Monday, March 8, 2010

An Obsession with Two Genders - And Moving Beyond That

I recently came across a video from Youtube entitled “The Opposite Sex,” which has been making the rounds on Transgender and Genderqueer blogs. The video depicts men acting like women (being emotional and shallow) and women acting like men (being sexual and slobs).

Instead of being humorous, as I assume was its intention, it:

a) reinforces negative gender stereotypes (and the gender hierarchy)
At the end of the video, the host states that “I think it’s a good thing that guys are guys and girls are girls and not the opposite.” Because it’s a good thing that guys look at women in inappropriate ways (and once again, heterosexuality is assumed), and funny that women protest that? Because it’s a good thing guys don’t cry or express emotions? Because its good thing that girls eat salads because they think they’re fat? The truly troubling thing about this video is not that reinforces stereotypes (which is troubling in general), but that the stereotypes that are funny are particularly harmful ones.
Why is it assumed to be humorous to see a man cry? Why is it funny when a man worries about his weight but is either perceived as natural or a disorder when a woman does? And, why can’t girl play video games (I would like to interject that I love games, thank you very much). The bottom line is, why is it funny when a man does things common associated with women, and when a woman does things commonly associated with being a man?
What it boils down to is feminine qualities being seen as undesirable, particularly in a man. And sadly, this is indicative of a larger trend in society, and particularly on college campuses. The butt of the joke is often a feminine man or masculine woman, with the latter ranking higher than the former.

b) reinforces the idea that women and men are stable identities, and can never ever co-exist in one body.
The host opens the video by saying that this is one of her “weird ideas,” implying that doing gender-opposite things are weird. Well, I hate to break it to you, but I happen to enjoy doing a lot of so-called manly things, and I don’t particularly think of myself as “weird.” With the LGBTQ movement continuing to make grounds, in both an academic and personal sphere, individuals and groups are beginning to call for a move outside the male/female, gay/straight, either/or thing we’ve had going on for some time.
We see a call for this particularly in the transgender and genderqueer communities because of the ways that individuals come to understand the fluidity of gender. The reality that it is unstable, and open to suggestions. When gender becomes something that you no longer take for granted, one finds that the idea that men cannot express feelings and that women have to be cookie-cutter shaped to be demeaning and limiting, and not a realistic or healthy ideal. What do we, as human beings, miss out on by insisting that women are X and men are Y? Why are we so obsessed with creating skinny, shapely blonde women and muscular tall men? What about muscular women? Skinny, short men?
Transgender and genderqueer individuals not only redefine what it means to be a man or woman, but a human being. More value should be placed on who you are and what that means rather than what is in your pants or the pronouns that are used on you.

Overall, videos like this are harmful to transgender and especially genderqueer individuals because it erases their existence and mocks the very idea that gender is not based on biology. Videos like this are harmful to the LGB populations because of the genderphobia it expresses in regards to qualities that often get associated with gay or bisexual men, or lesbian or bisexual women. And, at the end of the day, these strict notions of gender are harmful to straight men and women who express themselves through not-so-stereotypical means.

So, instead of laughing at problematic and downright disturbing videos, do some homework casual surfing and learn.

Genderfork - A fantastic blog that uses photos, short comments, stories, profiles links, videos, etc. to explore the fluidity of gender.
Cisgender (“some whose biological sex matches their gender identity”) Privilege Checklist
The Wikipedia entry on Third-Gender or Gender-Neutral Pronouns, complete with handy chart!

[And, the video, for those of you so inclined:]

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