Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Girl that was Raised by…BOOKS! Part 1 of 3

A few weeks ago my W&G studies class did an exercise that involved listing the people who had part in socializing us into our genders. It was through this exercise that I realized something big on a personal level: books and other media had more influence on my higher mental growth than the people I had face to face interaction with as I grew up.

I’m not saying they had a bigger influence on who I am overall: there are parts of my essential being that became rooted in me long before I could read. Basic survival and academic skills were taught by my family and teachers, as were experiences that cannot have the same effect on an individual if simply read in a book.

There is, however, something about the way I grew up that made me different from my family. A large portion of my values are different from the people I was in contact with from childhood to the brink of young adulthood. An even larger portion of my knowledge was gained from sources other than my family or my school. My ambition and expectations for my life and my beliefs about existence are alien from the surroundings I had.

This other influence was, as I said, the books, magazines, movies and TV shows whose information I consumed with a voracious appetite. An anecdotal demonstration of the volume of books I read is that, one summer, my local library allowed me to check out 100 books at once, all of which I read (except for the Gossip Girl series, which I skimmed). When I came home from school, my free time was spent watching TV, and, as I grew older, reading.

Creative Commons Attribution: Wonderlane, www.flickr.comphotoswonderlane3909074244

Creative Commons Attribution: Wonderlane, flicker http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/

Media was an escape from my unpleasant station in life. There were many times when my reality literally slipped away from my perception—I was left behind in the library several times until my elementary school teacher realized she had lost a kid. Through the pages of books and the smooth glass of the television screen, I gained perspectives that I could not have encountered in my reality.

It was these media that introduced me to feminism. The most obvious example of a feminist influence on my young mind, was a magazine my elementary school inexplicably stocked (I grew up in a conservative area) that I only recently realized was explicitly feminist: New Moon. It featured an advice column that gave healthy advice to young girls, a section called “herstory”, information about physical issues girls face, and articles about important issues that were written purely by the young readers of the magazine. (If you want to get a subscription for a little girl in your life, just click the link here!)

There were countless, less obvious examples as well.

I burned through my libraries’ copies from the Dear America and The Royal Diaries series, and many miscellaneous historical fictions. Nearly all were written from the point of view of female protagonists, and though they were fictional representations of girls during their times, they were strong, brave, smart, and important. They faced obstacles related to their gender that often seemed foreign, but sometimes hit near to my reality. The injustices they faced made my fragile and developing sense of injustice boil.

It was through these books that I learned about my culture’s history with gender—from the treatment of women in Greece (discovered through a Magic Tree House book)—to the treatment of female factory workers. In a side note, the latter was learned in one of the most poignant novels in the young adult historical fiction genre that I have ever read: Uprising. It was about three girls who perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (the story still gives me goose bumps thinking about it today).
Throughout my reading, I encountered strong female role models. The widely adventurous Ms. Frizzle, teacher in The Magic School Bus series, was a favorite character of mine in elementary school. Leslie from Bridge to Teribithia was different and not afraid of her difference. Ella from Ella Enchanted did not need the prince to save her, she did it by her own will.

Creative Commons Attribution: electrictuesday, flicker www.flickr.comphotosdiscodoll4247118823

Creative Commons Attribution: electrictuesday, flicker http://www.flickr.com/photos/discodoll/

Above all, Hermione from Harry Potter was my greatest fictional role model. She was intelligent, clever, strong, and fiercely loyal. These were not just additions to an already conventionally pleasing character either. She wasn’t initially a conventionally pretty young girl, and she wasn’t well liked by her peers (she was a teacher’s pet and a know it all). Despite the initial low esteem she had among her peers, she did amazing and brave things. By the end of the series matured into a well-rounded individual and maintained her identity even as she began to develop romantic relationships. She was my hero.

These texts are where the feminist in me was born.

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The Skirt: Like seriously guys, grow up.

Ni hao! (I’m learning Chinese, let me practice!).

So, with all this talk in class and readings about gender, socialization, and all that jazz, gendered clothing has really been at the forefront of my mind.

I wear skirts. A lot.

I think maybe a reason this topic has been sticking in my brain is because I’m getting a bit defensive. There’s this idea in my head of judgmental feminist overlords that will chastise me for my clothing decisions, or perhaps do so internally with a *tisktisktisk* about how naïve and incapable of breaking free of gendered standards I am. I know this is (probably, for the most part, I hope) a fictitious creation stemming from my own insecurity, but nevertheless, I am defensive.

Judgey person
This…this is what the overlords look like. Feel the disdain?

Whenever I’m in a tiz about something, or I’m afraid of people’s judgment, I think about conversations I would have with someone that confronts me. A conversation with the imaginary force I described in the paragraph above goes something like this:

Them: Why are you wearing a skirt? That is sooo gender normative.
Me: Oh yeah? Well that’s pretty ethnocentric. Where did you even get that t-shirt and those jeans? Was it from the juniors section? The women’s section? Maybe the petites? Why do you buy clothing in specifically gendered areas? That sparkly batman logo sure looks androgynous. Why is it a problem that I wear a skirt? That implies that females are gendered incorrectly, what if it’s men who are gendered incorrectly into not wearing skirts? Do you know skirts actually make more sense for men to wear because they’re better for sperm count?…

Aaand so on until I make myself actually angry at the imagined foe I am hurling my words at.

So, this is not so much of a conversation, and is probably something I would never do in real life.

I guess my worry is that even if I did have logical well thought out reasons, I would be so taken aback by someone tactless enough to say something like that to me, that I just want to have something prepared so I don’t stare back in gape-mouthed stupidity.

But I think my word soup of indignant anger up there actually has some good points.
1. Almost every single clothing item someone wears is gendered.
Even plain, solid colored t-shirts are altered to be feminine. Different fabrics are used, different edge detailing, different shades of colors, different cuts (though that part may be because of the shape the “average” female has that differs from men). Women’s jeans have different sizing logic, colors, detailing, and styles (as well as different names for similar styles). Shoes are either “female sized” or “male sized”.
The worst example of gendering clothes, to me, is the altering of licensed clothing for the female market. Licensed clothing is clothing items that feature elements from TV shows, movies, video games, etc. Color differences are huge. Pastel blue for superman shirts (because god forbid a woman wears bold blue), pinks in the batman logo and the Big Bang Theory “BAZINGA”, etc. etc.
It seems worse that people think something that already exists isn’t feminine enough, and purposely alters it so it will be “appropriate” to grace a female body.
I actually buy my nerdy t-shirts in the “men’s” section. I want my Spock to stay Spock, with shirt colors that reflect his Starfleet division, not colors altered to be “girly” enough for my oh-so-fragile body.
2. I think I could successfully argue that it is not so much that people are taught to understand skirts as something girls are supposed to wear, as much as something boys AREN’T supposed to wear. It is the socialization of the male gender that is incorrect. Skirts are objectively an advantageous form of body covering. They are cooler than shorts in the summer (shorts just mean more fabric is smothering my poor body), they’re easy to put on and to move around in, and they require less fabric, skill, and time to make (and thus should be cheaper). I’ve even read that they are better for sperm count in men, which makes them seem the logical choice as a gendered item for men. Which brings me to my next point…
3. It is a modern, western idea that skirts are for girls.
Think about the ancient Greeks, Romans (and though non-western, Egyptians). Picture what someone in that culture looked like. What are they wearing?
Then there’s the obvious: kilts.
Furthermore, varieties of sarong-like “skirts” are worn by men in India and parts of Africa, and pretty much every “loincloth” is, in essence, a skirt.
This article does a much better job of explaining the “only women should wear skirts” fallacy. It’s apparently information for hikers, but the first bit is all about the history of the masculine skirt. Seriously, it’s super interesting. Click on it. Here it is again, just to make sure you have tons of opportunities to click on it.
4. Some of the rigidity of gender is still being held up by the feminist side of thing, though not in the dynamic of my imaginary fight. No, it is not the women still wearing skirts that are holding us back, but the people like this author that use stereotypes as humor and accidentally reinforce gender norms (and accomplish extra horribleness by vulgarly making fun of other cultures in the process). Ohhh, the problematic Jezebel, full of articles written by the very people I am afraid to meet in person (possibly the kind I run through imaginary fights with, like the above). From white lady savior complexes about hijabs, to *tisktisking* about how naïve the participants in Lolita fashion are, to pretty much anything they don’t understand and take from the point of view of Western ideas values. But this is all for another article.

Whelp, that’s enough for now.
Keep reading guys. I promise I’ll work very hard to make it interesting and more like a real conversation than a regurgitation and summary of ideas on a half-hearted homework assignment.

Response to Taboo: The Third Sex (or: Ugggh, NatGeo, why you gotta be like that?)

First blooog post! I had writers block for a bit—well, it was more being too psyched out to write. Daunting is the blog, where you pour the things from your brain out to a world full of strangers. But I shall try!

This post was assigned for my WS 201 class! The theme of today’s lesson was in the category of “Bodies and Genders”. For part of the class, we watched a national geographic show called Taboo, episode “The Third Sex”.

See what I did here. This embedding took like 20 minutes, so you better appreciate it. Also, it’ll help you understand what I’m talking about in the rest of the post, so that’s a plus.

If you want to watch the video without ads, it’s also available here.

First of all, this show was simultaneously fascinating and infuriating. First for the fascinating bits (so I don’t seem like a giant negative Nancy—it’s a personal flaw, I’m working on it).

The episode covered three cultures and their additional genders. It started with the hijras of India (individuals that are neither men nor women) participating in an important ceremony for their god, and ended with a segment on a “sworn virgin” of rural Albania (they are women that take on the social roles of men after taking a vow of chastity). The middle culture, the Bugis of Indonesia, was the most complex. In their culture, there are five genders, male and female, bissu (individuals that are both male and female), calabai (individuals born male that live in feminine social and sexual roles), and calalai (individuals born female that live in social and sexual male roles).

The Bugis ideas were the most interesting to me. One of the points made in the video is that when someone wanted a fertility blessing, they’d go to a bissu because the blessing came from a person with both masculine and feminine energy. As far as spiritual logic, that seems pretty solid. It was also interesting that their society seemed to perceive the five sexes as normal and universal—quite a contrast to how most of the program’s Western viewers likely think.

Now for some of the infuriating bits.

While watching the segment on hijras, it was very hard not to consider the idea that western influence likely affected social acceptance of the gender. The program mentions that there was a time when hijras were so respected that they earned their living dancing at weddings and attending births. Now, being a hijra “means becoming a social outcast”, reliant on begging or prostitution to make a living. Western values have altered many societies in some pretty big ways, and I am almost certain this is one of those ways (though I’m open to any insight on the topic, just leave a comment!).

The whole program kind of feels like Ripley’s Believe it or Not. You know what I mean: the music meant to kind of freak you out a little, the constant recycling of footage you just saw, like, 10 minutes ago, and the alternatingly ominous/debasing narrator (“this man dresses as a woman so he can marry his goood”/”an unusual beauty pageant”).

Now, I know I shouldn’t expect high-quality documentaries from National Geographic. I’m pretty sure their most popular series right now are about gold mining and doomsday prepping, oh, and what I’ve heard is a super racist show called American Gypsies (and I’m sure there are aliens somewhere, like its cousin The History Channel). I digress. My point is, it was just a little upsetting to learn about such interesting and potentially healthier ideas of gender in such an awful medium.

I’d like to close with a question to anyone reading this blog. When an interviewee is speaking a language other than that of the intended audience for the interviewer, how is the person that voice over the interpretation of the interviewee chosen? If the interviewee is male, is the interpreter usually male? What about female/female?

I ask because every person in these additional genders that was interviewed required a voice over interpretation for English speakers to understand.
Hijras were voiced over by English females (the married man participating in the ceremony of the hijras’ god was voiced by an English male), the bissu was voiced by an English male, the calabai and calalai by English woman, and the sworn virgin by a woman.

If the choice of who speaks as a representation of these individuals is arbitrary (and perhaps it is not, that is why I am asking), then the arrangement of which western gender narrated the speech of the additional gendered people, is very interesting.

PS: I’ll be updating the Home page soon with a little about me. Stick around!