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GAS Works, 1st Paper (My Version of McIntosh's Story)

rae's picture

I chose the images of a single blue ball within a field of red ones to evoke my personal version of McIntosh’s story because of the way the blue ball stands out against the sea of red. The symbolism of the one blue amidst the many red is twofold. Much of my formal education could be characterized by McIntosh’s Phase 2, “Women In History.” In this sense, the solitary blue ball is like the one accomplished woman in history who has been singled out to represent womankind. However, my informal education outside of the classroom has grown in such a way that the blue ball among the many red is like my education; my learning outside the classroom has given me a unique point of view within the classroom. 

Personally, however, I choose to reinterpret McIntosh’s phases to be more gender-inclusive. Whereas McIntosh focuses solely on the status of women in education, I would choose to view the phases in terms of all people of varying genders. Instead of merely questioning whether women appear in the curricula of classes, I believe that all people should be represented in education, including women, men, transgender people, and other gender-variant people.

For middle school and high school, Rae attends a college preparatory school that provides single-sex education for girls. Rae feels that the all-girls atmosphere at her high school is academically empowering because the school is dedicated to the idea that girls are the intellectual equals of boys. There are posters of exceptional women during Women’s History Month, and occasionally there are notable female speakers who give presentations to the school. The school tries to show its students that girls can achieve anything they set their minds to. Women are rarely mentioned in math, science, or history classes, but Rae reads a book by Margaret Atwood in a class on British literature, and she wrote her longest paper in the class comparing the works of Jane Austen. She feels privileged to attend her school because she has heard that at other schools, teachers often focus on the boys in a class and do not pay attention to the girls. She knows that there is sexism in the world, but she feels that her experiences in high school have enabled her to succeed in the world, even if it is a world dominated by men.   

Rae arrives at Bryn Mawr College confident in Bryn Mawr’s commitment to helping its students become strong, independent women. She believes that she knows about feminism and the importance of gender equality because of having gone to an all-girls school. She takes classes with names like “Feminist Theory” and “Women, Work, and Family” and feels that she is very knowledgeable about issues concerning gender. She is interested in activism regarding women’s issues, like dismantling the glass ceiling and discovering ways for women with careers to balance work and life.

However, Rae begins to realize that gender is not just black and white, or rather, men and women; there are figurative shades of grey. Rae attends workshops on gender led by an organization that Bryn Mawr has invited to the college, and the concept of gender as a spectrum begins to sink in. For the first time, Rae begins to question what gender is. Rae has been accustomed to questioning society’s ideas as to women’s roles and how women should act; Rae now starts to question the assumptions that society makes about who is and is not a woman. Rae questions the ideas that everyone determined female at birth must become a woman, that everyone determined male at birth must grow up to be a man, and that everyone must be either a man or a woman.

Although Rae’s formal class work does not typically involve issues of gender in a non-binary sense, in a larger sense, Rae’s education about gender has only just begun. Rae learns about gender-neutral pronouns for the first time, and this prods Rae to question the idea that because Rae was raised a girl, Rae must naturally identify as a woman for the rest of their life. Rae continues their gender education on their own; reading books and talking to people, Rae educates themself about trans and genderqueer issues. The more Rae learns on their own, the more Rae wishes that they could explore similar topics within a formal classroom setting, instead of attempting to learn alone. Rae wishes that their classes would recognize the multiplicity of gender that they have learned to see. 

Rae decides to mold their education so that it suits their purposes. It sometimes seems as though anyone who does not fit within the gender binary system is not represented in Rae’s class work; however, Rae does their best to insert gender into their education and life in a more inclusive manner. Although Rae’s gender has been at least peripherally involved with their education since middle school, gender is now a true part of their education. Whereas before it mainly dictated which school Rae attended, gender now is at the heart of their learning. Rae views life through a metaphorical lens that allows them to see the ways in which everyday life is gendered; it affects how they view even classes that have no specific relationship to gender. Rae expects to write their thesis about gender, exploring gender possibilities beyond men and women. Rae believes whole-heartedly that even at a women’s college, there is room for gender nonconformity. Rae hopes that activism relating to all kinds of gender issues will be a part of their future. Rae believes in importance of respecting all genders and all gender identities.


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Anne Dalke's picture

Making room for gender nonconformity


Yes, "even at a women’s college, there is room for gender nonconformity." I'd go further and say that especially @ a women's college there must be room for gender nonconformity, that the questioning of gender stereotypes on which Bryn Mawr was founded have contributed directly, over time, to the questioning of the gender categories that we use to differentiate one from another. It's ironic that such questioning might lead eventually to a challenge to the "single-sexedness" of the institution, but....

...such is evolution.

Do you know about the "three stages" of feminism generally used as a shorthand to describe that evolution in this country?

One of the interesting things you do in this paper is shift the pronoun you use to describe Rae, from the singular female "she" to the plural non-gender-differentiated "their" (or is it a singular "they"?). One of the real challenges, for language purists and grammar police like myself, is to think about how our language might change to reflect our evolving sense of the multiplicity of gender (not to mention the reverse: how our sense of gender could be changed by our evolving flexible language use!)

rae's picture

Feminism and Pronouns

I'm just going to reply quickly now. Firstly, yes, I did learn about the three stages (waves?) of feminism in my feminist theory course sophomore year. And secondly, I'm going to go with calling the second half of the pronouns gender-neutral and singular. I am, however, glad that you recognized them as gender-neutral/non-gender-differentiated, as opposed to simply being grammatically incorrect.