Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Our Investment in Gender

As a culture, we have a lot invested in gendering our citizens. Don't believe us? Then why do people freak out so much when a person of one gender acts like a person of another?

It should be no big deal. Major League Baseball offers paternity leave. It's a personal decision whether or not players want to take it. A player decides to take advantage and misses a game to attend the birth of his child. End of story, right? Not exactly.

A Dallas sports writer publishes an entire rant because he thinks a guy taking time off from work to do girly things like have babies is so weird. Funerals, he's OK with, they're unisex. But birth is strictly a woman's domain, so no men allowed.

Also, boys should never, ever paint their toenails. And if a company like J Crew happens to print an ad about a mother having some bonding time with her son by painting his toenails his favorite color, the frenzy might just reach epic proportions. Don't believe us? Google it. We'll wait.

All sarcasm aside, this gender policing has real consequences for people.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a Mississippi high school football player wanted to wear pink cleats. He got kicked off the team for it and might not graduate on time.

A 17-month old boy was beaten to death in New York for "acting like a girl".

"Corrective Rape", the horrible crime whereby gay men and lesbian women are raped by persons of the opposite sex in order to "fix" their being gay has its own Wikipedia entry.

So why is our society so invested in this? Why do we care if women do things that are considered masculine and men do things that are considered feminine?

Chalk it up to power. Men are more valuable in our society, and they have more power. It's why rape and domestic violence are committed. If women acted like men, maybe we could claim some of that value and some of that power. That has to be stopped. And why on Earth would a man want to act like a woman? Women are worthless. To be a woman is bad. Therefore, there must be something very wrong with a man who wants to do feminine things. That has to be stopped, too.

If we get to a point in our society where women and men are equally valued and equally respected, gender won't matter so much. Until then, gender policing will be alive and well and to step outside your narrowly defined box could be very dangerous. Literally, dangerous.


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Carol Napier said...

I wonder how many of those people who "freak out" when a man acts like a woman or a woman acts like a man (whatever those phrases mean)sit in a place of worship every week and hear God referred to as male. (And if God is male, then of course, male is superior to female) Churches, synagogues, mosques all have the wonderful potential to help create, alongside God, a world in which all people are valued, but that will never happen as long as religious institutions teach people, every Friday, every Saturday, and every Sunday, that God is male. Religious organizations need to tell people the truth --- God does not have boy parts, God does not have girls parts, and God doesn't really care whether you have boy parts or girl parts. When religious institutions start telling the truth about God, then the world will change.

I am a mother of two daughters, I sit in a United Methodist Church each Sunday and say "Our Heavenly Parent" very loudly when others are saying "Father." I have a bumper sticker on my car that says "God does not have boy parts or girl parts." Remember, you must be the change you wish to see in the world.