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What is a Genderless Mind?

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The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
Third Web Papers
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What is a Genderless Mind?

Liz Paterek

Modern fiction seems to show favoritism towards an androgynous mind. Certainly Woolf in a Room of One's Own mentions states explicitly that a genderless mind is the best for an author (1). However, does this mean that a mind must lose it special character to form some neutral ground, or does it simply mean that a mind that does not fit into conventional societal beliefs and is in a sense pseudo-hermaphroditic? In either case this gender must be the result of free will or conscious choice to craft oneself.

It is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible for a person to see outside their own perspective. Therefore when an author writes from perspectives of characters of multiple genders and backgrounds believability, not diversity between characters' inner thoughts becomes the most important feature. This is especially true because most novels only focus on the internal state of one character. Authors often have a similar style throughout all their writing, meaning that authors themselves will rarely change thought pattern or style to accommodate different genders. Many of these characteristics may not even be conscious. Therefore it is important to have a mind that can believably male or female, in other words a genderless mind.

There are two possible theories about how a genderless mind could function. The first states that a genderless mind may emerge from the disappearance of the characteristics that distinguish male and female. It generates a defined and narrow third category, a middle ground. The second theory is a pseudo-hermaphroditic mind, which emerges from the mixing of stereotypes. The nature of the characters may still reflect the nature of the author. As with pseudo-hermaphrodites, there are multiple combinations of characteristics that can generate an intermediate, all varying degrees of male and female-ness. It may even contain new qualities as a result from the mixing in the same way that the pseudo-hermaphrodite contains some male organs, some female organs and some organs that have a new intermediate state. The mind does not have both characteristics simultaneously. This is because some stereotypes would contradict each other. This mind arises from the free will to follow either one's personality and socialization or to break with that a shape the mind they wish.

I am inclined to favor the second option. The first option seems forced, whereas the second option seems as though it could arise more easily. There are many people that do not fit the gender stereotypes, for example tomboys as noted as such because they do not fit the stereotype of girl. However, the child is still a female and likely has some stereotypically female characteristics also. Perhaps growing up with a "male" perspective in a female body also generates some new ideas that would not arise if the stereotypes of mind and body blended. Getting rid of that which distinguishes us would be difficult, if not impossible and would create a very neutral dry literary style. For example if arrogance and aggression are seen as masculine characteristics, one would have to remove all traces of them from their writing. This would make for characters that lack dimension. The stereotypes of gender often represent personality qualities and without them some of the personality of the character is lost.

The notions of gender roles and stereotypes that exist in society are primarily socialized; the genderless mind arises from circumstances where a person has the free will to shape who they want to be. Looking at books like Herculean Barbin (2), written from the perspective of an individual without a conventional gender, there is stereotypically feminine style. That is to say, it has a very meandering, overly flourished, woe-is–me writing style. Her female upbringing is one clear explanation for this. Woolf, who lived in at the time when women's roles were first changing, shows a much more gender neutral style. Being both a very intelligent mind and existing during this time of change, suggests that a combination of her free will, personality and environment, allowed her to escape the stereotypically feminine writing style (3). Both of these authors suggest that societal conventions more so than actual sex can influence the style. The birth of free will, like the birth of the hermaphrodite is a rare event that breaks with the societal conventions.

This genderless person, is then, the person who defies his/her socialization and creates a new place for themselves that is some intermediate between the two. This new perspective is confusing to people, similarly to the way intersex individuals are confusing to people. They try to place them in a conventional box; however, with prompting they could place the individual in either box. As we saw in the movie Hermaphrodites Speak! (4), some individuals had a masculine appearance and others a feminine appearance yet none of them were male or female. The individuals spoke about how people tried to place them into conventional boxes. As with these hermaphrodites, the confusing nature of something new in the writing style allows individuals to place the characters in either box. This allows the author to generate more diverse believable characters.

The genderless mind, is not really genderless; instead it is the mind that defies societal conventions of gender roles and mixes the characteristics of the two genders. This mind is new and perhaps a bit confusing to a reader, which allows the author to freely adopt the roles of male and female. When something defies conventional societal boxes, often individuals still want to put it in a box; however, authors have more power to affect the box that it is placed in. It is very similar to the hermaphrodite body, in the way that it confuses people and in the way that it requires specific circumstances to arise.

1) Virginia Woolf. A Room of One's Own. 1929
2) Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite. Intro. Michel Foucault. Trans. Richard McDougall. New York: Pantheon, 1980
3) Virginia Woolf. Orlando: A Biography. 1928; rpt. New York: Harvest.
4) Intersex Society of North America. Hermaphrodites Speak!. 1996



Comments made prior to 2007

i really enjoyed reading this. I have a friend that is an asexual ... KaeMae, 18 May 2006