‘Oh Janice’ Or Uni low stakes writing week 2.
Gender is a fickle thing immediately obvious to all and yet invisible to most, only to be revealed when boundaries are pushed and certain taken for granted assumptions challenged.
How would it be best to define gender? With sex?
Or should we choose something even simpler, something more concrete than simple chromosomes?
I say we start with genitals.
Vaginas and Penises, those things on our bodies which determine who we are and some would say even how we should interact and behave.
But there’s something not quite right with that.
It really doesn’t cover all the bases.
After all if penises and vaginas make us male or female, then how come we do not display them all the time. Who’s to say that cute androgynous guy you saw walking down the street last week didn’t have a vagina.
You never looked.
‘But surely our genitals are what define us! And how we behave and how we act! They make men and women what they are! You can never change that!’ cry the likes of Janice Raymond.
Oh Janice, I’m afraid these things just don’t work that way; no matter how hard you agree that biological determinism makes us men or women, It simply isn’t so. You can argue social constructs to if you like, but then you’d be arguing in favour of the very thing you’ve been trying to change, which is that idea that men and women have to act a certain way!
More recent respected gender theorists such as Julia Serano and Kate Bornstein discuss what is known as ‘Gender Identity’ also sometimes called ‘Subconscious Sex’. This is the concept that gender is something far more complex linked to both biological status (our DNA) and our subconscious mind.
When you were born a girl, you were brought home from the hospital and you were dressed and given the things which girls should have. You were bought Barbies and dresses, your room was painted pink and you went on with your life. You considered this normal.
But where did you get the idea you were a girl? Nobody told you.
It’s not like somebody said to you one day ‘you are a girl, here is how you are’ and then handed you an instruction manual.
No nobody ever did, this was just something you knew. It seemed correct. The way of things.
And that is gender identity, that distinct inner sense of knowing who we are.
That certain je ne sais quoi of our identities.
The inner sense of knowing deep down if we are male, female, both, neither, other or just fluid.
Gender is a complex topic that you can’t define as easily as you might first imagine. I hope this brief intro encourages you to think more every day about how you perceive gender and the world.