07 January 2010

Taking it down to semantics and definitions

From ABC News:
    Efforts to promote 'transgenderism' in public policy deconstruct one of the most fundamental concepts known to mankind. It renders gender, the most basic organization of social systems, completely meaningless. In doing so, activists like Simpson are asking the rest of society to radically reorder the ways in which the culture makes reasonable and rational accommodation for the two genders," [Monica Schleicher, spokeswoman for Christian group Focus on the Family] said.

There's actually a pretty big difference between gender identity and gender role. When transpeople are talking about the topic, they mean identity. When everyone else does, they usually mean role (as Ms. Schleicher does). This conflation is what causes a lot of confusion and frustration, I think.


Anonymous said...

Well, from my experience, there's a strong inclination of deconstructing gender roles too especially from the various feminist circles which advocate transgender rights too (among other things). And I don't see anything wrong with that...while the spokeperson in your quote wants to put it like an evil thing.

If it weren't for the deconstruction of gender roles, we would be living in a very different world today and Monica could hardly even dream about being a spokeperson for any organization whatsoever.

But yes. I agree. Those are two separate battles altogether!

MWT said...

Considering what she's a spokesperson of, that's not really a surprise. ;)

However: I hope you have a better understanding now of what I mean when I say that I really don't have much interest in the topic of deconstruction of gender roles and feminism and whatnot. It's great that people care and debate it, but it's not where my interest lies.

Janiece said...

I can't believe your head didn't explode from quoting a FOTF freak on your lovely blog.


MWT said...

That's your head's job. :D

Anonymous said...

I understand. But I'm trying to point out that people who advocate transgender rights often advocate the deconstruction of gender roles. And I can see how a 'FOTF freak' (as Janice has nicely put it) would mix those two up...since both are the Devil's work. :P

And it's not only that people 'care' or 'debate' it. People fight for it too. ; on a quite practical level and for decades now (I'd even daresay centuries) ;)

MWT said...

Yes, I know - and that's awesome and they're doing great work and stuff. And I can see you enjoy discussing it quite a lot. I can also recommend Janiece's Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History feature over on her blog, since you're into that sort of thing.

It's just that I don't have any particular opinion on any of that. I'm more interested in talking about issues of gender identity.

Janiece said...

MWT, you're right. Those jerkoffs offend me on a fundamental level.

But on the subject at hand, I have to say that for me, the issue is gender identity. Perhaps because I've spent my entire adult life in male dominated professions, I don't worry about gender roles anymore - I just do what I'm good at, arrange my life to my own satisfaction, and hope my daughter does the same.

Gender identity, however, is something that the larger culture still has some trouble with. Even those who believe in equal rights for everyone as a matter of principle are uncomfortable with gender identity issues. It might be generational to a certain extent, though. My own kids are far more accepting than I was at that age, just as I am more accepting than my own mother.

So do you expose people to issues of gender identity who have no close relationships with LGBT individuals?

robertsloan2art said...

Thanks for distinguishing the two. They are very different ideas. Many transgendered people I've known are conservative in terms of their own gender roles -- not necessarily in judging other people's but actually for their own decisions leaning a lot toward tradition.

One of the things I think about a lot in terms of deconstructing gender roles is the way that people across cultures do want to have some definitions and public awareness of gender. Some cultures have more than two categories, all do seem to have some things defined as feminine or masculine, especially that people can display.

In America, one thing I noticed is that anyone who doesn't conform to anything gets attacked on gender. Men who read books and wear glasses are "effeminate" while women who read books and wear glasses are "too masculine." Mysteriously, these intellectuals with glasses wind up finding each other and marrying and finding out they have too few bookshelves when they're straight, so this is a complete Catch-22 of a gender attack. The same thing gets attacked as being both too masculine and too feminine, when the real point of it is to discourage reading and thinking.

I can see why you quoted this to stir up discussion and the discussion is great. They really are different issues and both of them do need attention. One is that in order to effectively liberate women from previous gender roles, new ones need to emerge that are less restrictive economically and socially.

robertsloan2art said...

Oh, and as for two genders, aside from attempts to label gay or lesbian people as another gender entirely, there are people born with both sets of genitals and they are definitely human beings. Many of them get subjected to infant sex reassignment surgery which always leaves them missing what was taken. There are more than two genders in reality, her argument is an argument that anyone who doesn't fit the "cisgender" model isn't human or doesn't exist.

That kind of disconfirmation is one of the cruelest things a human being can do to another, period.

MWT said...

It's the quote I used because it was the one that the ABC News article had, and was the one that reminded me I had that particular point to make. I didn't notice who said it until I was copy/pasting in the attribution. But regardless of who spoke, what she said was the part I wanted to address. (It's a perspective I learned from places like RPoL and Wikipedia, where identity matters much less than what's actually being said.)

Umm, anyway. To get back to the original topic. ;)

So do you expose people to issues of gender identity who have no close relationships with LGBT individuals?

I'm sort of semi-out..ish.. depending on where I am. In a lot of places, I try to mention it in passing if the topic happens to come up, but I don't like to make a big deal out of it. On my real-name facebook account I'm marked down as male, which occasionally gets queries. In Real Life(TM) most people tend toward female pronouns, even knowing in advance, and most of the time I don't feel like arguing about it because it just brings everything else to a halt and puts me in a spotlight. (I suppose you could say I'm a coward.) I've tried to explain it to people who did show some interest, with varying results. One guy recently who was clearly left-leaning, just couldn't wrap his mind around it at all; I think he prefers to assume I was joking. Most people that I mention it to in passing, though, seem to prefer to pretend it never happened. Then there are other places where I think it's better not to divulge too many personal details, such as RPoL's main chat, where I'm the lead moderator. It's distracting while I'm laying down the law. ;)

I should also note that even LBG individuals don't necessarily have any clue about T people (not to mention the bickering between LG and B groups, people with AIDS and without, etc. etc. etc.). It's definitely not one unified monolithic front.

I'm also quite well acquainted with not being able to wrap my mind around the concept of transpeople. There was an MTF in my youth (who was not out to me) that I kept trying to out, and was kind of mean about it. So, you know, I'm aware of what it's like to be on the other side too...

MWT said...

Many transgendered people I've known are conservative in terms of their own gender roles -- not necessarily in judging other people's but actually for their own decisions leaning a lot toward tradition.

Yeah, that. The key difference is between "woman who wants to do what a man traditionally does" (i.e. Janiece), which is a gender role issue, as compared to "a man who wants to do what a man does, but happens to look like a woman" which is a gender identity issue.

Anonymous said...

The problem that the spokesperson has, is that she is only seeing a binary - one in which there are clearly defined gender roles. It's the extremely conservative view that men hunt, women rear children.

In this, she does not accept that a person assigned male at birth can ever do those female roles, even if they have transitioned. Likewise for transition the other way. She is also possibly, by the sounds of it, aware of the fact that many hold to an identity without any transition.

For myself, I do believe it is a matter in which issues such as feminism are firmly embedded. In this I don't see such a stark difference, in political terms, between identity and role: sure, there are subtle differences of emphasis but these are not really that central to any struggle.

That said, the differences are important to note at an interpersonal level and I support any efforts to do so.

The reality, however, is that gender stereotypes are central to both identity and role.

Here the issue goes beyond feminism and hightlights the big danger of applying early forms of feminism nowadays.

The early movement fought for access to the workplace and so on, successfully to a good degree, but they soon realised that this was not enough, because the actual stereotypes went well beyond this. 2nd Wave feminism tried to address the stereotypes themselves while, in doing so, granting women the right to adhere or not. It moved to a fight for the freedom to be 'equal' as each woman defines it.

This of course had problems and still does. There are silly arguments about 'women who chose to remain slaves' harming the movement as a whole.

Now, we are entering, finally, the real battleground - Genderism. Feminism could never completely succeed because it was women doing most of the pushing. Even those men who didn't care, well - many of them didn't offer any help, because they did not care.

In effect, there was little meeting half-way.

However, this started to change later as the SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy) arrived and then the Metrosexual. These guys did make moves toward a commonground - they were themselves alienated, trying to get free of the stereotypes as well - their own side of the trap at least.

So what is the significance of this?

Simple. Genderism. This recent development understands that both males and females, and all between, are trapped in the same system. It acknowledged that males also experienced pressure to obey the stereotypes.

As pointed out by Robert, a guy who refuses to obey the 'rules' is often sanctioned, quite harshly.

Yes, males traditionally benefited more in the power-relations side of the system, but ... that is not relevant to the issue itself. That is, in order to break down those stereotypes and, from a feminist perspective, gain freedom from them ... men also have to be freed of their own pressures to obey.

If this does not happen, well it becomes a zero sum game. Unless you change the entire system you can never get free of the stereotypes.

In this, transgender folk often have a unique perspective - especially the Genderqueer among them. They are, by their very struggle to be enfranchised, caught in those stereotypes from every angle.

And the fact that many TG folk fall into line with those stereotypes does not diminish their position in that trap. It merely highlights it further. In order to press their claim to a gender of choice, they often try to follow the new stereotype.

So role and identity are all tangled I think. Because, at the end of it all, to create a better paradigm - fairer - we have to deconstruct gender. Issues of Identity are central to this and roles are also.


Aka, is it really easy to separate them?

robertsloan2art said...

Kate, you make some really good points.

All I'm saying is that because anthropology shows that there is some human tendency to have gender roles -- of some kind -- cross cultural, the deconstruction of oppressive gender roles needs to be accompanied by the development of positive new ones.

Gender's as much a continuum as sexual preference, some people are more gendered than others. I am one of the extremes, I don't fit the "androgyne" mold at all. In some cultures I would be confusingly foreign.

I think that for myself I have to just accept other people at their self definitions and respect them for who they are. I draw the line when they tell me who to be, because there's no way I'm putting up with any more of that again. I don't fit a whole lot of other stereotypes either.

One of the important things I see in changing gender roles is that there has to be a socially acceptable way to lay them aside. Where people like me who are very gendered can go on being who we are -- and those who don't fit those extremes can set it aside completely or go in their very real other directions.

As mentioned in the afterthought, a healthy society would recognize the gender of a hermaphrodite person, a full androgyne, as something real and positive without expecting that person to be only half of who they are. Yet genderless pronouns don't seem to stick well in the language, it's been tried for decades.

What people actually do when they don't know is use the plural as genderless pronoun. "If someone says this, they will do X" or something like that. I fall into that myself, because it's easier than explaining something like hir to someone who doesn't read science fiction. How do you pronounce that anyway?

Abolishing all gender expression would be the draconian answer. Creating more diverse and healthier roles with more than one category for the people who aren't in the two popular cisgenders (do love that term!) would be a positive thing.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely Robert. If I implied otherwise it was not my intent.

This is why I said that I find those arguments, in which some feminists claim any woman who stays within stereotypes is betraying the movement, are basically silly and distracting from the essential goal.

The aim is not to deconstruct gender to leave it meaningless, rather it is to reconstruct it until it is open and more flexible. In this regard, people would be free to have the gender expression of their choice.

So yes, remove the negative aspects, such as shaming others into obeying the 'rules' via perogatives etc. You know the whole macho 'you sissy' thing and the whole uberfemme backbiting :D

So yes, I agree. The goal I intended to detail is one in which oppressive gender reinforcement is removed. It isn't about guys acting more feminine or women more masculine ... that's a hollow road. Rather it should be about decoupling gender from social power structures such as status.

Hence, not feminism .. but Genderism.