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Every once and awhile something good bubbles up from the seething mass known as tumblr. This is a good summary of what sex and gender are and how they interact in our society.
“It seems like on here at tumblr there’s a lot of misinformation going around. people are using sex and gender interchangeably as if they mean the same thing. There’s a lot of unclear information and everything seems rally vague and distorted so the goal of this post is to help clear some of this up.
What are the differences between sex and gender?
The main difference is that sex describes your body’s biological reproductive role. Humans as a species reproduce sexually, as opposed to species which reproduce asexually, such as by budding. In human reproduction, a sperm cell will fertilize an egg cell and cause a pregnancy.
We call people whose biology designated them to be sperm depositors “male” and we call people who are designed by biology to be pregnancy carriers “female”. That is all these terms mean, they reference what role we would play in reproduction if we decided to produce offspring.
Gender on the other hand, is a big mass of controversy. See, unlike biological sex, gender is not innate. We are not born with a gender. Gender is a social construct–that means it only exists as long as society propagates it.
What is gender?
Gender is an oppressive force that dictates to people how they should behave, dress, act, what their role in life is, how to interact with other people, etc.. While specific gender roles and norms vary from culture to culture, in every culture, gender exists to tell people how to live, and it is always oppressive.
Gender is a hierarchy which places males above females. Gendered interaction dictates that women defer to men, that men are taken more seriously, that men are more credible, that men are treated as superior.
In our society, femininity is the gender role forced on to women, and masculinity is the gender role forced on to men. We also label objects and clothes and behaviors as “feminine” or “masculine” based on how these objects are linked to oppressive gender roles.
Why is femininity oppressive?
From the day we are born, female people are forced against our will in to the gender role of femininity. People will immediately begin to judge this tiny human, telling her she is “cute” and “pretty”. Even as she is first learning language and what words mean, she is also learning that it is rewarding to be “pretty” and that she receives praise for it. She will learn this way, since her birth, that her value as a person is determined by her visual appeal to others.
There is much literature written on the oppressive nature of femininity. In short, femininity is how society tells women to behave. Femininity is policing one’s appearance as if we are a visual object, paying rent in beauty just to exist in the world. Femininity is in our meekness, our smallness, how we are trained to put ourselves second and put men especially first, to be accommodating, to accept disrespect from men, to not have boundaries lest we insult men, to put male feelings above our own safety and bodily autonomy.
Femininity is not innate to women. It is something we are taught, something we are forced in to. Women do not naturally behave meekly, we are not born wanting to put make up on our faces.
The idea that gender is innate oppresses women.
Historically, women have been told that femininity, this forced gender role of being innate and subservient and meek and stupid and focused on vanity/appearance, is actually a biological innate part of who we are and is exactly what makes us women.
This idea, that femininity is natural to women, has been used to keep us out of science, to keep us oppressed housewives, because that is all that gender dictates we are good for (remember, gender is a hierarchy which tells you how to live).
Gender is obviously not innate–the existence of feral children, generally cases of extreme negligence, illustrates to us just how gender is something we are taught and not something we are born with. Women are not born with the idea that they must shave their legs and be meek and accommodating to men. This is not natural to us. Gender oppresses us.
Gender is an oppressive belief system and buying in to it continues the oppression of women.
The solution is gender abolition. If we abolish gender, nobody would be told how to live, what to wear, or how to behave. There would be no hierarchy placing males above females. Biological sex would continue to exist, because it is something made by evolution and required for reproduction of our species. But gender, the idea that your biological sex says anything about your personality, would not exist.
Males and females would each be permitted to have any kind of personality.
We would not needlessly assign femininity or masculinity to hobbies or toys or any other objects in order to limit peoples’ interests. Everyone could be free to be who they truly are, without oppressive gender labels telling people how to live.
Abolishing gender is best for everyone involved, and also liberates women from the oppressive system of gender.”
The front flowerbed at Arb’s and my place is starting to take off – perennials that I’ve planted over the couple years we’ve owned the house, are established enough now, that they can dedicate some energy to blooming! Of course, weather that’s good for flowers is also good for weeds, and our weed crop is plentiful, so I was out pulling weeds yesterday evening.
Working in the front yard is not a peaceful and relaxing experience for me. I feel self-conscious about bending over with my back to the street and my butt in the air and often get into weird positions trying to avoid it. I’m on edge and there’s a constant stream of snarky comebacks and verbal self-defense going on in my head, along with self-pep-talks about how this is my yard and I have the right to be in it and what I look like while doing yardwork is nobody’s business.
In a word: men.
Like last night when a carload of young men appeared seemingly out of nowhere, yelled something about my fat ass, and peeled out with a screech of tires and raucous laughter.
This shit doesn’t happen super-often – not every time I’m out in the front yard, for example. But it’s often enough that anticipating it and steeling myself against it, takes a non-negligible portion of my mental CPU cycles. It doesn’t matter that not every man who passes by harasses me, and that in general not all men harass women. Enough men harass women often enough, that being on guard against it is an almost-constant thing you do, if you’re a woman.
The tango that they dance in Argentina is a very, very different dance than you might see on Dancing with the Stars. It’s highly improvisational, and allows not only the leader, but also the follower, to make artistic decisions. Everything is communicated between the partners through physical contact, whether it’s a slight shift of the shared center of balance, or physically pushing with hands, feet, or legs. One guy that I taught tango to, who was into martial arts, commented that Argentine tango is very much like judo, except that the object is to NOT fall down.
Here are Miguel Angel Zotto and Milena Plebs dancing to “Gallo Ciego”, by Osvaldo Pugliese. By where they put little flourishes with their feet, you can tell they’re very familiar with this particular recording of this particular song, but the steps they do together could all be communicated with lead and follow, no need for pre-planned choreography.
One particularly interesting thing about Argentine tango is that because of its origins in a time and place where men significantly outnumbered available women, there’s also a tradition of men dancing with men, without any gay connotation to it – not that gay guys don’t dance tango together nowadays and make it very, very homoerotic. Here are brothers Enrique and Guillermo De Fazio, dancing a milonga – a country dance that was one of the precursors of tango. It uses many of the same steps as tango, but goes a whole heck of a lot faster. Because they do break apart a fair amount, some of this performance probably had to be pre-choreographed. Note how every once in a while they’ll trade who’s leading and who’s following. Enjoy the hot guy-on-guy milonga action!
Because tango music is in four beats per measure, you can actually dance it to any music that’s in a multiple of four. Here, a fan has taken an Argentine tango video, and redubbed it with VNV Nation (the band I introduced you to last week), and it works. In “real life” it’s hard to dance tango to industrial music, because when you go to venues where they play industrial music, you usually wear big, stompy boots, and they tend to be too grippy to spin well.
How many of you out there have either heard these words or said them to others? I’m willing to bet most males out there has heard it at some point and many women have told the males in their lives these words. It’s part of the social narrative, these constructs of what gender is and how someone should and should not act. Men are strong, men don’t cry, men are athletic, men demand respect, men settle their differences physically and most importantly men don’t show weakness.
Of course, this is all tripe. These social constructs are ultimately just that, constructs. And like anything constructed, it can be deconstructed. When these things are deconstructed, the seem silly and pointless. However, pointless as they may be they are still exceptionally harmful.
And of course that’s where Be A Man comes in. These three words are the epitome of how patriarchy harms everyone. These three words are toxic. These three words have done so much harm to so many men that I am ill equipped to describe exactly how. Fortunately for both me and you the good people at The Representation Project are. They are currently creating a film tackling this very issue. I urge everyone to watch the trailer for this upcoming film: The Mask You Live In.
Role reversal. It’s a fantastic way to check if a situation is horribly wrong. A brilliant example of this is found about 3 minutes in on this pretty great video. It follows the point I made in a previous post, but in a new, wonderfully hilarious way. Watch, laugh, be better equipped to deal with anti-choicers.