Gender & Identity

I already posted about this on my tumblr, but I thought the issue was important enough to post here as well.

Pan Party: To the submitter via email address: (TW: gender erasure)

pansexualparty:

I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable posting your submission as it is.

You’ve kind of mixed up sex and gender, when you talk about being a girl or boy and genitals.

You’ve kind of mixed up gender presentation and gender, when you talk about suits and dresses.

Gender isn’t gender roles, either. And when you say that there’s no such thing as gender, and that gender is a social construct, I understand it’s because you’ve mixed it up with sex and presentation, but you erase people genders and insist they are false.

We all know that genitals, clothes or anything else isn’t gender and doesn’t define gender. But gender is real. You say you’re pansexual, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable in a relationship with someone who didn’t believe my gender existed.

Also, how did you submit via email address?

Totally right, it’s the presentation of gender, what is ‘normal’ and what isn’t, which is a social construct, not gender itself.

People construct their own gender themselves in the way that is true for them, to say that it is constructed by society is to take away a person’s identity, make them less of a person.

World War Two & the Status of American Women

Seeing as I’m History major, I thought I might share a history essay from last semester. It details the change in status of American women after WWII.

To what extent did the Second World War signal a change in the status of American women?

The advent of the Second World War signified a major change in the status and role of the American woman. In this essay I will be focusing on the changing status of married American women. The war was a huge catalyst for social change in many areas. There was a huge rise in the employment of married and unmarried women, in roles that were previously considered to be that of men. The change in family dynamics were also dramatically changed during this period, with women now fulfilling the role of two parents in order to maintain the family unit. Women felt the need to contribute to the war effort, while society still considered a woman’s place to be in the home. There were also changes in the way society viewed marriage and divorce.

Before America joined World War II, there was already a gradual trend of more women entering the workforce. Once America joined the Allied effort, this gradual increase took a sharp turn upwards immediately. What would have happened over a period of years occurred in a matter of months, with initially “four million women… deflected from their domestic orbit”. There was a total of 13,008,000 women employed in 1940, this increased to 16,630,000 in 1944, and by July 14, 1945 that number had risen to 19,610,000. Of the 16,630,000 women employed in 1944, 6,700,000 were married and expected to earn part or all of the family income, in addition to running and maintaining the family household. Many married women gained employment solely because their husband’s allotment cheque from military service was not enough to maintain the family home. Others did so through patriotism and wanting to contribute to the country’s war effort. “War widows”, that is, women with husbands in military service were three times more likely to seek employment than other married women. These women would otherwise have had to live on a monthly allotment cheque of $50, plus $20 per child. This was part of the large number of wartime struggles that women faced alone.

While being expected the continue running the family home and finding income to provide for that home, married women with children were also expected to continue with maintaining the “physical safety, moral training, and informal education” of their children, as mothers “traditionally had [this] major responsiblity”. These women faced considerable personal strain as “their children [lived] under extremely makeshift arrangements” while they participated in new and demanding working conditions. Many new roles were assumed by women. These women were not the same as they would have been if their husbands were still in their peacetime jobs and a woman was able to spend “every waking moment with [her young children] during [their] early years” as they had done in the years previous to the war.

Women were given mixed messages regarding employment. They were told “that victory could not be achieved without their entry into the labor force”, while also being told by the federal government, “Now, as in peacetime, a mother’s primary duty is to her home and children”. There were significant changes to the “family division of labor” and an “increasing independence of the wife”. Nearly half of all American women held a job a some point during the war, specifically gaining employment in areas that were traditionally male, with the labour force of important war industries consisting of forty to sixy per cent women. Three-quarters of the increase in women’s employment was made up of married women, whereas before the war, employed women were generally unmarried and young.

There was a growing public unease over such large numbers of working women. One columnist, Max Lerner, feared that women would turn into “a ‘new Amazon’ who would ‘outdrink, outswear, and outswagger the men’”. There was a feeling throughout society that children would not get the attention they required from their working mother. Child care was a major problem during this time, while did not help women cope with the dual roles they were taking within the family unit. With about 1.5 million working mothers with children under ten, the majority “were only able to make haphazard arrangements”. There were “few public resources and little recognition” for the struggles women faced along during wartime. Public child care facilities were overcrowded and underfunded, though the federal government did contribute “nearly $52 million [to] 3,102 centers providing day care to about 105,000 children”. Many children, known as “8-hour orphans” or “latch key children”, were left to look after themselves while their mothers worked. There was high female absenteeism, as well as job-turn over, being twice that of men over the same period, as women struggled to do what was best for their families.

The Second World War was a powerful instrument for social change. There was a vast labour shortage and employers needed to use groups of minorities which were excluded before the war. This included not only women, but also “teenagers, blacks, Southern white migrants, retirees, and the handicapped”. There was a sudden rise in the marriage rate and birth rate due to the increased prosperity caused by the war. Couples which had delayed both marriage and having children during the Great Depression were now doing so in huge numbers. After the war and servicemen had returned home, there was a sharp increase in the number of divorces. In the four years from 1940 to 1944, the divorce rate increased from sixteen per cent of marriages to twenty-seven per cent. By 1950, the number of divorced servicemen rose to “as many as a million”. Infidelity seemed to have become a symptom of “separation and female independence”, with the news media publically ‘naming and shaming’ women in several cases. But it was not just women who were unfaithful. A 1943 poll of young married women came back with results indicating “almost half believed that their husband had been unfaithful”. This added strain to the readjustment of married life, which was, as well as the wife’s new found “independence and self-sufficiency”, blamed for the steep increase in the divorce rate. There was also a decrease in the stigma which surrounded divorce, which may also have been a contributing factor to the increase.

The status of the married American women changed dramatically as a result of the Second World War. Women battled to provide for their families while at the same time trying to continue in their traditional role of maintaining and running the household. Society also struggled to adapt at the same rate that women were entering the workforce, sending women mixed messages, fearing their new found independence, while wanting women to be both patriotic and ensure that their children are raised in the correct manner. The war was a major catalyst for change, though society was not as ready for it as the women who embraced it.

Bibliography:

E. Foner, Give me liberty! An American history. 2nd Seagull ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company. (2005)
S. Mintz & S. Kellogg, Domestic revolutions: A social history of American family life. New York: Free Press (1989)
A. Truxal & F. Merrill, The family in American culture. New York: Prentice-Hall. (1947)

Transgender Violence – Society’s Obsession with “Doing” Gender

I wrote this a couple of months ago for my Sociology paper last semester. I would like to see what your thoughts are :)  Depending on your responses, I may put up more essays and such like in the future

Concept Exercise – ‘Doing’ Gender

From the moment we are born, we are assigned to one of two genders which we are expected to perform for the remainder of our life. Boys are masculine and girls are feminine. In order to portray the correct image, we must ‘do’ gender as society has constructed it. This is the only way to “[affirm] and [maintain] our gender identities” (McLennan, McManus, & Spoonley, 2010, p. 107). Gender is something we learn to ‘do’, being encouraged by our parents, teachers, even friends and public spaces (such as male and female public toilets). Because it is something we have to learn, it is therefore not “a pre-determined state” (Connell, 2009, p. 5). We are taught to avoid gender ambiguities through the clothes we wear, the toys we are given to play with, the way our hair is cut etc. An example of how socially constructed gender is, is how “[before] World War I, it was not uncommon for boys to wear pink, which the promotional literature of the time called ‘a stronger, more decided colour’. Girls wore blue which was understood to be ‘delicate’ and ‘dainty’” (Garber, 1992 as cited in (McLennan, McManus, & Spoonley, 2010, p. 107)). In the present day, a baby dressed in blue is acknowledged as a boy, whereas a baby in pink is most definitely a girl.

Should we decide to perform a gender or in a way that is not the socially accepted match to our biological sex, this can lead to confusion as to what social discourse should be used. Even though gender ambiguity is common, with many people using a blend of “masculine and feminine characteristics” to form their personal gender identity, we are still expected to perform the one most closely related to our biological sex (Connell, 2009, p. 6). Otherwise we can be labelled with terms such as “effeminate, camp, queer and transgender” (Connell, 2009, p. 6) and more derogatory terms like fag and poof. Because society has been constructed with men/males being masculine and women/females being feminine, any deviation from this can cause fear, misunderstanding and hatred.

The effects of fear, misunderstanding and hatred can been seen with the hate crimes committed against transgendered people, the result of someone not ‘doing’ their gender in the socially accepted way. A recent case in America resulted in the country’s first conviction “of first-degree murder and a bias motivated crime” (Spellman, 2009). Angie Zapata, who lived as a woman after being born a male, was killed by Allen Andrade in Summer 2008. They met on an online social networking site and while “Andrade admitted killing Zapata, [...] his defence argued he acted in the heat of passion after discovering Zapata was biologically male” and “asked for a [...] verdict such as second-degree murder or manslaughter” (Spellman, 2009). The defence constantly identified Zapata as “he”, while the prosecutors identified her as “she”. “[The] prosecutors [...] argued that Andrade knew Zapata was biologically male and that motivated the crime” (Spellman, 2009). She was killed because she was “born in a boy’s body but [was] living as a female” (Miller as cited in (Spellman, 2009)).

Hate crimes against transgendered people is not a new thing. Brandon Teena was killed on New Year’s Eve, 1993 “on account of gender non-conformity” (Matzner, 2004). Teena lived as a man but was a biological female. After moving to Falls City, Nebraska, a small rural town, Teena started to data Lana Tisdel. He was arrested for forging cheques and the police department found that he was biologically female. They provided this information to the local newspaper and they published it, outing Teena. Tisdel bailed him out of jail and did not react negatively to the outing. Two friends of Tisdel, John Lotter and Tom Nissen, “who had become close to Teena were shocked and angered by the disclosure” (Matzner, 2004). At a party on 24 December, they sought to humiliate Teena by pulling down his pants in front of Tisdel. Later that night, they raped and beat Teena, saying if he reported them, they would kill him. Teena reported them immediately and one week later, Lotter and Nissen found Teena at the farmhouse of Lisa Lambert where he was staying. They shot and stabbed him as well as killing Lambert and Phillip DeVine, who was also staying at the house. “Nissen was sentenced to life in prison without parole [and] Lotter received the death sentence” (Matzner, 2004). Teena’s mother filed a civil suit against Richardson County and its sheriff and was awarded $98,223 for the failure of the County to protect Teena by arresting Lotter and Nissen straight away after the first incident (Matzner, 2004).

Hate crimes against transgendered people are a direct result of the social construction of gender. Because society has such a strong influence on what we come to believe as acceptable and ‘normal’, through our parents, education and friends, when we come across something or someone that is not ‘normal’, we do not know how to react. By not performing their ‘correct’ gender with which they were assigned at birth, transgendered people generate fear and misunderstanding among others in the community who are considered ‘normal’. Unfortunately, this fear and misunderstanding often generates hatred which can take the form of physical violence, something that both Brandon Teena and Angie Zapata sadly discovered and paid for with their lives.

Until society stops being obsessed with people ‘doing’ their correct gender, incidents such as the horrific acts against Brandon Teena and Angie Zapata and their results deaths will continue to happen. ‘Doing’ ones gender is so deeply engrained within Western society, it is unlikely there will be any positive change and acceptance towards people ‘doing’ whatever gender they feel most comfortable ‘doing’, whether it be the one that matches their biological sex, the opposite or a mixture of the two. There must also be acceptance that both gender and sexuality are fluid and may change throughout their various stages of our lives. While ‘doing’ your correct gender continues to be the status quo, it will take many years and possibly many generations as we learn the mistakes of our elders, not fully understanding the extent of the damage those mistakes cause. Society needs to learn that what may be ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ for one individual may not be the same for anyone else. Until this changes, the violence caused by the fear, misunderstand and hatred of transgendered people and anyone else who is not considered ‘normal’ will continue to rise.

Bibliography

Connell, R. (2009). Short Introductions: Gender. Cambridge; Malden, MA02148, USA: Polity Press.
Matzner, A. (2004, December 31). Teena, Brandon. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from glbtq: An encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer culture: http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/teena_b.html
McLennan, G., McManus, R., & Spoonley, P. (2010). Exploring Society (3rd ed.). North Shore, New Zealand: Pearson.
Spellman, J. (2009, April 23). CNN.com/Crime Transgender murder, hate crime conviction a first. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from CNN.com: http://www.cnn.com/2009/crime/04/22/transgender.slaying.trial/index.html