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Gender, Sexuality Paper 1

dshetterly's picture

Daisy Shetterly



In class I couldn’t think of a fictional character with whom I identified.  I finally decided on Harold from Harold and the Purple Crayon. The most appealing aspect of Harold’s purple crayon is the possibility it affords its user.  It allows the creation of a completely new world which can be shaped and revised as time goes.   In class we remarked upon who chose “gender bending” fictional characters.  Although technically I am “gender bending” in my choice, part of the appeal of Harold’s character is the neutrality of his person.  He is a child living in the world he has constructed for himself, free from external pressures.  His freedom lies in his imagination.
My gender and sexuality related educational experience growing up was mixed.  The faculty of my schools was hugely diverse.  In elementary school our principle was an openly gay Latina woman.  In High school our principal was an openly gay middle-eastern man.  The faculty and staff was extremely varied which benefited the student body both by providing a weath of perspectives and by showing the students many different kinds of people who had achieved “success”. The curriculum was less reflective of that diversity and is best described by McIntosh’s phase three.  There was effort to introduce students to narratives from those outside of the dominant group of white males but it wasn’t enough.  We were taught about the best, most important historical players. People who strayed from the typical mold were presented to us if they had managed to achieve a pretty high level of success but we were never pushed to challenge the mostly composition of these mostly white, straight, male key figures who perch at the top of McIntosh’s pyramid.
The make-up of the upper echelons of our hierarchical system is hugely influential because it is granted legitimacy by society itself.. We are taught to believe in the “American Dream” and our wonderful meritocracy.  We are told that we can do whatever we want to do and be whoever we want to be. .  Those who reach the top generally are believed to deserve it while those who don’t are seen as people who haven’t tried hard enough or simply don’t have what it takes. The under representation then, of women at the “top of the pyramid” has all the more impact on a young girl’s psyche.  The less brilliant women (and diverse individuals in general) we learn about, the less likely it seems we will ever be taught about in a classroom. The socially constructed nature of this reward system reifies society’s implicit accordance with the subjugation of women.  Considering the influence this kind of system of expectations has on an individual, there are huge implications for the way this effects everyone and has affected m as a student.
The Bryn Mawr experience has been hugely different from my experiences in high school in both positive and negative ways.   I’ll admit that I came to school with a chauvinistic mindset.  As I became more conscious of issues of gender and sexuality I grew to detest the part of myself that subconsciously thought of each woman I met as less intelligent as an otherwise identical male.  I see this as the clear outcome of being presented for so many years with famous writers, presidents, artists, and scientists who were overwhelmingly male. 
 It seems that the difference between men and women in the bi-co is credibility and whether it is granted or earned.  Men enter into the classroom with a certain level of  legitimacy while women don’t .We have to prove and reprove our worth while being in some way representative of the whole.  The fear of failing at this strips the individuality from academic participation.  I can’t be “Daisy who said that dumb thing in class” because I am also “Daisy, that girl who said that dumb thing in class”.  This burden has only increased my self censorship.  While it has been all-around amazing to be in an college situation with people who are on similarly high levels  academically, the pressure to prove ones self is a major burden.  This is a problem bigger than gender.  Rather, ity has to do with the structures of success described by McIntosh.  So much effort goes into being the best of the best that it is easy to lose sight of personal progress.  I can’t learn by being too scared to contribute in class but I have a hard time overcoming that trepidation in an environment where intellectualism is so highly valued and judged.
Although the texts are entirely different, the theme of McIntosh’s essay is very similar to Harold and the Purple Crayon.  McIntosh too is trying to sketch out a different reality.  If I were somehow able to be Harold and to use his Magic Purple Crayon I don’t know whether I would feel as if I had the right to use it to fix the things I think need fixing.  To just be able to draw my own city full of windows and a bunch of pies to eat would be pretty cool.



Anne Dalke's picture

A universe of possibility

what's hopeful, in the bleak picture you draw of the fear-of-getting-it-wrong-in-the-classroom, is your sense of the power of the imagination to change the world as we know and experience it. As Jeannette Winterson says in her novel Lighthousekeeping, "Both molecules and the human beings they are a part of exist in a universe of possibility. We touch one another, bond and break, drift away on force-fields we don't understand."

Striking, also, in your account of your earlier education, is the story of a diverse faculty teaching a less-diverse curriculum: what we assign students to read seems not (yet?) to have caught up w/ the world in which they live, not even (according to our testimony) to have caught up w/ the classrooms in which they study those texts. Why do you think that is?

But perhaps the most striking portion of your essay, for me, was your saying that your fear of failing at representing your group ("women") "strips the individuality from academic participation."  Because you are afraid that a mistake of yours will reflect badly on your group, you hesitate to take risks in public. And putting so much effort "into being the best of the best" gets in the way of "personal progress."

Might what Paul said today about the costs of categorizing--> the enforcement of similarity, the elision of difference--give you any way out of this bind? A way back out of the "group" category into individual idiosyncracy?