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Online Gender Workshop 3

I’m going to apologize upfront. First, this is a day late. Real life has intervened, and it looks like every other day may end up being the schedule. I want to keep the momentum of one post a day, and I will try again to do that, but family responsibilities and an upcoming law final are limiting my ability to get longer posts done in a timely manner. For my second apology: I set up a trap exercise, at least to some extent. I won’t do this in the future, but to get a real appreciation of a trap, sometimes you have to be pushed into it. This is one of those times where the artificial trap in the exercises should (I hope) reflect the nature of traps that are integral features of the gender terrain.

Antiochus Epiphanes clearly caught on with comment #25 in the previous thread:

I’m not trying to be difficult, but can an object be said to have a gender?

Call me a jerk for setting this trap if you like, but today we’re going to begin to go back and look at our previous definitions of masculine, feminine, woman, man, and gender. Are your definitions inclusive of objects? If not, and if you then took this exercise seriously, what does that mean?

Feminist analysis of gender has been crucial to the ethical progress the English speaking world has made in the last 200 years. I by no means wish to throw it under the bus. Nor is it illegitimate to argue that objects and their placements in pictures or videos can be used to send messages. But objects have gender only in the sense that objects have sale prices (not even just prices, but sale prices).* In the every day territory of gender naïveté, gender binarism is not merely dominant, it is literally unquestionable. But those who “problematize” gender rope in a blizzard of semiotics.

The result for trans* and intersex folk attempting to explain themselves, attempting to be, literally, recognized by others while interacting with the gender binarists is like living inside a misshapen forcefield. While others might find the field quite protective, a trans* person often can’t function without painfully straining against the field from the inside just to perform everyday tasks. The problems for intersex folk are traditionally different: as doctors are about to bestow a forcefield to an infant, the doctors recognize a difference in shape in one of the most sensitive areas of our human bodies. Thoughtfully, the doctors have a solution: cutting the body to fit the forcefield.

In conversations around gender in those willing to consider either modified gender binarism (yes, it’s binary, but man is not isomorphic with male, and woman is not isomorphic with female) or non-binary gender, it is now possible to have a conversation with others about how trans* people are gendered and intersex people are sexed. However, this topic is given weight and treatment distressingly similar to that of discussions on the gendering of staircases.

In one world, we are painfully confined and, since we are assumed not to exist (and cannot be properly seen through the distorted field when we try to make ourselves known), have no access to help. Our requests for help are not even intelligible. In another world, we have the same status as fascinating objects. In short, there is no language, there is no context, in which trans* people have full humanity. Intersex people are denied their humanity in ways different, but just as consequential.

Where are the gender-descriptive or gender-identifying words that area always humanizing (could never be applied to mere objects), yet just as applicable to trans* and intersex folk as to non-intersex cis folk? Have you seen any in any of the discussion here yet?

This provides an environment of forced choice: if a person can cushion contacts with the field through throwing on a sequined pill-box hat, a tuxedo, a pair of doc martens, or all 3 at once, might it be worth the confinement to have the protection of the forcefield, now that the protection is merely confining, and not actually harmful? If a person feels sufficiently protected by other forces, might more freedom of movement be worth tossing aside the safety of the force field?

And here we get to interesting questions. Like all lives, trans* lives are confluent lives. Is it possible that a person with more money, more class status, or whiter skin will be more likely to feel safe enough without a forcefield? Which disabilities make a person less threatening, and thus less a target for certain types of violence? Which disabilities make a person appear powerless, and thus more of a target for certain types of violence? How many disabilities have both these effects? The effects of confluence are a major factor influencing the number of murders of MtF PoC.

These effects also influence whether a particular victim is more likely to be identified publicly as a victim of a gender or sex motivated murder. Is an FtM person who goes by Alex and wears Dickies going to have hir story told accurately in the paper? Is a wealthy, white MtF person murdered at home going to have family or others concealing the circumstances (even the victim’s clothing!) to “protect his reputation”? And will the police be more likely to forgive the family their deceptions and accede to their wishes than they would be for an MtF person of color murdered on the way home from a bus stop?**

Any number of aspects of trans* life are directly affected by class, race, gender assignment at birth, legal sex, religion, and other socially important aspects of our lives and bodies. But one thing does not change: the gendered world around us is thoroughly dominated by a culture created by and for cis* people. In that world, because of that culture, cis* folks’ obsession with gender rules.

Obsession?

Well, yes. You’re the group that defines gender in terms of people but then tries to shoehorn in pencils and mugs. It is not enough that we have to know the gender of the people around us, but if we wish to engage with others, we have to know the gendered implications of literally everything around us, our entire context.

Why? Social rules and social consequences. As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s trivially easy to prove that behavior varies with the gender of one’s interaction partner. Studies of eye contact initiation, cessation, and duration between pairs of persons serve quite ably as proof of concept.*** Violating social rules caries consequences. In an effort to minimize those consequences, it becomes vital for those living in a gendered system to be aware of context and follow social rules of gender. While “nature” might have soft, feminine connotations in many contexts, “the outdoors” might have masculine connotations just as often. Which did your conversation partner use to describe the setting of a vacation? How do patterns of word choice (and tone of voice, use of questions and question marks, and more) influence how one is perceived? While it’s perfectly fine to be something other than a housewife-paragon or warrior-paragon, the more one deviates from gender expectations, the higher grow the risks.

Cis* people often have traumatic stories to tell about younger years when learning contextual gender interpretation and gender risk management. But for cis* folk, by definition, it is possible to live a psychologically healthy <i>adult</i> life that feels authentic <b>and</b> which is also sufficiently far away from the risky features of the gender terrain for cis* persons to make the vast majority of choices without any fear that <i>this one small step</i> will be the step to cause an injurious – or fatal – fall.

It is this relative safety, the distance from dangerous edges, that makes it possible for a cis* dominated culture to be so gender naive and gender obsessed at the same time. Without criticizing anyone, I note that the conversation about what is phallic took (predictably) quite confusing turns: a hexagonal pencil might not be phallic, one suggested, but a cylindrical pencil just might. Likewise, in everyday contexts, children must learn that grabbing a softball for a game of catch is coded feminine, while grabbing the smaller baseball is coded masculine. Take the time to read through just a little bit of past discussion again. Without taking anything away from the utility of becoming **aware** of gender signals, what does it reveal about the depth of our societies’ gender obsessions that we can find gendered cues literally everywhere we look? Imagine being so frequently at the edges that literally anything – whether one’s pencil is hexagonal or cylindrical – might be enough to make one’s gender a safety liability.

Moreover, we excuse our gender obsessions in ways that are horribly harmful. Most of us are willing to go so far as to say that objects <b>have</b> gender, rather than that we, as humans, project gender onto those objects in a manner as artificial as a shopkeeper slapping on a sale price. The price is by no means a property of the object, nor is the gender. It is a property of ourselves, which is, in part, why we can differ so much as individuals and as societies in the gendering of clothes, mugs, and other objects. When we dodge responsibility by saying things like, “Blue <b>is</b> a masculine color,” rather than, “I masculinize blue,” we are teaching gender irresponsibility and gender naturalism at the same time. Is it any wonder then, that in those too-common cases where trans* people’s assailants or murderers are brought before a justice system, defendants will displace the source of rage onto the victim? Is it any wonder that jurors, judges, and the media sympathize with defendant whose expectations of naturalism were violated and who certainly played no role in <b>creating</b> those expectations? If they did recognize that, rather than trans* deception or trans* victimization of cis* folk, what was actually happening was a setting of a trap by cis* folk specifically to catch out and punish trans* folk for being trans*, those jurors, judges, and media representatives might feel uncomfortably guilty.

And they should. While those determined to protect themselves from harm through the reinforcement of rigid gender forcefields go about deliberately confusing sex and gender, those like feminists who have much to gain from separating the two appear to be unable to muster a consistent vision of separate sex and gender, and in both cases the ultimate effects on those outside the norms of gender and sex are similar: dehumanization and invisibility.

So let’s take a look back at our original definitions from a less naive stance. The point of these exercises is still to get a definition of these terms <b>as you use them</b>, not as you would like them to be used. We will come back to these definitions one more time at the end of the workshop to come up with some that we feel will be helpful going forward <b>after</b> the workshop, but changing habits is hard if we don’t know what the habits are in the first place.

 

Exercise 12: Redefinitions. Let’s look carefully at just a few definitions:

a. Gender

b. Man

c. Woman

d. Feminine

e. Masculine

 

Try to come up with a new definition for at least 3 of these. Use your experience in the video exercise (including your critiques or rebuttals, and others’ critiques of your ideas) to guide you. Look back at the cues you used: these are gender cues, even where the assumption is that they reveal something about sex directly and gender only indirectly. What definitions of masculine and feminine accurately represent the indications of femininity or masculinity that you used?

Now think about the object exercise: did you gender an object? If you did, how can you define gender consistently with how it has been used by you in these exercises? Many people in gender studies break gender down into subcategories. Would you find it helpful to create multiple, subcategoric definitions? What would the subcategories be? What would the definitions be?

 

Exercise 13: Justice. No one used the word, or even from what I remember the concept, of justice in these definitions during our first attempts to understand these words. Does the concept of justice belong in the definition? Is gender active or passive? Are we better defining gender first and then looking at the implications for in/justice? Or are we better off specifically defining gender in part in relationship to how it contains or enacts in/justice? As a separate matter, note that I’ve been using pretty common psychological testing schemes: present one exercise, with attention to certain details, but actually testing and examining different details. Did you feel trapped? Do you feel like the exercises were unfair in having both a surface point <b>and</b> an unstated expectation that you would likely reveal what I’m calling gender naïveté and gender obsession? Is the experience of a gender-trap familiar to you? If you aren’t trans*, is it possible to see how the relentless examination of so many aspects of a person’s look, behavior, and context might be harmful? For trans* folks: do you find your response to be more often one of exhaustion or pain, or do you find yourself to be cultivating ignorance of the relentlessness of gendering as a coping strategy? Both?

 

Exercise 14: 4th Report. Unlike other reports, there is no part of exercises 12 or 13 that I’m not encouraging you to report back. Post as much of that thinking as you are comfortable making public. Only after that should you feel free to pick out individual portions of this post for free form response, but, yes, once 12 and 13 are done, anything in here is fair game for any type of serious response.

 

Previous Workshop Thread.

=============================

Notes:

*I’ll let you all work on that for a while. Clearly we have some great minds working this stuff out here. If y’all want me to go into that metaphor more later, I might.

** It seems highly unlikely that the apparent targeting of MtF PoC over other trans* people does not reflect a reality of greater actual targeting of MtF PoC. But we’re frustratingly unable to know for sure, or to quantify those risks.

***See, e.g., Mayo, C and Henley, N M. Gender and Nonverbal Behavior.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. octopod says

    do you find yourself to be cultivating ignorance of the relentlessness of gendering as a coping strategy?

    Ugh, fuckin’ bullseye. You caught me. Ugh, wow. ;_;

  2. says

    a. Gender A social construct that is usually presented in the binary options of male and female

    b. Man

    c. Woman

    d. Feminine: traits and characteristics usually ascribed to and associated with women. Varies widely through times and cultures

    e. Masculine: traits and characteristics usually ascribed to and associated with men. Varies widely through times and cultures

    I still don’t have a sensible definition for man and woman.
    That’s where justice and injustice comes into play: It would be essentially unjust if I defined other people.

    No, I don’t feel let astray by you, I kind of expected something like this. Especially the videos made me think about how categories can change. Why is eye make-up feminine with C. Wurst and Julie Andrews but NOT with the rock band? How come it’s so easy to put people and things into these neat little boxes? It’s something I often think about with the kids: Why is a griffin masculine when done in gold and silver on blue, but feminine when done in pink and purple? And how come that a butterfly is still feminine when done in blue? Unless the little one comes home crying because the kids in daycare told her she was/looked like a boy because her skirt was blue? What cues and codes do kids use and why? And could adults please stop doing that shit?

  3. AMM says

    WARNING: META COMMENT
     

    it looks like every other day may end up being the schedule. I want to keep the momentum of one post a day,

    Speaking only for myself, my Real Life(tm) is pretty demanding, and there’s no way I, personally, can keep up with one workshop per day. Once or twice a week is my max, especially if I have to actually think about the assignments. It may take me a day or two to even find time to read the post. (I only today found time to respond to the very first workshop post, which was IIRC a week ago.)
     
    This stuff is very relevant to what I’m going through right now, so I wish I could participate more.
     
    On the other hand, there may be folks out there who prefer the faster pace, and I wouldn’t want to ask you to slow things down at their expense.

  4. Dhorvath, OM says

    12:
    Definitions
    I kept some of my initial gender definition. I am not sure if we were supposed to start from scratch or incorporate our exercises into our existing product.
    a. Gender
    Gender is a role that we play in our social life in an attempt to define ourselves, whether to fit in or stand out. We do this using behaviours such as body language and mode of speech and through accessories such as clothing and bags. Most of us have had this role scripted due to sex characteristics and some of us have managed to bend or break the roles we were presented. In my culture it tends to cluster around roles confined to woman or man.
    b. Man
    A gender role, characterised by a certain set of behaviours and accessories which are held to be masculine by the culture someone playing a gender role is part of.
    c. Woman
    A gender role, characterised by a certain set of behaviours and accessories which are held to be feminine by the culture someone playing a gender role is part of.
    d. Feminine
    A grouping term for the set of behaviours and accessories which are held by a culture as suggesting a person’s gender role is woman.
    e. Masculine
    A grouping term for the set of behaviours and accessories which are held by a culture as suggesting a person’s gender role is man.

    I would note here that I stand behind my thoughts about a bike as being neutral, only when accessorised does a suggested gender get superimposed on a bike. I would think this similar for most objects that are used by people to accomplish an end goal: everyone wants to get somewhere, fix something, stay dry and warm, eat, learn, etc. It’s only at the presentation level, that of decoration, that these objects can, although not must, be seen as having gender significance. I don’t know as I would have been able to articulate that before this exercise and if nothing else comes of this I would say thanks here for the extra clarity.

    Many people in gender studies break gender down into subcategories. Would you find it helpful to create multiple, subcategoric definitions?

    I don’t understand this question.

    13:Justice.
    Well, that’s a tough word to use in response to gender. Injustice maybe. I find whenever I become overtly aware of gender that my feelings are more of the outrage variety than of being content and surely never have I found myself feeling righteous. I know that it’s easy being me, but external expectations still chafe: yes I want to ride with my wife, no I don’t want to go to man’s poker night, what’s wrong with not liking violent sports? This makes me ill prepared to understand someone who wants to be like that, whether they have just relaxed into the role or have fought tooth and nail to be accepted as a man, it’s something that I don’t get. Is it just? No. Not that I can see so far in any event.
    As for feeling trapped or treated unfairly, no. I know you Crip Dyke. Maybe not really well, but well enough to know that you see, think, and play deeper games than I. I can but tag along and hope some measure of insight rubs off. Do I think I can understand what it’s like to be anyone? I am not always sure I understand what it’s like to be me, that experience keeps running away from me. Still, I can imagine my feelings of discomfort relating to social spaces and extrapolate them to some degree, is that what you are aiming at? That some people spend way more time railing against social pressure than I do is, well, easy to believe and have sympathy for, but I don’t know as I can always understand and generate empathy. I wish this were not so.

  5. anne mariehovgaard says

    Not sure I’m getting this, or doing this right.

    Look back at the cues you used: these are gender cues, even where the assumption is that they reveal something about sex directly and gender only indirectly.

    I have no idea what this means. I don’t even have the words to express how very much I fail to understand what you are trying to tell me.

    12. I don’t think I’ve changed my mind about what I mean by these words. There are some things that confuse me, but no more or less than before. I think. I’ve pasted in my original definitions below.
    Gender: haven’t the foggiest. Seriously. Something vaguely related to being male or female, man or woman; whatever the person using it means by that. People keep using this word, but they don’t seem to mean the same thing when they do, and I’ve never seen a definition that is coherent and more-or-less matches how people use the word. It’s not a separate term in my first language. I try to avoid it; I don’t think it refers to anything that’s real-to-me. If that makes sense?

    Man: male* adult human, woman: female adult human. I use those terms based on physical appearance, what type of body people seem to have**. Actual everyday use is “family resemblance” or prototype-based, not formal definition-based, so not everything has to match and it doesn’t matter if it’s the type they were born with or an updated version. A not-insignificant minority of people don’t really fit into either category, and that’s fine; biology is messy like that.

    Feminine vs. masculine – traits, appearance and behavior considered typical of or suitable for women vs. men. Culture. Anyone can have any combination of such traits. Describing something as feminine doesn’t mean that I personally actually believe it is typical of or suitable for women (I usually don’t), just that it’s generally considered to be in this culture.

    Videos:
    for the adults, I used he or she depending on what their bodies looked like to me, plus what I knew about them (both what they look like in other videos/pictures, and names + how they describe themselves/how others describe them). For the child, it was mainly what I know about her. References to masculinity or femininity are more about “how likely is it that this person is (fe)male” based on how people usually dress/act, not a determining factor. I think my use of masculine vs. feminine was mostly consistent with my definitions – traits, appearance and behavior considered typical of or suitable for women vs. men (either no real connection with male vs. female distinction ex. a dress=feminine, or as an exaggeration ex. no body hair=feminine).
    Object:
    Well, except for my cat, who might object to being referred to as an object ;) none of the objects are male or female. But some of them are sometimes used as symbols for either male-ness or female-ness (hollow/concave vs. longish objects). I don’t think that “makes” them “gendered”, it’s just an association. And some are considered (more) appropriate for either males or females. Which fits my definition quite well.

    13:

    Does the concept of justice belong in the definition?

    Uhh… no?

    Is gender active or passive?

    Uhh… no?

    Are we better defining gender first and then looking at the implications for in/justice?

    That would be the usual way of doing things, yes.

    Or are we better off specifically defining gender in part in relationship to how it contains or enacts in/justice?

    Oh dear. Please no. Not if you wish to be able to use the word for actual communication, no. If you are defining words “in relationship to how (they) contain or enact” various otherwise unrelated abstract concepts, you are not really defining them. I understand that the two concepts are related in the sense that one has consequences for the other, but that’s hardly unique.

    As a separate matter, note that I’ve been using pretty common psychological testing schemes: present one exercise, with attention to certain details, but actually testing and examining different details. Did you feel trapped?

    No, not at all. I’m a psychologist, I’ve been a psychology student; this is hardly anything new or unusual.

    Do you feel like the exercises were unfair in having both a surface point and an unstated expectation that you would likely reveal what I’m calling gender naïveté and gender obsession?

    No; even if they were, I don’t see why “fairness” should be a reasonable expectation in a situation like this – I certainly didn’t expect it.

    Is the experience of a gender-trap familiar to you?

    No.

    If you aren’t trans*, is it possible to see how the relentless examination of so many aspects of a person’s look, behavior, and context might be harmful?

    Yes.

    *

    Female – having (mostly) physical characteristics of the sex that makes egg cells; male – having (mostly) physical characteristics of the sex that produces sperm. Biology – anatomy, hormones, all of that. People can be one or the other (to varying degrees), or not really either.

    **If I know how people want others to refer to them, I’ll use the term they prefer. But that’s just because I’m trying to be respectful, not because I understand why. Sort of like making a halal dish if you’re having a party and you’ve invited a muslim friend.

  6. rpjohnston says

    I’ll admit you’re flying a bit over my head right now.

    Exercise 12: I couldn’t find my original definitions, but I’m pretty sure I remember them pretty well, and I think they still fit, esp the ones for “masculine” and “feminine”.

    I did not gender an object. In fact I went on a small rant about how I knew most people WOULD gender the object I chose (an apple) and many others but that that is useless in the context of humans and gender.

    Exercise 13: I…er, don’t see how “justice” is relevant at this point. To my knowledge, “justice” implies a legal or moral judgment designed to equalize one who has harmed another and the one who has been harmed. While this is obviously relevant in the broader discussion of issues and culture, I was asked only for a definition of terms as I used them.

    I do not understand what “active” and “passive” mean in this context.

    Justice – or at least, law – should be a prop to best advance the interests of humanity. The law should come after definitions – and be subject to change to best fit definitions should they change. Defining humanity based upon ex nihilo laws is irresponsible.

    I haven’t felt trapped, no. I’ve had to put my thoughts into words, which I’ve never done before, so I’ve had to be careful and think about consistency and accuracy etc, but I believe I’ve represented my views as well as I can.

    I do not understand what you are referring to with “surface points”; a more specific breakdown of your plan + examples would help.

    I’ll answer as trans*, though I hesitate to try to fit into even that label: my responses haven’t given me exhaustion or pain; I’ve simply tried to be as accurate and consistent as I can, without forcing my judgment onto anybody else’s identity or the definitions of identities. I create my identity as I see fit and have no desire whatsoever to intrude upon anybody else’s identity.

    I do not see how slapping arbitrary genders onto things helps “cope”, and I was ignorant of how much people see gender where, and to the magnitude, that it would seem ridiculous to me; such as gendering objects and having strong feeling about the gender of a performer. It is still something that is incomprehensible to me, though I’m a bit more enlightened about the phenomenon’s existence.

  7. wirebash says

    Ex. 12
    e. Masculine; related almost exclusively to the male sex. Includes behaviors, expressions, objects, roles and place in society. Some of these are connected with the male sex by biology, others by society and culture.
    d. Feminine; related almost exclusively to the female sex. Includes behaviors, expressions, objects, roles and place in society. Some of these are connected with the female sex by biology, others by society and culture.
    b. Man; (1) Someone of the male sex. (2) Someone who appears masculine.
    c. Woman; (1) Someone of the female sex. (2) Someone who appears feminine
    a. Gender; everything almost exclusively related to a sex, either by nature (biology) or artificial (by society/culture).
    Ex. 13
    Does a perfect definition of male and female, man and woman actually exist? Regardless of that, society seems to have a general concept of what a man and an woman is.
    There’s a difference between articulating how things are and how they ought to be.
    The definition of [word] that society uses is:…
    The definition of [word] that society uses should be:…

  8. AMM says

    (This may be a bit incoherent, since I haven’t had a week to think about it — this is being posted in time stolen from work.)
     
    I’m having a hard time with the whole series because “gender” and everything associated with it have always felt like something external that is imposed on me (and everyone else, except it seems like nobody but me sees it that way.) To make any sense of the questions, I would have to pick (or construct) a not-exactly-me persona whose choices I would then post.
     
    You mention that this gender stuff is a trap to catch trans* people. My experience is that it’s there to catch any people who step outside the norms, e.g., gay people (at least in the past.)
     
    Exercise 12: Redefinitions.
    No changes.
    man/woman: depending on the usage, either (i) someone living the man/woman role and/or being accepted by society as male/female or (ii) male-/female-bodied.
    masculine/feminine: traits, behaviors, etc., that are socially pre- or proscribed for men/women (keeping in mind society doesn’t distinguish between gender and sex.)
    gender: which role one lives in (or perhaps wishes to live in.)
     
    13. Justice:
    No, I don’t connect these concepts with justice. They’re not about justice, they’re about keeping people in their assigned places in The Machine. And hammering and filing and sawing off bits until they fit.
     
    14. Discussion:
    This workshop is making me kind of queasy, sort of like when I tried to go through Kate Bornstein’s My New Gender Workbook. I couldn’t connect with any of the questions or exercises. It just kept poking at my “I’m a space alien, not a human” feeling that I’ve had all my life. For me, gender is one of the sets of expectations that I have to understand and meet well enough to pass as human in human society.
     
    (Back to work :( )

  9. anne mariehovgaard says

    @4 Dhorvath, OM:

    b. Man
    A gender role, characterised by a certain set of behaviours and accessories which are held to be masculine by the culture someone playing a gender role is part of.
    c. Woman
    A gender role, characterised by a certain set of behaviours and accessories which are held to be feminine by the culture someone playing a gender role is part of.
    d. Feminine
    A grouping term for the set of behaviours and accessories which are held by a culture as suggesting a person’s gender role is woman.
    e. Masculine
    A grouping term for the set of behaviours and accessories which are held by a culture as suggesting a person’s gender role is man.

    OK, so I’m trying to understand this system…
    Does this mean that anyone can be a woman if they just dress and act sufficiently feminine? Can a man be more feminine than a woman, or would he then stop being a man? Is there a tipping point? Or are there certain defining traits (if you do/wear this feminine thing, you are a woman no matter how masculine you are)? When I’m in my garden chopping down trees while wearing a boiler suit, and someone passing by refers to me as “he”, does that mean I am a man? Do I become a woman if I take a shower, style my hair, put on makeup and a dress, or is “man” and “woman” (unlike many other roles) something you are the whole time? If so, why? Does it matter 1. that I “identify as” a woman 2. that I only identify as a woman the way about 50% of Norwegians identify as Christian (will tick that box on a form, but don’t go to church except for weddings and funerals and don’t pray except for “Oh God don’t let me fail this exam”)?

  10. whynot says

    Exercise 12: I’m going to hold off on answering until I’ve figured out 13.

    Exercise 13: I’ve got a normative/descriptive problem.

    The exercises seem to be descriptive-oriented, looking at what do I associate with gender and possibly at what society associates with gender. What is, not what should be.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that when I examine my subconscious responses I don’t like them. Example: in the Julie Andrews video I found that some features of her performance were subconsciously making me think of her as MtF trans*: strength, directness, control. It bothers me that I’ve got those associations; I don’t know what they mean, but they smell of some sort of sexism or transphobia that’s at odds with my consciously held values. I doubt very much that my associations are weirder or more pernicious than an average person’s.

    I don’t trust my intuitions about gender, and I trust the way north american society structures these concepts even less. So yeah, “are we better off specifically defining gender in part in relationship to how it contains or enacts in/justice?” — absolutely. Let’s figure out what these concepts ought to mean and then go about changing the way they turn up in our heads and in society.

  11. anne mariehovgaard says

    @8, AMM:
    Doesn’t seem at all incoherent to me :)

    I’m having a hard time with the whole series because “gender” and everything associated with it have always felt like something external that is imposed on me (and everyone else, except it seems like nobody but me sees it that way.)

    It feels pretty much completely external to me as well, but I think I have (&had growing up) a lot more freedom to mix & match & ignore the bits I don’t/didn’t like. It doesn’t feel “real”, but it doesn’t usually bother me too much unless someone starts talking about how men are like this and women are like that, or posts a list of “amusing” differences between men and women, or gives a traditional “To the women” speech, or sings about how she “feels like a woman”, whatever that means… Oh. OK, it seems like it does actually bother me a tiny little bit XD

    It just kept poking at my “I’m a space alien, not a human” feeling that I’ve had all my life. For me, gender is one of the sets of expectations that I have to understand and meet well enough to pass as human in human society.

    That sounds really uncomfortable.

  12. epiblast says

    I kind of thought you might be doing something like this. I originally treated gendered associations applied to objects as a real phenomenon (as in a real type of social construct), but not as part of the definitions I wanted to use in talking to our Martian friend at the beginning, because I presumed that what was being asked was how the various terms applied to people.

    That said, one could add a secondary definition to “masculine”, “feminine”, and “gender” pertaining to objects, along the lines of “associated in form, function, or properties with prototypically egg-producing/prototypically sperm-producing humans”. I consider this a separate definition in my own usage, although I recognize that not everyone sees this way and some may think of, say, a high-heeled shoe as being feminine in the same way that its wearer may be feminine. I don’t.

    As for the question of whether justice should enter into how we use terms, my answer is “potentially”. Words are tools, and their definitions may be changed to improve their utility in one way or another.

  13. epiblast says

    One term I should have used in my original definitions that I didn’t was “family resemblance”, as brought up by another commenter. The de facto definitions of basically all of these terms for most people are based on resemblance to a prototype rather than by any universal deciding factor.

  14. EveryZig says

    12.
    a. Gender:
    b. Man: An adult human who identifies as male
    c. Woman: An adult human who identifies as female
    d. Feminine: A set of traits associated with being biologically female
    e. Masculine: A set of traits associated with being biologically male

    13. On justice, I am not sure if justice directly relates to gender definitions, but the definitions definitely have consequences that can cause or not cause injustice. On the fairness of the previous exercise, I think bringing it up like that did exaggerate the associations by intentionally invoking them, but they are still something that exists in normal life, which is a fairly common way of doing psychological observations.

    14. I am not really sure how I would define gender. It is related to masculine and feminine concepts, and I guess you might characterize it as a sort of continuum between them, but there seems to be more going on with gender than that.

  15. epiblast says

    Actually, there’s a question I’d like to ask about something from the first thread. The spellings “transsexual” and “transexual” are mentioned side by side and we are asked if we distinguish between them. I have occasionally heard that some people in the trans community prefer the spelling with a single S, although I haven’t been able to determine why. Anyone in this discussion have some information about this? I’m confused as to the nature of the distinction if there is a commonly made one.

  16. says

    Report 12-14, in no particular order:
    Ok, I feel better now that understand the purpose of the object exercise, I really thought I was missing something when in fact I was more or less getting it.
    While I would not incorporate justice into my definitions regarding human gender directly, I am intrigued by the idea, but will need time to think more deeply about how to construct a sensible framework that includes both.
    Is gender active or passive? Well it seems to be both. We humans often actively express our gender identities through our actions and interactions, but we also assign gender identity onto others based on our own understanding
    Gender cues: thinking about all this reminded me about the first time I saw a man with long hair. While raised very accepting, the environment was very homogeneous in appearance. I was about 5 and amazed! A man *could not* have long hair! Not because it was wrong, I had just been under the impression that men’s hair stopped growing at a shorter length. I didn’t know it was possible. More knowledge means more understanding.

  17. Dhorvath, OM says

    Anne M,
    I would ask what is more feminine than thinking and stating that you are a woman. I identify as male because to do otherwise would be a stretch, but man is something that fits poorly. This is because my culture presents me with a set of behaviours expected of playing that role which I am exceedingly uncomfortable participating in. So while I do things that are incidentally masculine more often than I do things which are incidentally feminine, I am uncomfortable with just accepting that I am therefore a man. I think there ought to be more to being than that.

  18. says

    Exercise 14: 4th Report.

    To be honest I don’t think my definitions change…except I only defined two of these and now you are asking for 3. Now you are asking me to define one of “gender”, “feminine”, or “masculine” as I personally use them…but I kind of don’t use them. The most I really use them is if someone else is already using them, and conversation would be difficult if I ignored the words and didn’t use them myself.

    With relating gender to objects, the exercise seemed more to be about what society assigns “gender” to, unlike the definition assignment with explicitly said to define words the way I personally use them.

    About the OP of this thread, there was this part that I simply didn’t know what it was saying:

    In another world, we have the same status as fascinating objects. In short, there is no language, there is no context, in which trans* people have full humanity.

    Where are the gender-descriptive or gender-identifying words that area always humanizing (could never be applied to mere objects), yet just as applicable to trans* and intersex folk as to non-intersex cis folk? Have you seen any in any of the discussion here yet?

    Which words do that for non-intersex cis folk yet can’t be applied to trans and intersex people?

  19. opposablethumbs says

    I want to start with an apology – right about when this post went up I find myself with a load of work on a short deadline (I’m a freelancer) and I’m not going to be able to put in the time to do this justice. And I’ll cop to the fact that the amount of time this demands is not unrelated to the fact that right about now is when this workshop gets challenging for me.

    So I’m not going to do the new definitions exercise right now, but if I’m taking away anything from reading the above it’s that I have been accustomed to think of gender as a noun – as a phenomenon that has some kind of objective existence even if we overwhelmingly subjectively interpret it, a quality that people have and that we see/categorise/respond to/have opinions about; what I have not been doing, and what I am thinking about now, is that gender is a verb and that this is something I and people around me do – to each other, to strangers, to non-human animals and even to objects or actions.

    I aim to come back to the workshop later if possible, and in any case I will continue to read along. And I am going to go on thinking about what it means that gender is a verb.

  20. AMM says

    brianpansky @19 drew this snippet from the OP to my attention:
     


    In short, there is no language, there is no context, in which trans* people have full humanity. Intersex people are denied their humanity in ways different, but just as consequential.

    Where are the gender-descriptive or gender-identifying words that area always humanizing (could never be applied to mere objects), yet just as applicable to trans* and intersex folk as to non-intersex cis folk?…

    I’m a little concerned about the focus on words in the second paragraph. There’s a tendency in social justice circles to focus on having the correct language and assume correct (or just) thinking will follow. I think that that is backwards. It’s not the words that are the problem, it’s the thinking. (Would “tranny” and “she-male” be slurs if there weren’t the attitude that the people they refer to are non-human freaks?)
     
    What harms trans* and other gender-variant people is the requirement that people fit neatly into a very small number of very narrow boxes and the attitude that those who can’t/won’t fit aren’t human (so the normal rules of decent treatment don’t apply.) Once the attitudes change, language will automatically change to fit them.
     
    FWIW, those who actively deny the very existence of trans* or non-binary people still have language to describe what they are arguing against. Society has always at some level recognized the existence of people who don’t fit into acceptable norms, if only so they know who to shove into the closet (or the garbage can.)

  21. sammywol says

    Exercise 12:
    My original definitions
    Gender – a social construct of expectations, generally pegged to a binary idea of biological sex
    Sex – a biological classification based on an individual’s chromosomes
    Trans – someone whose identification, in one or more areas, is at odds with general social perceptions of what it is/should be
    Woman – an adult who identifies as female
    Man – an adult who identifies as male

    Even in light of my ability to ‘genderize’ all manner of inanimate objects, I think I generally stand by my definition of gender but might add a bit more.
    Gender – a social construct of expectations and associations, generally pegged to a binary idea of biological sex, projected by us onto the world around us (and ourselves)
    I think that that element of projection is a key aspect of how gender works and explains how it is so easy, for some of us at least, to see it in inanimate objects.

    I will set aside the definition of trans for now. I’ve a strong feeling I’ll be coming back to it in later exercises.

    The definitions of Man and Woman I am also mostly OK with but would add the word ‘human’
    Woman – a human adult who identifies as female
    Man – a human adult who identifies as male
    However I am well aware that I have rather ducked the issue by not defining female or male. This is mostly because I have an attack of ‘ohhh! this is so very big!’ when I try. The easy cop outs of ‘ability to reproduce’ and ‘possessing a certain set of reproductive organs’ are commonplace but also a pile of nonsense (mercifully I have got that far). The terms to me seem to encompass elements of both sex and gender and so definitions are going to get complex and woolly. I think I was very grateful to be introduced the the term ‘cis’ by Natalie Reed’s blog for that reason. To identify as ‘cis female’ rather than simply ‘female’ feels more comfortable to me because it acknowledges some of that complexity. My initial reaction to the idea of ‘subcategories’ of gender was “Oh God no!” but I have belatedly realised that I already do so I guess I do find that that helps.

    I did not define feminine or masculine in the first exercise so here goes:
    Feminine – Attributes or behaviours culturally associated with female-ness.
    Masculine – Attributes or behaviours culturally associated with male-ness.

    Exercise 13:
    I am having a very profound sensation of ‘not getting it’. In terms of the exercise no, I did not feel trapped: maybe slightly wrongfooted but in an ‘oh … interesting!’ kind of way.
    However I am not seeing how the concept of justice maps on to gender especially. Gender associations can be fair or unfair, practical or impractical, hurtful or benign but that doesn’t affect their gendered-ness (is there the possibility of such a word?).

    Have to go irritatingly. Will try to get back to this later tonight and read the comments. Bless RL for slowing the pace of this workshop down. This is not quick work for my brain. One thread every 48 hrs is about as fast as my RL lets me keep to.

  22. says

    Exercise 12:
    My definitions haven’t really changed, although I didn’t define gender last time, and I’m still not sure I adequately can.

    Man/woman as ‘adult human who identifies as same’ still work for me, as does ‘possessing characteristics or behaviours coded by one’s society as male or female’ for Masculine/feminine’.
    Gender: an internal and social division into roles, appearances, and/or behaviours, typically assigned socially based on visible primary and secondary sex characteristics, and internally by mechanisms which are still not entirely clear.
    It would definitely be useful to break gender down into at least internally assigned and socially assigned components (if nothing else to work on getting them to be the same), and there’s a whole separate conversation to be had about cultural conceptions of masculinity/femininity, etc.
    Exercise 13:

    Are we better defining gender first and then looking at the implications for in/justice?

    I tend to lean towards this position myself, that justice in and of itself is not really part of the definition, but rather something we use to examine and refine our definitions.

    Do you feel like the exercises were unfair in having both a surface point and an unstated expectation that you would likely reveal what I’m calling gender naïveté and gender obsession?

    Well, no. It’s kind of expected under the circumstances.

    Exercise 14:
    Later on, when I have more time.

  23. sammywol says

    OK. First foray into html. Winces ready for blockquotefail.

    Re AMM @#8

    I’m having a hard time with the whole series because “gender” and everything associated with it have always felt like something external that is imposed on me (and everyone else, except it seems like nobody but me sees it that way.)”

    I think that that sounds very similar to how I see it. Gender for me is something that cannot exist outside of a cultural/social landscape and, when those parameters do not fit me, that does not cancel out or negate the cultural baggage of gender messages I am already carrying let alone what others use to categorize me.

    Re. OP

    Where are the gender-descriptive or gender-identifying words that area always humanizing (could never be applied to mere objects), yet just as applicable to trans* and intersex folk as to non-intersex cis folk? Have you seen any in any of the discussion here yet?

    Am honestly having trouble thinking of any “gender-descriptive or gender-identifying words” that are always humanizing at all. Am I just being dense here? This part of what I meant earlier about a ‘profound sense of not getting it’. This is obviously very important but all I’m getting is a mental 404 error message.

  24. anne mariehovgaard says

    @17, Dhorvath, OM

    I would ask what is more feminine than thinking and stating that you are a woman.

    Wearing pink frilly dresses every day? Never leaving the house without lipstick on? Actally, just having a lot of feminine (considered appropriate for female persons) traits/behaviors, not just a single one, no matter what that is. To me, saying you are a woman is only “feminine” in the sense that it’s one of the many things (people-who-are-identified-by-others-as-)women are expected to do. If simply stating that you are a woman= maximally feminine, your definitions could have been a lot shorter. I’m not sure I understand what you mean.

    I identify as male because to do otherwise would be a stretch, but man is something that fits poorly. This is because my culture presents me with a set of behaviours expected of playing that role which I am exceedingly uncomfortable participating in. So while I do things that are incidentally masculine more often than I do things which are incidentally feminine, I am uncomfortable with just accepting that I am therefore a man. I think there ought to be more to being than that.

    This bit I do understand ;) I’m less uncomfortable I think, partly because I feel relatively free to ignore the rules I don’t like without having to worry about sanctions. And partly because I really don’t care one way or another about much of it. I’m not going to police my own body language, or pretend to be helpless and incompetent, and I’ll say what I mean and not worry about not sounding sufficiently feminine (i. e. submissive), but I have no strong feelings about clothes, hair and so on (well, as long as I don’t have to wear pink :D). That something more, would that be something along the lines of “feeling like a man” (inner identity) or more “feeling that what’s expected of men is natural/right for you”? If that distiction is meaningful to you…

  25. anne mariehovgaard says

    Man/woman as ‘adult human who identifies as same’

    But then… what are they identifying as?(“They” because I’m not sure I’m included in this group.) “Identifying as an adult human who identifies as an adult human who…(repeat indefinitely)” is not very informative.

  26. AMM says

    anne mariehovgaard @11

    That sounds really uncomfortable.

    Tell me about it. :(

    It’s one of the reasons all my life I’ve felt like I can only really be myself when I’m alone (and am confident I won’t have someone bursting in on me.) When I’m alone, I have no gender. I don’t have to meet anyone’s expectations. I can wear what I like and do what I like and be what I like without having to worry about whether it’s too “feminine” or insufficiently “masculine” or insufficiently “mentally healthy” or maybe just too weird.

    P.S.: a tangent in re: frilly pink dresses. I don’t consider myself a woman, but someday I hope to have the self-confidence to wear them — they just look so cool! And, despite what many manly men seem to think, I doubt my you-know-what will fall off when I do.

  27. says

    Exercise 12

    a. Gender — Gender is an internal sense of maleness or femaleness (or anywhere in between), and does not necessarily match one’s physical sex.
    b. Man — A person who identifies and presents as “male”, regardless of parts.
    c. Woman — A person who identifies and presents as “female”, regardless of parts.

    About halfway through the object exercise, I did start questioning why this thing or that thing was “gendered”. I’ve long been of the opinion that there’s really nothing in the world that’s “for boys” or “for girls”, it’s just a bunch of socially constructed and socially enforced “rules” that, when one stops to think, are entirely arbitrary. So… arbitrary social constructs? Fuck those!

    Exercise 13

    Did you feel trapped? Do you feel like the exercises were unfair in having both a surface point and an unstated expectation that you would likely reveal what I’m calling gender naïveté and gender obsession? Is the experience of a gender-trap familiar to you? If you aren’t trans*, is it possible to see how the relentless examination of so many aspects of a person’s look, behavior, and context might be harmful? For trans* folks: do you find your response to be more often one of exhaustion or pain, or do you find yourself to be cultivating ignorance of the relentlessness of gendering as a coping strategy? Both?

    No, no, yes, yes, and a bit of both (mostly the latter).

    Exercise 14
    This is helping me figure a lot of shit out about my own gender identity. Female-bodied, don’t identify with either end of the binary, and that’s okay. Not to mention that a lot of things that are “coded” feminine or masculine, or are closely associated with ones gender… well, really aren’t gender specific things, and the label of “for boys” or “for girls” is nothing more than an arbitrary designation based on old worn-out tropes.

    The next question is… if I’m not a woman, and I’m not a man… what’s that make my orientation? Omnisexual? Pansexual? Anything That Moves*?

    *Well, anything capable of informed consent.

  28. sammywol says

    re28 WMDKitty — Survivor

    Not to mention that a lot of things that are “coded” feminine or masculine, or are closely associated with ones gender… well, really aren’t gender specific things, and the label of “for boys” or “for girls” is nothing more than an arbitrary designation based on old worn-out tropes.

    I really, really wish they were old, worn-out tropes. It seems to me these things are getting a brand new lease of life with more and more things being ghettoized into ‘girls only’ v. ‘boys only’.

    I may be misinterpreting the OP because I am not familiar with the idea of a gender trap and have only got as far as the ‘google-it’ stage of investigation but I do find the onslaught of genderized tropes, codes, markers and marketing painful and exhausting. I may be cis but am certainly nothing like what most of these tropes tell me femininity should mean. The gender associations are there in my head, and as a parent I am doubly aware of their ubiquity because I feel it is vital for my kids to learn to see these things consciously and not just absorb them subconsciously. But it does get so wearying!

    I have no idea how this would work if I was trans. Would it be different only in a matter of degree or is it a whole different order of experience? I see enough examples just on the net of the harm unchecked privilege can create. I really do not wish to cause harm to anyone by blundering blind through these sorts of issues.

  29. anne mariehovgaard says

    AMM:

    There’s a tendency in social justice circles to focus on having the correct language and assume correct (or just) thinking will follow. I think that that is backwards. It’s not the words that are the problem, it’s the thinking.

    I think you’re right. Change the words all you like; if people’s attitudes don’t change, you’re not really changing anything. And language is going to change right back, new terms and all: look at what happened to “challenged”.

    P.S.: a tangent in re: frilly pink dresses. I don’t consider myself a woman, but someday I hope to have the self-confidence to wear them — they just look so cool! And, despite what many manly men seem to think, I doubt my you-know-what will fall off when I do.

    One of the positive things about being female in this culture is having more freedom WRT dress. Masculinity seems to be in large part negatively defined, as “not feminine” – and you must always be on guard against appearing feminine. When my 4- and 6-year old cousins were asked about their favourite colours, she said “pink, because that’s a girl colour”. He said “not pink, because that’s a girl colour”. That’s just sad.

    WMDKitty — Survivor :

    Anything That Moves*?

    *Well, anything capable of informed consent.

    I think of that as the Captain John vs. Captain Jack distinction – both are omnisexual (humans, aliens, AIs if they’re interested) but Jack doesn’t leer at poodles…

  30. Dhorvath, OM says

    Anne M,

    That something more, would that be something along the lines of “feeling like a man” (inner identity) or more “feeling that what’s expected of men is natural/right for you”? If that distiction is meaningful to you…

    I am not sure that your two suggestions are distinct for me, man is a word that I learned at the hands of culture. How would I know that I feel like a man without knowing what is expected from those who feel that way?
    I think I get how I have missed your perspective in my definitions, it’s like there is a third axis that I have skipped over, and will try and come up with a better way to articulate what I am aiming at so that I don’t do so. This will take some time and may not even end up here depending on how much continuous time I can devote. Thanks for your insight.

  31. says

    Alas, as is often the case in discussions of gender, I find myself lost. :(

    I’m getting the distinct impression that a good chunk of your post is not directed at me, but rather to a sort of larger culture from which I find myself increasingly isolated. After all, I didn’t fall into the “trap” and declare that objects have genders; the idea is ridiculous. I’m not sure I fully understood the metaphor of the force field, though, and once you started talking about gender binarism and gender-describing words that can’t be applied to objects I got completely lost. Are you saying that “gender” (as opposed to sex) is a purely social construct?

    On to the exercises. My apologies if my answers are rendered absurd, irrelevant, or offensive by my failure to understand the subject.

    12. Redefinitions
    (a) Gender: A form of dimorphism within a species defined by the role played in reproduction. Though different genders may have differences tangentially related or unrelated to reproduction, it is the differing roles in the reproductive process that define a gender.

    (b) Man: Adult male human.

    (c) Woman: Adult female human.

    (d) Feminine: I suppose I’m supposed to rethink this one, but I’m going to stand by my old definition— “arbitrarily associated with the female gender by subjective cultural convention.”

    (e) Masculine: Arbitrarily associated with the male gender by subjective cultural convention.

    These definitions are quite consistent with the object exercise— while objects do not have genders, people can and do project gender onto them, and they are encouraged to “genderise” by a culture that refuses to let go of obsolete gender roles.

    Exercise 13:
    I don’t see how justice has any direct relationship to gender at all; gender is basically just an inconsequential side effect of having evolved sexual reproduction, which has become just one of many arbitrary and irrelevant traits seized upon by people looking for any excuse to declare a minority of the population to be “us” and a majority to be “them” and enforce an hierarchy that denies full humanity to “them.” Yes, ending that hierarchy is required in the interests of justice, but the relationship between justice and gender is distant as gender isn’t really a necessary part of the hierarchy at all; it’s just one of many minor traits people use to justify discrimination they were going to do anyway.

    Moreover, I don’t think “justice” plays any role in defining gender, if only because the only definition of “gender” that I’m sure I can quote accurately describes a purely physical difference that exists regardless of what society thinks about it.

    I certainly didn’t feel trapped by the exercise, as it would seem the unstated expectation of gender naïveté/obsession on my part didn’t pan out— in the object exercise, I refused to ascribe gender to objects and in the video exercise, I relied on physical cues rather than cultural cues to determine gender.

    Admittedly, in the real world, I do sometimes rely on cultural cues (clothing, etc) to determine gender when pressed for a pronoun, but I don’t see how it meets any meaningful definition of “gender naïveté” or “gender obsession” to be forced to guess someone’s gender on unreliable information— if I guess wrong and they say as much, then I switch pronouns and don’t give it another thought, except maybe to remark on the absurdity of gendered pronouns in passing. The same applies if I make mistakes based on physical cues— I’m not sure that’s happened to me, but sometimes people refer to me as “ma’am” on the phone.

    As for whether examination of a person’s looks, behaviour, etc, might be harmful, well, I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer. This question seems directed towards people who “genderise” traits and actions, something I’ve never really felt the need to do. I can sort of envision the thought processes of people who have been cultured to believe that gender roles are unbreakable— they guess someone’s gender by unreliable cultural cues (such as wearing “women’s clothes”) and, when they learn their error, they react with violence at the presence of someone not conforming to their expected gender roles and/or someone proving to them, by virtue of their own incorrect determination, that gender roles are culturally constructed and arbitrary and not physically real and absolute. The thing is, I would classify that under the larger heading of “sexism” and its related issues.

    Exercise 14:
    Well, I’ve posted pretty much everything I thought to write here— no deletions made. I’m still not sure I understand exactly what “transgender” means, though, and I’m still a little lost on the gender forcefield concept.

    Here’s a question I have— my apologies if it’s offensive, but even if it’s a completely invalid question maybe it’ll help you figure out where I got lost:

    If you were to ask me what gender I am, I would (metaphorically) look down and answer based on what I saw. If you’re transgender and don’t answer in the same way, what would you (metaphorically) look at to determine the answer?

  32. says

    As with the previous exercise, my apologies for tardiness (life gets in the way, and it appears I’m not alone…thankfully). Secondly, as with the previous workshop, I’m reading others’ comments after I’ve finished the primary exercises. So…here goes…

    For exercise 12…while I think I grasp what you’re getting at, CD, I don’t really see my original answers changed. *ponders* In this, I recognize that the construct was established by the cis* standard normative before any of us were even thoughts…and I recognize that people who fall outside of that standard normative (which is a layered, to be certain) are directly (and often negatively) affected by that false binary.

    However, I’m not sure that I agree that we can remove the “subject”/”object” from the gender-based classification (not matter how much we might want to). I say this for a few reasons. First, I am reminded of a TEDxYouth talk by Caroline Heldman called “The Sexy Lie”. What stood out for me in her talk was something I’m not sure I’d ever thought much about, but when we look at “perfection advertising” (as the business example), no matter who a product is geared to, the female is the “object” — the “thing” having X done to her; the male is the “subject” — the “thing” doing X. In this example, it doesn’t really matter the target audience (as a stereotypical gender); the advertising approach is the same.

    Also, thinking back to my own studies in postmodern philosophy (deconstruction and feminist theory, specifically), I’m reminded of a writing I had to do, where I had to write an essay entitled, “Critique of a Postmodern Philosophy” – and the person I chose was Hélène Cixous. Here, I’ll share a bit from my essay on the topic, and hopefully where I “see” my words echoing from that essay intersecting with the topic here:

    “…One of Cixous’ influences, as previously indicated, was Jacques Derrida. In postmodernism and contemporary philosophy, Derrida is credited with the creation of the deconstruction strategy, which is “concerned with something tantamount to a ‘critique’ of the Western philosophical tradition” (Reynolds, 2006). Derrida’s focus was dualistic hierarchies, which his teachings sought to deconstruct, with emphasis placed upon language – or “logocentrism.” Another of Cixous’ influences was Jacques Lacan, who was known for his reformulation of Freudian tenets (Sharpe, 2006). Both Derrida and Lacan place a great deal of focus on language and its impact on society and societal structure.

    Cixous takes this dualistic premise, postulates further into the realm of “phallogocentrism,” and aims to deconstruct the male-dominant system described by Lacan. As Klage (1997) stated, “She understands that Lacan’s naming the center of the Symbolic as the Phallus highlights what a patriarchal system language is–or, more specifically, what a phallo(go)centric system it is.” According to Jasken (n/d), feminists and non-feminists for different reasons have criticized Cixous. From the non-feminists, Cixous has reduced women to an essence, thereby negating the changes she seeks; feminists have criticized her for reclaiming the maternal aspect of femininity, which many identify as a historically oppressive component of being women.

    [...]

    One of Cixous’ points I find immensely fascinating is her equating writing with masturbation. Sandra Gilbert posed the question, “Is a pen a metaphorical penis?” (1986). After an example of one male writer’s almost misogynistic explanation of his theory of poetry, Gilbert answered her own question by stating, “Male sexuality, in other words, is not just analogically but actually the essence of literary power. The poet’s pen is in some sense (even more than figuratively) a penis.” Cixous notes that men “write” with their penises, but that women do not precisely “write” with their clitorises. The comparison is not something that can be compared quite that simply or succinctly. She challenges women to find their voice, and “write”” with their entire selves. From “Le rire de la Méduse” (The Laugh of the Medusa) (Klages, 1997 quoting Cixous, 1975):

    “Écris-toi: il faut que ton corps se fasse entendre. Alors jailliront les immenses ressources de l’inconscient.” (“Write yourself. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring forth.”)

    I find this quotation fascinating, particularly as a poetic writer, and recognize the languages that men and women “speak” -while similar- are certainly not the same….”

    I share the above, because somewhere in all of this, we’re talking about language…as a method of communication and understanding of the world around us…and language, while a great too, imperfect. In my criticism of Cixous, I said this to say…

    “…In that regard, my primary criticism of Cixous’ work is the level of absurdity that gender based language changes entail. I am not suggesting that Cixous has pushed her assertions to an extreme, because I do not yet know. I am, as I indicated earlier, very interested in reading more of her work to obtain a fuller understanding of what her positions are. Of what I have read, I do not see extremism in her language, other than her obvious focus on the female perspective in an effort to deconstruct patriarchal language. As a matter of levity and simplicity, I have been influenced more strongly by the articulations by George Carlin on the subject of language. With regard to feminist language and political correctness, he had this to say (1990):

    “I think congressman should be congressperson. I think mankind should be humankind. But they take it too far…they want to call that thing in the middle of the street a person-hole cover. He-man would be an “It-person”…and we’d all be laughing about this on Late Night with David Letterperson!”

    In an attempt to correct patriarchal language, the opposite extreme is ridiculous, and draws further attention to itself by its obviousness as much as “him/her” in the written word….”

    (Note: If anyone would like the citation info within the essay, let me know…will provide.)

    Language itself is part of the fabric that feminist deconstruction attempts to break down — mainly, as I see it, for the purpose of…

    Exercise 13: Justice. And there are many valid and understandable reasons for seeking toward language deconstruction toward social justice…for any “Othered” category of fellow human beings, and I do mean that inclusive of trans* people. However, I am not entirely certain that language, while much of part of the many sources of injustice, can be singled out for deconstruction. Or…if it can, how does such deconstruction get implemented on a global scale, since we need to remember (at least here), we’re communicating in English…which is one of how many languages? …many of which are gender-divided?

    As for Exercise 14…I’ve been reading through others’ comments, and am not ready to directly engage with others’ thoughts quite yet. I need to step back and digest what I’m reading…and will continue reading…and ponder some more. I hope that my thoughts here are clear enough, and am happy to try to expand further if needed.

  33. Helena Bowles says

    I don’t think my definitions have changed particularly but I’ve been made aware a a few thing while watching the videos. I can be a bit more detailed too.

    Gender: the overall term for masculinity/femininity.
    Masculinity/Femininity: the the set of performative behaviours and attitudes socially expected from male/female humans

    I do still feel that gender is a performative act that has little to do with sex (physical manifestation of female/male/intersex). A man can be behave in a feminine manner, dress in a feminine way etc etc – and in many cases (as in that of Conchita Wurst) be a hell of a lot better at it than many women who are not very interested in conforming to that performative behaviour. Equally, there are women who prefer the performance of masculinity and can be better at it than men. There is also every degree in between. Gender is a social construct – two artificial poles around which a pretty arbitrary group of attributes aggregate and society says to people based on their sex, “You must conform to this pole, this group of behaviours, this performance of gender.”

    I loved Conchita Wurst’s presentation – a very skilled performance of one particular subset of feminine behaviours he looks beautiful and elegant and feminine in a way I could never aspire to even if I wanted to (which I don’t) and then… the beard! It’s such a wonderful way of rejecting the full performance and really making people look at their feelings. And yet, Julie Andrews is female and she is performing almost exactly the same subset subset of feminine performative behaviours (and while I can’t remember if she’s being a drag performer at that point, her performance when performing drag is essentially the same one).

    I did gender an object but with a disclaimer that, no, I don’t consider objects to be gendered so I chose something I didn’t think was socially gendered, and when I fed back to other participants I was using the same criteria – that these objects were, rightly or wrongly, associated strongly with one gender’s usage.

  34. Helena Bowles says

    Exercise 13

    Justice – does it belong in the definition of gender?

    I have to say, no, not in the definition of what something is. A concept does not become so because it is fair or kind or compassionate. Those terms have more place in how we respond to something. In the case of gender I think we need an agreed definition before we can decide how to be just or kind or compassionate.

    I’ve been very clear that I consider gender to be wholly performative – by which I mean that there are not two groups of people (defined by sex) who act in certain ways, or feel in certain ways, because of that sex. Some individuals (of either sex) may wish to act and may feel in ways associated with the masculine pole, others the feminine. Most people will be on a continuum in between. However that gender performance is not necessarily conscious and is nearly always a compromise between the social pressure to move one’s behaviour and performance closer to the “appropriate” pole. Some things are unconscious and a response to social upbringing and cues, others are conscious attempts to either rebel or fit in. Some performative behaviours can be very pleasurable – some women genuinely do like clothes, some men are happy and proud to be the breadwinner etc. Others may be grudging or resented – some women hate that they have to wear heels and makeup in their particular job, some men resent they have to wear suits when women have a much wider choice of clothes in the work environment. Those are quite trivial, of course but some of the problem with this socially enforced role play is the constant grind of working out how much you are prepared to fit in and the social policing that goes on constantly. And if I, a woman who is reasonably comfortable (with a few reservations) as a woman feel like that, how much worse must that policing be for someone who is trans?

    Incidentally, I have no problem with dual layer exercises. This is a standard psychology format and necessary to get below our “cleaned up” expression of our ideas/feelings.

  35. Helena Bowles says

    @8 AMM
    my “I’m a space alien, not a human” feeling that I’ve had all my life. For me, gender is one of the sets of expectations that I have to understand and meet well enough to pass as human in human society.

    Believe me, you aren’t alone in feeling like that!

  36. says

    I’m tired and supposed to be asleep. Sorry if this comment isn’t good.

    Exercise 14:
    I don’t feel very comfortable giving my answers to exercise 12, though I might decide to do it at the end of this post. I think how these definitions affect people, especially those who aren’t in that non-intersex, cis* bubble, should weigh heavily on how they are defined. The thing is, you are asking for how we use these terms every day. I am a product of my culture. I know I have problems.

    Re: “Did you feel trapped? Do you feel like the exercises were unfair in having both a surface point and an unstated expectation that you would likely reveal what I’m calling gender naïveté and gender obsession? Is the experience of a gender-trap familiar to you?”:
    Frankly, every time something is said to be a masculine trait or a feminine trait or something that men do or women do, I momentarily judge myself by those statements. I am in the process of figuring myself out, and those things almost seem like ports in a storm. At the same time, I feel like a very poor excuse for anything. Frankly, I always feel trapped when it comes to other people, but that’s not what you’re asking about, and it is absolutely nothing compared to what others experience every day. I don’t know what to say. [/whine-rant]

    Re: Exercise 11 and subcategories:
    I didn’t actually think of the objects as actually having those genders because I know we like to see things like that in things that don’t have them. We anthropomorphize all kinds of things all the time. I didn’t know it was bad, and I’m sorry. Also, I actually like subcategories and x categories (I mean like asexuality is the x on the sexuality spectrum – sort of outside it). I think, though, that they’d be more useful if more people understood them.

    Gender: how we see and express ourselves as labeled by ourselves, dependent on cultural ideas and sorrily scrutinized by others.

    Man/Woman: two possible genders, and the ones seen as default or as only choices by many societies as wholes with everyone assigned one or the other at birth, usually based on chromosomes and genitals unless those do not match their criteria for those categories.

    Feminine/Masculine: traits people associate with men and women, usually depending on cultural cues and often applied to non-human beings and inanimate objects.