I went to a reception for my cousin and his new bride last weekend. My aunts asked me when I was going to have kids, since I've been married a whole 7 years now (well, in 10 days.) I told them I wasn't going to, which brought on the "but who's going to take care of you when you get old?" line of questioning. [Answer: my retirement savings and a cabana boy.] "But no one will visit you!" So? I was stuck at the "hen table" because my dear husband was running around with my 11-year-old cousin and 43-year-old uncle. I'm not so keen on the throwing things at each other part of playing, so I sat it out.
Several weeks ago, when the FDA approved Wyeth's new pill Lybrel, ridiculous news stories with titles like "Gender Bending: Redefining the curse of menstruation" (since retitled to Gender Bender? New Pill stops periods) sparked discussions across the feminist blogosphere. Never mind, of course, that the "period" that comes when women take the pill isn't a real period anyway, but estrogen-withdrawal bleeding (and was put in as an attempt to placate the Pope.)
What is gender? What does it mean to be a woman or a man? What role do the societal norms play on what masculine or feminine means, or what is good or bad?
Gender is, in most sociological circles in 2007, not the same as sex. Sex generally denotes biology; a child with a 23-XX genotype will usually grow up into a woman, while 23-XY will usually grow up into a man. For simplicity's sake, not to exclude or denigrate, I'll avoid discussion of XO, XXY, XXX, and other 23rd chromosome abnormalities, as well as intersexed individuals; however, they throw very fascinating wrenches into the notion of biological sex.
Gender refers to the sociological constructs regarding proper behavior based on biological sex. Or, to borrow from the transgender folks, "Sex is what's between your legs. Gender's what's between your ears." Before you continue reading, go take Kate Bornstein's Gender Aptitude Test.
"That's women's work." "Boys don't cry." "Real men don't eat quiche." "Real women are the tribe that bleeds." How harmful are these sociological notions? Women's work is devalued: teachers, daycare providers, nurses, waitresses, stay-at-home mothers, and all other tasks traditionally done by women (like cleaning and cooking) are considered, somehow, of lesser value than being a high-power attorney or medical doctor. Women are pigeonholed into nurturing careers and asked about their reproductive status -- no kids? when are you having one? 1 kid? When are you having another? Want to go back to work after having your baby? You're a bad mother. Career-driven women are ball-busting bitches.
No decision a woman makes regarding her career or her reproductive status is free from other people who want to stick their noses into her business.
Men, too, are harmed: men who don't fit into the football-and-beer-and-NASCAR mold are derided as effeminate or worse. Men who want to work in traditionally-female fields get questioning looks or "you'll meet lots of chicks!"
Returning to the topic that kicked off this percolating idea: My mom badgering me to "give her grandchildren." Growing up, I always figured I'd have kids when I grew up, because that's what happens when you grow up. Then I met a woman who was adamantly opposed to having children of her own, and my eyes were opened. Having children is not a requirement. I can decide I don't want to raise children, let alone bear them.
Yet people tell me I'm not a real woman, or I'm somehow unnatural.
There is a greater societal expectation that people of the 23-XX genotype turn to goo when they see a baby and want to awwwwwww when they see tiny shoes or onesies. That makes no sense to me. I seem to have missed out on the nurturing gene.
I hate getting my period. It's uncomfortable and messy. If I didn't already have a form of birth control I'm satisfied with that also suppresses menstruation, I'd sign up for Lybrel. Yet there are feminists telling me that I'm just brainwashed by the Patriarchy into hating this "natural process of womanhood." Gag me. I think I can decide that being doubled over from cramps is something I'd prefer to avoid without The Man telling me so. Then the MSM goes on about how women not getting periods somehow makes us into men.
Women who opt out of menstruation are men. Think about that. "Man" is the default. Women are secondary. I'm all for blurring the arbitrary sociological constructs regarding gender, but telling a woman she's really a man because she doesn't bleed once a month is ludicrous.
Gender roles are arbitrary constructs. Society enforces gender roles by calling women who dare aim to be CEO or even President "ball-busters," by calling men who dare to express sadness or love "homos," through the subtle implications that women who would rather not have children are somehow unnatural (but it's A-OK for men not to want children, and in fact is the construct placed on men) or that women who enjoy sex are harlots (but men who do are studs).
Feminists seek to smash these arbitrary constructs so that a person, regardless of genotype, can choose to be a CEO or a nurse or a stay-home parent, without society telling them it's unnatural. This is why I'm a feminist.