornstein's kyriarchy (all spheres of cultural regulation)
our binary--> spectrum--> KB's "big wibbly wobbly gender-y blendery ball"
sexual orientation--> sexual object choice--> KB's gender aptitude

Kate is also modeling a range of new forms of expressiveness to reflect our
increasing sense of the fluidity of our identities (as well as our thinking).

My Gender Workbook, which starts by declaring gender "a major restraint to self-expression,"
goes on to say that "the style of this book might be called theoryfuck. I'm hoping the mix of styles...
highlights the constructed nature of the theory."

III. The Gender Workbook invites us to reflect on our own "gender aptitudes"--and a lot else,
probably more comfortably talked about in small groups than larger ones.

Count off (into 8s?) to get groups of 3. Tell each other:

--what did we learn about ourselves/our orientation towards/investment in gender?
--what was important for each of us here? what was troubling?
--what do we want to understand better?
--what was problematic in the workbook?

VI. (3:15) Return to large group.
Rather than (re) sharing your stories, let's move up one level of abstraction:
if none of us are "perfectly gendered," why does gender exist?
what purposes does it serve? why might we keep this "regulation,"
this "major restraint to self-expression," in place?

Then, from p.
56: The Ten-Minute-a-Day Gender Outlaw Exercise
What is a Man? 
What is a Woman?
Why do we have to be one or the other?

The trick is that the answers have to be phrased in questions...
it works best to keep the questions open, which is where I think they belong....
The point is to get to a question you want to think about some more,
one that really tickles your brain; something you can ponder on
for the balance of the day. Once you get to that question, you stop.").

And now let's share...question by question, read out your questions...
only in question form! (no answers that are not also questions....)

For Thursday, finish working your way through the Workbook....
Anne's Reading Notes from My New Gender Workbook

xi kyriarchy--convergence of spheres of cultural regulation (gender, sexuality, race, looks, age, class, mental health, religion, family/reproductive status, language, habitat, citizenship, political ideology, humanity)

a politic of desire, and an activism of radical wonder and radical welcoming

xii: gender is...from a non-linear, non-normative viewpoint...
more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly...gender-y blendery...stuff

1: Gender... is a major restraint to self-expression.

7: you've lived with your gender all your life--so what can you do with it? That's called aptitude.

10: Most everything...that's considered "natural" has been codified....Why do we mystify these categories...?

18: Recall any journeys you've made across identities.

28: look for where gender is, and then you go someplace else...
it's difficult to find a place where gender isn't....

33-34: gender aptitude scores: freak, outlaw, novice, well-gendered, Capt. Kirk!

35 f: gender has to do with identity, desire, and power

48: gender is...categorization.

49: gender assignment-> role-> identity -> expression -> attribution

sex: erotic energy

54: identity as armor?

69: koan--The way you do anything is the way you do everything.

73: Is there any natural binary...?

75: postmodern theory is...the notion that objects and ideas can have more than one--even paradoxical meanings, all at the same time, depending on context.

tracking devices (tools)

83: Why does gender exist?

92: Are you perfectly gendered?

118: "splattering"--what happens when we have to be too many identities ...
to too many people at the same time.

126-128: are you transgender? what is (uniquely) inconsistent about you?

131: overcoming the fear of abandonment that attends honest self-expression

134: becoming your own evil twin