I went on a rant the other day in this post. As readers I can imagine the reaction: do I hit ‘like’ just to acknowledge the post; do I comment because I really want to say something but then that opens a whole can of worms and I don’t think I should go there; this is one eff’d up lady; such a one-sided argument; just stop talking about this…or perhaps, with the brief warning on the topic you simply decided not to read it altogether.
I get every single reason and reaction you may have had. I’ve been there, done that, and still do it every time I post on this topic. I have years and years worth of things I could say, and want to say, but I have to think seriously each and every time I am inspired to rant about our/my failure because:
- The memories and current situation make me sad and angry and frustrated
- The words are hard to write
- The words are hard to read
- The topic touches on a subject that elicits strong emotions about who and what our society and world is and how we define each other
- The topic is just downright uncomfortable for many people
No matter how much these words hurt, or create mixed responses, I won’t stop writing them when I feel I need to. Even when I don’t get feedback (positive or negative), these words are my therapy. While I can acknowledge all of the reasons above, and many that I didn’t list, I also won’t apologize for the last two. By the way, no one has asked me to, probably because the people who read this blog are wonderful, respectful individuals who simply understand why the words are written here.
Since posting my feelings recently I have had a few enlightening conversations with other bloggers. We’ve talked about this topic specifically, but also veered off into a general discussion of social expectations and gender. We’ve talked over the fact that my generation is full of the men and women who were in the thick of changing gender ideals while also being held captive by tradition and social norms. We have also discussed the fact that gender socialization is still prevalent and still an issue. I think that we agree that rather you are 50, or 15 or somewhere in between, our culture and society still enforces arbitrary expectations about what it means to be a man or a woman. Let’s not kid ourselves. The trans community is challenging gender expectations and forcing people to assess their position in relation to sex versus gender and identity as well as physical versus mental and emotional status. When it comes to the essence of defining male and female we see a bit of movement. Pitifully, when it comes to the essence of defining masculine and feminine we are still living with archaic ideas that inform the notion that a penis or vagina describe and decide for every individual what the appropriate role in society is.
I realize that I fight an uphill battle when I bring up the topic of gender. I take a purely sociological viewpoint when I discuss gender, but it is a viewpoint that I believe and the only one in my opinion that makes sense.
Again, because I WILL keep saying this, gender is a social construct. Gender is arbitrary. Gender IS NOT sex. Gender is a concept that was created to define how someone of the male sex should think and act and ‘do’ being male. Likewise a female has her own socially accepted guidelines for correctly doing and being female. No label that describes masculine traits: brave, strong, stoic, unemotional, tough, opinionated, hard-working, or feminine traits: soft, quiet, nurturing, emotional, actually means anything when it is applied to an individual with a penis or a vagina. However, society has conditioned us to believe wholeheartedly that those ‘gender traits’ really exist and really allow us to steep ourselves in this system that so clearly tells the male and female who and what to be and how to act.
So, I come back to the issue raised in my last post, the excuses and inability to take responsibility as a male for sharing equally in both the physical and emotional work of marriage. I am passionate about the fact that the only way women have a chance to see any movement toward a shared partnership and position is that the entire concept of gender roles must go. I know that I have about as much hope of that happening as I do getting my wish that Donald Trump would simply disappear in a puff of smoke and our brain cells could be wiped clean of his existence.
The reality is that, even though gender roles and identity and expectations should not be concretely attached to sex, they are. Gender expectations and norms have been made and reinforced to mean everything in our society. It is the very backbone that holds both males and females in their place and role. Gender, as it exists, is pervasive in every aspect and every system because the vast majority believe that gender and sex are one in the same. Google the word gender. You will see a plethora of sites that define gender as biological, that try to justify the words sex and gender to mean the same thing, or to build causal relationships between the two. I cannot abide reading definitions of gender that attempt to define it as biology, as a trait inherently a part of our DNA. Biological gender: there is no such thing as ‘biological gender’ and it is not a synonym for biological sex, although, clearly as evidenced by the long list in my search, I – and a handful of social science radicals and feminist theory proponents – are being told that we are misdirected in our claims of differentiation between the two.
Okay, I get that most of the world has taken up the cause to define biological sex and socially defined gender as the same thing. I get that my attempts to change this concept, or at the very least open a door to the possibility that sex and gender are entirely different, are most likely futile. I understand that almost no one cares that I care so much about how wrong this process is.
I also know that I have a self-centered view as a feminist discussing the topic of gender. I belong to white privilege when it comes to feminist discourse on gender. I know that there are so many causes besides gender issues ensconced within feminism. I understand that my viewpoint, and my lived experience is only a microcosm of what women in every corner of the world experience related to this constructed concept known as gender.
But, the gender concepts that are inherent in patriarchy, the gender ideal that regulates our society and informs a system whereby men and women come into a marriage with pre-assigned roles that lead to excuses not to participate fully; the gender expectations that serve to keep two people divided and in their place, are central to the last 30 years of my life. Gender inequality, and all that goes with it, is my lived experience. Gender issues are not the only downfall of this failed marriage, but they play a prime role. I continue to be plagued by questions, what-if this or that, how and why did I end up here…all valid topics that will likely never have a satisfactory answer or ending. And so, when it all gets to be too much, I write, and I sincerely hope that my words may open a door for someone who is mired inside this issue of gender and that they can find their answers and voice much sooner than myself.
Judith Lorber, writing on the social construction of gender, pulls no punches. She is my hero and I will leave you with some of her thoughts and words.
“Gender is so much the routine ground of everyday activities that questioning its taken-for-granted assumptions and presuppositions is like thinking about whether the sun will come up. Gender is so pervasive that in our society we assume it is bred into our genes. Most people find it hard to believe that gender is constantly created and re-created out of human interaction, out of social life…and everyone ‘does gender’ without thinking about it.”
The construction and the ‘doing’ of gender is about power and control, domination and devaluation, the creation of class and status for the express purpose of assigning rights and responsibilities. Gender is produced not from biology, but from the demands of the social order that focus on division of labor (Lorber 1994)
“Gender is not the result of sex, procreation, physiology, anatomy, hormones, or genetic predisposition. It is produced and maintained by identifiable social processes and built into the general social structure and individual identities deliberately and purposefully.”
To read more on this topic, and to provide the source for Lorber’s words:
Shaw, S.M., & Lee, J. (2015). Women’s voices feminist visions: Classic and contemporary readings. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.