In this essay, I would like to argue that Lady Lazarus is wrong about how problematic our society is in terms of being "catalogued and ranked" by a rigid gender category. She states, “gender also creates a stratification system within our society which gives men a higher status than women. In order to eradicate these issues, we need to rethink our rigid ideas about gender and recognize that more than two types of gender are possible.” I believe that our society makes changes and adjustments whenever an issue arrises. Our ideas are not so rigid, and in fact, they are constantly changing. Lady Lazarus does not give our society enough credit by acknowledging how much we have improved. I believe our society has been flexible, and while there may be some problems, our society has the capacity for reform. We are constantly changing, reevaluating our norms, and improving. There will always be problems that individuals will find in the structure of society, but it will get better in time. It is a process. We are only human and mistakes happen, but it seems like our society is constantly practicing trial and error until we get it right. Our social structure has already changed immensely over time, and this should be acknowledged for what it is – very impressive.
In the book Manliness and Civilization, Gail Bederman writes about the history of white men lynching blacks. For instance, if a black man had relations with a white woman the black man would be hung. These actions by white men were normative in the past and were accepted. Currently, these sorts of behaviors are rare and forbidden. Our society has realized how barbaric lynching is and has made drastic changes for the better. Today, blacks and whites commingle daily and are equal under law. Furthermore, there are now interracial relationships and marriages that occur constantly and that are widely accepted. Lastly, we even have a black president which would have never happened in the past.
In the past, our society was not accepting of homosexuals. Most individuals were afraid to come out of the closet because they might be killed and they were afraid they would bring shame to their families. I am not saying that our society has become extremely accepting of homosexuality, but it is improving. Recent discussions have arisen about incorporating education on homosexuality in elementary schools. For example, a few schools in New York and Massachusetts incorporated a “Gay and Lesbian Pride” day for elementary students where they openly talked to elementary school children about gay and lesbian families. In the past homosexuality was never discussed or brought up in front of children because it was believed to be inappropriate. Furthermore, several states have begun discussing same sex marriages and some states have even passed laws allowing these marriages. Also, in some doctors offices one can find “transvestite” as a gender category on patient registration forms, and it was recently reported that changing rooms and bathrooms at New York Universtiy are now being designated as gender-neutral. Our society is beginning to realize that it is unfair to ban openly gay and lesbian people from enlisting in the army, and President Obama is now trying to pass a law to this effect. These examples demonstrate that society is changing, although it is a process.
Another issue in the past which is now changing is the way women are discriminated against. In the book Queer theory, Gender Theory, by Riki Wilchins, she discusses the position of women in society when she was in elementary school. “This was a time when girls didn’t grow up to go into politics, practice medicine, work construction jobs, become soldiers, or play rock and roll. Nor did they jog, play basketball or pump iron” (6). She also states that women “were considered socially and psychologically incomplete until they had a man to marry, bear children with and make a home for” (6). I would argue that this social system is completely different now. We have female politicians, doctors, soldiers, and more. According to the United States Department of Labor, in 2008 “women accounted for 51 percent of all workers in high-paying management, professional and related occupations.” Our society has managed to change from one with relatively few women laborers to one where the majority of high-paid management and professional positions are held by women. President Obama is even trying to pass a law that ensures women receive the same amount of money as men for comparable jobs. Furthermore, in our society women no longer have to get married and have children if they don’t want to. It is becoming less of a social norm.
As you can see, our society has made drastic changes. Society is constantly adjusting in an effort to make everyone equal and to make life fair. Of course it is a process and our society has its problems, but we are constantly evolving and trying to change for the better. Our socially constructed system keeps improving and perhaps the generations to come will not have to worry about the issues our society is dealing with now. If you compare our past to the system we have today, it is plain to see we have come a long way.
~ Go Terps
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.