Sunday, September 26, 2010

Main Post 9/28

Man or woman? ...who cares!

In the first chapter of the book, called "Dueling Dualisms" Anne Fausto-Sterling's begins by discussing how the differences between the social expression of gender as well the physical underpinnings of gender have been intensely debated over the last few decades. Sexologists, Money and Ehrhardt introduced the now popular idea that gender and sex are two different and separate categories, with sex as signifying "physical attributes and is anatomically and physiologically determined" and gender as a "psychological transformation of the self" or the "conviction that one is either male or female...and the behavior expressions of that conviction" (3). The 1970's second-wave feminists, for example, believed in these two separate categories and thought that social institutions created and maintained gender equality by producing differences between men and women. They would claim that having a vagina vs. a penis is a sex distinction, but boys supposedly being better at math is a gender difference (created by society, not inborn). Fausto-Sterling then goes on to say how scientists have created truths about sexuality, our bodies then confirm these truths (which are shaped by the scientists' social environment), and these truths then, in turn, shape our social and cultural environment. However, it is important to note that ideas and facts about sexuality and the body change with history and different social and political climates--they are not static. Fausto-Sterling for the remainder of the chapter talks about dualisms (pairs of opposing beliefs or philosophies), which many people use to analyze sexuality: sex vs. gender (as already discussed), real (we are born with certain sexual inclinations and desires) vs. constructed (the environment in which we grow up in shapes our sexual inclinations and desires), and nature vs. nurture. Unless I missed something or did not understand part of the reading, I came out of reading this chapter, thinking that real vs. constructed and nature vs. nurture were essentially the same distinctions (i.e. real=nature and constructed=nurture).

In the second chapter we read, titled "That Sexe Which Prevaileth," Fausto-Sterling focuses on how European and American culture has insisted on a 2-sex dichotomy. Our language even refuses the possibility of having more than 2 sexes (we are restricted to he or she). Determining one's sex has huge consequences in our societies politically, socially, and legally.
Surgeries are often even performed to maintain this 2-sex system so that intersexuals have become decreasingly acknowledged. While society may wants to maintain 2 sexes, many people's bodies resist this distinction, as there are some people (known as intersexuals and sometimes hermaphrodites), who have anatomical parts that are conventionally attributed to men and others, which are attributed to women. Throughout history different cultures have viewed and "handled" intersexuals differently. However, even if there was more acceptance in certain cultures, differentiating between men and women and maintaining the 2-sex system was at the core of social, legal, and political systems and structure in Europe. As biology began to emerge as a prominent field in the early 18th century, it was given the authority of deciding who was a hermaphrodite or intersexual and who was not. In doing so, it claimed that hermaphrodites were natural in that there were medical explanations for their state, however they were also declared abnormal and needed to be corrected. Soon medical technology allowed for this correction of "nature's mistakes" to be possible. In what Fausto-Sterling calls the "hermaphrodite vanishing act," scientists placed narrower restrictions on who truly could be labeled a hermaphrodite--gonads become the only defining factor for sex. As Fausto-Sterling claims, "people of mixed sex all but disappeared, not because they had become rarer, but because scientific methods classified them out of existence" (39). And furthermore, in order to be participants in legal and political systems, hermaphrodites were told they had position themselves within the 2-gender system by choosing to be whichever sex "dominates their personality" (36), and once they chose there was no turning. Into the 19th century, politics insisted that there be 2 distinct sexes and political inequality continued as "scientists defined some bodies as better and more deserving of right than others" (39). The 20th century and an increased understanding of the physiological bases of intersexuality as well as strides in surgical technology, allowed for doctors to "catch" the majority of intersexuals and surgically make them one sex. While on one hand they simply wanted these individuals to be able to fit into society better, the sudden desire and need to physically place them within the 2-sex dichotomy reveals the assumptions that only 2 sexes should exist, only heterosexuality was normal, and that specific gender roles were defining characteristics for the "psyhcologically healthy man and woman" (44).

In the chapter we read for "Listen Up," we hear the story of Jennifer Reid Maxcy Myhre, a feminist who decides to get a crew-cut (and later shave her head), stop shaving her legs and armpits, and stop wearing makeup, jewelry, and girly clothes. She talks about how in her daily life she faces stares, deterred or offended by this treatment--she simply finds it completely illustrative of people's views about gender and appearance and how the two are wound so tightly together. She claims that we judge people to be male or female based on their physical appearance, and for this reason, she makes people feel uncomfortable as she does not easily fit into either of the two distinct gender categories that people have engrained in their minds. Jannifer Myhre does not need the approval of society (and primarily men) to live a fulfilling life. She has no desire to waste her time and money primping herself and transforming herself into society's ideal vision of what a woman should look like. She advocates that we should not be afraid of being called words such as "masculine" and "butch," for their only true meaning is that we "take control of our bodies and lives" (88) and that we are indifferent to the male gaze. These words, as she claims, are simply used to keep women down and silent them.

No comments:

Post a Comment