Give The Patriarchy Back Its Toys; They’re Dirty

November 7, 2009 at 11:02 AM (Uncategorized)

This is a topic that leaves me sputtering and slapping my forehead so, I scarcely know where to begin to express myself coherently.

Let me begin with a perspective. I actually think of this as “the truth,” but I refer to it as a perspective to put the reader into my shoes.

I’ve already discussed masculinity and femininity. They are fictions. They are tools of oppression, perpetrated through the generations by various means: shaming, ostracization, violence, etc. They are examples of what are called “gender roles,” social roles, stereotypes and expectations arbitrarily assigned to people based on genitalia and secondary sex characteristics. Clearly, they are bad things.

Holding onto that state of mind, imagine my shock, confusion, and irritation as I behold the following sequence of events:

The “roles” in “gender roles” is mostly omitted. People now speak of “gender,” or, sometimes “gender identity.” People talk about “choosing” and “finding” their gender identity. They talk about “gender” as if it’s a personal characteristic. They speak of it as if it were something positive. They don’t want to disrupt or destroy the system of gender; they want to play with it, respect it, champion it as a form of diversity, and so forth and so on.

Did I miss something? When did gender become something positive? When did something that is more or less forced on us become a legitimate part of one’s identity? How does one choose something that is by definition chosen for us?

Thinking the meaning of “gender” changed when my back was turned, I did a little research on this topic. I checked dozens of dictionaries, paper and online. I checked all sorts of websites: websites for “gender” clinics, psychiatry websites, “queer” forums, personal websites that described someone’s “personal gender.” Most of them were too vague to be of help, using the terms without explanation, either explicit or implicit. Maddeningly, several wasted my time with what we call a “recursive definition” in computer science, using the word being defined in the definition. Some defined “gender identity” in terms of “gender,” although the two seemed to be used interchangeably in many other places.

Most recently, I have come across several books and blogs written by and/or about transsexuals and/or the transgendered, and, occasionally, extrapolated to everyone, and they seem to confirm that “gender” has not changed so much after all; they write of it as a kind of social role. What is utterly bizarre, however, is that they and many others seem to think that one or more “genders” is a part of who they and others are, and/or are freely chosen. That they conceive of “gender” as something positive, or at least neutral, is unambiguous. The message coming out loud and clear is that (most of them) want no part of being forced into patriarchal gender, but there is some other “gender” system, it has more than two components, hell, practically infinitely many components, and everybody can have whatever “gender” they want to have, and if only everyone would follow this system, it could help to put an end to genders being forced on people.

My short response to this is, what the hell? The longer response is hey, you know that saying about the master’s tools? Just as some people think they can somehow drag two specific genders, masculinity and femininity, out of the patriarchal sandbox and play nice with them as they choose, others (and there is certainly overlap) think they can take the the whole dull hack saw of gender itself out of the butcher’s shop and neatly organize their lives with it without severing any veins.

Now, I know that the dumb and dull masses (here I cannot truly speak for populations outside of the U.S.) are content to spend their lives grazing on patriarchal fictions, sheep happily fenced in by more or less rigid gender roles. Perhaps foolishly, though, I thought that the various sorts of “queer” people would have more of a feminist consciousness than to be duped into the same old lie: that Gender Is Good, Gender Is Natural. At least some of them know that “genders” are culturally and historically contingent, as I often see mention of “two-spirits” and this culture’s x and that civilization’s y, yet they continue to speak of some sort of personal gender, as if it were something that exists outside of society. Even some of those who eschew claiming a gender seem to think it’s like choosing not to wear a belt or get a tattoo, as opposed to a significant act of bravery of political ramifications, that, nevertheless, is not completely within their power to live out, to the extent that most (if not all) societies will continue to gender them whether they accept it or not.

Gender is a cultural phenomenon; there are no individual genders. It is a system created on a foundation of sexual difference, so it makes no sense to say that “anyone can be x gender;” if anyone can be x, then x is not sex-specific, and thus isn’t a gender! If we’re talking about personal characteristics that are not sex-specific…wouldn’t the proper term for that be “personality”?

Gender is not something to play with. It’s something to be destroyed.

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7 Comments

  1. Undercover Punk said,

    I like this. A LOT. Thank you.

  2. m Andrea said,

    This one is AWESOME!! Too many good ideas to ooh and ah over just one.

  3. m Andrea said,

    However, I am stealing this:

    If we’re talking about personal characteristics that are not sex-specific…wouldn’t the proper term for that be “personality”?

    So it must be special! (With attribution, of course!) It’s something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. “Character” is something one believes to be true about oneself, while “reputation” is something one is assumed to be by others. They keep thinking that they can force other people to believe their own opinion of themselves, but reputation doesn’t work that way. Once again, male entitlement at work…

  4. m Andrea said,

    Unless of course you mind that I quote you all over the place?

  5. Undercover Punk said,

    @mAndrea

    “Character” is something one believes to be true about oneself, while “reputation” is something one is assumed to be by others. They keep thinking that they can force other people to believe their own opinion of themselves, but reputation doesn’t work that way. Once again, male entitlement at work…

    NICE!!

  6. Nikki said,

    THIS IS AWESOME! I’ve been trying to say this for the longest fxcking time! You took the words right out of my mouth! Amazing! Amazing! AMAZING!

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