CI – Introduction to Gender Issues

When we talk about gender, what do we really mean?

In the most simplistic sense, “gender” refers to a person being either male or female. This in and of itself doesn’t create any sort of problem – it’s anatomy.

But what happens when one gender takes a whole bunch of power and privilege away from the other?

And what happens when a person is born a boy, but identifies more with the feminine? Or vice versa?

These two questions are the basis of gender issues – and they are certainly very distinct issues to talk about. What most of you probably think of when you hear the term “gender issues” is the feminist movement – the search for equality between men and women. And while we’ve made eons of progress since the days where women were unable to vote, attend school, or have any power of their own, we are still no where near the ultimate goal of equality. Women still make less money than men in the same position with the same education, we’re still objectified for our bodies, and we still cannot go out anywhere alone without the threat of assault hanging over our heads. We’re still catcalled when we walk down the street, still told to stay home with the kids. These are things that are more difficult to change than a law – for these changes to happen, the mentality of an entire society needs to change. That’s not something that can be accomplished quickly, or easily, or without a lot of pain and effort.

But when we talk about gender issues, we aren’t only talking about the struggle for male/female equality. There’s an entirely separate problem that has emerged in recent years, and that is that not everyone fits so neatly into the category of “male” or “female”. Some people fall into a gray area.

What happens if a boy wants to wear makeup? Or if a girl wants to cut her hair short and wear loose clothing? Or even on a much smaller scale, what if the little boy wants to play with barbie dolls or asks for an easy-bake oven for his birthday?

We’ve created these strict stereotypes for each gender: men are masculine, they are dominant, strong, they like sports, they fix things. Women are very feminine, they wear makeup, they dress nicely, they like to shop, they’re soft-spoken, submissive.

But not everyone fits into these stereotypes, and this creates issues for those individuals. They have to fight for acceptance, or change aspects of themselves to fit preconceived notions of how a male or female SHOULD behave. This forms the second half of gender issues – creating a space for those who don’t identify exactly with either gender, who often feel lost or out of place.

I hope to discuss both topics over the course of this blog. Hopefully I can dispel some stereotypes and illuminate more of the struggle for gender equality and acceptance.


6 responses to “CI – Introduction to Gender Issues

  1. Although I agree with your point about everyone being treated as an individual and not allowing society’s notions of right and wrong define you, I feel obligated to point out a flaw in your logic.
    Gender is not an anatomical difference, that would be referred to as sex. Gender is the value judgements we place on sex (ex. men are head of the household, women should look pretty, masculinity, femininity etc.). In short, sex is the completely biological difference between a man and a woman (ex. breasts, genitalia), while gender is the cultural difference between a man and a woman. Although we can never change the concept of sex (babies will always be born male or female) we can change the way we view their choices and identities through changes in our gender norms.
    Also, we can learn to accept others choices by being open to the reality that there exists more genders than simply male or female (even though we are limited to only two in regards to sex).
    Anyway, I just wanted to make the distinction clear (as an anthropologist) because there is actually a world of difference between anatomical sex and cultural gender.

  2. In some societies, like Brazil, they have more genders than male and female. They have two different ways of defining gender, one is the biological sense of male and female where the other is based upon how you identify yourself. Personally, I believe that you are objectified and put down only as much as you allow yourself to be. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt. If you want people to view a gender in a different way you don’t complain on how it hasn’t happened, but you make people stop and stare then force them to see you in a different light. I don’t think that people are against stereotypes as you think. For example I can change the oil, engine fluid, and jump start my car. I can also take apart and reassemble a wheel motor faster then any of the guys I was with and none of them cared or judged me for it. I think that we put ourselves into stereotypes and that is where our greatest weakness is. For when you put yourself in there is no getting out. Not every person is going to be accepting and some are going to have to struggle, but nothing would happen if someone didn’t stand up and fight for their right to be different. Change is a struggle, the struggle is part of the reason change is so special.

  3. As much as there is a lot of hate towards people who identify with the gender opposite he/she is anatomically, there is also a lot of acceptance nowadays. I feel strongly about women’s rights issues (although I’m not a feminist..I think…) and if we were deliberating those things in class I’d probably be unstoppable, but we really do need to look at the progress we’ve made as a society.
    This kind of reminds me of my post about Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance- how she did something sexual 95% of the time she was on stage, let alone she was not wearing pants….yet she’s a huge advocate for gender equality- it just confuses me how she’d put herself out in front of millions and millions of people, sexualizing herself and then the next day complains about being objectified…
    I think that if women want to stop being called out for being women, then they need to stop giving men reasons for doing so.

  4. Nice post. I really like the discussion (and future discussion) of this gender “grey area.” Reading your post really made me think so much about media influence–movies, TV shows, even the news. These stereotypes–that you lay out so well–are played up all the time. Non-stop. Boys and football. Girls and Barbie. Hammered into our heads & certainly into little kids’ heads. We’re a society that wants to fit things cleanly (boys will be boys, girls will be girls), but is it up to us to push a little gender-bending? To encourage guy friends to potentially talk more about their feelings? To encourage girl friends to play contact sports, wear “macho” clothing, whatever, if they want? Etc. Etc. And when we eventually (possibly) raise children, how could a “gender grey area” awareness help us/the child’s development?
    Thanks for posting.

  5. It’s really crazy to think about all the stereotypes and roles society has forced on people. I remember by friend’s two-year-old nephew wanted to wear a dress he saw at the store because he liked how it looked. My friend thought this was fine – he’s two, who would know the difference outside his family – but his mother (my friend’s sister) was completely against the idea. I think she said it was “wrong” since boys don’t wear dresses. Personally, I don’t see the big deal about letting a male toddler wear a dress, but most people in society (especially those older than us) probably would be in an uproar over it. So I think it’s great you’re addressing these issues that are so prevalent in our society.

  6. I think that today’s perception of male and female roles in society is one of comfort, than one of accuracy. People are more comfortable if men act a certain way and if women act another way, because that’s how it’s been for years. I think we’ll be able to break out of these gender stereotypes when people are finally able to step out of their comfort zone, which is a big task for most.

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