Gender rewrite Essay
The issues on gender became one of the crucial topics in various disciplines, such as in sociology and anthropology. Gender is a discourse that we can see not only on the academic community but also a discourse we experience in our mundane activities each day. By merely walking along busy streets one can observe social realities concerning gender such as, sexy women on the cover page of a men’s magazine, prostitution, sexual abuse and many others. Even the simple way of observing people at the park, such as who usually accompanies children? What color of dress parents assign to a baby girl or a baby boy? For example, I would remember one instance where my friends who expect to have a baby boy, prefer to buy blue-colored things since they believe it is “more appropriate” for their baby’s gender. By gender norms, I would understand it as the expected behavior for each sex (male /female). It is usually in these norms that one can find if there are unequal treatment between men and women in society. People sometimes do not find it disturbing that in some societies, the preference for a boy rather than a girl for a child is a kind of mentality brought by cultural expectations and practices. This is taken for granted but when one looks at it, the very problem lies on how society creates norms that would favor one sex over another.
Through history, some societies favor the idea that men have always been the strong, the aggressive and the productive. But who will claim that these traits are biologically innate to the male? Gender roles are not biological, rather these are expectations given by society. Male and female have distinct physiological characteristics (such as difference in the reproductive system), however, defining what it means “to be male or to be female” and on how will the sexes interact on given social settings is shaped by society.
If a woman carries the burden of rearing her children, it is not nature rather it is society that dictates this role. Martin for instance, looked at the second rate position of women, at the discourse in biology such as the value of the egg and the sperm cells. Interestingly, Martin portrayed how the use of language in discussing the process of fertilization depicts the question of “power.” Should the sperm as it is usually described as active, penetrates the egg or should the egg as it is usually described as passive, engulfs the sperm? Language is so powerful that it transmits meanings and represents norms. In this case gender norms are depicted in the way science used language. Moreover, in continuously using sexist language we are creating a sexist culture.
Part of the things that gender norms teach us is on the roles or tasks that we should do as a female or a male. The burden of child rearing for example was left to the mothers as if no other member of society is responsible to the young. Cases of infanticide due too extreme poverty are even treated by some sectors of society as normal. This is seen in Scheper-Hughes article, discussing the stories of mothers in Brazil, who were conditioned by society not to weep over their children’s death and treat it as a course of nature. This does not only show how poverty steal the lives of many young but also shows in what way gender overlaps with class, race and other social categories. As an Asian male, I could relate to these realities because I may suffer discrimination as a member of a specific racial identity, but I would feel more privilege than my female counterpart because the norms put much favor on males.
When I reflect on these gender issues, I would find myself contemplating on the similarities and differences that one can find here in New York and in my place of origin or other Asian countries. There are various differences in gender norms, from the normative way of clothing to the manner of speaking. In my experience for instance, I have Filipino friends who would describe how painstaking it is to court a lady and that lady should be passive not to show off to a guy because she might be labeled by society as promiscuous. When you are labeled as such, you will be treated badly by other people such as verbal abuse or gossips. The lady should be conservative and refine in talking to the guy or else Elders from the community will scold her. I find this as an extremely different practice compared to those who live here in New York. Though one can also observe that these practices are changing through time, yet it captures how our actions as male or female, are bound by cultural norms. On the other hand, I find similarities here in New York and in Taiwan, with regards to how homosexuals (who are considered as deviants) are treated badly since it is believed that they violate gender norms. While I cannot generalize, there are incidences that we see gay bashing as a reaction of some members of society to homosexuality. Even in more liberal cities, gays still experience ostracism, discriminations, and sometimes abuses only because their sexual orientation is not “normal” or acceptable in the community. While I am a heterosexual, and happily living with my girlfriend, I think it is unfortunate for homosexuals to be treated as such, because they are also entitled for the protection of their basic human rights. This put me in a realization that, when we violate these gender norms we experience various forms of sanctions ranging from informal sanctions such as in the form of “gossips” and some even codify it and serve as formal sanctions (in the form of laws). For instance, some policy makers create laws either in support to the gay community or against them. These show how different societies reacts whenever a person violates certain gender norms.
My experience of both world, that of my Asian origin and of my stay here in New York, reminds me of the inspiring ethnographies of Mexicans in Douglas Foley’s book that showed how they were able to safeguard their identities even on contested terrains. There are social forces that affect the way we view gender roles and the way we view our identities. The good thing that anthropology teaches us is that, we create these gender norms and therefore, we can change them if necessary.
Foley, Douglas. Learning Capitalist Culture. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.
Martin, Emily. “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance
Based on a Stereotypical Male-Female Roles,” in Signs: Journal of Women in
Culture and Society.vol 16 no.3. The University of Chicago Press, 1991.
Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. “Death Without Weeping, Has Poverty Ravaged the Mother
Love in the Shantytowns of Brazil?” in Natural History. October 1989.