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Gender as a Socially Constructed Phenomenon

Kelsey Smith

Genes and environment both play a role in determining the expressed characteristics of an individual. In genes exists the potential for phenotype, but the role of environment prevents a one to one ratio existing between genes and behavior. Such is the case with the character Calliope Stephanides in Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides where the socialization of the character as female neglects to tell the complete story. It isn until her peers undergo puberty that Callie realizes that she isn the female that her parents assumed her to be. From that point onward, she discovers herself as a hermaphrodite and ultimately decides to outwardly express herself to the world as a male by the name of Cal.

The split between the manifestation of the female gender and the male is indicated at the start of Middlesex with the assertion was born twice: first as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974 (Eugenides 3). These two segments of Cal life can be viewed through the lens of the theories of two sociologists, the female gender being defined by George Herbert Mead socialization theory; the transition and the male gender being defined by Emile Durkheim theory of anomie.

Mead theory of socialization is founded on the notion that the self cannot be established independent of social interactions with other selves. By interacting with other and engaging in social acts, humans can have meaningful interactions that possess more meaning than could ever be achieved by the rudimentary responses that are achievable by simple organisms. Instead, humans, by establishing social acts, humans can convey ideas to other humans that can only be interpreted in one way. This occurs through the creation of gestures ctions hat convey a universal response. Mead indicates that through universal symbols, the expression of ideas is possible. hinking always implies a symbol which will call out the same response in another that it calls out in the thinker (Mead 147). In this way, children are socialized to develop their comprehension and, ultimately, their outward expression from societal norms.

Mead indicates that hat is essential to communication is that the symbol should arouse in one self what it arouses in the other individual. It must have that sort of universality of any person who finds himself in that situation (149). It is in this spirit that gender roles are established and the characteristics of Calliope Helen Stephanides as a female are shaped. For her, this process began at birth when her gender is erroneously classified by Dr. Philobosian when he says she is beautiful, healthy girl (Eugenides 216). Callie parents accept this classification and raise her accordingly because they neglect to see everything about their daughter anatomy.
Callie pointedly comments on herself as existing as a baby in a hypothetical diorama where all of her phenotypic characteristics are observable by questioning an you see me? All of me? Probably not. No one ever really has (218). In doing so, she provides insight as to the nature of the complexity of the problem of establishing the gender of an individual. After her gender is stablished Callie conforms to those particular gender roles.

When Callie is fourteen years old, Dr. Luce, the doctor who studies gender disorders, views a movie of Callie when she is two an a half years old on Easter morning. It shows her mother handing her a baby doll and her responding by hugging the doll to her chest. Dr. Luce uses this brief segment as proof for his theory that ender roles are established early in life (226). The video indicates the role of socialization in reference to the perception of the self by the self. Being raised as a girl causes Callie to act in a way that is appropriate for females when she looks at herself in the mirror:

For hours at a time I would admire my looks myself, turning this way and that before the mirror, or assuming a relaxed pose to see what I looked like in real life. By holding a hand mirror I could see my profile, still harmonious at this time. I combed my long hair and sometimes stole my mother mascara to do my eyes (278).

In this way, Callie acts in a fashion that is appropriate for females because she shows much concern for her appearance and wants to know how she is perceived by others.
In acting as she does, Callie proves that she is fully assimilated into the role of a female, at least in that point of her life, by showing her actions in front of the mirror as she brushes her hair and attempts to convey herself so that she can see her own reflection as others see her. Callie does this because she understands that it is her role as a female to do these things and because she has seen other women, presumably her mother, do them also. In this way she is comfortable with her role as a female because she was socialized to an extent that made this possible.

Callie upbringing never involves her parents telling her what will occur to her body, so she exists in a blissful and unknowledgeable state until the point when she sees her brother popping his pimples. He tells her that she will also get pimples just like everyone does when the go through puberty. Her mother tells them to be quiet, but she didn need to have said that because t was that word: puberty (279) silences Callie immediately. The word scares Callie because it pertains to an aspect of life for which she has no knowledge or experience, yet she can tell from her brother words that puberty is part of the natural process of growing up. Therefore, she would experience it eventually.

Callie exists as such until the point when she notices the appearances of her classmates change while she remains the same. When this occurs, the socialization that she previously received to be a female starts to break down and she questions why she is not developing normally like all of her classmates. At this point, she neglects to consider the fact that genetics could be to blame. However, she does recognize that there must be a difference between herself and her classmates that results in her lack of ability to develop normally.

In terms of her knowledge of herself and her classmates, the best explanation that she can devise is diet because she ate the Mediterranean food that her mother prepared. Her classmates, by contrast, consumed American food. As a consequence, she also wanted to consume American food because she believed that the Mediterranean food was inisterly retarding (Eugenides 289) her maturity. In her lack of knowledge about the inbreeding that occurred in her family, explaining her own situation in terms of diet is the best that Callie can do.

The transition continues when Callie interacts with her brother, Chapter Eleven, when he is home on vacation and is confused by what he sees when he looks at his sister. He asserts, looking at my little sister and thinking she doesn look like my little sister anymore (314). The comment confuses Callie and she asks what he means. However, she never learns because her brother is incapable of figuring out what he means. Callie, at this point, does not care because she has other things to do. At this point, she does not see herself as different from typical females that she knew. Her brother does see the difference, but he fails to comprehend what he sees and thus cannot articulate what makes the Callie whose gender confuses him different than the one he knew several years earlier.

The point at which Callie decides to live as a male nd to go by the name Cal s the time when he is operating under anomie, a theory that was developed by Emile Durkheim and which can be loosely defined as ormlessness. This occurs when Cal finds himself distanced from the values with which he was raised, so by existing as a female he ould only continue to work by routine (Durkheim 371). In the process, he would be operating outside of the structures in which he existed as a hermaphrodite.

Cal starts his journey as a male by writing his parents a note to explain his situation. As she leaves the hotel she thinks, t was the last time I was ever their daughter (Eugenides 439). Such beings his life of deviating from the gender role in which he was raised. He begins his physical transformation by buying new clothes and getting his hair cut so that when he left the barbershop, he was a ew creation (445). At this point, he no longer feels strange being around other people and those whom he sees do not know the events of his past.

As a newly-gendered male, Cal operates in the same way as the worker conceived by Durkheim because e is, then, not a machine who repeats his movements without knowing their meaning, but he know that they tend, in some way, towards and end that he conceives more or less distinctively (Durkheim 372). This is the spirit in which Cal gets his hair cut in order to portray himself to the rest of the world as a more natural male.

Cal existed first as a female because this was the primary instinct that existed as a consequence of socialization. However, environment s it pertains to the family life of an individual nly achieves so much. At a certain point, exterior factors (such as the self perceived in comparison to the peers of the self) also contribute to the composition of the individual. In Cal case, the gender that was not the consequence of childhood was the one that was the one that ultimately became the gender of choice. Unfortunately, in American culture, gender is not accepted as depicted outside of the male-female binary. Since Cal exists as a hermaphrodite hus defying the traditional binary e must choose the best possible option. In his case, this meant existing as a female until age fourteen and as a male thereafter.
It is useful to analyze Cal in terms of the theories of Mead and Durkhiem because the two distinct theories capture the two equally distinct segment of his life that manifest themselves as the two distinctly different genders. Having both theories serves to bolster the notion that Calliope Helen Stephanides was born twice, first as a girl and then as a boy.

Durkheim, Emile. The Division of Labor in Society. New York: Free Press, 1965.

Mead, George Herbert. Mind, Self and Society. Chicago, Ill., The University of Chicago press, 1934.

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