Gender and Language Essay
Gender and Language
Below is an excerpt from an article by BBC News, concerning Miss Hamassa Kohistani, who was crowned Miss England 2005. The news article, entitled “Beauty Queen Defies Bimbo Stereotype,” dealt with the beauty queen’s agenda during her reign. Kohistani’s main program revolves around the reduction of child illiteracy in Pakistan and engagement in charity work in her native country, Afghanistan. (O’Shea, 2006).
Talking about her fortunate chance at getting quality education when her family was exiled from Afghanistan, Kohistani said, “People from my background especially, we haven’t had the opportunity to take education for granted.” (O’Shea, 2006).
On her visit to a school run by a charitable institution called Zindagi Trust, the beauty queen met with very young children who gave her homemade gifts, and she was depressed by the thought that they would then be returning to their low pay jobs. She was quoted to have said, “It’s hard to see them go back to the streets and work when they’re so happy in a classroom.” (O’Shea, 2006).
Aside from Kohistani’s charitable work, the article likewise dealt with her desire to change people’s perception and stereotype of beauty queens as bimbos. She said, “It’s not just that I appreciate education as an Afghan woman, it’s also about being a model and having an education…People stereotype beauty queens and models so much and think, oh, you know, she’s a bimbo.” (O’Shea, 2006).
Gender and sex are two very different things. Sex is a scientific attribute, which consists in the biological differences between males and females. Such differences lie in their X and Y chromosomes. These differences are the reasons for other differences that will develop as males and females grow older.
Gender, on the other hand, is a mere construct resulting from the biological differences of the sexes. It consists of the different social, cultural, and psychological constructs, including the meanings and values attributed by society to males and females. Because of the basic biological differences of males and females, society created certain behavioral expectations from people belonging to these different sets of persons, and these expectations also form a part of gender.
The excerpt given above is one manifestation of a construct or behavioral expectation created by society on one side of the sex dichotomy: male and female. As from a biological perspective, only females develop more beautiful skin and hair than men, and they grow certain body parts that do not similarly grow on males, women have been subjects of beauty contests in much greater instances than men. Indeed, innumerable beauty contests have been launched in every country of the world and not a few international contests have been presented in search of the world’s most beautiful women.
Together with this construct, however, is the development of a stereotype that beautiful women should look, talk, and act in a specified manner, mostly in accordance with what the authorities believe to be the embodiment of the ideal woman. This stereotype is what the subject of the article, beauty queen Hamassa Kohistani, wants to break free from.
It would be noted that the stereotype connected with beauty queens is a result largely of culture and history. For example, beauty queens have, for a long time, not been expected to be educated women. They were expected by society to be graceful and beautiful at all times, but not intelligent. They were also supposed to know feminine stuff, such as dancing, singing, and being a gracious host. These expectations on how females are supposed to behave spring from the dominant norms of sex, gender, and sexual identity as developed through history in every country. Thus, looking at these behavioral and societal constructs, or gender/sex role stereotypes (Definitions), it is easy to see that women have not been expected to be breadwinners of their family. They were not expected to have professions or college degrees. This is a result of the general norm of patriarchy in most countries of the world, where the male is the head of the family and is the one responsible for getting a good education and earning a living. This set of causes and effects form the poststructuralist approach to gender, whereby gender is looked upon as a construct based on differences, as much as a cause of further differences itself.
The culture of beauty pageants can also be analyzed using the practice theory. The associations supporting and organizing these beauty contests form an aggregate of people who believe in similar things and who endeavor to engage in one activity to pursue such interests. Thus, these event organizers may believe in the inherent beauty of women, which can be used in pursuing humanitarian or charitable causes. Consequently, this group would develop certain norms, practices and value system, which would be the emerging product of their collective endeavor.
Definitions. Retrieved January 31, 2007, from http://www.gender.org.uk/about/00_defin.htm.
O’Shea, C. (2006). Beauty Queen Defies Bimbo Stereotype. Retrieved January 31, 2007, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/5190774.stm