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Gender insults reveal the beauty of gendering

2009 April 18
by Natasha

Thanks for the mind-stirring post and article, George! This is going to be kind of a comment/response to George, plus some other things I’ve been thinking about.

The “Dude, You’ve Got Problems” article reminded me a lot of the Pro-feminist Men group I enacted a while back. As I discussed, one of the goals of this group was to expand the definition of “masculinity” to encompass many ways of being  a “man” — to bring pluralize “masculinity” to recognize varying “masculinities” (which interestingly this blog’s spell-check is red-underlining for me as not a word).  And that’s exactly what Judith Warner is discussing in her article.  She’s saying that boys will call each other “fags”, “homos”, etc. as an insult, even if the name-called boy isn’t homosexual but rather has “feminine” (and here we have the technology/contsruction of the word “feminine” to match the subject of the societally defined “masculinity” I was just mentioning) characterisics or interests.

That being said, Warner shifts her focus away from the possibly more obvious, but no less real problem that boys would call each other “gay” as an insult.  This brings in ideas about the technology of linguistics, the naming of things, of labeling, of separating and segregating (“gendering” in another sense of the word) certain people.  In short, it reminds me of middle school and high school when certain people used the phrase “that’s so gay” to mean essentially “that’s so stupid”.  This technology of nomenclature, of speech, and of how it reinforces societal norms for sexual orientation, is analagous to the problem of reinforcing stereotypes for gender.   So while we’re talking about societal gender technologies, we may as well add such societal constructions of sexual orientation to the pot: “Masculinities” includes men of whatever sexual orientation having stereotypically “masculine” or “feminine” qualities or past-times.

As often happens when discussing “men vs. women” and “masculinity vs. femininity” (such as in my musings on internet games), trans people complicate this issue, and I think it’s worthwhile to talk about this complexity.  I was thinking the other day about how I think equal treatment of both/all genders (ie one of the definitions of feminism) is really important.  And I was thinking at the same time, but women’s communities are also really important to me.  I want us to gain something from gender equality, but not lose something.  So I was wondering if gender equality and women’s communities are mutually exclusive.  Can we have a situation where people of all genders are treated equally, yet Bryn Mawr College exists?  Is that excluding men?  Is that, as we discussed when Alex came to class, excluding trans people?  I think Alex also headed the plenary resolution that changed female gendered pronouns to gender-neutral pronouns in BMC’s honor code…. were female-gendered pronouns making this community strong in itself, or excluding/otherizing some people?

No even when people of all genders are treated (more) equally, that doesn’t eliminate differences between the various genders. I know Anne was frustrated by the article . Looking for gender (LFG): Gender roles and behaviors among online gamers, seeking, as its name implies, differences along the gender binary for gamers as reflective of gender differences in the larger society.  I know it plays on traditional expectations of gender norms.  And yet.  I’m still struggling with the notion that “men” and “women” are different, as a whole, generally, on average. They have different body parts (usually).   There are more violent crimes committed by men.  Etc.

I guess what I’m struggling with is how to recognize difference between genders, whatever the causation (societal/environmental and/or genetic/biological).  Can we just not do that, any longer?  Are we just supposed to say a trans person is the same as a man is the same as a woman?  I understand looking at an individual rather than at generalizations about their culture, race, gender, etc.

And yet. (I’m still stuck on these “and yets”).  There are some GREAT THINGS about differences.  There are some really cool cultures and races out there — Indian and Chinese and African and tons of others.  There are some really cool genders too — women and gender-queer and trans and men and others.  We’d be losing something by not recognizing these differences, celebrating these differences, having women’s communities and realizing that some people are trans.  These communities and these realizations are based on differences as well as similarities — differences which allow someone to identify with or join one community or identity-group (or label, perhaps) and not another such group, and similarities which allow these groups to be cohesive, to be strong and united, to feel kinship if you will.

How can we find a way to include people in these small, strong, and vibrant gender-based (or cultural, or religious, or basically any other kind of group) communities while not excluding others?  Perhaps we can say: here’s our group, and it’s wonderful and it has these benefits and these generalities, and you, anyone, are welcome to join if you so choose — in other words, by turning identity groups into affinity groups (something I also discuss here — jeez, I’ve been referencing myself a lot in this post…. gotta get some fresh air and some new ideas in this brain soon!).  It is my hope that we can do something like this and that such groups will remain strong and small and vibrant.  Because there’s something beautiful about having genders, separations, differences, just as there’s something wonderful about including all these different types of people — in other words, humanity — together.

One Response
  1. aaclh permalink
    April 20, 2009

    Natasha – I really liked your post because it tries to address the complexity of naming. I think that your post really relates to The Cyborg Solution, because the author talks about Haraway’s problematizing of categories and yet using them to say we need more women’s bureaus or something.

    I think that this the way life is, though – we can’t just do one thing. Well, we can, but whatever we choose there will be pros AND cons. So perhaps sometimes we need to avoid the use of gender and sometimes we need to use it. For example you ask:
    “female-gendered pronouns making this community strong in itself, or excluding/otherizing some people?”
    Can’t it be both?

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