Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Breaking Down Gender and Diversity

Today, our class focused on the societal construction of gender. When we really broke the concept of "gender" down, it became clear to me that gender is a made up concept, constructed by society. "Sex" refers to an individual's biological parts (such as genitalia) while "gender" refers to how an individual feels or identifies themselves. We did an exercise where we split into two groups and brainstormed the different "norms" of either males or females and what would happen if people stepped outside their "normal" gender roles. We were then instructed to perform skits showing examples of these gender norms/consequences. Expectations for females included wearing makeup, not being athletic, and being quiet and submissive while the expectations for males included being strong, playing sports, and eating lots of food. We found that if males or females stepped outside their gender norms, they'd be ostracized and even harassed. 

I was in the group discussing female norms and I discovered that society sets unrealistic expectations for females. For example, society frequently frowns upon women who are without a man (she is seen as a prude) but also frowns upon women who have been with too many men (she is seen as promiscuous). It's almost impossible to find the perfect balance between being a "prude" and being "promiscuous", yet society does not recognize how ridiculous these expectations are so we continue to be judgmental. As an extension on our research, we were asked to stop random people on the street and ask them what they thought of when they heard the worlds “masculine” and “feminine”. When we’d reviewed the answers we’d gotten, it became clear that people stated gender norms that had to do with men and women. For example, people associated masculinity with a buff man and femininity with a petite or materialistic girl. 

We also did an activity where we walked around our classroom and looked at pictures or articles that were posted on the wall and wrote down our thoughts about them. All the pictures and articles were interesting, but two stood out to me the most. These two articles were supposedly about a congresswoman who got shot, but the main focus of both articles was the woman's husband, a NASA astronaut. The headlines both mentioned that the congresswoman was the wife of this male NASA astronaut, and the second article's main picture was of the husband! Why does it matter that the congresswoman was married to the astronaut? It has nothing to do with the fact that she was shot. My friend, Vera, who I was working with, pointed out that both of their jobs are of equal ranking in society's standards, yet an article that was supposed to be about a woman was about a man. This is connected to the course concept we talked about of people being ranked based on gender (males being the dominant and females being the submissive).

At the end of class, I was able to talk to Dean Almandrez about my action plan. I know that I want to do an action plan that has something to do with helping teens improve their body image. This is a really relevant problem in my community because lots of people I know struggle with bad body image. I’m not sure exactly how I want to go about improving this, but I’ve been thinking about organizing workshops in my community or creating a club at my school. I’ll definitely take these next couple of days to weigh my options before creating a concrete plan.

As a class, we also did a diversity workshop where we talked about different aspects in our life that had to do with the 7 Categories of "Otherness" (sexuality, social status, ability, race, gender, religion, and age). We were asked to stand by papers with these phrases on them based on different statements, such as which of these categories we thought about the most/least during our daily lives. Then, we stood in a circle and were given a statement. If that statement was true for us, we stepped forward. This was a really tough and emotional workshop because it brought up difficult topics to discuss. I'm so glad we did this workshop though because it brought our class closer together as a group. It's crazy to think that, although most of us have only known each other for a few days, we're already such great friends.

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