In Sex and Gender class this morning, we were asked to list the three major differences between women and men among "people like ourselves." My list looked like this:
The phrasing of this prompt is objectionable because
1) it assumes a commonality among all of our working definitions of what is "women," what is "men," and what is "people like ourselves";
2) the use of the the dual categories of "women" and "men" encourages and validates the acceptance of the sex and gender binary, a flawed social construct if I've ever seen one; and
3) the only actual differences are perceived and not necessarily real (oh hey, Aristotle).
Then we had to break into groups of four and come up with a group response to the same prompt. My group was really hip to putting down "reproductive organ differences," "social expectations," and "how women are more future-oriented and men are more impulsive," citing the need to "do what the professor wants us to do" in opposition to what I suggested, which was to submit my own list of reasons as to why the assignment was in fact a futile exercise (see above). I of course made no friends in my grupito. But no matter! A year and a half at Bryn Mawr gave me a minor in Sex and Gender studies. For all of you who haven't gone to a women's college, this minor also can be earned through being a perceptive human being and/or experiencing oppression based on your sexual identity and sexuality.
The professor made an interesting effort at slowing down the decadent genderizing going on during the "sharing" part of the classtime (in which the groups presented their collective lists to the rest of the students), offering a somewhat classist interpretation of our struggle to create the lists. He chalked up our arguing to the fact that we are all overeducated, and that the same question posed to a less educated pool of individuals would produce less discussion and more concrete entries to the lists. He said that people get most nervous when they encounter an individual with ambiguous gender. I would say that's true because our assumptions of sex and gender so thoroughly inform our perceived comprehension of others' identities. However, combining "sex" and "gender" identities is problematic because it presumes too many social rules and adherents to (un)said rules. Moreover, eliminating the components of race and class from such a conversation detracts from the full and thorough understanding of what are the differences between men and women, or between men and men, women and women, or whatever. My whiteness is often more important than my womanness, depending on the situation. Do people pay more attention to me when I speak than when a black woman does? What about the fact that I am older or younger than this black woman? What about the fact that I have better or worse teeth than she? Whose level of education matters in the situation? I'll defer now to Nancy Seifer's account of how she came of age as an anti-hegemonic feminist, and the many difficulties she encountered when she tried to launch a political activism project: "It became apparent that it was not only liberal biases that made it so difficult for me to get strong support for what by then seemed like such a logical course of action to take. There was also some bias against me. I did not have a law degree or any other special credentials...I was also young and had the least seniority. And I was a woman."