By Brittany Juliano
Karin Martin’s article, Becoming a Gendered Body: Practices of Preschools, begins with a particular description of gender, which I think resonates well with the evidence she collects throughout her observations. Gender is often described as a socialized category rather than a natural categorization between male and female peoples. Martin uses Butler, West and Zimmerman’s definition that “suggests that gender is something that is ‘done.’ These two concepts, ‘gender performance’ and doing gender,’ are similar—both suggest that managed, adorned, fashioned, properly comported and moving bodies establish gender and gender relations” (Martin 495). I like this definition of gender so much more, because one of the more interesting topics of gender socialization that interests me is the physical way in which females are socialized to move. As Martin lays out in her research, I have read previous sociological articles that describe how women are physically subordinate to men simply because they learn from an early age to behave in such a way. Women will sit taking up as little physical space as possible while a man will dominate the open space around him.
In connection to this, Martin points out that this positioning in relation to men produces insecurity in women. This point surprised me, because I have never taken the time to think about how this physical difference impacted females mentally. Martin quotes Iris Young from her article Throwing Like a Girl saying, “that the general lack of confidence that we [women] frequently have about our cognitive or leadership abilities is traceable in part to an original doubt of our body’s capacity” (156). This quotation struck me as a very real consequence of socialized gender norms. In Race, Class, and Discipline in an Urban School, Edward Morris depicts this phenomenon when describing the African-American girls at the middle school where his research takes place. This particular group of girls is often reprimanded for being boisterous or instructed to act more “ladylike.” What Morris observes is that this outspoken quality the young ladies are reprimanded for actually give them an advantage in the classroom. They are not afraid to speak their minds, but their educators are actually hindering this advantage with constant instruction to contain themselves. This infuriates me! I really cannot fathom that as a woman I have been trained to be small and speak quietly or not at all. I want my voice and the voices of other women to be heard. As a personal challenge this week, I am daring myself to speak up more. I have never thought of myself as a quiet person nor have I ever hesitated to share my academic opinion in classes, but then again, I have never looked at myself as a restricted woman. So my self-challenge is to be aware of myself if I shy away from speaking my mind and to then assertively give my input. Also, just for fun, I want to experiment for a day by sitting in class in a more physically expansive way.
After this strong reaction, I was happy to read Judith Lorber’s article, Believing is Seeing: Biology as Ideaology. She too points out several areas in which women are constrained by gender normative expectations and presumptions, but there are points that gave me more hopeful perspective on this issue of inequality. When discussing the West Point drills catered towards the male physique, she points out that “women’s pelvises will do just as well as men’s shoulders” (577). Not only did this strike me as a funny comparison, but it brought home the point she was making very well. Women may not seem as successful in this wall climbing challenge not because they are less capable, but because the task itself is biased. Despite this, the female cadets learned to overcome their challenge using their particular strength in the lower-body. Society has trained us to think of thinks in a gender-biased way that triumphs the male physique while ignoring the strength of the female body. Lorber made me think hard about the way things might be if the opposite were traditional, if the female body’s agility, flexibility and balance were more revered than brute aggression and strength. I liked looking at this alternative. It certainly made me think in a new and different way.
On a semi-relevant topic, if you have not heard of the Texas women kept on life support despite her wishes, this is pretty interesting. The fact that Marlise Munoz’s choice was not headed after she was declared brain-dead because she was pregnant is a reflection of Texas’ strong anti-abortion policies. In relation to the readings for this week, it simply gives another example of how women’s bodies are controlled.