Gender and Sexualities Paper # 1

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Gender and Sexualities Paper # 1

kelsey g

Kelsey G
Gender and Sexualities Seminar
8 September 2005

"From kindergarten to sixth grade, my recesses were consumed with flag football. It was a playground sport that I looked forward to everyday, not that because I was necessarily good at it, but because it was the one hour of the school day that granted me the freedom to be myself. This was not a game I performed; performance was reserved for the classroom, ballet classes, and family functions. Instead, it was a game that I did, meaning that I felt no pressure to act in a certain way. Due to puberty, at the age of twelve I began to wear a bra. Although this annoying, but necessary, garment differentiated me from my male flag football teammates, it was not something that I had thought too much about. One day when we were in the middle of a game, one of the girls in our sixth grade class wandered over to the field to flirt. I, annoyed that she was interrupting the game, threw a football at her. In turn, she and her group of cronies snuck up behind me and unsnapped my bra strap. To make matters worse, the pack of she-devils proceeded to run around in a circle with it in front of my teammates while loudly laughing and giggling. That day was the last time I ever played flag football."

Since I am not addressing sexual orientation issues in this paper, I am defining my use of the term "gender" to that of one's biological sex, therefore, using the two terms interchangeably. Also, because I am writing from a western perspective and addressing a mostly western audience, I am limiting my use of the terms "gender" and "sex" to that of male and female. My focus is not to analyze the different ways in which western society creates gender division; instead, I hope to present this complexity of gender division as a resulting from a combination of biology and psychology. Drawing from a personal childhood experience, I hope to present the early stages of a young girl's physical biology and emotional psychology as tools for asserting individual agency within the context of both the opposite sex and her own. More importantly, I hope to articulate gender positioning not just as a dichotomy between opposite sexes (male vs. female), but also within the same sex (female vs. female) by examining examples of how women and girls, themselves, create gender boundaries in opposition to the male sex while still remaining within their own gender realm.

Flag football is a game where children, usually boys, compete with one another out of free will. In other words, it is an interactive activity that children willingly participate in for the purpose of both interaction and competition with one another. Whether or not this entertainment is for competitive or social acceptance purposes is irrelevant; children engage in this game because they choose to do so. This is important because as a child, I chose to play flag football with boys instead of jump rope with the girls. However, as soon as a gender signifier (my bra) was overtly displayed in front of these boys, I then chose not to participate in a game that was male-centered.

A young child is always conscious of his or her own sex, however, children do not often think of gender as a tool for either alignment or alienation to the opposite sex in the same context as adults. However, there is a peak moment when he or she becomes more aware of their own gender and the implications of how this must affect their social interactions. At what point does a girl's physical biology begin to alter her psychological attachment to one sex or the other? Puberty is a biological change in the human body that functions differently from that of a male to that of a female; and therefore, on the surface, separates boys and girls both physically and psychologically. It is physical because boys and girls experience different changes in their bodies, but it is also psychological because these changes place boys and girls in two different evident categories; and therefore, creates a dichotomy where male and female biology are placed in a highly visible opposition. Most often times, children identify with the same sex due to social or biological commonalities; and therefore, feel more at ease interacting and playing games with friends of their own gender. However, in this case, it was not puberty, but the signifier of puberty, that caused me to feel alienated from male-centered flag football. Although I was most likely conscious that a bra marked me as biologically female, as a child, I had not thought of it as something that should stop me from playing flag football with male friends until it was publicly displayed to them.

What I wish to draw attention to is not the social implications as to why I chose to separate from male playmates, but to who initiated this separation. There are two different types of social interaction concerning gender in this playground scenario: A single female acting within a social realm of males, and a single female acting in opposition to the social realm of other females. Why was it other girls, and not the male playmates, that chose to draw attention to both my gender difference and their own? To simply label this act as a reaction to jealousy or disgust is not necessarily true, nor is it helpful. What is more important is the fact that it was girls that chose to draw attention to the difference of their biological gender to a large group of boys. In using a bra as their gender signifier, these females boldly stepped onto the football field and displayed pride in "being a girl."

However, we must remember that this group of girls did target a member of their own sex with the intention to embarrass and humiliate; and therefore, their actions exemplify potential consequences to stepping outside your childhood gender role. Social institutions and its "adult" members do indeed actively contribute to the gendering of children; however, it is also the children themselves that participate in this regulation. However, in this particular example, it was not a case of opposite genders creating a separation between themselves, but of a single gender (girls) creating this division with their own member (a girl). Thus, although as children we are placed into separate gender categories that sometimes oppose each other; we must also remember that the conflict does not necessarily exist between sexes, but within them.

Even in adulthood, there still exists this female double edge sword when it comes to gender difference and acceptance. For example, if you are a female college student, you are expected to interact on an equal basis with both genders because now you are "mature." However, if you are a female college student who interacts on a close personal basis with primarily males, then she is often labeled as either a lesbian or a whore. There is an irony behind this marginalizing act: It is other female college students, not males, who are creating these categories. By labeling these women as whores, the female categorizers are justifying the woman's acceptance into the male realm by claiming her to be sexually promiscuous. On the other hand, in labeling these women as lesbians, they are justifying her acceptance into the male realm by claiming her to share a common sexual orientation with heterosexual men.

We as a society so often assume that since boys and girls are biologically different, it is impossible for children to think of both themselves and their playmates in a non-gendered way. But yet, we forget that these people are in indeed children; and therefore, we must be conscious of the fact that they think in more simplistic ways. For example, when I was a young, of course I was aware that I was the only girl who played flag football during recess. However, I did not view this as a "gender inequality," in fact, I never really thought about it at all. As a college student, I am the only female in my apartment. Still, after studying gender and sexuality both in class and in life, I never really think of myself as a female existing in a "realm of males." Instead, like my flag football teammates, I view my roommates as people who I willingly interact, compete, and have fun with.

Both western academia and society tend to equate gender to biological sex; and therefore, male and female categories are developed to serve as easy foundations for gender analysis. Yet, in creating this practical binary opposition, we run the risk of limiting our analysis to that of only male versus female. In creating a gender dichotomy that contrasts women to men, the possibility of neglecting the gendered activity existing within same biological sex groups develops. By addressing the various tensions and social pressure existing within same biological sex groups, and then discussing how these tensions may lead to increased segregation among opposite biological sex, I hope to promote the complexity of gender and biological sex as not just a binary opposition between male and female, but also that of female and female or male and male.

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