Social Deconstruction

by blair morton

It seems like the hot topic people are talking about is gender. Turn on the news and political figures are arguing about what bathrooms people should use, we go to the store and are bombarded with varieties of pink and blue products – and when a company attempts to deviate from that, (like Target did last summer ) they cause waves. The couple that chooses to opt out of gendering the child makes headlines and has a guest spot on the Today Show. And now, my 55-year-old aunt knows what a transgender person is.

Gender is an important construct in which people revolve their lives, logic and research around. This blog was meant to explain how gender is bullshit, but really — is it? If we separate the concept of gender from the binary, what do we get? A non-binary world does not have to be a gender-singular world — a non-binary world is not a world where everyone is the same; rather, it is a world where everyone is different. We are taught that gender is a social construct; that gender is learned, role and expectations are cultural, and that gender is a fluid spectrum. Scientists and academics have devoted lives of study to tracking down where sex ends and gender begins, only to find that there is no finite point.

Scientists want to attribute gender to evolutionary psychology and neurology. What many claim and others ignore, is that there is a “male brain” or “female brain”. Countless studies of the brain set out to prove such neurological differences, yet when results conclude that there are no differences, they are seen to either be failed tests or the results are never publicized. This is called a “file drawer” phenomenon. Due to this reaction, it is difficult to know how many tests have shown there are no differences between male and female brains. Tests aiming to prove gender difference on a neurological level sometimes cut corners to prove their hypothesis. Sample sizes are small, test subjects and administrators are biased, and full reporting is not always practiced. These tests are also flawed in the fact that they place brains in a difference binary, where anyone who falls outside of their spectrum is abnormal. In a way, this diagnoses gender-nonconforming folks has having a brain defect.

Gender is not a brain defect. Gender is a social defect.

These brain differences also aim to explain why men are better at math or science, and how women are better at communicating. (This is the part of the post where you and I need to roll our eyes.) If we can attribute certain qualities of the human brain to what makes a “good” man or woman, science can attempt to set a standard for a “perfect” man or woman. However, social standards are not medical standards.  A more logical explanation of our brains is that we are merely mosaics of masculine and female traits. There are no differences in the functioning of male or female brains, even if some brains look differently than others.

These forms of neurosexism are attempts to deconstruct the idea that gender is a social construct, yet they still aim to reinforce social norms. So, which is worse — social construction or medical construction? And how can we maneuver away from the binary system? Seeing others as people before a gender category is the first step, caring about others identities and pronouns is another. Divesting from gendered expectations leaves room for folks to do what they please without the pressure of being who they are expected.

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/12/male-and-female-brains-really-are-built-differently/281962

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/when-no-gender-fits-a-quest-to-be-seen-as-just-a-person/2014/09/20/1ab21e6e-2c7b-11e4-994d-202962a9150c_story.html?tid=a_inl

Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010)

Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World (New York: Routledge, 2012), 43-69

 

 

Trickle Down, Pt. 2 of One Runway

By Sarah Weingarten

This is essentially a part two to my post “One Runway” talking about how high-end fashion confronting the binary head on by having non-binary clothing and all gender runways is affecting smaller fashion

The best explanation of trickle down fashion is from the movie The Devil Wears Prada. In this clip Miranda Priestly, Meryl Steep, so gloriously and harshly explains to her newbie assistant Andy Sachs, Anne Hathaway, how fashion affects everyone.

Once the big-wig designers start showing non-binary fashion it’s only a matter of time before it’s being filtered down into the more reasonably priced stores that the masses shop at.

According to The New York Times article “In Fashion, Gender Lines Are Blurring,” the NYT thinks that non-gender clothes are gaining traction because the current young adults want labels without the logo. A uniform they can wear every day that is stylish but isn’t distracting. It’s an odd theory, but one I can agree with because I have a uniform of black jeans, black boots, a t-shirt and my leather jacket.

Going back to the NYT article, they make a strong point about how women are more comfortable buying men’s clothes than men wearing women’s clothes. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, a fashion historian and the author said that “[Men] have traditionally been immune to gender-neutral fashion trends.”

Chrisman-Campbell begs to differ that trickle down fashion for gender-neutral clothing is happening. She says that we aren’t necessarily in a new phase in fashion just because the higher up fashion houses are blurring gender lines, “What we’re talking about is the leading edge of fashion, not what you’re going to find at J. Crew.” But then she goes on to say, “Still every time these trends come up they push the boundaries a little bit more.”

Around the same time, the NYT published that piece Racked had a feature titled “Fashion’s Bold New Future Has No Gender.” Racked’s feature is very important to understand how non-binary fashion is reaching a mass audience because finally the rise of athleisure clothing is talked about.

Athleisure clothing is athletic clothes that you don’t have to work out in. Yes, you can work out in them, but if they’re so cool and stylish that wearing them daily outside the gym is acceptable. If you need a visual of what athleisure is a link to Beyoncé’s line Ivy Park is linked.

Athleisure is the most unisex form of clothing that has been around. Joggers, sweatpants that are cinched at the ankle, became a trendy comfortable wardrobe staple within the last year. My 13-year-old brother and I have the same pair of joggers and we jokingly wear them together with our Nike sneakers.

The rise of athleisure lines has normalized the idea of successful and trendy unisex clothing. If wearing Adidas three stripe sweatpants and a trefoil hoodie isn’t your style don’t worry. Athleisure wear was the jumping off point, but not the end game of trickle down unisex clothing.

Bustle published an article “7 Gender Non Conformist & Gender Neutral Clothing Brands To Support Right Now.” The seven lines featured are very cool and trendy.

Basically, what I’m getting at is Chrisman-Campbell’s doubts about unisex fashion rippling down to the masses are unqualified. Yes, there are some brands that will not break way from the gender binary, but non-binary lines keep popping up and non-binary clothing trends are picking up traction. I know the ripple down effect is working because I just ordered new t-shirts from my favorite t-shirt shop and had them sent to my house in Cleveland and I had to text my brother not to open my package and wear my new clothes.

http://www.racked.com/2015/3/17/8218321/gender-neutral-clothes-unisex

http://www.bustle.com/articles/100668-7-gender-non-conformist-gender-neutral-clothing-brands-to-support-right-now

One Runway

By Sarah Weingarten

Androgyny has been sweeping the high fashion world. Blending gender and combining the womenswear and menswear runway is a growing trend among high-end designers. In 2015, Prada made what should have been their fall menswear runway show an all gender show. On everyone’s seat was a printed note saying “Gender is a context and context is often gendered.”

Hood By Air, HBA, had a gender mixed runway for their Fall 2015 menswear collection. HBA’s models were masked, and the clothes distorted, leaving an odd feeling of not knowing what is what. In the Vogue review critic, Maya Singer said that the distorted clothes and hiding the models genders read as a “rejection of the binaries.”

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HBA’s rejection of the binary and making it difficult to gender the models goes against a societal instinct of American’s to categorize and label everything and everyone. I can only speak based on American society because I’ve never been part of another culture, but I have a pretty solid feeling that American’s are not the only one’s who put everything and everyone into a box.

American’s feel confused when they can’t label or understand someone, especially their gender. From experience, I find that people use labels, specifically gender labels because it helps them understand that person. Not being able to label someone’s gender confuses and frightens some people because they don’t know how to behave around someone who isn’t gendered.

The need to clarify and label genders is related to our intersex readings. Intersex people are an enigma to those who can’t grasp that gender is a spectrum and that genitalia and gender identity are separate.

In “Claudia Is Intersex,” Claudia writes about everything I just mentioned, about people being scared if they can’t label someone’s gender right away. Claudia thinks the need to gender everyone into two categories is because “there’s this idea out there that based on the body parts that a person has, their sex, gender, and sexual orientation are all inherently linked in one of two pre-determined sets.”

Claudia then writes that because there aren’t set guidelines for how intersex people are supposed to act or be treated in society people freak out. So then intersex people must be fixed to be “normal,” normal being either female anatomy or male anatomy. A lot of intersex surgeries that happen aren’t for medical care, or because intersex people’s health are in danger. The surgeries happen so other people feel more comfortable knowing they can correctly gender them.

The gender and biology confusion that intersex people face is parallel to the ones that non-binary face. A lot of people can’t wrap their heads around someone with a penis not identifying as a male or as a female, and vice versa. They’re just a genderless person.

My mom who is a relatively socially progressive person has trouble disassociating gender from genitalia. When Caitlyn Jenner came out and changed their pronouns my mom asked me if Caitlyn could technically change their pronouns to she/her if she still had a penis, because wouldn’t that make her a man still? Needless to say, we had a very long conversation about gender identity, pronouns and the gender spectrum.

There are still times when she doesn’t understand how gender or non-binary isn’t related to genitalia, but she’s trying hard to educate herself. Seeing big name fashion houses have non-binary or all gender runway shows may be baby steps, but it most likely start a trickle down effect of nonbinary clothing. Clothing is a huge gender identifier so blurring the lines of what certain genders and non-binary people should wear is a big step to erase the binary.

http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2015-menswear/prada

http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2015-menswear/hood-by-air

https://blackboard.ohio.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-5861049-dt-content-rid-37591157_1/courses/WGSS_2000_100_LEC_SPRG_2015-16/Claudia-Intersex%281%29.pdf

 

 

Children, Parents, and Gender Non-conformity

By Alexandra

Like Ryan, more and more gender non-conforming children have been able to express their identity to their parents, and present themselves how they want to at school. Dealing with gender during childhood can be difficult because children are just developing the ability to articulate the differences between genders, while battling with their own understanding and identity. The American Psychological Association offers suggestions for parent’s dealing with a child who is gender non-conforming or trans. Although some of the terminology in their explanations is outdated such as “transsexual” their guidance is supportive for transgender youth suggesting parents do things like “Educate yourself about transgender issues.” Which is of course a very simple suggestion but staying currently educated is vital when these issues are affecting someone you love. They also offer reminders that “There is not one universal way to look or be transgender” and to “Keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person in your life.” I do not believe suggestions like this offer solutions to the struggle of being a trans or gender non-conforming person, but with a empathetic family, these reminders can be key for making transitioning a comfortable process.

Even if the family life of a gender non-conforming child is positive, other institutions such as school can make their expressions seem shameful. Karin A. Martin researched how early children are gendered. Starting in preschool, the separation and inconsistent treatment of boys and girls can be observed. Martin notes that “Children are physically active, and institutions like schools impose disciplinary controls that regulate children’s bodies and prepare children for the larger social world,” (497). So as a child understands how to freely express their body and identity institutions are also limiting them, which can create a feeling of shame as they begin to understand their desire is “wrong.” In a situation without supportive or educated parents a child can suffer as their comfort, which may rely on clothing or toys or a certain hairstyle, is taken away. Martin talks about clothing specifically, saying “The clothes that parents send kids to preschool in shape children’s experiences of their bodies in gendered ways,” (498). Clothing is an outward identifier for gender, especially in children and babies, so it is to remember when considering parts of a child’s gender identity. When considering the source of identity, Bussey states “many cognitive and social psychologists understand gender identity formation to result from a process of learning, cognitive development, and social reinforcement,” (qtd. in Fausto Sterling, 58). There are many factors and instances that can influence gender, and although institutions and family life are two of the largest factors there are also biological and psychological factors to be considered. Having a child that is gender non-conforming is not a result of something that went wrong, or a parental mistake.

When considering gender identity as a multi-layered part of existence, parents of a gender non-conforming child should consider how different parts of the mind and body might reflect their child’s identity. Anne Fausto-Sterling articulates this point in saying “chromosomal sex, gonadal sex, internal reproductive organs, external genitalia, and pubertal hormones are not direct determinants of gender identity” (44). Another interesting thing that Fausto-Sterling concludes about children is “children first develop sex and gender knowledge including the sensory and cognitive skils to make culturally ‘correct’ associations between adult activites and males and females […] But surprisingly, and often amusingly, at first kids do not think of gender as a permanent state of being,” (55). The socially constructed implications of gender are not as deeply rooted in children, as they have not had to deeply and consciously experience them yet. So their freedom and looseness with gender makes sense. In the video Ryan even uses terms like “tom girl” to describer herself, not cully clinging to one gender or the other. This exploration is in line with the idea that “… gender identity emerges. It does not suddenly pop out; rather it inches into the open one step at a time,” (54). By allowing a child to constantly engage with gender in an open way, their understanding of their identity later in life will reveal itself more naturally. Another thing to remember is that children are growing and learning very rapidly—their identity can change. When there is a shift or a move towards more masculine, then more feminine, then more masculine again, it does not mean the time spent with a feminine identity was invalid. Shifts and movements and changes in identity are natural. We’re all always growing.

Overall, it is great that more children, like Ryan, are able to express their gender in a way they feel comfortable with. But it is important to remain educated, and not forget there are many children who do not have the freedom to exist how they want. There are many adults who do not have the freedom to exist how they want.

Sources:
Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World (New York: Routledge, 2012), 43-69

“Answers to Your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression.” American Psychological Association. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Martin, Karin A. “Becoming a Gendered Body: Practices of Preschools.” American Sociological Review 63.4 (1998): 494. Web.

Deconstructing the Punk Patriarchy

by blair morton

Across the nation, if you look hard enough, you may find a network of underground venues that showcase cooperative musical and art projects. These patrons of Do-It-Yourself communities are united together through four decades of non-conformity and counter-culture history. They are a coalition of culture makers — facilitating spaces of art, music, and performance. But if some say that gender is performative, why do genderqueer patrons feel out of place at these spaces?

DIY (which stands for do-it-yourself) is a movement in music communities that started in the 1980s in Washington D.C., although there were similar mobilizing efforts that were simultaneously beginning in the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, Gulf Coast, and New York City. DIY was an effort made by members of the punk scene to divest from large corporations and music labels that acted as the gatekeepers of music and culture. DIY musicians would record and perform their music in their living rooms or basements. They’d promote their bands through word-of-mouth, and some would even go one “media blackouts” if they reached some degree of fame — protesting any form of media that would promote their band. Coupled with the evolving DIY attitude was the rise of straight edge identities, where members of the community would vow to lead a PC lifestyle and abstain from drugs, alcohol, and promiscuous sex.  While the founders of DIY are credited to be men, those who have kept these communities alive have been anything but. In some ways, DIY has paralleled the waves of feminism. Throughout the 1990s, underground music communities saw an insurgence of women-fronted and women-centric music acts. These women, known as the “riot grrrls” demanded rights of inclusion, respect, and recognition. Today, while many women in DIY hold the same mentalities of the riot grrrls, the scene has evolved to be less female-centric and more queer inclusive. Out with the old and in with the new — asking what someone’s pronouns are is the new “grrrls to the front” mantra. Giving space and recognizing those who identify outside of the gendered binary is a way of advocating and facilitating a space that is safer for all gender identities, as well as a way to educate those who are a part of the music community but do not have access to information about queerness and marginalization.

I had the chance to sit down with Meredith Graves, singer of Perfect Pussy, after her show in Columbus in December. Graves is famously known for mixing her own blood in the first 300 vinyl pressings of her band’s first studio album, Say Yes to Love. Graves is leading voice in the music industry and its role in the promoting (and faulting) the presence of gender equity. “Women are called upon every day to prove our right to participate in music on the basis of our authenticity — or perceived lack thereof.” Graves wrote in a Talkhouse essay in 2014. Her views and writings on the intersection of identity politics and feminism in the music industry have yielded a new rise in awareness and inclusion in DIY spaces — and different methods of how band fronts and show runners should command their crowds.

http://wilderstreet.tumblr.com/about
credit: wilder street

“I feel uncomfortable making the call for all grrls to the front, because I do not want to out anyone — people at my shows could be battling with their identity, or may not have come out to their friends. I do not want to make anyone feel isolated or pressured.” Graves confessed in the dingy VIP lounge of Double Happiness. At a show that appeared to be overrun by what appeared to be cismen, an artist like Graves can feel disheartened by the aggression that plays out in the pit. The band debuted a song called “Women” where Graves sang about the difficulties of being a woman in a music community, while groups of large men moshed around, creating a somewhat hostile environment for anyone, mostly women and non-men patrons, who stood in their way. Ironic, Graves laughed. Graves states that physical and emotional safety should always be at the forefront of shows.

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trying to keep my cool. (failing at it)

 

http://thetalkhouse.com/music/talks/meredith-graves-perfect-pussy-talks-2/
http://the-toast.net/2016/04/18/everyone-but-cis-men-creating-better-safe-spaces-for-lgbt-people/

Intersections of Queerness and Punk

by blair morton

I sat down via the web with B, who goes under the stage name of Mildrid. B fronted an Athens alumni band called Window Box before they relocated to Akron to attend school. When B was 19, he started a DIY music label turned media outlet called Flower Jar Media (once known as Lil Pup).When B isn’t touring or collaborating with other queer-centric music acts and artists like The Magic Fountain, they are using the web to combat forms of sexism, rape culture, and the punk patriarchy — or as B like to call it, trying to make American gay again.

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Can you start off by stating your pronouns and how you’d like to be identified                      

B: Hey, Blair!! My pronouns are they/he, and I identify as a genderqueer/trans person!

How does your identity as a queer person intersect with your music?

B: My identity as a queer person intersects with my music in a lot of ways, actually. I feel that, since I have this platform,  it’s incredibly important (personally, at least), to use this for something more than my own personal gain. I am incredibly privileged for many reasons; one being that I DO have this platform, something that most don’t and I am incredibly thankful for that. A lot of my songs have stuff about gender/etc. in them. The reaction is either, “hell yeah, that was sick”, or something along the lines of uncomfortable silence. Which, honestly, good. If they’re uncomfortable, they’re part of the problem.

Some have made the argument that by incorporating queer musicians onto bills or playlists, they are tokenizing the musician in an attempt to diversify their music. Some musicians have stated that they battle with being viewed as a musician over queer — and that genre names like “queer rock” only reinforce that. Do you battle with tokenization?

B: I personally have not experienced tokenization, at least that I know of. I think that listening to/booking queer musicians is important, if you’re doing it because you genuinely want these people to have representation. Doing it because you want to further your ,“look, I care!-Look at all the good I’m doing!-Look at all the queer people I’m helping!-Scene-Cred”, is bullshit. We see you and we hear you.

Do you find solidarity within the right grrrl movement or do you find to be an instance of separatism?
B: I don’t have extensive knowledge about the Riot Grrrl movement, but I do know that it wasn’t as intersectional as it should have been. There’s something so much more empowering about women/non-cis-male-identifying people lifting up/helping out/inspiring each other, than creating a “club”, that only pertains to a specific demographic.

Do you think DIY spaces are accepting of those who are racially marginalized? Marginalized by their gender/sexuality? Has there been progress? 
B: I think that most DIY spaces are at least intolerant of racism/homophobia/transphobia/etc. I think there has been progress, but we shouldn’t stop where we are. We should keep furthering these conversations, keep creating and providing inclusive spaces. We’ve gotta keep looking out for each other, because no one else is lookin’ out for us.

 

Do you think those who facilitate DIY and other outlets of the music industry have an obligation to promote inclusion and education of queer identities? What are difficulties they face? How can showrunners combat instances of harmful behavior at shows?
B: I don’t think they’re necessarily “obligated”, but if they aren’t inclusive, fuck them. If they aren’t willing to promote inclusion/education of queer identities from the start, I think forcing it won’t do much for anyone. I don’t think anyone has the time or energy to deal with non-inclusive spaces/people, so weeding them out just makes everyone’s lives/experience easier. With that being said, I think they might face difficulties with knowing how to go about being more inclusive, which might lead tokenization, etc.

I think show runners can combat instances of harmful behavior by enforcing the safe-space ideals as much as possible. If someone is being problematic at a show, kick them the fuck out and tell them not to come back. If a known abuser/rapist/etc. shows up, kick them the fuck out and tell them not to come back. They’ll either talk shit on the internet, or maybe, contemplate their actions (and by some grace of whatever god you subscribe to, apologize and change their ways).

 

Are shown spaces/DIY spaces a place to facilitate gender equity and identity politics or are they solely a place to display music and art?
B: I think show/DIY spaces are 100%, a place to facilitate gender equality/identity politics. We’ve created these spaces, this counter-culture, because we want to separate ourselves from the toxicity of mainstream societal norms. I think excluding gender equality/identity politics, is regressive.


How do you define safe/safer space?
B: I define safe/safer spaces, as places that are inclusive of people of color, people in the LGBTQIA+ community, and devoid, or at least intolerant, of racism/sexism/bigotry/homophobia/transphobia/rape culture/etc, etc, etc. I’ve been hearing more places changing from “safe” spaces to “safer” spaces, because no one can guarantee that these spaces will always be 100% safe (ex: some problematic person shows up and says/does some problematic crap before getting kicked out). With that being said; being in spaces that identify with these ideals are some of the places I have felt safest and most at home. They’re incredibly important, so shouts out to all of y’all who are actively providing/trying to provide spaces that lil baby queers (such as myself) and other people who are marginalized, can feel comfortable in.

Transgender TV

By Sarah Weingarten

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Transgender characters are becoming more common on popular TV shows than ever before. Orange Is the New Black, Transparent, Glee, I Am Cait, Pretty Little Liars, The Fosters, etc. etc. GLAAD has catalogued 102 TV episodes with non-recurring storylines of scripted television that contained transgender characters since 2002. But over half of those episodes portrayed negative stereotypes of trans people. Only 12% of the episodes were considered accurate and fair according to GLAAD’s standards. Trans characters were the victim 40% of the time and the killers or villains in 21% of episodes recorded.

On top of not accurately displaying trans people on TV not all trans roles go to trans actors. Some people think this isn’t a big deal, but I am not one of those people. A lot of individuals argue that trans actors don’t exist, which is wrong, or that trans roles shouldn’t exclusively be available to trans actors.

A TV show I want to look more closely at is Transparent. Jeffrey Tambor plays the lead Maura Pfefferman, who is a trans women transitioning in her later years. I haven’t watched the show yet because I’m very torn. I love Tambor and don’t want to fall in love with a show that conflict with my personal beliefs. But Tambor is not a trans woman and is playing one on TV. I just don’t understand how Tambor can accurately portray a trans person without knowing what it’s like to be one in real life.

This conflict brings me to Julia Serano’s work “Performance Piece” where she talks about all gender being a performance. In this writing, Serano eloquently vents that saying gender is performance is a “crass oversimplification” and that in reality it’s a confusing mess like a junior high school mixer. She then goes on to write about her struggle being a trans women and how saying gender is performance erases her experience. Serano compares that erasure to Stephen Colbert’s skit where he insists he doesn’t see race, “It’s easy to fictionalize an issue when you are not fully in touch with all the ways in which you are privileged by it.”

Tambor and other non-trans actors playing trans people on TV don’t understand that one of their privileges of being a cis actor is being able to be more successful in Hollywood, therefore, having more opportunities to take roles that are trans. A cis actor taking a trans role is gender performance.

 

http://www.glaad.org/publications/victims-or-villains-examining-ten-years-transgender-images-television

https://blackboard.ohio.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-5861059-dt-content-rid-37591166_1/courses/WGSS_2000_100_LEC_SPRG_2015-16/Serano-Performance.pdf