I would like to sidestep the debate that has been raging on this blog about whether people should raise their children to be gender aschematic, and instead I would like to examine a much older debate. Is our gender stratified society an expression of our biological natures, or alternatively, is the society we encounter each day entirely of our own social making? In other words, is biology destiny?
Early civilizations were gendered, which is to say that in hunter-gatherer societies men and women had very different roles. Some have argued that these distinct roles may have been based on, say, the innate ability of women to produce breast milk. Here, society is created by the reality of our biology. Others emphasize that the structure of society is not dependent on biology and is instead the result of human doings. Whatever biology's "instructions" might be for society, humans find ways of doing what they want. Society, by this logic, is not something given but is instead something formed from a struggle of values and ideas. In fact, this fight of values and ideas continues today on this blog with some bloggers arguing that children should be raised in a gender aschematic environment.
The argument that role specialization is based on biology is a bit out of the ordinary for me because it so sharply contradicts arguments posed by social constructivists. It encourages us to believe that the stratified society we see today is not one of human design but is instead biologically innate, and that position is not one I’m prepared to easily accept. Still the logic is difficult to dispute. If women are the ones who are biologically equipped to bear and breast feed children, which is a task their male counterparts can’t physically do, it makes some sense that the women of earlier societies stayed close to camp so they could feed and rear future generations. While it seems irrefutable that modern society has moved past any practical need to separate men and women, the argument that role specialization has its origins with biology makes some sense.
In a piece about human sex differences, evolutionary psychologist Doreen Kimura claims that “[a] more rational view is that cultural norms arose in conjunction with, and in support of, biological imperatives.” She marshals evidence which suggests that sex differences (i.e., biological) are expressed in gendered norms and practices (i.e., culture). Role specialization, by this logic, is born from innate biological characterists. Not only is it important that only women produce breast milk, but Kimura extends the argument by suggesting that there also exist innate differences in cognition and hormones as well.
Following Kimura, perhaps we can think of gender and its attendant role specialization as something that was created for practical reasons in hunter-gatherer societies, but now, long after it has ceased being practical, it remains with us and has become a basis for inequality.
As I mentioned above, role specialization has been around longer than written history, but so too have people who have fought against role specialization—feminist sociologists, parents who want gender aschematic children, and me, to name only a few. New evidence has emerged to suggest that some women who lived in hunter-gatherer societies 10,000 years ago also fought against the inequality derived from role-specialization.
According to a theory born out of Iowa (here), not only did role specialization begin in hunter-gatherer societies, but opposition to role specialization also has its roots in such societies. This opposition materialized in the form of an attachment to a spear that made weapons easier for women to throw, thereby allowing them to do more of what was considered men’s work.
The theory asserts that the atlatl, which is a stick attached to a spear, was not just an assist to those throwing spears in war or hunting, but it was also an equalizer. The spear itself was a man’s weapon because it required sheer upper body strength to throw and use as a weapon against members of other tribes or large animals. The atlatl made it easier for women to use the spear as a weapon, so it stands to reason that it may have been invented for women either to assist in the hunting activities, or to engage in warfare with other tribes.
Although this type of prehistoric opposition isn’t a mirror-image of today’s opposition, which comes in the form of parents attempting to raise a child in a gender aschematic environment, it does show that resistance to role specialization and gender-based inequality has been around for a long time.
So is biology destiny? My conclusion is, no. Role specialization between men and women may have coincided with biological attributes, but technologies such as the atlatl have long since allowed us to transcend biology. It is not at all clear that that our stratified society was inevitable, and even if it was, it certainly isn’t inevitabile today.
While I agree with Sandra Bem’s analysis of gender spheres, where there are clear boundaries dividing masculine from feminine, I also agree with an earlier post by Drizzle that argues Bem’s proposal is unrealistic because it does not adequately take into account the way gender roles are reinforced in ways that are beyond the control of parents. By extension, I also disagree with Bem's supporter, Lady Lazarus. By focusing narrowly on child rearing practices, Bem and Lady Lazarus do not propose a realistic model of social change.
I think it is important to raise a child to be conscious of gender stereotypes, but I think there is a difference between raising your child to question gender stereotypes and raising them to be a martyr—your martyr—for social change. A more moderate approach begins by recognizing that there are degrees to which a child could be raised to be gender aschematic, and the view expressed in Lady Lazarus’ blog seems too extreme to me. In my view, it is sufficient to provide a child with the means of recognizing a stereotype as only one particular claim about a group of people. Revealing a stereotype in this way allows children to question whether a stereotype is useful or "true," This conscientizing process can be done without forcing one’s child to engage in a confrontational politics before they are ready.
As an adult, Betsy Lucal and other activists like her made their own choices not to “do” gender; is it fair to make this decision for a child? Activism is sometimes necessary to produce change, but when a child is forced to become an activist for a cause they do not yet understand, they may be harmed. People come to perceive their own gender based on the responses others offer them. If a child is not taught to “do” gender in the usual or expected way, or if they are forced to disrupt the gender binary, then they are being set up to have difficult interactions with others. Such difficult interactions will undoubtedly involve name calling and bullying and will shape the perceptions children form about themselves. In making our children activists, we have moved well beyond merely equipping them with the tools necessary to reveal harmful stereotypes.
Let me be clear. I wholly support raising children to be aware of harmful stereotypes. However, I think Lady Lazarus’ support of Sandra Bem’s notion of gender aschematic child rearing is an advocation for unnecessary and unjustifiable martyrdom that can only harm children. Ideally, human beings should be nurtured to a point where they are able to form their own conclusions about the many gender-based ideas they encounter in the world. Children just aren’t ready to face such decisions, and they should be protected until they are ready. Once a child is old enough to contemplate the gender binary, they may very well decide it is necessary for them to reject conventional ideas, which tie masculinity to boys and femininity to girls. They may decide it is necessary to “un-do” gender, but this should only be a decision they confront when they are old enough to understand the potential consequences.
Growing up with a mother who came from an abusive upbringing, and has centered her career on helping battered women, it has been hard to escape from the realities of domestic violence. Gender-based violence and the effects of “doing masculinity” can be detrimental—physically, psychologically and emotionally. There are many factors that lead to physical, verbal and sexual abuse, such as our cultural environment and the way hegemonic masculinity is reinforced in the media. The impact of abuse is cyclical and has been shown bleed over from one generation to the next.
According to the National Violence Against Women survey (NVAW), 78% of rape victims are women and 80% of the time, those who were sexually violated knew their perpetrator. Out of those who reported being physically assaulted, stalked or raped, 64% of women (and 16% of men) reported that the perpetrator was an intimate partner, someone they probably trusted.
Beyond the bruises, fear and anxiety, abuse is also linked to several other harmful effects. Reporting on findings from the NVAW, the American Bar Association notes (here) that girls who have experienced physical or sexual abuse are more than twice as likely to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs when compared to those who have not had such experiences, 32% of girls who had been abused reported having eating disorders, while only 12% of girls who had not been abused reported such disorders. The fact is that there are enough women who have suffered abuse at the hands of men that most of us know a victim of abuse and can put a face to these statistics.
Is it any wonder why there is so much masculine violence aimed toward women when misogyny virtually floods the airwaves and can be so easily downloaded? As demonstrated in the documentary Beyond Beats and Rhymes, today’s hip hop often depicts violence perpetrated against women and seems to depend on exploiting and objectifying female bodies. This music may be catchy, but having it all over the radio is sending the wrong message to our youth.
The extent to which masculine abuse against women is ultimately the result of hip hop may be debatable, but it is less debatable that abuse is cyclical. Those who abuse are often themselves victims of abuse. This was the case with my mother’s stepfather, who was her abuser. Not surprisingly, he was also abused as a child. The only way my mother knew how to break out of her abusive world was to reach out for help and spend decades in therapy.
We have been raised in a society where masculinity is defined by muscles, strength, power and control. Just as the young men stated in “Tough Guise,” masculinity defines who men are and when men are not masculine enough, they are too often taunted as pussies, faggots, babies or bitches. If a man cries or appears emotional, he is stamped with any or all of these dreaded names. Jackson Katz’s film reminds us that true men are to be tough and emotionless, and there is evidence to suggest that the imperatives of masculinity are only becoming more severe. As Katz brought to our attention, G.I. Joe’s biceps have doubled in size over the past 20 years, and the musculature sculpted onto the Superman action figures has steadily increased. Young boys in our society are under the impression they will only be men if they are huge, muscular and powerful. They see men in the movies, television, music videos, and in the intimacy of their own homes demonstrating their masculinity in part by degrading women. These televised role models physically and verbally abuse women in order to gain respect, power and control.
Even though my mother got the help she needed, I still see how it affects her and her sisters. I have watched how they struggle to create healthy relationships with non-abusive men and how they find it difficult to become attached to people who truly care about them. They have battled with addictions and depression and are paralyzed when somebody close to them slips away. As I have observed with my mother and her sisters, it is incredibly hard putting a stop to abuse because those who are abused are often too scared to seek help. The men who are doing the abusing often do not feel the need or desire to change because they have been so thoroughly immersed in a culture which ties violence and aggression to their masculinity. As I have mentioned above, many of these men grew up with their fathers abusing them, watching their own mother’s get beaten up and raped, or even witnessing gender-based violence on television and in their communities.
It is often the case that even when abusive men realize they are doing something wrong, they make excuses for their actions. Anderson and Umberson point this out in their article, “Gendering Violence: Masculinity and Power in Men’s Accounts of Domestic Violence.” They write that men often “excuse, rationalize, justify, and minimize their violence against female partners,” and moreover, “batterers deny responsibility for their violence” (p. 488). They typically blame women for “extreme provocation, a loss of control, or a minor incident that was blown out of proportion. The abusive men participate in the violence because they are ‘doing gender’ ” (p. 488). Violence, therefore, is a means of achieving masculinity, and men likely use violence to achieve their masculinity because it has been modeled for them time and again as an effective means for doing so. Abusive men, then, are following in the footsteps of the men in their lives.
In order to end this destructive, devastating pattern, young men need to be taught how to interact with women without the possibility of violence. I believe violent speech acts and images, especially in music and video should be made illegal. I understand that depictions of violence toward women are only a fraction of the problem, but making such depictions illegal would be start. This would end to flippant justifications that society somehow approves of abuse from men, that “all men are doing it” anyway, or even that truly manly, men beat and rape women.
Additionally, women need to understand that help is easily accessible. My mother is a supervisor for the Center for Abused Persons and there is a 24 hour hotline that anyone can call if they need immediate assistance or if they simply need to talk to someone. If you are being abused please seek help, and if you know someone who is being abused, please encourage them to seek help. There may not be a second opportunity.
~ Terrapin Love
In the post, “Dirty Sluts in America,” Chellebell writes that while boys are allowed to sleep around, girls are supposed to be innocent and pure. Once a girl is found to be sleeping around she is labeled a “slut” or “whore,” which can be very harmful to her self-esteem. I agree with Chellebell 100% that this double standard is neither fair nor right. However, I think Chellebell fails to acknowledge that it is not only men who judge women. Women also engage in slut-shaming against other women in order to move ahead or secure their social status.
As a woman, I have witnessed women being very caddy with each other on occasion. If Sue does something to upset Mary by going out on a date with a boy that Mary likes, or if Sue embarrasses Mary in front of her friends, the invective Mary typically chooses to call Sue is “whore” or “slut, and she will likely use one of these terms, perhaps because she intuitively knows how easy and damaging it is to affix such a label to a woman.
In “Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation,” Leora Tanenbaum proposes that since men devalue women and their bodies, women in consequence also devalue their own bodies, leading them to hate themselves. Tanenbaum states that the only way some women can feel empowered is by having the power to make or break someone else’s reputation. Popular movies such as “Cruel Intentions” or “Mean Girls” depict women being ruthless to other women and getting pleasure out of it.
In a post, “Sluts!” on the blog Rage Against the Man-chine, Nine-Deuce argues that “Slut-shaming is one of the chief ways women attempt to compete with each other for male approval in a patriarchy that defines women’s worth by their physical attractiveness and limits their ability to distinguish themselves by other means.” At least among heterosexual couples, a lot of men love women who are innocent and pure, and saying that a woman is easy implies that she is dirty and not someone you bring home to meet the parents. An easy girl is not someone a boy wants to take out on a date, but someone who he sleeps with on a whim and later laughs about amongst friends. Therefore, no one wants to be called a slut. Women know the damage these words cause, perhaps even better than men, and some are willing to use it against other women, as a means snagging Mr. Right.
I do think that men are often directly responsible for degrading women and that misogyny is a serious problem that America must address; however, I think we as women need to realize that it is not only men who degrade us. Slut-shaming is a strategy of power, which is also deployed by women within a hegemonic system in order to attain and secure a position at the top of a social hierarchy. Women—not just men—threaten to characterize other women’s behaviors as slutty, some women are able to gain favor for themselves, thereby giving strength to the degrading ideas widely propagated about women’s sexual lives.
If we really want to stop slut-shaming, then, as women we need to look at ourselves first and truly understand why we are so hateful toward one another. Once women can do this, we will be freed to act in concert to stop the slut-shaming from men as well. It makes sense that women should be able to treat each other with love and respect before we can expect the same from men.
~ Freedom Fighter
There has been significant debate on this blog about the pursuit of gender equality and the dismantling of the gender binary. In particular, Drizzle highlighted the possible detriment of raising children to be gender aschematic in contemporary society (here). Several bloggers strongly disagreed with Drizzle’s views, and explained that it is worthwhile and beneficial to raise a child in this manner. Country Girl explains that to raise a child without gender stratification may be a difficult task, but that we must try nonetheless (here). I agree that there is significant gender inequality in our society, and that it must be changed. However, I wish to discuss the consequences of some of the tactics that Country Girl and Lazy Lazarus suggest in their previous posts. Although neither author mentioned specific methods of raising children without gender, I believe that certain methods may inadvertently harm children.
Country Girl speaks to the broader implications of raising children without gender when she writes, “Children who have been exposed to gender aschematic ideas might be better equipped to become independent thinkers. They would be less inclined to simply accept the usual gendered explanations about how the world is supposed to work, and they will grow up having experienced what a world might look like if all people were equal and not stratified by gender.” Although I feel that many of these points may be accurate, I would like to acknowledge that dressing children in a sexually androgynous manner is a tactic by which many parents may raise there children without gender boundaries. I feel that this may actually do more harm to children. Since most children at school and in public are raised in a system of gender binaries, the tactic of dressing children androgynously may ultimately alienate them.
I would like to know what Country Girl is doing in her own life to challenge the gender binary. Judging by her pseudonym, it appears she identifies herself by her gender above all else. I question whether Country Girl lives a life that is completely autonomous of gender norms. If she does not already, I suggest that she tries dressing in a sexually androgynous manner. That way she can experience what it’s actually like to go against our society’s intolerant gender norms. I would hope that she knows what its like, considering she is suggesting we raise our children this way.
Raising children to fight your battles is not the answer to eliminating gender and social inequality. Consider the writings of Betsy Lucal, who is a woman that has a body type and style of dress that is not characterized as archetypically feminine in our society. Lucal has many experiences with people who put significant amounts of energy into assigning her a gender. In Lucal’s “What it Means to be Gendered Me,” She uses this social phenomenon of people “doing” gender for her to highlight how fixated we are on the gender binary. Although Lucal was born within a cultural system that operated by that binary, she eventually chose the brave path of living outside the gender binary. Dressing your child in this manner and forcing them outside the gender binary may result in serious consequences for them, including alienation, loneliness and serious confidence problems. Remember that Lucal chose that brave path; it was not assigned to her as a child.
Alternatively, I suggest that we focus on finding realistic approaches to fighting injustice and inequality in our society. Raising your child to be gender aschematic will not help people in need and will not improve our society. Nor will it cause the gender binary to come crashing down. More successful and proven ways of fighting sexism include forming community groups and organizations, such as shelters for battered women or supporting organizations which protect and promote the rights of women. We should work in our communities to combat real problems ourselves, instead of forcing our children to bear the repercussions of challenging gender norms.
Today in my sociology of gender lecture my Professor asked us the question “if you were to see a man walk down the street with a black eye what would be the first thing that comes to mind?” The class responded, “Oh, he got in a fight!” My professor then proceeded to ask “Ok….now if you saw a woman walking down the street with a black eye, what would you think?” The class responded “She was beat up!” People in the class assumed the woman was a victim in a domestic dispute, but the man was assumed to be an agent that could and would transform his environment. The example illustrates that we interact with men and women on different terms, but also that we often fail to notice how we are doing it. This tendency to have common sense ideas about how men and women operate in the world, and the different expectations we develop from that common sense is the double standard.
Now, with regards to sex before marriage or having multiple sexual partners, one can easily see this double standard. I would like to begin this post by echoing the rhetorical question posed by Wenty in the last post: If we all agree men and women ought to be treated equally, then why are women shamed for being sexually active when men are congratulated? As has been pointed out on this blog (here), there is a hegemonic, gender ideology at work, which leads us to regard sexually active women as sluts, while sexually active men a rarely referred to as anything.
A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and reported in Contemporary Sexualities (2003), revealed that out of 500 boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 17, 92% reported that girls get bad reputations for having sex. Associate director and senior research scientist at the Center for Research at Wellesley College, Deborah Tolman, notes that as a result of this double standard “many girls find ways of transferring blame to escape responsibility for their sexual encounters.” The article goes on to explore the way “parents, not just peers, are also guilty of applying the sexual double standard to their children. 85 percent of teens said parents have different expectations of girls and boys. Even today, sexually active boys are ’ladykillers’ while girls are ’sluts.’”
Sex has become something of a spectacle and can be found anywhere in present day America, so it is odd that we seem intent on sending the message that sex is shameful for women, Just watch any number of music videos or find the nearest commercial billboard. Sex clearly sells! American society is obsessed with sex, but we don’t demonstrate this obsession in a uniform way. More often than not, we passionately decry it as shameful when it involves women, but when a man like Lil Wayne demonstrates some provocative moves in his latest video, he is in no danger of being told he should feel ashamed. Similarly, the bawdy lyrics of Trey Songz’s latest hit are not perceived to be daring, but they would be if sung by a woman artist: “You gunna think I invented sex.”
It is not just that there are double standards, but that the standards placed on women are themselves inconsistent and therefore impossible to satisfy. On the one hand, men frown on women who flaunt their sexuality, but at the same time, they seem to insist that half-naked women parade around in the background of music videos. Does anyone sense a trap?
In their posts, ChelleBell and Wenty wrote about the practice of slut-shaming and noted that women are objectified, and their bodies are sought by men hoping to become manly. Masculinity theorists like Jackson Katz might point out that men, in fact, depend on sex with women in order to “do” masculinity well. A society characterized by hegemonic masculinity strongly encourages men to develop characteristics such as aggressiveness and a will to dominate, but it also encourages men to participate in the subordination of women, all in to the name of obtaining a true masculinity.
~ Country Girl
Teen Gender Double-Standard Persists. Contemporary Sexuality [serial online]. April 2003;37(4):7. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed May 4, 2010.
In a recent post on this blog, titled “Dirty Sluts in America,” Chellebell argues that women are pressured to “engage in sex to fit in, but once they have sex, their peers bash them.” After reading the article, the question that bogs my mind is why sex is generally acceptable for men and not for women. Why in particular are women so often shamed for engaging in premarital sex? I mean, why aren’t women just as entitled as men to make decisions for themselves when it comes to their own sex lives.
Not only does slut shaming occur in the United States, but a recent article explores this phenomena in Turkey (here). In the prosaically titled “Ambivalent Sexism and Attitudes toward Women who Engage in Premarital Sex in Turkey,” Nuray Sakali-Ugurlu and Peter Glick observe the sexual double standard that women are pressured and ridiculed when they engage in premarital sex while men are not. They argue that “women who are known to have engaged in premarital sex are not only disrespected but may face myriad forms of discrimination, including serious social and family problems” and such women undergo “involuntary virginity examinations, surgical reconstruction of the hymen, and physical abuse for failing to ‘protect’ their virginity.”
Whether in Turkey or the United States, it is my view that women are independent individuals whose sexual ideas and desires should be respected. The disrespect directed toward women who have premarital sex not only demonstrates a double standard, but shows a broader pattern of discrimination against women. Attacks on the rights of women to make choices for themselves about their bodies reveal how vulnerable women are, and the fact that this standard is applied unequally for men and women demonstrates that we are still living in a patriarchal society.
To take the analysis a bit further, I think it is important to understand that the double standard applied to women is bound up with hegemonic masculinity. In other words, men ridicule women for having premarital sex, but at the same time, they often depend on having premarital sex with women in order to achieve their masculinity. In this light, a woman’s choice about who she wants to have sex with and when she wants to do it is scrutinized and ridiculed because men depend on it for their own masculinity.
It is important to highlight that even though masculinity is hegemonic, women retain a measure of control. Ironically, women are centrally involved in the production of hegemonic masculinity, which in turn, subjects women to a sexual double standard. By this logic, women are co-creators of the system that imprisons them, and if this is true, then it stands to reason that women have a direct way to intervene on the production of hegemonic masculinity. Women have agency, and they aren’t just the victims Chellebell seems to take them for.
Unfortunately, exercising this agency is not without its consequences. Women are raped every day for daring to decide for themselves the terms of their sex with men. It is often stated that rape is more about power and control than sex. I think women fall victim to rape because they are attempting to exercise their agency in denying sex with men who seek to realize their masculinity. They are, in effect, attempting to wrestle power away from men.
Go Terps and Wenty disagree over whether one can broadly say that gender inequality is subsiding over time. G.T. argues that we’re “constantly improving” and Wenty begs to differ. In a sense, I think there might be some truth to both of these perspectives. In some ways, improvements have been made, and in others, we are still a sharply divided society. Whether society is improving would seem to be debatable, but in a sense, it doesn’t really matter. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with whether gender inequality exists today, and if it does, what we intend to do about it?
I recently watched the documentary, “The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter,” which gives one a sense of the experience of American women during World War II. With men rushing into battle in the Pacific and European theaters, a labor scarcity developed on the home front, and women were encouraged to enter the labor market. Men may have been risking their lives in war, but women were expected to make a different kind of sacrifice for the nation. They demonstrated their patriotism by entering the workforce in order to maintain production in a wartime economy. Staying home was not an easy option for many women, for they risked being accused of not supporting their country and being branded traders.
On the one hand, there were clear improvements in terms of women’s labor force participation, but on the other, the process by which women were encouraged to go into the workforce was a manipulative one. Women were first compelled to demonstrate their nationalism by entering workforce. Then, once the men were back from the war, these same women were expected to prove their patriotism again by abandoning their jobs and returning to the home.
If G.T. and Wenty were to discuss this historical moment, G.T. would likely emphasize women’s growing workforce participation as proof of an improving society, while Wenty would likely insist we can not overlook women’s forced exodus. What is clear is only that anticdotes can be selectively mined from history and pulled out of their larger context in order to make any point one wants to make about the advancement or retreat of gender equality. Therefore, I would like to take a different approach. Irrespective of what happened in this nation’s past and whether a clear trend of improvement can be established, I would like to move the debate forward with a modest proposal: if gender inequality exists today, then it behooves us to work toward ending it.
In short, I think it does exist, and I think we should knock it off.
For starters, women today are still victims of employment-based discrimination, a clear sign that even if our society is improving, we have a long way to go. By and large, women still do not earn as much as equally educated men. In the recent Time article, “Why Do Women Still Earn Less Than Men,” Laura Fitzpatrick reminds us that in 2008 women in the U.S. still earned only 77 cents on the male dollar. When the topic of job discrimination is discussed in the media, it is often framed in terms of race, but gender is an important part of the story even if journalists fail to notice. For example, it is not just Blacks, but Black women especially, who are concentrated in the least paid and lowest status jobs.
Another measurable form of gender inequality is that women continue to be the victims of sexual violence. Each year a large number of women are raped and sexually assaulted. In Carolyn Sprague’s recently published article “Sexual Harassment,” she states what by now should be obvious: “The majority of victims reporting instances of sexual harassment are women, and the vast majority of reported aggressors are men.”
Today–this very minute–one can observe that men regularly feel entitled to interrupt and talk over women. Today, men still feel more entitled to grope women in public. Job discrimination, sexual harassment, groping, interrupting–all of these observations demonstrate that “our” society is still characterized by gender inequality, and there is still work that needs to be done. Go Terps seems to argue that we should simply have faith that life will constantly improve for women, but why would anyone instill so much blind trust in a society with such a bad track record? By now, women have been treated unequally for centuries. If society really has been constantly improving, it is has only been through the direct actions of people. As I look out my window today–right now–I see no compelling evidence for why we should stop fighting for change.
~ Summer Lover
There has been a recent debate in this blog about whether parents should strictly adhere to gender norms by raising masculine men and feminine women. I agree with Lady Lazarus that raising your children to be gender aschematic would in fact be beneficial. I agree with the argument that this would be the most ideal environment for a child and would provide a child with the best mindset. Drizzle’s post clearly disagrees with this sentiment. Instead, Drizzle argues that while this gender aschematic way of living may be possible in one’s home, gender aschematic values and habits might steadily erode as the child grows older and matures. In other words, it’s just not realistic, because once the child goes out into the real world he or she will experience gender categorization from many other institutions of society (e.g., school). It’s not going to work, so why try.
As Lady Lazarus has done (here), one can easily argue against Drizzle with the following logic: the attempt to raise a gender aschematic child—even if we can’t ultimately deter the child from acting in gendered ways—is a worthwhile endeavor. Children who have been exposed to gender aschematic ideas might be better equipped to become independent thinkers. They would be less inclined to simply accept the usual gendered explanations about how the world is supposed to work, and they will grow up having experienced what a world might look like if all people were equal and not stratified by gender. After all, isn’t this what the United States has been aiming toward for centuries?!
Those who would side with Drizzle would like us to acknowledge that Sandra Bem’s gender schema theory is a description of a utopia—which is “of course” a problem because our world is an imperfect one. Utopian ideas don’t work in imperfect societies, so again, why even try?
This bit about our imperfection garners no disagreement from me. Take, for example how people today look toward ads and commercials for clues about how to reach their ideal gendered look. It is as if we are parrots and institutions like the media and the state are our owners. We are a docile lot and easily manipulated. We watch and observe others’ behaviors, and pick and choose which to imitate depending on some advertiser’s notion of perfection.
We’re also imperfect because we’re power hungry. That is, when we’re not being manipulated, we’re attempting to manipulate others. It seems that we look for every instance to be superior, and do so by ridiculing even the smallest behaviors. For example, many times it comes down to how well someone performs their gender. Gendered norms are such a large part of our society and have been in practice for so long. They are are useful for keeping people in line, and they are reinforced by media representations. Surely, gender schema theory is bound to fail. In fact, trying to make it succeed would only be a waste of energy. Perhaps this is why some people feel so threatened by the prospect of raising their children in a gender aschematic environment. Perhaps they’re just convinced they will fail.
But say we make some headway and are able to reimagine what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man. Say a sizable number of parents adopt this idea of raising their children without the usual gender stereotypes. I suspect Drizzle would still remind us that we are just so imperfect and so power hungry as a society that even if gender ceased to be the means of determining superiority, another trait would likely fill its absence. I imagine Drizzle would shake his/her finger, saying “One cold reality of this world is that people are fond of status hierarchies. Nothing will change that. If not gender, we’ll find another category with which to make ourselves miserably stratified.”
If we adopt Drizzle’s apprehension and if we fail to try simply because we are convinced we are bound to fail, then our fate is sealed. We will almost certainly condemn ourselves to perpetual inequality. But at what point do people stop justifying the status quo because alternatives seem too remote to even contemplate? Even if it is true that we can never escape creating status hierarchies—and I don’t believe this is true—isn’t a better society one that tries to address injustice? In the end, even if we are only able to create a single day free of prejudice and discrimination, isn’t that far better than refusing to try?
~ Country Girl
In a recent blog entry titled, “Why Gender Typing is Positive,” Drizzle states that raising children to be gender aschematic is “unrealistic” because “there are too many other outlets that expose children to gender categorization.” Drizzle also states that the proposed benefits of raising your children to be gender aschematic are “only possibilities and not definite outcomes.” I do agree that once children leave the confines of the home they will be subjected to gender stereotypes, but to assume they will blindly accept these rigid ideas about gender is too simplistic. I am not asserting that by raising one's child in an environment relatively free of gender typing, the child is guaranteed to become socially androgynous. I do however believe that raising children in a gender aschematic environment will make them more open-minded about the full range of opportunities available to them and will encourage independent thinking. Children will be more likely to question the way in which gender is structured in society and will be more capable of critiquing gender stereotypes. I would also argue that a child who has lived in an environment relatively free of gender typing will be cognizant of the fact that a rigid gender binary does not reflect an inevitable reality. They will be able to understand that gender is not inherent and thus can be constructed in a variety of ways.
Drizzle later counters my argument about the beneficial aspects of raising children to be socially androgynous by asserting that children “who become socially androgynous will still face social issues with their peers which makes this style of living difficult.” Drizzle uses the example of Betsy Lucal and draws from her article “What it Means to be a Gendered Me” to support this claim. But Drizzle only applies a superficial reading of Lucal’s experiences. Betsy Lucal is a woman who has chosen not to "do" gender and as a result of her transgression of gender boundaries, Lucal is often mistaken for a man. Yes, Lucal did face adversity, but it is important to note that Lucal made this decision. At one point in the text, Lucal decided to grow her hair out and as a result was no longer mistaken for a man. To reduce Lucal's experiences of gender bending as experiences of victimization fails to acknowledge the activism she is trying to promote. Lucal seems to feel liberated by her experience because she feels she is helping to deconstruct a rigid and harmful gender binary.
While I appreciate Drizzle's arguments and concerns about Bem's proposal, I still believe it is a beneficial and achievable goal to raise one's children to be gender aschematic. I think it is a mistake for Drizzle to dismiss this argument on the grounds that these ideas are only possibilities and not definite outcomes. It is never guaranteed that individual efforts to create equality will result in immediate success, but rather, success may need to be measured in intervals. In order to restructure the rigid binary gender system, we must understand gender as a historical construct which can be changed and is subject to improvement. In order to make positive change, individuals must actively resist adhering to gender stereotypes, and we must raise our children to do the same.
~ Lady Lazarus
The Class Blog Project, or CBP, is a blog featuring undergraduate students forming a critical dialogue with each other around ideas related to the sociology of gender.