Tuesday, April 17, 2012

q and ...

As this semester comes to a close, I realize I have more questions about gender than I did coming into it. This isn’t a bad thing per se. I think a lot of people (myself included at times) recognize the gender stereotypes and the array of issues that follow, and perhaps even argue that they need to change, but I wonder if people ever actually contemplate what society would be like without them. They might have visions and goals for improvement, but do they ever take the time to step back and imagine a whole reality different to the one we’re currently living? This isn’t necessarily any one particular person’s fault. I would venture to say that we entered the world largely defined by gender the very instant we were born. Just think of those parents who don’t want to know the sex of their child when pregnant, and upon the child’s birth the doctor announces “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” (Would the doctor joyfully announce, “It’s a hermaphrodite!”?) Just upon hearing this announcement I bet they have some sort of vision before them of all this child’s life could hold. My point is that the world that we have experienced for our whole lives has in large part been defined by gender, and to completely rid ourselves of all of these expectations/stereotypes/assumptions takes some serious mental exercise. Even if we wish to think alternatively, we must think about the current expectations/stereotypes/assumptions in order to not include them. In a sense we have to recognize and know reality before we can rid ourselves of it (Can we rid ourselves of all conceptions of reality? Perhaps we would need induced amnesia…) Anyway, I will share some of the questions that I have that may aid in actually considering a world where gender is not as it currently is. Much of this thought comes in response to Garber’s chapter “Spare Parts: The Surgical Construction of Gender.” I can’t say I have any answers in particular, and suppose the answer would depend on who’s doing the answering, but here’s some food for thought…
1)      (Along the lines of what Professor Wojcik was talking about last week…) What if society wasn’t obsessed with your sex (referring here to your primary and secondary sex characteristics) matching your gender (self-conception and others’ label of your performance of male or female)? What if you could be whatever gender you want along with whatever biological attributes you may have, and that was a-ok? Think of it in terms of students and their academic majors. Any type of student can choose any type of major. You don’t necessarily have to match any personal attributes to your decision of a major. So people with penises, vaginas, or perhaps both, could major in woman, man, or perhaps both…

2)      Thinking about question 1, would there be an end to transsexual surgery? Transsexualism seems to stem from the belief that you are a given gender trapped in the body of the “opposite” sex. Maybe this notion would still occur, but would there no longer be any tension and impetus for surgery caused by the need to match? Even if we have no problem with transsexual surgeries, are the surgeries themselves objectively good or bad? Fine or harmful?     

3)      What about guys who wear girls’ jeans and tight v-neck shirts? Are they transvestites? Do they seek to wear these “girl” clothes as a fetish or to perform as females, or do they seek to claim these clothing objects as their own and essentially make them male? Is there a difference between a gay man who wears girls’ jeans because they are his clothing staple of choice and a straight grungy bass player (or “skater”) who wishes to perfect his (conceived) “rockstar” image?

4)      Why do we find it so comical when little boys dress as little girls for Halloween? When preteen girls put makeup and nail polish on preteen boys? When all of the male basketball players wear frilly thongs in John Tucker Must Die?

5)      Do MTF transvestites who prefer women pursue women their entire lives, pre-op identifying as heterosexuals and post-op as a lesbians? Do they see themselves as lesbians their whole lives? Do you define your sexual orientation according to the other’s sex or the other’s gender? As a lesbian woman, can you have sex with another woman who just happens to have a penis? (I challenge you to consider all of the other combinations and scenarios as well…)

Well, I suppose that is enough questioning for now. Hopefully these questions can get some conversations going, or perhaps cause you to encounter some deep moments of truth as you lie awake in your bed at 3:27 am…Even if none of this happens, I hope you take away this one point: QUESTION EVERYTHING. Whether you ultimately come to agree with it or not, at least you’ve engaged in some considerable thought and have weighed the expectations/stereotypes/assumptions offered up on society’s spoon.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

the chest test

I AM GUILTY. Of what, you may ask? Of entertaining the two gender paradigm in my head. When reading Bornstein and assessing my gender aptitude, I found myself identifying with some of the not-so-desirable answers in terms of a “good score.” For example, when asked what I do when I see a gender ambiguous person in public, I quickly circled, “Try to figure out what gender the person is.” When I was younger and I saw a gender ambiguous person I typically performed (do I still?) a “chest test.” This is a crude term that the boys taught me in elementary school that basically asks, “Does the individual have breasts or not?” Evaluation of answers varied or remained ambiguous based on body type, but you get the idea. Now that I think of this, I was clearly lacking in my conception of what it meant to be a girl or boy. In my definition, boobs=girl and no-boobs=boy. Not to mention boy and girl were the only two options.
I like to think that I have come a long way in my conceptions of gender and sex, but then I think I would probably try to still classify gender ambiguous individuals. Why do I do this? Why do we do this? I suppose part of the reason is that the majority of us were conditioned (brainwashed?) to see people in terms of boys and girls, and this idea has become so ingrained in us that it carries over into our adults conceptions. Even when we see someone who we would not typically classify as a man or woman, I would venture to say that we would first think about how they are not a man or woman before we try to decide what they are. Notice how the ideas of man and women are still key to our definition, even in their negative forms. But why do we even need to categorize gender at all? I do not ask this question because I don’t categorize people, as I mentioned right away that I am as guilty as the next person. There is something to be said about the way that gender helps to define social relationships and how we “ought” to act around people we have just met. For example, in France the women kiss the cheeks of both men and women in greeting, but the men do not kiss the cheeks of other men. So what does a man do when he comes across a gender ambiguous individual? Or, to be more extreme, what about single-sex high schools and colleges? One girl who graduated from my high school class began receiving hormone therapy and changed her name to Cameron after graduation. According to the last rumor I heard, Cameron is saving up for surgery. Whether this is true or not, consider a hypothetical situation. Would Cameron be allowed back to our 5, 10, 50 year high school reunion, the only man to ever call himself an alumnus of Notre Dame Academy? Perhaps Cameron wouldn’t actually want to come back, but what if he did? See how gender shapes our behavior? Now if we were really adventurous we could say that we don’t need social rules of the sort, telling us how to behave in public in accordance with our gender. Perhaps not, but then how to we go about changing entire institutions that have existed for generations? I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I can’t say that I have any answers…

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

let's go to camp

I can still remember the first time I learned that camp has another set of meanings aside from sleeping bags, tents, and bonfires. I was nine years old and convinced that I was going to be a movie star/actress when I was older. I assured myself and others that this was not merely a kid dream, but that it would one day be a reality. As you can tell, the dream didn’t work out, Anyhow, that’s not really the point of the story. So…because I loved singing and performing so much, my mom told me about this movie that she wanted to take me to see, called Camp. We were both under the impression that it was about a bunch of kids who go to a summer camp devoted to the performing arts. This was precisely what the movie was about…and then some. The title took on a double meaning, referring to camp-y performances, as the movie also talked about gay and lesbian issues. Now I don’t really remember the specifics, but I do remember feeling very uncomfortable watching this movie with my mom. I was shocked because I had never before seen gay teens on the big screen, and this is certainly not what I thought the movie was going to be about. I remember looking up the term camp in the dictionary when I got home, and I remember coming away with the idea that it was just another term for gay.
Years later, I can look back on my reaction to this film and my rudimentary understanding of the term camp. As this week’s readings showed, camp does not necessarily mean gay. Not all those who participate in camp are gay, and not all who are gay participate in camp. Rather, camp is a sensibility that some embrace and others do not. I can also now reflect on my reaction to the film. Then I felt incredibly awkward. Did this awkwardness stem from the fact that I was watching gay teens, watching a movie with sex and kissing with my mom, or both? I can’t really say. Maybe the awkwardness came from the fact that I was only nine and I was watching gay people on the big screen. But why is it ok for nine year olds, kids even younger, to watch straight relationships in movies but not gay ones? Why one type of relationship but not another? Heteronormative much? I think that if any child is old enough to see romantic relationships on the big screen, he or she should see both straight and gay relationships portrayed. It’s just more realistic. I also would like to think that, if I were to re-watch this film, I would have both a greater understanding and appreciation of camp. Second time around, I think I would enjoy the film rather than walking away feeling mortified and like I never wanted to go to summer camp again.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

out of the closet

In light of this week’s readings that talk about the closet and queer theory, I have been thinking a lot about my own life and my experiences with my roommate, who we will refer to as Kate. I have known Kate since the beginning of freshman year, and this semester she came out to me as a lesbian. We were talking in class about whether or not people “owe” it to us to come out, especially as close friends. In Kate’s situation she wasn’t really hiding anything for me—she didn’t come to the realization that she was a lesbian until Christmas break. Though I would not say she “owed” it to me to tell me, per se, coming out of the closet to me is a way of saying “I trust you, and I want you to know about me fully.” Such trust is essential to any strong relationship, so perhaps it is vital to know if a close friend is a lesbian. As for personal and social relationships, knowing Kate’s sexuality has actually been helpful for the both of us. We are still both perfectly comfortable walking around in our towels and changing in the same room (despite our jokes about this in class today, it really does happen!), but now I know better than to drag her to the dance floor with me when she would rather dance with new girls, and she can tell me straight up, “Yeah, I’m going to quirl movie night tonight.”  Translation: quirl=queer girl. This fits in nicely with our discussion of whether or not people actually use the word “queer,” and whether or not this has a positive connotation. In Kate’s case it is important to note the distinction of queer girl movie night. I’m not sure if Kate and her friends did this intentionally, but it shows the need to distinguish beyond the umbrella term of “queer” to establish that these particular queers are lesbians.
Since Kate came out to me, I have learned a lot more about LGBTQ culture here at Notre Dame. I became an ally last year, yet I still went on with my heteronormative lifestyle. I didn’t personally have anyone come out to me, and I didn’t really know what all of the PSA and Core Council events were about. Now I feel like I’ve been introduced into a whole new culture. Though I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, I never really thought about the social life of LGBTQ students here at Notre Dame, and how different/difficult it can be when trying to meet new people. One thing I’ve learned about is the use of technology and websites to meet new people. Kate actually met a friend using a website, and she and her friend have completely hit it off. I will always love Kate and be her friend, but because I am straight I will never be able to really understand what it is like to be in her position. I am so happy that she has embraced her identity and is able to connect with other people, both on and off campus, who are able to understand her in this way. Another thing that definitely rang true when reading Sedgwick is that coming out of the closet is not a one-time thing. This is especially true in college, when you are meeting new people all the time and are automatically back in the closet you state otherwise. It’s not like there is anything about Kate that screams “I am a lesbian!” Though it makes sense in hindsight, I was actually very surprised when Kate told me. Kate is definitely not out to everyone. Sometimes we talk about conversations with other people or mention a situation, and she’s is like, “Wait, does she know or not?” At the same time, however, I don’t think everyone needs to know that Kate is a lesbian. She is not intentionally hiding it from people, but it just doesn’t really come up in casual conversation with, say, professors or girls who live down the hall. And you know what, it doesn’t really affect people one way or the other whether or not they know Kate is a lesbian. The way I see it, the fact that Kate is a lesbian is an important part of her identity that should be shared with those she cares about, as should other important characteristics. But people who are not a big part of her life do not need to know whether or not Kate is a lesbian, just like they don’t need to know whether or not she’s a vegetarian, has a rocky relationship with her brother, or if she brushes her teeth every night before bed.    

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"you have a nice chest"

One of my friends, we will just call her Sarah, is performing in a skit for Arabic Culture Night. Last night they had to film something for it, and she was acting as one of the broadcasters. Before she began filming her teacher came over to her and said that she should remove her sweater. And why should she do this? Sarah’s teacher proceeded to tell her that she should not wear her cardigan because she was wearing such a pretty dress and has a nice chest. In other words, Sarah should remove her sweater in order to look sexier for the camera.

When Sarah was recounting this tale to me, she passed it off as an awkward and laugh-worthy situation. I have been thinking about it though, and it’s more than just a little anecdote to share at dinner. I immediately thought of Mulvey’s piece on the male gaze. In removing her sweater Sarah would be exposing her shoulders and showing off her chest, appealing to the heterosexual male gaze. It’s interesting to note that Sarah’s teacher is a woman. She did not tell Sarah to remove her sweater for any gain of her own, but rather she has bought into the idea that one should look as sexy as possible for the camera. Have you ever considered why nearly almost every actor is ridiculously attractive, at least in the eyes of some majority of people? It doesn’t stop with movies and television. Sports broadcasters, news anchors, reporters, and the like all face (and often reinforce) the expectation to be as attractive as possible before going on camera. And if they don’t their producers and make-up team have something to say about it. When thinking about Sarah’s situation I also recalled the airbrushed photograph of Katie Couric that my class discussed freshman year of high school. Couric, who became the first ever female network news anchor, was airbrushed in a promotional photograph. Apparently intelligence, success, and realistic beauty don’t cut it. Here’s the picture to see for yourself:

In my discussion of Sarah and Couric, I have taken a heteronormative approach, as we have discussed with Millet and Rich. I have only talked about the woman looking the part for the male viewer. We also must acknowledge that men, too, face expectation and objectification regarding their appearances on camera. Ten minutes into the Twilight series and you’ll realize there’s no argument to be had. Nevertheless, regardless of the gender of the looker or the one on camera, it is clear that appearance on camera is meant to target human sexuality. And why is this so? Because we go for it. After all, Sarah did take off her sweater.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

a spirit of inclusion (?)

As you are probably well aware, fried chicken parts were recently placed in the mailboxes of the Black Student Association (BSA) and the African Student Association (ASA) here at Notre Dame. Though I see this as low, crude, and quite frankly shocking considering it’s the 21st century, I am not writing about my personal response. Rather, I want you to consider the university’s response. An e-mail was sent out alerting campus about this hate crime, the story was covered in the Observer, and a town hall meeting was held tonight to address this incident and the greater social context from which it came.  I applaud the university on its response, and I think these steps should be taken. The university’s official statement, quoted in the Observer, said that "These acts of harassment are a clear violation of University policy, unacceptable in every way, and will not be tolerated on our campus.” I think it is great that the University is taking the situation seriously and making its point clear.

But now I want you to consider another situation, one that is hypothetical but not unthinkable given the situation just described. What if there was rotten fruit placed in the mailbox of Core Council? Would the university promptly address the student body, have an article written up, and address the occurrence at an open meeting? Sadly, I think I have to answer this with a no. The university’s actions regarding the BSA and ASA are in accord with the mission statement, which claims The University of Notre Dame does not discriminate on the basis of race/ethnicity, color, national origin, sex, disability, veteran status, or age in the administration of any of its employment, educational programs, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, athletics, recreational, and other school-administered programs.” But the mission statement is SILENT about sexual orientation. It follows, then, that the university would not follow the same procedures for my hypothetical situation as it did for the real situation at hand. Yet both acts are equally vulgar and discriminatory. To put it frankly, the university is stupid for not including sexual orientation in the spirit of inclusion. Our GLBTQ classmates, roommates, and friends are no less human than the rest of the student population, and they deserve to be treated with the same degree of care and respect. One of the goals of the Four-to-Five movement is to change this spirit of inclusion to include sexual orientation. We are not asking the University to condone gay marriage or homosexual relationships, for that matter. We are merely asking that the university recognize all human INDIVIDUALS, whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or straight, to be treated as such, to be promised to receive equal love, respect, and protection as ALL Notre Dame students should in a place where they are supposed to call home. THIS inclusive love is what Christianity is all about, and in not realizing this, the university acts in a way that contradicts its own teachings.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

mommy wars

Since I am a psychology major I had to take a one-credit course titled “Science, Practice, and Policy.” The basic premise of the course is that we learn about the different fields of psychology and what careers we can pursue with a psychology major. The two final assignments for the class are a journal reflecting on all of the different speakers and how they relate to a career we may want to pursue and a résumé that we would give to potential employers. I knew beforehand that I want to be a clinical psychologist, so this is what I focused on in my journal and résumé. Yet this career path poses some potential issues for me, and it has to do with what gender studies refers to as the “Mommy Wars,” or the seemingly opposing goals of devotion to motherhood and a professional career.

I am a very driven individual, and I worked and continue to work hard in school so that I can earn my Ph.D. in clinical psychology and practice as a clinician. The work of psychologists corresponds well with my personal values, and I feel like I will be able to achieve my personal and professional goals through this career. Yet it involves a lot of training. Graduate programs range anywhere from 5-7 years depending on how disciplined I am in writing my dissertation. So that puts me between 27 and 29 years old upon graduation, and that is if I go to graduate school right after I am finished with undergrad. And of course this is not the advised thing to do. Graduate programs stress experience, both in the lab and life in general. Not to mention I would love to take a break for a year or two to do service. When else am I going to be free to do this? So let’s say I take off two years between undergraduate and graduate school. Now I am between 29 to 31 years old by the time I graduate. For those who are okay with immense amounts of schooling, this seems perfectly fine. After all, I’ll have 30-40 more years practicing my career. So where is the problem?

Kids. Though my career is important to me, I feel like my true calling is motherhood. And I’m not talking one or two kids—I’m thinking four to six. Of course I am speaking before having a child of my own, but as of now this is what I want. And as long as I am physically able, I would like kids that share my DNA. So here’s where the profession vs. family issue comes in. I could start having kids in graduate school, but a grad student’s earnings are not incredibly sufficient for raising a family, and then I would be in school even longer because I most likely could not attend full time, since I would have (and would want) to take care of my children. So what about waiting until after I graduate? After all, I would probably have a stable job. But once a woman hits 35, the risk of Down syndrome and pregnancy complications rise. So if I started having kids at 31 upon graduation, I would, theoretically, have four promising years for childbearing. Four years, four kids. All is good, right? Wrong. If I had four kids in four years, I would always be pregnant or nursing. Not to mention when would I be able to work? I would be a new psychologist, and I could not establish credibility and a reputation if I am unable to practice.

So what do I choose? The family that will bring me joy and fulfillment, or the career that I prepared for for more than a decade? Do I necessarily have to choose? Perhaps all of my plans will change or will be thwarted when I reach this age, who knows, but the question is still an important one. Do women always have to compromise at least part of their dream, whether it be related to family or work? It seems that men don’t have to do so. They aren’t the ones knocked out of commission by pregnancy, and they certainly can produce lots of little healthy babies past the age of 35. I’m not trying to throw a man-hating party here. I’m just trying to look at the facts, to examine whether they even are facts.

So, the ultimate question, can a woman really not have it all?