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Looking Outside of Ourselves

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Like most people my education in gender and sexuality started at home, and my first teachers were my parents. My mother worked and still does in the health care industry as a nurse, and my father worked as medicine factory worker and later as a truck driver. My mother and father both worked during the day late into the night. While they weren’t physically around very often, in there absence they had left me with messages about gender in particular that became a foundation for my path in learning about gender and sexuality.


            My mother typically worked more hours than my father and was the primary care provider for my sister and me, which meant she was charged with feeding, clothing, and providing a formal education for us. Because of this, my father did not have a real presence in my life and my world became very women-centric, even more so after their divorce when I was in elementary school. This agreement between my parents had imprinted on me the role of women was to work hard and provide for the family in a way that was very similar to traditional men’s roles in family structures. It was very apparent that my mother had conflicting emotions about this arrangement because for her being a woman was being at home and taking care of the household. While female roles and expectations were very clear to me, men and their place in the world was not.


            I took these lessons from home into my catholic elementary and middle school. There, I had explicit explanations of what it  meant to be a woman. When I think of my middle school teachers lessons, many times phrases beginning with “a lady” come to mind i.e. “a lady crosses her legs” also “a girl doesn’t dance like that with boys”. Moreover, the interactions between my peers were very typical gender performances, which meant that boys were concerned with video games and sports, and girls were concerned with make-up and fashion. As we became older and puberty started these roles became more sexualized. I had never felt comfortable with these interactions and so refused to participate. Neither questioning these roles nor these ideas having a middle ground between them were thought about in this space. Moreover, there was rarely any explicit discussion about sex or sexuality.


            This space was very different from the all-girls’ prep school environment where I attended high school. Again like previous parts of my life the focus of gender and sexuality dialogue was gender, specifically women. Because there was a more diverse student body, opinions and experiences varied from the typical script of performing female but only slightly. Throughout these narratives the main themes were consistent, hetero-normative, traditionally feminine performances. While there were male faculty on campus, those numbers were limited and their presence in this dialogue was not apparent. In search of a more deliberate education, I went to various seminars and workshops outside of school which helped to serve as another foundation for my conversations which really started in college.


            These foundations served as a valuable tool in my education at Bryn Mawr. Before arriving at on campus I decided to take a more proactive role in learning about gender and sexuality. I’ve taken several courses in which at least part of the syllabus was dedicated to talking about gender and sexuality, including Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Gender and Sexuality.  Moreover, because students have been more exposed to the different scopes and theories that shape the gender dialogue among academics, conversations have more comprehensive. Bryn Mawr was the first time that sex and sexuality were overtly talked about.


            As I continue my studies in gender and sexuality studies one thing that I’ve noticed has been very apparent in my education is that it’s been very women and queer centric. All my conversations, classes, seminars, etc. have centered on women’s and queer individuals’ experiences and their movements for equality. In this way they lack a comprehensive discourse because they have not included the reactions to these movements’ push for social change and reform in social definitions. That being said the reminder of this course should explore these reactions to the structure of these different structures and forms of resistance. What particularly interests me is the reformation of men/masculinity and push for the use of different identifiers i.e. black, working-class, and adolescent, etc. to inform individual experiences with gender and sexuality.


            One of the texts I’d like to use for this exploration is Donkey Gospel by Tony Hoagland.

   Using a select compilation of poems Hoagland explores different elements of masculinity and its construction. Using this text I think will create a base for the course by communicated the complexity of masculinity and male representation.


   The next text I’d like to use is the play M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang.

This book would be a valuable tool coupled with the article Orientalism: Introduction by Edward Said, in that it would highlight and bring for discussion how western ideals of gender roles affect not only women, but other men of other ethnicities. Another text I’d like us to use, which serves perfectly to the exact purpose of the rest of the course, is the article Soft-Boiled Masculinity: Renegotiating Gender and Radical Ideologies in the Promise Keepers Movement by Melanie Heath. In it she describes that like femininity, masculinity it undergoing a change in its tenets and ideals in reaction to changes in the social environment.


I’d like the class to use these texts as scopes to explore the representations of gender looking at information found on fashion web sites such as as response to feminism. I think another interesting place to use these texts is to interpret and further understand results from student-generated surveys via for instance, where each student would create a survey that asked their peers opinions and experience with gender, sexuality, and feminism. I think that this coupled with our earlier readings and discussions will make for a multi-faceted exploration of gender and sexuality. Moreover, ending the semester in this way really emphasizes the complexity of this subject and experiences of individuals. Inclusion of men/masculinity and  creates a relationship described by the picture of the hands above- one where resistance from the oppressed and the oppressors’ reactions to that resistance inform one another to create different world views and interactions.


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