Being Embodied S*cks.

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Being Embodied S*cks.

Patricia Flaherty

Memories are such a fascinating outlet. I still don't necessarily understand why I can remember detailed imagery of specific "inane" situations whereas the details of my time to shine as a flower-girl in my Aunt's wedding are very unclear. I think that, however, is the beauty of memory. There is something that catches our attention, even if we are too young to really understand it, but allows us to continue probing at the ideas and complexities for the rest of our lives. The two instances that I'm going to recount are just that—moments that were placed in a pigeon hole in the back of my mind for a reason. Now it's time to figure out why!

Age: 4th grade.
Location: Soccer tournament in Commack, NY.
Situation: Being the only girl on a traveling soccer team.

Coach Art came over to the team when we were shoving down our newly acquired ice-cream. "Alright, boys, who has to take a leak?" All the boys raised their hands like crazy and got up from the grass. I stayed sitting. "Oh, look, Patty can't come," said Craig. A bunch of the other boys started laughing. "Yea, because she's a girl. HAHA!" Zach added. The laugher continued. I started to get embarrassed, and my Coach could sense that, so he broke up the teasing and said, "Come on, let's go find some bushes." With the whole group of boys following in tandem, I headed towards my Mom. "Mommy! Why can't I go over to the bushes with the boys?" I whined. "Because you just can't, sweet heart," she said. "But why do I have to use the stinky porter-potty and the boys get to pee in the bushes?" Mom was getting visibly annoyed. Her freckled skin was getting flushed. She drew in a deep breath and said, "Because, Patricia, you are a girl. Girls can't pee in the bushes!" I wasn't sure what that meant, but I knew I didn't like it.

Initially, the most striking thing about this whole scenario is that before my Coach came over and announced the "boy" bathroom option, we were all getting along just fine. We were hanging in the grass, eating our ice-cream, and I was interacting with all the boys just as I always had. But, as soon as the gender issue was made an issue, it became an issue. The teasing ensued only after the gender divide was overtly stated. And, even more perturbing, was seeing that it wasn't only that the boys were making fun of me because I didn't have the physical parts that would let me pee in a bush effortlessly, but also how they turned it into something that I couldn't do—that it was something they could all do, but, because I was a girl, I wasn't able to. It was as though I was being made fun of for having a female body, and, also, being trapped by that body. I was being treated as though my body, since it was different, was lacking in some way in comparison to theirs.

I think that the most problematic idea coming away from this situation and gaining some perspective over the years was seeing how something "different" was so easily (and wrongly) perceived in the better/worse lens. My own and current idealist view on life believes that if people didn't automatically judge different people's lifestyles, this would be a world of more acceptances. That being said, I do really like Thorne's work because it brings hope to the table in the area of gender relations. She is not asserting the notion that gender is an issue only in the classroom, but, rather, she is saying that gender dynamics in the classroom can be changed for the better and that it is so important that we do so. If something is presented as "different" in a way that does not hold any kind of negative connotations to children, I really do believe that they will just accept it for it being different and go along on their merry way. Perhaps if my Coach had said something along the lines of "Well, boys, Patty pees in a different but cool way," (I know that sounds insanely bizarre), but it does follow in line with the progression of my ideas. I think it would have made me feel less like an outsider, and the boys less like insiders, and been significant in changing the tone of the situation.

Age: 21
Location: Family Court, Somewhere, Over the Rainbow.
Situation: Observing a case through my work with the GREAT WOMEN'S LAW ORGANIZATION this summer.

"Is this Judge Judy's court room?" I asked this to the seemingly nice clerk who was standing outside of the court room. He gave me a quick eye sweep, lingering, I thought, a little too long on my Visitor's Tag (you can imagine what I had stuck it) and responded enthusiastically that I was in the right place. He was extremely helpful in getting me through security, and even introduced me to all the other clerks and sheriffs working that specific court room. I entered the court room and sat down in my assigned seat in the back. The judge was still in his chambers, so the clerks were running around with paper-work and clients weren't being heard just yet. It was one of the first times I was observing court, so I was a bit nervous and I think the male clerk noticed it. He kept on giving me big smiles and joking about how this day was going to be a long one. He then came up next to me and asked, "What's a cute girl like you doing in a courtroom like this?" I just kind of giggled because I didn't know what to say. "It gets ugly in here," he said matter-of-factly. I nodded my head, and then proudly said, "I'm with the Great Women's Law Organization". I saw his face fall. I could read exactly what was going through his mind—oh, she's one of those. I knew he was thinking that at that moment. I could see it in his eyes! He forced a smile and quickly left my side.

Is my body preventing me from being taken seriously? That's what I found through looking at this experience. I speak of "my body" in the vain that it is emblematic of my entire womanhood. It seems as though my body is such a large determinant for others gauging what I should be able to do, and how I should be judged. I wanted to explore this constraining embodiment theme within this recent memory.

First off, isn't it interesting to note that the male clerk's attempt in making me feel comfortable was through flirtation? I think that there is something to say about that. He was presupposing that his "language"—those sexual undertones—were something he knew I, as a young woman, could pick up on and decipher. By being able to pick up on that suggestive flirtation, he felt that would help me feel more comfortable. Why couldn't he just use regular language and ask me a few things about myself? It was almost as if he thought I'd respond more comfortably to this kind of playful flirtation given the type of girl that I looked like.

Another issue of extreme importance is that I was seemingly "at work", but he felt completely fine "playing" with me. This links completely back to Thorne's observations of how young boys have no qualms about interrupting girls when they are playing. "Boys more often see girls and their activities as interruptible; boys invade and disrupt all-female games and scenes of play much more often than vice versa." It was as though he felt my "work" wasn't as important as his, and therefore could be penetrated by his flirtatious and playful remarks. Although this was "work" for me, he still felt completely comfortable interrupting my world of work without any kind of invite from me.

Furthermore, the fact that he asked the question about why I was in the court-room still simultaneously boggles my mind and sends my nostrils flaring in frustration. There was a (very small) chance that he was just being friendly and sweet, but I find it hard to believe that there wasn't some sort of subliminal meaning of trying to make me feel like an outsider, yet again, because of my body. His notion that I wouldn't be able to handle this kind of court room, is implying that my embodied mind, as a woman, is not strong enough to deal with these kind of issues. But, the most perplexing of it all, is that he was trying to put a spin on it in a way that I'd see almost as endearing. Did he think that I would say, "Aww! That's so sweet of you to look out for little me. I think you're right—maybe I should just go back to the mall." I mean, come on! It's one thing to state that being in a court room dealing with those sensitive issues will and, admittedly, do strike a sensitive nerve, but just the fact that he tried to presuppose that I wouldn't be able to handle it or that this wasn't the place where I should be infuriated me then, and continues to do so now.

Lastly, he probably couldn't have gotten away from me quicker than he did when he heard that I was with the Great Women's Law Organization. This is my own "Lakeoff"-induced perception process of the male clerk: Perceiving an attractive and timid female. Sensing her nervousness. Formulating some sort of comfort through flirtation. Enacting the pick-up line/flirtation. Searching for body cues. Comprehending association with the Great Women's Law Organization. Framing what has just been said. Making inferences about liberal and feminist political stance. Understanding that, as a result, flirtation attempt is not going to go anywhere. Leaving the conversation. Perhaps this is not as professional as Lakeoff's , but I felt this was very much in line with how the clerk's reactions were mapped out. It was as though he made the connection between my mind and body, and therefore was intimidated by that, or realized that, because of that, he categorized me as a certain breed of woman—one that would not be easily manipulated. I know that these are all assumptions about the male clerk, but I am just hypothesizing how he felt judging from his actions. I just know that if I had said, "I'm with the Nurses Association," he would have not run away so quickly.

In thinking about these two experiences together, it allows for some enlightening thoughts. It seemed to be that I was taken at "body-value" in these situations, which lead me to believe that my experience, as a woman, is very much a trapped embodiment. If I don't define myself by the things I'm not able to do, what significance does that have if all the men do? I think that is something that all "feminists" are afraid to think because it places some sort of power with the men, but I feel as though it is imperative to think about for any true action to take place. I can be as empowered as I can be, but if that man interviewing me at a law firm thinks women can't handle the intensity as well as men, then I'm fighting a battle that is already decided. What I'm trying to get at is these interactions are symbolic of how the outside world is something that needs to be reached. We can't rely on surrounding ourselves with intelligent women—like our classroom—for the rest of our lives, unfortunately. Ultimately, this brings me back to Thorne. If we take action early in the classrooms, when gender divisions and dynamics are still in such a fluid state, that's where the positive effects are going to occur. Some may think that it doesn't matter what men think, as long as women are united and proud, but I don't feel that idea is within a firm grasp of reality. In order to make actual changes within our reality, we have to work with the young and reconstruct their notion of difference.

Works Cited

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Thorne, Barrie. Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School. New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1993.

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