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My Story

eshaw's picture


I chose this image because I feel that it aptly depicts my personal experience in the field of gender studies. The image is circular, with no particular end or beginning. It's confusing and self referential, with no clear demarcation between what is drawn and what is drawing. I feel similarly about gender studies in its relation between self and other. It's a constant effort on my part to balance the two elements. Though the body of my education experience has taught me to analytically distance myself from the subject of my study; the study of gender almost invites the opposite. It's a study of the personal experience, the collective experience, the perceived experience. Though I often attempt to make my studies in gender theoretical, it inevitably relates back to the self. I feel like Escher perfectly captures that process of conflation and circularity in his drawing. 


In writing this paper, I feel a bit like I'm inserting pieces of my life into categories and through that organizing process, I am reasserting certain gender stereotypes for my own convenience.  While I believe that my life has formed in relation to gender, I have never felt that it played an incredibly dominant role. That all being said, in reflecting the prompt I began to see patterns - patterns that perhaps I have imposed on myself for the purposes of cohesiveness and clarity. While I have never considered myself a "tomboy" (however that term serves in furthering assumed social gender roles), my reflection has led me to believe that I identify with socially masculine constructions over feminine. This realization surprised me, for I have always thought of myself as pretty average in terms of my gender identity (though I am aware that having an "average" identity does not truly exist).  


When I first considered the intersection of gender and education, my mind immediately moved towards the stereotype of women in the classroom. My experience from elementary school through high school was that girls were expected to study hard, raise their hand, be organized, gain the teacher's favor, and get good grades (this stereotype being not far from that of the typical Asian student). Being a (half) Asian girl, I felt particularly alienated from that social assumption when I fit none of those characteristics. While I did get good grades, I identified much more easily with the males in my classes. I was scatterbrained and disorganized, I frequently did not turn in assignments or do readings, I occasionally raised my hand to speak, and when it came time to take a test, I crammed the night before, sure that I would get top marks. I placed a huge amount of confidence in my mind and I considered daily assignments merely busy work for those who hadn't grasped the concepts yet. In truth, I was cocky (and yes, the use of the word is intentional). 


It is only in retrospect that I can see that attitude as a form of rebellion. It wasn't simply that I did not identify with many of the girls in my classes, it was that I avidly did not want to be like them. Perhaps it was the combination of race and gender; perhaps it was something else entirely. All I know is that somehow I had convinced myself that needing to study hard proved a weakness in intellect. Though I did not overtly equate that belief to gender at the time, in retrospect the people in my life whom I modeled myself after intellectually were all men. This implicit understanding that being a good student and being a smart person were both separate and gendered stayed with me until I went to college. As a college student, my study habits had to change drastically (still a work in progress) and I feel that the gender dynamics of the classroom are not so strictly polarized. That being said, I feel that the attitude has not entirely dissipated. The relationship between Bryn Mawr and Haverford (in itself an experiment on gender and education) has both shifted and reenforced my own gender stereotypes.  

Interestingly, I do not feel that these aspects of my life (true or exaggerated for the purposes of this paper) have directly fueled my interest in the study of gender. I feel, in fact, that all of these elements merely fortify gender constructions within my identity. Perhaps, though, this process of uncovering implicit gender dynamics is an important step in deconstructing them. I can confidently say that my interest in the study of gender was solidified after I spent a semester in Cairo. I hoped that my time there would shed some light upon the intersection between femininity, religion, and the state. Rather than untangling these elements, however, I felt that my studies made everything more complex; rather than revealing some kind of ultimate truth to take home with me, my time in Cairo taught me about the multiplicity and diversity within constructions of identity. Instead of learning about a feminine and cultural "other," I was urged to think about myself and why I was particularly interested in these questions. As evidenced by my conflicted and ambivalent narrative, I still have not figured out the answer. 



Anne Dalke's picture

Re-shaping the world by writing about it?

great, and very powerful, image, that explicitly evokes the sense not only of "conflation and circularity," but the ways in which we shape the world we are studying. (It's way too big, though, and will slow down the loading of all pages; could you re-size it, please and thanks?)

My question for you is whether--having so self-consciously shaped ("organized"? "categorized"? "patterned"? "made cohesive"? "clarified"? "exaggerated"?) your experiences into this text--you have begun the process of altering those experiences (or those which may follow)? Having surprised yourself by naming yourself a tomboy (for instance), have you altered memory, or the future? (For comparison, see dshetterly's evocation of the power of the imagination to change the world....)