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Hello bloggers,

I thought I’d reproduce for you here the note I sent out to my friends and family to mark International Women’s Day this year.

Things with me are alright. thanks to those of you who have emailed to day hello — it’s always good to hear from you.

Best,

TG

Dear friends and family,

today marks International Women’s Day!  It’s a day of worldwide celebration for the achievements women have made, recognition of the difficulties and challenges women still face daily, and recommitment to fighting gender-based discrimination through the promotion of women’s substantive equality.

I encourage you today to reflect on the sacrifices women have made over the years in order to further women’s political and social equality in the face of much resistance from society at large that believes women should know their place, that women are naturally inferior to men, that women already have enough equality.

Here in Canada, there is still much to be done to further women’s equality.

  • Aboriginal women still don’t have equality in their communities in terms of property rights and representation in the governance of their communities, and are at a highly disproportionate risk of becoming victims of domestic and sexual assault. Before European colonizers arrived in Canada, Aboriginal societies were gender-egalitarian — meaning that our Canadian government has created this gendered hierarchy in Aboriginal communities with such measures as Indian Residential Schools and the Indian Act, which prevented Aboriginal women from holding land, voting in their band’s elections, taking away their status if they married a non-Aboriginal man, and preventing both Aboriginal women and men from learning their cultural traditions and languages to pass on to their children.
  • Access to abortion services in Canada are measly and inadequate. Women often incur travel costs to get from their small rural/isolated Northern communities to larger urban centres to access abortion services, taking time off work and often necessitating child-care services; most often, these expenses are not reimbursed by our health care system (there is a small travel budget for Northern women). Women in Prince Edward Island have to travel outside their province to access abortion services in Halifax; there are 0 abortion providers in PEI. Women in New Brunswick have to obtain letters of referral from 2 separate doctors stating that an abortion is “medically necessary” in order to access abortion services at the 1 hospital in the province that provides them. Women who need timely access to abortion services (which is in their best health interests) often have to pay out of pocket for abortion services at private clinics because the wait time to access services in a hospital setting is too long. Despite that abortion is not illegal in Canada, and that our government’s health care policy holds as one of its 5 pillars “accessibility,” Canadian women still face challenges in accessing abortion services – including vilification by many conservative and religious groups.
  • Women are still being sold into slavery in this country in the form of trafficked persons. 80% of all trafficked persons are women, who are forced into domestic and/or sexual exploitation once they arrive in their destination country. Here in Canada, statistics estimate that about 800 women are trafficked to Canada every year. Canada only took a legislative stand against human trafficking in 2006, after the release of a highly embarrassing report exposing our government’s complete negligence on the issue. Since then, 10 cases of human trafficking have been opened. These women are going largely unnoticed through our borders and in our communities, and they need help.
  • in Canada, the gap is widening between the rich and the poor, despite that Canada’s economy is soaring – our economy is the fastest growing in the G-8. A quarter million people in Canada are homeless, 1.7 million households live on less than $16,400 USD a year, and the majority of these are households run by single women. 5.5 million live on less than $8200 a year (24% of all tax filers), and again, the majority of these are women. As our Employment Insurance program is sitting on a billion dollar surplus, only 3 out of 10 unemployed women are eligible for benefits according to current criteria, which disadvantage workers with part-time or irregular hours, which, again, are mostly women, thanks to society’s expectation that women are the primary care-givers for children and the elderly. Social programs are increasingly out of reach for the poor due to reduced spending in the service of increasing Canada’s GDP – in fact, it appears as though one of the primary reasons for Canada’s economic success (GDP has increased 55% in the last 10 years) is BECAUSE of social program funding cuts, meaning the economic success of this country is dependent on the poverty of women.
  • Lesbian women are still suffering widespread discrimination in Canadian society, and face legal barriers to being able to care for their partners during end-of-life situations and inheriting property from their partners – even homes that they have been living in for decades. these situations are deeply painful, as the families of these women’s life-partners swoop in and take away every evidence that their daughters were gay and had partnerships with other women.
  • Transsexual and transgendered women face unique barriers to equality. Sex reassignment surgery is under or non-funded by the Canadian health care system, and ancillary services to allow for greater integration into their physical gender are completely outside funding. Pre-surgery transsexual women often turn to prostitution in order to fund their surgical and aesthetic interventions, and when in prison are placed in male detention facilities and have difficulty obtaining the hormonal therapy needed to maintain the process of transformation.  In order to have any government funded access to sex reassignment surgery, which costs tens of thousands of dollars, they must go through psychological counselling and live for a year as a woman, despite being considered legally and physically a man.These women face deep misunderstanding by society and are highly vulnerable to homophobic and transphobic male violence.

These are only some of the problems affecting women in Canada. Immigrant and refugee women, sex workers, (dis)abled women, and women of colour all face significant and specific kinds of barriers to equality. Federally, the slashed funding to Status of Women Canada means awareness about women’s issues in Canada is waning, and the cancellation of the Court Challenges Program and the courts’ aversion to allowing equality groups to intervene in cases involving women’s issues means women’s equality is not being adequately advocated in our justice system. Our beloved Charter of Rights and Freedoms is being interpreted and applied by our courts in such a way as to limit rather than protect and enhance women’s equality.

There are different problems affecting women in other parts of the world. Women are raped en masse as part of genocidal wars in Congo. Girl children as young as 8 are married off in India. Girls as young as 4 are subject to female genital cutting in northern Africa. Women are displaced in the Sudan. Women and girls are not permitted to go to school in Afghanistan. Women aren’t even allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Girl children are abandoned in China. Women are forcibly sterilized in Tibet. Women are being denied access to contraception worldwide through USAID and PEPFAR, and have no way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, even when they know they risk transmitting HIV to their fetuses.

It’s pretty obvious that there is still much work to be done, both at home and abroad, to gain full equality for women. this International Women’s Day, I’m thinking about what I can do to help. I believe women are not second-class citizens. I believe women do not deserve 15, 25, 50, or 65% equality. I believe women deserve 100% equality, no matter where they live or what barriers they face.  Today, I recognize the courage and dedication of women who have been fighting this struggle since before I was born, since before my mother was born, and I am deeply honoured and grateful for the important progress they have made on my behalf. Today, I rededicate myself to continuing this struggle, for myself, for my sisters, for my mother, for my aunts, for my cousins, for my friends, and for all of our daughters.

to the women in my life — I celebrate you today! You are, quite literally, the reason I do what I do. Thank you for your inspiration and courage.

to the men in my life — I look for you to be partners in the fight for women’s equality. This takes some strength, but I know you’re up for the challenge.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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I’ve been taking a course over the summer in gay and lesbian studies. I’ve recently submitted a couple of article review assignments. I thought since I’m not writing much else these days that I would share them with you here over the next couple days, and see what discussion might be generated. so without further ado, here’s the first one:

The article I chose to review for this assignment was a chapter from Kate Bornstein’s book, Gender Outlaw, entitled “Naming All the Parts” (Bornstein, 1995). I chose this article because I wanted to review something specifically written about transsexuality and how it relates to both gender and sexual orientation. I will first discuss the main themes of the piece in detail, then particular issues that were raised for me, and finally how the essay contributes to discussion of LGBT issues.

The main themes of Bornstein’s essay have to do with the relation of gender to desire and sexuality. Bornstein, a male to female transsexual, sees gender as an entirely socially constructed system of classification: “Gender means class” (Bornstein, 1995: 21). She argues in this piece that gender as a system must be deconstructed and done away with completely (Bornstein, 1995: 21).

Bornstein discusses how gender functions in society, and where it comes from. She begins by discussing gender assignment, which she states is performed at birth in this culture (North American, western, contemporary), generally by medical doctors, “which shows you how emphatically gender has been medicalized” (Bornstein, 1995: 22). She argues that gender assignment in this culture is performed on the basis of whether or not the child in question has a penis: “It [gender assignment] has little or nothing to do with vaginas. It’s all penises or no penises: gender assignment is both phallocentric and genital” (Bornstein, 1995: 22). Bornstein briefly discusses how other cultures assign gender, showing that the way gender is assigned in this culture is not related to anything “natural” or biological, but rather is a social construct (Bornstein, 1995: 22).

Bornstein writes further on the false notion that gender is biologically based: “It’s biological gender that most folks refer to when they say sex. By calling something ‘sex,’ we grant it superiority over all the other types of gender” (Bornstein, 1995: 30). Here, Bornstein argues that biology isn’t necessarily the most important thing when talking about gender, but that by emphasizing biology, we do just that, thereby marginalizing alternative conceptions and experiences of gender. She goes on to write about the problematic ideology of gender as “natural.” Bornstein writes, “Gender is assumed by many to be ‘natural’; that is, someone can feel ‘like a man’ or ‘like a woman’” (Bornstein, 1995: 24). This is not something she experienced, however, or what drove her own transformation from male to female. Bornstein writes, from her own personal perspective, “I’ve no idea what ‘a woman’ feels like. I never did feel like a girl or a woman; rather, it was my unshakable conviction that I was not a boy or a man. It was the absence of a feeling, rather than its presence, that convinced me to change my gender” (Bornstein, 1995: 24). She argues that the belief in the naturalness of gender “is in fact a belief in the supremacy of the body in the determination of identity” (Bornstein, 1995: 30).

Bornstein advocates doing away with the gender system altogether. She does, however, acknowledge that this raises the question, “if gender is classification, can we afford to throw away the very basic right to classify ourselves?” (Bornstein, 1995: 24). Gender is an identity as well as a classification, a way to belong (Bornstein, 1995: 24). This can certainly be oppressive. Bornstein writes, “In this culture, the only two sanctioned gender clubs are ‘men’ and ‘women’. If you don’t belong to one or the other, you’re told in no uncertain terms to sign up fast” (Bornstein, 1995: 34). However, gender is not just something that is thrust upon us – it is also something we can claim for ourselves.

Bornstein next discusses gender roles, claiming that these teach a person how to function so that others perceive him/her as belonging to a specific gender (Bornstein, 1995: 26). She writes, “Gender roles, when followed, send signals of membership in a given gender” (Bornstein, 1995: 26). Directly related to gender roles, which send out signals as to which gender one belongs, is gender attribution, which happens (for the most part automatically) when we look at a person and attribute a gender to them (Bornstein, 1995: 26). This is important because it affects the way we relate to others (Bornstein, 1995: 26). Gender attribution relies on gendered cues, which we are obligated to give in ways that are clear enough to be perceived by others. These cues include physical cues (hair, body, voice, clothes), behavioural cues (manners, decorum, deportment), textual cues (such as personal history, documentation, and names that support the attribution), mythic cues (cultural myths that support gender attribution, such as ‘weaker sex’, ‘emotional female’, ‘strong male’), and power dynamics (ways of communicating, aggressiveness/assertiveness, persistence, ambition) (Bornstein, 1995: 26-29). Bornstein points out, “In this culture, gender attribution, like gender assignment, is phallocentric. That is, one is male until perceived otherwise” (Bornstein, 1995: 26). A study Bornstein cites found that “it would take the presence of roughly four female cues to outweigh the presence of one male cue” (Bornstein, 1995: 26). Bornstein also includes sexual orientation as a gender cue (Bornstein, 1995: 29).

Bornstein tells about her own struggle with learning feminine cues in order to pass as a woman during her process of “becoming” a woman. Successful “passing” meant that others attributed a female gender to Bornstein (Bornstein, 1995: 27). Many such feminine cues can be seen as harmful to women. She writes, “It wasn’t ‘til I began to read feminist literature that I began to question these cues or see them as oppressive” (Bornstein, 1995: 28).

Bornstein discusses the problematic conflation of biological sex and gender in our society (Bornstein, 1995: 31). This conflation leads to another conflation – that of gender with sex (the act). She points out that gender isn’t the only thing that is confused with sex in this culture – “we’re encouraged to equate sex (the act) with money, success, and security; and with the products we’re told will help us” attain these things (Bornstein, 1995: 31). Bornstein asserts that “it’s important to keep gender and sex separated as, respectively, system and function” (Bornstein, 1995: 31).

Bornstein goes on to discuss sexual orientation/preference as a factor in both sex and gender (Bornstein, 1995: 32). She quotes Murray S. Davis as saying that “the gender component of identity is the most important one articulated during sex. Nearly everyone (except for bisexuals, perhaps) regard it as the prime criterion for choosing a sex partner” (Davis, in Bornstein, 1995: 32). Bornstein argues that sexual orientation/preference is solely determined by the gender of one’s partner, and that sexual desire is meant to fit into one of only a short list of models: heterosexual, gay male, lesbian, or bisexual (Bornstein, 1995: 32).

Bornstein discusses variants on these gender-based relationships, such as heterosexual female with gay male, gay male with lesbian female, lesbian female with heterosexual female, gay male with bisexual male , etc. (Bornstein, 1995: 33). These variants each “forms its own clearly recognizable dynamic, and none of these are acknowledged by the dominant cultural binary” of heterosexual/homosexual (Bornstein, 1995: 33). Furthermore, all of these models, and their variants, depend on the gender of both participants. This is problematic because it “results in minimizing, if not completely dismissing, other dynamic models of a relationship which could be more important than gender and are often more telling about the real nature of someone’s desire” (Bornstein, 1995: 33). Some of these other dynamic models include butch/femme, top/bottom, reproductive models, multiple-partner models, monogamous models, and non-monogamous models (Bornstein, 1995: 33-34).

Moreover, Bornstein argues that “there are plenty of instances in which sexual attraction can have absolutely nothing to do with the gender of one’s partner” (Bornstein, 1995: 35). For instance, Bornstein suggests that sexual preference could be based on sex acts rather than on the gender of one’s partner (Bornstein, 1995: 36), because sex acts don’t have to be heterosexual or homosexual (Bornstein, 1995: 37). For example, Bornstein gives a very elaborate code by which participants use coloured handkerchiefs worn on either the left or right side of the body that indicate their preference for particular sex acts, and whether they prefer to play a top or bottom role in such acts (Bornstein, 1995: 37). Here, the gender of the partners is less important than their willingness to participate in particular sex acts in particular ways.

Nevertheless, our culture is one that does conflate sex and gender, and codifies sexual preference along these lines – which results in lumping together very different subcultures into one catch-all category that is binaurally opposed to the dominant sexual culture, heterosexuality (Bornstein, 1995: 37). Bornstein writes,

A dominant culture tends to combine its subcultures into manageable units. As a result, those who practice non-traditional sex are seen by members of the dominant culture (as well as by members of sex and gender subcultures) as a whole with those who don non-traditional gender roles and identities. (Bornstein, 1997: 38)

Bornstein writes that people are still attracted to her, despite not having a clear-cut gender identity (Bornstein, 1995: 38). She goes on to say that this made her feel nervous at first, as she thought, “What kind of pervert… would be attracted to a freak like me?” (Bornstein, 1995: 38) She identified this fear as internalized phobia about her transsexualism; however, she says she still doesn’t know how to respond to a man’s attraction to her (Bornstein is a lesbian) (Bornstein, 1995: 38-39).

Bornstein finishes her essay with a discussion of desire and how it relates to gender. She writes, “Given that most romantic or sexual involvements in this culture are defined by the genders of the partners, the most appropriate identity to have in a romantic relationship would be a gender identity or something that passes for gender identity, like a gender role” (Bornstein, 1995: 39). Even without a gender identity, with something like a gender role, we can still navigate the waters of sexual relationships. Gender is, Bornstein argues, an identity that can be used to manipulate desire (Bornstein, 1995: 40).

Whenever Bornstein advocates the dissolution of gender altogether, the objection is raised that without gender, how can there be desire? (Bornstein, 1995: 38) Bornstein acknowledges that this culture is one that is “obsessed with desire: it drives our economy… No wonder I get panicked reactions from audiences when I suggest we eliminate gender as a system; gender defines our desire, and we don’t know what to do if we don’t have desire” (Bornstein, 1995: 40). She goes on to write, in perhaps the most important insight of the essay, “Perhaps the more importance a culture places on desire, the more conflated become the concepts of sex and gender” (Bornstein, 1995: 40).

However, this conflation is ultimately limiting, says Bornstein. By having these gender identities to rely on in our personal journeys, we are prevented from examining our preferences and identities more fully:

If we buy into categories of sexual orientation based solely on gender – heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual – we’re cheating ourselves of a searching examination of our real sexual preferences. In the same fashion, by subscribing to the categories of gender based solely on the male/female binary, we cheat ourselves of a searching examination of our real gender identity. (Bornstein, 1995: 38)

Bornstein’s essay raises a number of excellent points and issues for me. Firstly, the relationship between gender and sexual desire was intriguing. Certainly, it seems true that the primary criterion for the vast majority of people in choosing a sexual partner is that person’s gender in relation to their own. I appreciated Bornstein’s discussion of other ways to define sexual desire, like by preference for sex acts, as well as her encouragement for us all to examine how desire functions in our sexual lives outside of gender. In light of this idea, it seems right that Bornstein should advocate the dissolution of gender as a system.

However, doing so seems like a dangerous and frightening thing. As Bornstein says, gender is a kind of identity. The right to determine our own identities without punishment is, I think, much more important than eliminating the options available to us for self-definition. It’s the forced nature of gender as a system of classification, the rigidity of that classification once it’s been determined, and the binary of male/female that is problematic. There is nothing wrong with being a “man” or a “woman” – what is wrong is the unequal valuing of those identities and the subsequent oppression of both all the members of one of the binary options and everyone who doesn’t fall into either of the options.

The other major issue raised for me by Bornstein’s article is regarding the nature of desire. I thought a lot about LGBT politics and the fight for equal rights within that community, and the debate about why queer people are queer – is one born queer, or does one choose to be queer? For so long, and still in some circles, the belief is very clear that people are born queer. Saying that you’re born queer is a biologically essentialist argument, but it can carry some weight politically – as a society, we have decided (at least rhetorically) that it isn’t ethical to punish or discriminate against people because of something that they’re born into, that they cannot help. Of course, this kind of discrimination happens all the time against people for things they cannot help: sexism, racism, ableism, to name a few. But rhetorically, we have a notion of human rights that stands most definitely against such discrimination, and it is considered unethical. However, biological essentialism in any form is problematic.

I don’t necessarily believe that we choose our sexual preferences. I think it is far more complex than that, because I am inclined to believe that our sexual identities are socially constructed and it is not without a good deal of self-examination that we can break free of compulsory heterosexuality. But yet, I think a discourse of freedom of choice is a far more tenable position from which to argue for LGBT rights. It is unethical to discriminate against others because of the choices they make (within limits, of course, such as not hurting others and obtaining consent). People make choices all the time that are protected by law. Why should sexual preferences be any different? So what if someone “chooses” to be queer? Why should that “choice” be any less valid than the “choice” to be straight?

In conclusion, I think Bornstein’s writing is very important to discussions of LGBT issues. Hearing from people who experience transsexuality is vitally important to furthering understanding of trans issues, and to furthering political solidarity among gender-marginalized groups. Finally, because her writing is so personal, it encourages us to examine our own gendered experiences. The personal is, indeed, political.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bornstein, Kate (1995). “Naming All the Parts” in Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. New York: Vintage Books. 21-40


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OK, so I’ve decided that I hate my feed reader. Why? Because I simply can’t keep up. I have too many feeds in there, and I jsut can’t keep up with all you people! And then, see, because I”m like some kind of frustrated perfectionist, if I can’t do it the way I want to do it, then I don’t do it at all. Kind of childish, maybe, but there it is. And so, I’ve decided that I’m not going to use my feed reader anymore, and instead I am going to do the old-fashioned, manual check of the blogs I like to read regularly.

And so, that’s what I’ve been doing. Little by little. I’m trying to catch up.

And, in doing that, I stumbled upon a series of posts by Richard over at Alas, called My Daughter’s Vagina. Intriguing title, yes? And so, I started reading. Richard is a beautiful writer, and I’m enjoying these essays very much. So I thought I’d share, in case y’all have been slackin’ lately too.

go read ’em:

My Daughter’s Vagina (part one)

My Daughter’s Vagina (part two) 

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I figured I should write a bit about what it is that I mean when I use the words woman/women. It seems kind of weird that I should have to do this, and I’m sure I’ll be accused of trying to redefine words again. But, as you may know, I don’t abide by definitions that the dominant oppressor class forces upon me, particularly as it relates to my identity and my politics. There is, as I have pointed out before, power in language. Recognizing that is very important in terms of resistance. Besides, our language is not a dead one – it is very much alive, and undergoing construction and change all the time.

The power structure under which we live is a white heterosexual capitalist male supremacy, and identity is socially constructed under its directives, which assigns hierarchical value to groups that are defined in opposition or binary to one another. Man/woman, white/non-white, hetero/queer, rich/poor, and so on. The purpose/result is to create a stratification of classes within society. Power goes to some more than others.

The terms we use to describe ourselves and others have undergone a homogenization process, an attempt to weed out problematic anomalies and hide them away, silence them, make them disappear. I want you to understand that this is a political move, a power play. Homogenizing people under group identity allows power structures to remain in place. And some people benefit – a lot- from those power structures. So of course those people who benefit from power structures want to maintain them. Not all do, of course, but those with the most power have the most invested in structures that give them power – and the most to lose if they dissolve or change. So when people are identified under the common identity of a group, their differences are often forgotten, silenced, hidden, and ultimately denied. Power relations also exist within groups, along the lines of other group identities, which complicates matters even further. And this, my friends, is the common denominator: what individuals within groups share is not their oppression per se (although some groups will share some commonality of experience of oppression), but that their oppression stems from the same source, the same culture of white hetero capitalist male supremacy. What is shared is a common context of struggle.

So. When I talk about “woman/women”, I’m referring to the socially constructed sex class that experiences sexism (often among other forms of oppression) under the current culture of white hetero capitalist male supremacy.

For the record, this is the approach I take to all group identity.

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I am remiss to do this, but the infamous PUA thread is not loading properly anymore due to the abundance of comments. I am hereby closing comments on that thread, and opening this one to continue the discussion.

On that note, I received an email from a reader named Gary. Here’s part of what he had to say:

I read your stuff about PUA’s and how they are teaching men such horrible things […]   I am so glad and appreciative for what you wrote, I was beginning to think I was being dumb for not following these guys teachings, but I am glad I didn’t.  See how they play upon a man’s fears and desires? […] I treat women with respect and as human beings. I value their opinions, their thoughts,etc. The best part is when you meet someone and treat her well and she respects that and expects that ie-doesn’t take yuo for granted. Its not sex focused like these asshats preach. So the sexual tension builds naturally between both  people over time. It seems like it is so bad, that women are confused a bit when a guy like me approaches them to chat. It’s like I get murdered by assumptions. […] I only want one woman, but getting women here to see that is hard. I am not the typical nice guy who is scared to approach,etc. I am confident and nice and genuine, but my god, I have such a hard time. I am not bitter toward women, I am bitter toward these PUA’s who are ruining it for us and for all of you. [emphasis, of course, added; edited for privacy’s sake.]

Gary, thank you for writing.

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A reader, Alec, sent me an email yesterday with a link to this article, about the level of representation in the current US Congress as it relates to the population at large. It’s pretty clear that the Congress is not really representative of the US population demographics. Check it out:

 Males – As of the 2006 congress, 83.7% of the Congress is male, while the percentage of males of the voting age population (18 plus) is only 48.4. If this is further evaluated to include the over-representation of white males, the figure is even more staggering: 36.3% of the voting age population are white males, yet there are 79 White Male senators making up the Senate (79%).

[…]

The Wealthy/Educated – In the Senate, fifty-six senators hold degrees in the law, seven have MBA’s, and four have MD’s. The majority of COngress members come from upper-middle class to upper class income backgrounds, and the jobs themselves as Representatives and Senators pay $165,200 per year putting them in the top 5 percent of American household incomes, which does not reflect spouses income either (top 5% is deliniated by $157,000 per household).

On a similar note, the front-runner candidates for President in both parties (many of whom are currently serving in the Senate) had incomes that placed them in the top 1% of the population. Rudy Guiliani made 16.1 million dollars in 2006 with $45 million in assets, John Edwards $1.25 million in income and $29.5 million in assets, Barack Obama reported $938,000 in income and over 1 million dollars in assets, and possible third party candidate Michael Bloomberg has over 6.5 billion in his personal fortune.

Jews – While comprising 1.8% of the total United States population, Jews make up 7 percent of the Congress. This disproportional representation is extended higher in the Senate, where 13% of senators are Jewish.

Please take care to note the incomes and assets of the presidential candidates. Make extra-special attention to whose personal wealth is lowest. Yes, that’s right, it’s Barack Obama – the only black presidential contender. hmmm. interesting.

 So that’s over-representation. The even sadder news is the flip-side of that coin, the under-representation, of women and people of colour. Check this out:

Women – Women of voting age represent 51.6 percent of the voting age population yet are 16.3% of the Congress, putting America below the global average of 17% female representation at parliamentary level. As of 2007, the US ranks 68th in terms of women holding office in the legislature — this puts the US just above Turkmenistan, and just below El Salvador and Panama. [emphasis mine – TG]

and women have all the rights we need? what do those rights actually mean when societal forces are in place to prevent them from being exercised and upheld? This is a clear-cut example of the very important difference between formal and substantive equality.  Who will fight for these important differences to be eliminated than feminists? feminism is far from over.

Moving on:

Latinos – Hispanics represent over 14% of the U.S. population, while their Congress representation is 3% in the Senate and about 5% in the House.

African-Americans – The Senate is 1% African American and the House is roughly 9.2% African American compared to the 12.3 percent of American population that are of Black or African-American descent.

This is absolutely pathetic. And wholly related to the above point, about class. Note me, and note me well: class does not run deeper than race. Race and class are deeply interwoven, and that’s not because of class discrimination, it’s because of racism. People of colour are proportionately far far poorer than whites in these wealthiest of countries of ours, and it’s because they’re not white. Plain and simple. Get it through your heads, kids. Saying that blacks and hispanics are excluded from politics because they’re poor is a pretty pathetic excuse for an excuse. Stop and ask yourself : why are they poorer, statistically and significantly, than white folks? it doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together.

 Thanks to Alec for providing me with some fodder for a post!

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Women: the weaker sex.

Ever since I was a child, this phrase rankled me. First of all, are not, I know you are but what am I, I’m rubber and you’re glue, etc. Second of all, why say “weaker” instead of something else, like “gentler” or “peacefuller” or something. Third of all, are not.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this a little bit lately, in relation to the whole power in language thing I’ve been talking about. What is “strong”? What is “weak”? Who gets to decide and define these words/concepts? To what advantage? To whose advantage?

Those who like to point out the biological differences between men and women (as if that’s justification for thewidespread social oppression women experience) usually like to point this one out, like it’s a given. Men are stronger than women. Period. Full Stop. Some are a bit more generous and at least point out that men have better upper body strength and women have better lower body strength. But of course, we know what’s valued more highly, even when it’s not said explicitly. Because everything to do with men is valued more highly.

But what is “strong” anyway? It obviously has nothing to do with childbirth (but that wouldn’t be fair to use as a point of comparison, of course, since men can’t do it and we’ll never really know, so they say). And of course there are women out there who are plenty strong, stronger than most men, women who bodybuild and are athletes and things like that. There are women who could kick the ass of just about anyone reading this, male or female. And there are men who are far “weaker” than the “average” woman. But of course, these cases are atypical, so shouldn’t be considered to be counter-examples. We’re talking about the general “truth”, so they say.

Now, regular readers will know that I am obsessed somewhat with social construction theory. So consider this: perhaps women are “weaker” than men because women are socialized to be weaker than men from a very young age. Girls are taught that things like dance and gymnastics are proper ways to express one’s girl-self. Girls are taught that they must keep their movements restricted to avoid opening their legs too far and exposing their private-but-covered-with-underwear va-jay-jays, because girls are dressed quite often in frilly and impractical clothing that they mustn’t ruin. Girls are taught to settle down, don’t be so loud, don’t be so raucous, just sit there quietly, knees together, ankles crossed, hands folded, be demure. Girls are taught that sports are a bit “butchy” and unfeminine. Girls have few female role models to look up to who are professional athletes because not every sport has professional leagues for women or even allow women to participate. Almost all the professional sports teams and leagues are male only, and when women do become wonderful athletes, they don’t get support, they are called derogatory names before a national audience to shame them. Girls are taught not to eat too much, and in families, usually see their fathers and brothers getting larger portions (particularly of meat) than their mothers and sisters. Girls are in a double bind, because they are taught to be concerned about their weight, but also to be restricted in their physical activities, which leaves girls to dieting and eating disorders to keep their weight down – which results in undernourished girls who are, indeed, physically weak.

Then, of course, there’s the whole legacy of ovarian determinism women have to deal with: our wacky hormones make us unpredictable and hysterical and prone to fainting, and our menstrual cycles are controlled by the moon, and what could be crazier than that? Don’t laugh, this was one of the dominant medical discourses that came about around the time of industrialization and caused women to be relegated to the private sphere and not be permitted to participate in public life, after a couple hundred years of agrarian living during which women were pretty heavy labourers and despite the fact that all domestic work fell to women (and we’re not talking about setting up the Roomba and doing some light Swiffer-dusting, we’re talking about carrying huge pots of water for the laundry and scrubbing it by hand, and dragging all the carpets outside to beat them and then dragging them back in again).

So again, what is “strong”? what is “weak”? and how much of it is really biologically driven?

Besides that, if women are really weaker and that is a matter of pure unadulterated biology (although, of course, nothing is unadulterated biology because we always have an interaction of biology and society that transforms the biological through social practice), why should that be a negative thing? Why should (male) strength be more highly valued? Why should it be that “men are strong and women are weak,” instead of “women are not quite as strong”? Why does everything to do with men get higher value, and why does everything have to be “men as a class” compared to “women as a class”?

This is the stuff that drives me: around the bend, as well as to keep on discussing and breaking these false binaries apart. (Sage, how about this as a lesson for your gender and women’s studies class?)

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