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Who is one or the other?

vhiggins's picture

This question was inspired by the exercise we did in class on Tuesday 09/10. I had difficulties answering the question "Why do we have to be one or the other?" with another question. I began to think of the characteristics that make men "men" and women "women": Do all women have to know how to cook? Do all men have to be emotionally blank? Do both women and men aspire to be great parents? It is interesting to think of my own gender, and how I have seemingly lived according to my sex assigned at birth, not willingly but because my parents understood the implications of what it meant to be giving birth to a baby girl. They brought me up implementing values that made me into the "perfect little lady", and denied me things that were said to belong to little boys. Still, I pursued a number of active/ contact sports, loved to wear sneakers, and liked to be dirty, all of which were said to belong to little boys - so according to society's view of gender I was both male and female. My older brother played Barbies with me, and helped me cook in my Easy-Bake oven (but ate everything we made) - and so he was also both male and female. This stream of consciousness led me to the question that is the title of this post: "Who is one or the other?" 

No, but really, is anyone exclusively male or exclusively female? The constricting and often outdated socially constructed views of gender leave many feeling wrong or out of place because they have interests that "belong" to the opposite sex. Why does handiwork "belong" to men? Why does cleaning and raising a family "belong" to women? Who gets to OWN certain activities and lifestyles and then criticize members of the opposite sex for trying to partake? Questions, questions. 


iskierka's picture

I both agree and disagree

I both agree and disagree with your sentiments - Kate Bornstein's profession that "everyone is transgender" makes me a bit uncomfortable, personally, partially because it feels as though she's trying to define me better than I can. But I definitely agree how it's absolutely asinine how things are delegated one gender or another, even when the correlations make no sense. But I've spent so long trying to disconnect stereotypes from one gender or another that I feel honestly uncomfortable when saying that doing XYZ makes me both genders. My personal view is that, by saying that we are a combination of genders by performing multiple roles, we reinforce this idea that the roles are gendered. And by society's standards, they are, but the first step is to degender items and actions that have no indicator. Take this advertisement, for example:

These girls take something deemed 'manly' and do it all wearing baby ball gowns and tutus. They're 'girly' girls taking back what they should be allowed to do anyway, and that's what I'm hoping for - and the same for boys who want to play with dolls and dress-up clothes. When Bornstein says 'every person is transgender', I sit there and think, I don't want to be a female with male tendencies. I want to be a female who likes Disney princesses and superheroes in equal measure, and I don't see why that has to have an impact on how I see myself. 

(Apologies if anyone disagree, but that one phrase has been repeating itself in the back of my head, and I have no issue if anyone else agrees with it. I just have no desire to see it applied to me. Another student amended it to 'everybody is queer', which I can agree with more easily.)

sschurtz's picture

Gender Roles in Childhood

It starts from an early age, female babies wear pink and male babies wear blue. I know when I was a child I didn’t have any hair until I was three, so many people would assume I was a boy. My parents would dress me in pink and it would annoy them if people thought I was a boy. It annoyed them because to them it should have been obvious that I was a girl from how I was dressed. It is in childhood when these gender roles are instilled in us. I always loved playing with my brother’s toys the best. I still loved the toys I had but I enjoyed playing with Legos and Hot Wheels more than I did with Cabbage Patch Dolls. I think that it is up to the parents to choose if they want to raise their children in gender roles. I do like the idea of raising children in a gender-neutral environment and letting them choose for themselves. I would not want to instill gender roles in my kids but have them decide. This probably would not be a feasible goal in the current day though. Even if you were able to raise your children without gender you still have other children who identify with gender. I loved playing video games with my brother when I was young but it would annoy my male friends when I would beat them. It is not seen as a girly thing to do. Even at that age there was still pressure from other children to identify and act in a certain way. As a child it’s hard to reconcile what you want to do versus what’s expected of your gender.


In the video I included it shows an ad for a playhouse for little girls where they get to play homemakers. It is not that I find anything inherently wrong with little girls wanting to be homemakers, it’s that it is clearly marketed only for little girls. Everything is pink in the video and they don’t show any boys. Toys for children seem to usually be marketed towards one gender. I don’t understand why we can’t just advertise these types of products for children in general. What would happen if as a society we stopped placing emphasis on toys and games being for a certain gender? Why are we even putting these gender roles on children in the first place? Is it society that tells us that if you are a girl than you need to act this way and if you’re a boy you need to act this way? 

Hasbro's Rose Petal Cottage Commercial #1

pipermartz's picture

I love reading the comments

I love reading the comments on that youtube video! Some of them are quite fueled:

AwYeah88 "I'm buying this for my future son."

SlyFawkes "When a woman chooses to be a housewife, that's great. The problem is that from the time we're little girls, the media tells us this is our role in society. It's not a bad thing to be, it's just that girls should also be told that they can be fire fighters, lawyers, police chiefs, truck drivers, doctors, or anything else they WANT to be. Little boys should have the same opportunity to take on more "female" (nurturing) roles without feeling shamed for it."

ReciprocalZeugma "honey to feminist busy bees! oh fuck they're all over the place on the comments. surprise surprise."

Hotmanlion12 "If you really look into it, it's not that sexist. It's teaching liitle girls to be self-sufficient homeowners. It's not like single mothers don't do any of that stuff."

Why can't the playhouse just look like, you know, a NORMAL house?"

pipermartz's picture

Parental Responsibilities

I'm really glad that you brought up this important "responsibility" of parents to raise their child according to their assigned sex. For the past few days I contemplated the alternate reality in which sex would not be assigned at birth. All parents would raise all of their respective children in a gender-neutral way until the child would declare their self-chosen gender or deny gender. I'm sure there would be outside pressures on the child, but this might combate nature (it all depends on your feelings about the nature vs. nuture debate).
I once asked my mother, a proud feminist and women's college alumna, if she ever made any concious decisions to raise her three daughters in a "geneder-concious manner" with regards to toys. We had been discussing the various petitions about gendered advertising of Hasbro's Easy Bake Ovens (see article below) and other children's toys. She told me that she tried really hard to have her three girls play with categorically masculine toys like Lincoln Logs, Hot Wheels, and Legos as well as "girly" toys like Barbies, Easy Bake Ovens, and American Girl Dolls. She described her surprising strugle to find games and toys that were mareketed in a gender neutral manner. It makes me wonder how I will raise my children and how I will shape their gender.

CNN Article about Hasbro's Response to petition about Easy Bake Ovens: