By Gracie Hall
Lorber’s article “Believing is Seeing: Biology is Ideology” (1993) gives a solid foundation for understanding how gender is a social construction. Lorber contradicts the common misconception that sex and gender are synonymous. Firstly, sex itself is not a binary, for as Lorber discusses there are infants born with ambiguous genitalia. In one of my other classes we used this as evidence to further argue that the idea of two discrete sexes is a social construction in itself. Furthermore, evidence from other cultures that have multiple genders further enforces this idea.
Lorber also explains how men are constructed as normal, and women as deviant. This is highlighted in the example of what happens when women qualifying for the Olympics have chromosomal ambiguity. Lorber explains how in this situation women must undergo extensive testing, whereas men do not; she explains that this is because they hope to “make sure men don’t enter women’s competitions” (570). Similarly, large systems such as organized sports and the military are organized so that men and the male body are normal, and women deviant. Our conception of sports, and the skills needed to be successful in them perfectly align with what we construct to be valuable and desirable for men: speed, size, and strength. Lorber makes this point explicit as she quotes: “if women had been the historically dominant sex, our concept of sports no doubt would have evolved differently” (572). Instead, as men are the dominant group, women are seen as not as athletically gifted. Lorber further notes that in order to be recognized and praised, female athletes must not only excel in sports that are designed around the male body but also focus on their feminine beauty.
In her final conclusion, Lorber quotes Butler saying, “not biology, but culture becomes destiny”; this concept is especially important in understanding the two other readings (578). Firstly, this can be applied to Martin’s article “Becoming a Gendered Body: Practices of Preschools” (1998) which looks at the ways in which institutions, such as schools, help to socialize children to learn to adhere to gender norms through hidden curriculum. Martin provides examples of dressing up, the permission of relaxed behaviors/the requirement of formal behaviors, acts of controlling voices, and verbal or physical instruction regarding children’s bodies by teachers or peers–to show the ways in which children become gendered. She explains that as children learn what is expected, there is a direct correlation to behavior.
Girls learn to be aware of their body and keep their bodies and voices constrained and contained. Boys learn to see their bodies as a source of power and a means to let out aggression and anger. Martin shows how these behaviors and others are not innate, but instead learned through discipline as she compares 3 and 5-year-old children. Furthermore, Martin highlights how this institutionalized socialization has serious effects and leads to issues of inequality: “differences create a context for social relations in which differences confirm inequalities of power” (510).
This same idea is also relevant in Morris’ article “‘Tuck in That Shirt!’ Race, Class, Gender, and Discipline in an Urban School” (2005). Morris’ research looked at the ways in which discipline from school educators regarding bodily discipline with concern to dress and behavior is influenced by race, class, and gender and can help perpetrate inequality. Like Martin, Morris suggests a hidden curriculum, however, unlike Martin this curriculum not only teaches students about gender but also race and class. In his article, Morris explains how the school in which he conducted most of his research had a strict dress code and uniform, which was seen by the teachers to promote “student discipline and order in general” and “upward mobility in this working class context” (31-32). However, Morris theorizes that this is not always the case; the imposition of the dominant cultural capital can actually lead to resistance and marginalization and therefore further reproduce inequalities along the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality.
Morris gives three examples of how inequalities are reproduced through bodily discipline. Firstly, Morris highlights how African-American girls are instructed to “act like a lady”, a process requiring certain ways “to sit and get up properly, dress appropriately, and speak quietly” (34). Although educators believed that this was a process that would help with upward mobility, it actually “seemed to curtail some of the very behaviors that led to success in the classroom” (35). Secondly, Latino boys were made to seem potentially dangerous largely by associations of class-which in turn lead to resistance and reproduction. Finally, Morris observed how white or Asian-American students were not as frequently disciplined as African-American or Latino boys who were engaging in the same behavior. Instead, the acts of the teachers and the larger educational institution reinforced whiteness as dominant, and Asian Americans as the “model minority” who were most closely fitting the dominant mold.