sociology

We are not our genitalia

So I wrote the post below 6 months ago, then never got around to editing and publishing it. I am very passionate about equality, but rarely post about it because honestly, it can get fucking depressing and blogging is supposed to be a fun hobby for me. (If you follow me on Instagram, that’s where you’ll see more on the topic.) But 6 months ago, I felt inspired and wanted to share my thoughts – it’s not perfect, but hopefully it provides some interesting food for thought. This week seemed like a good time to get it out there, with all of the terrible political attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. Hope you enjoy!

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Photo by Andrew Branch on Unsplash

 

I read a fantastic article the other day that got me in full-on sociologist mode.

I highly recommend it, even though it’s pretty academic. But it covers a very important concept in our society – that men and women are very different, because of their biology.

Now, I’m not going to argue that males and females aren’t different. Males have different genitalia than females – females give birth, males don’t, etc etc. However, notice that I switched from the terms “men and women” to “males and females”. You’re thinking: who cares? “Men” and “males” are synonyms, and so are “women” and “females”.

And here’s where I’m gonna stop you and give you a free sociology lesson – and you will learn what my friends and family had to go through from 2010-2012 (who am I kidding, it didn’t stop then) when I was getting my master’s in sociology. Free and unsolicited sociology lessons were thrust upon innocents all around me during that time…

But YOU – you might want to hear this, right? Right??? Cuz you love me, and you love learning.

That’s what I thought.

So here’s the lesson – there is a big difference between sex and gender.

Sex = male/female, which refers to our chromosomes or genitalia.

Gender = women/men, which refers to how we express ourselves to the rest of society. This includes how we dress, talk, dance, eat, sit, stand, walk, work out, flirt, do our hair… it’s part of our identity, which is shaped by us, and our environment.

So back to this idea that is so important – are women and men different, on some core and essential level, because of their biology (aka sex)?

This is a very prevalent idea, that shapes our culture in a ton of different ways. The idea that we are inherently different because of our sex is the foundation of everything from family structure to war to deodorant to self-help books to our country’s entire labor force.

So you might be thinking, “Ya, of course everything is based on that, because it’s true – men and women are born different, and we are built to do different things – we’re just different, down to the very core.”

Some things are true. Males, on average, have more muscle mass and can lift heavier things and stuff. Females are able to give birth and males can’t. Males have more testosterone, females have periods.

But now, can you look at those things and then conclude that women are better at working with children? Can you conclude that men are not “built” to be as good at listening and empathizing? Can you conclude that men are not as sensitive, shouldn’t cry as much, are just designed to have trouble staying faithful in monogamous relationships? That women don’t have what it takes to run a government or a company? That women are predisposed to focus on one primary goal: to find a husband, keep him faithful, and have children?

See what’s happening here? We are extrapolating A LOT. And I know that hormones and genetics and all of that have a big effect on who we are and how we behave. However, I think that too much weight is put on this one aspect of our biological bodies (sex) and how it impacts who we are in society.

And you know what throws a big ‘ol wrench into this whole idea? The fact that intersex people exist. Newsflash – there aren’t just two binary sexes. There’s a whole grey area, a whole population of people (and not a small one) that is neither male nor female. So who are they? Should they raise kids? Should they have long hair? Should they suck it up and “be a man”? How does this work for them?

There is also the transgender community. A man can technically give birth if they wanted to – because perhaps they were born with female biological characteristics, but they identify as a man. And if you talk to someone who is transgender who is undergoing hormone therapy, you will realize that physical sexual characteristics can be completely created by hormones – if you are born a female and identify as a man, you may undergo hormone therapy and can become a physical male, in almost every way. Body hair, fat distribution, chiseled jaw line, even an adam’s apple! It’s tougher for transwomen, but what you realize when you look into what these communities experience is that so much of what we see as genetic or biological can be performed in a way, just like the cultural aspects of gender.

Let’s break this down even more. Our culture tells us that we are born a man or woman, and that makes us so distinctly and essentially different – that it is a binary and clear distinction that determines who we are. Okay – then why, if you asked me, could I walk, talk, and act like a man? I can mimic all of that behavior. Because all of that is cultural, learned behavior – it is performed. It is not something we are born with.

If you add in hormones, voice training, months or years of living as the gender that doesn’t traditionally align with your sex – you honestly, in a lot of cases, wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. You probably are unaware that you have interacted with multiple trans people in your life. They just seemed like “normal” men or women.

The intersex and trans community are exactly why the distinction between the terms sex and gender are so important. When you learn more about the LGBTQ+ community, you’ll see how fluid both of those concepts really are – despite the media telling you how important your genitalia and gender are to how you interact with every person in your life.

Let’s go back to the hetero-normative idea for a moment. You read in the news all the time about studies of men and women, right? “Studies show that women are 5x more likely to x when doing x than men.” Something like that.  What I loved so much about the article I linked to at the beginning is that they called out these types of studies and how you can’t take them at face value. First of all, studies are only news-worthy when they call out our differences. Studies like this would be kind of boring, right?:

When it comes to humans, yes, Fine says, on average men report a greater interest in casual sex than do women. But according to a large-scale British study of more than 12,000 people ages 16-44, the most common number of sexual partners for both men and women was … one. That answer held whether the respondents were asked to report for the previous three months, the previous year, or the previous five years. Both men (80%) and women (89%) also said they preferred to be in a sexually exclusive relationship.

We have our differences, of course – but the argument here is that our similarities are never emphasized. This makes us feel like strangers to each other, like we can’t understand the “opposite sex” – and it encourages us to feel estranged and dramatically different from each other.

Why? If you’re asking me, personally, I say the patriarchy and the interest of those in power to make sure we all feel like only a certain group of people are fit to be in charge, and so we don’t band together to call bullshit. But it’s also used to sell us all kinds of things, like I mentioned before. Why do we need different deodorants???? Razors? Self-help books? Cars? Clothes? Anything can be gendered in advertisements, it’s actually amazing. Once you start looking for it, it’s kind of mind-boggling.

But this article also called these news-worthy studies into question in a different way – I laughed out loud when I read this part:

What about the now-famous studies done on college campuses that show men are far more likely than women to accept the request of an opposite-sex unfamiliar peer (actually a research confederate) to come over to their apartment or even to go to bed together?

Here Fine is at her best, registering this objection (among others):

“What this study is actually primarily showing is women’s lack of interest in being murdered, raped, robbed, or inflaming the interests of a potential stalker…. Social realities mean that women and men in these studies are simply not participating in the same experiment.”

BAHAHA.

Actually, I might be interested in casual sex, but I’m just really not into being murdered, which is kind of at the top of the priority list.

So with everything we just talked about, here’s the kicker – both gender and sex are not that important in a lot of ways, right? So what if I don’t have a penis – I’m really not that different from men, and we are definitely not as different than society wants us to believe.

BUT – with sexism and rape culture and homophobia, sex and gender are very important in other ways – if you are in the minority group in these categories, it can affect everything from getting a good job to being safe in our own homes.

So – this stuff is all so important when reading news headlines and puff pieces and when watching romantic comedies (which are the absolute worst when it comes to this stuff, but I still love them?). Sex isn’t binary, gender is performed, sexism and heterosexism are real and ubiquitous.

Think about why you are hearing the messages you are hearing. Why can’t you just do what you want? Why do you have to have your hair that way, or do this or that in order to be a real woman or man? Question everything, my lovelies.

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…like why Trump announced the trans military ban and the Justice Dept. argued against LGBTQ+ discriminatory protections this week. This particular week. Why now? What are we being distracted from? Who are they distracting? I bet you can guess.

It’s been a rough week, but if we keep questioning, taking no bullshit, and standing up for each other, we can spread love better than they can spread hate.

 

 

 

 

Failing words

I haven’t had the words to address the past couple of weeks and all the insane shit going on in our world right now. I still don’t have the words. I don’t feel that I can add anything to the conversation that would be helpful or comforting or productive. But I also don’t want to be can’t be silent.

The tension surrounding police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement has pierced through to everyone’s hearts. It is on all of our minds. Finally. White people have not had to face these things head on. We still aren’t, but finally this is something no one can ignore right now. It is coming up in my conversations at work, with friends, on social media – everywhere. People who might not normally think about these issues because of their privilege are thinking about these issues.

I honestly don’t know what to say. It’s odd, because if you meet me in real life, it becomes clear early on that I am not shy about talking politics. I am passionate about equality and I don’t try and hide it.

But for some reason, I don’t talk about it much on the blog. Sometimes it feels like work – I was a Sociology graduate student and talking about these issues was my job for a long time. It also is exhausting. Where do I even start? Do I do a post on what feminism is compared to what people think it is? Do I do a post about how reverse racism isn’t a thing? Then it feels weird to act like an authority on these topics or something, when I’m not… So I end up talking about how guilty I feel sometimes, and try to make sense of things through documentaries and helpful articles…. it helps sharing, but it all feels…inadequate.

But. I can’t be silent, and I have to use whatever voice I have to speak my mind. I can’t keep hearing people say “All Lives Matter” and feel like I am just sitting here, in my privileged life, appalled at the state of things, and not say anything – even if it is inadequate.

Bottom line – this is not acceptable. We cannot, as the privileged group in power, see these terrifying things, see our fellow citizens treated this way, hear them cry out in pain, and act like everything is okay. We can’t ignore statistics, we can’t ignore the stories and painful words of our neighbors in such pain and torment – we can’t support whatever systems are in place causing this pain. We have to listen. We have to look at each other and think of what we can do to help. This feels like the 60s – all of these clearly unfair and horrendous things happening in our cities, and white people are doing nothing. Much worse, some white people are saying, “Why do we need to focus on only that?”

I don’t know. My words are failing. They come out and just fall on the ground, just pathetic attempts to do – anything. I feel hopeless. But I don’t feel a fraction of the hopelessness others in this country feel.

I want to turn off the news. I want to not think about it for a while. But that is my privilege, right there.

I am going to share some things I have said and shared online as things were unfolding, in case they are helpful, or in case they speak better to what I wish I could communicate than what I can put in writing now.

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The status below came up in my “memories” on Facebook – nothing has changed. Or have things gotten worse?

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The beginning quote is from this powerful article, “I, Racist”.

One of my friend’s awesome commentary:

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A comic in the comments that was also perfect:

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Why white people freak out when they’re called out about race.

 

This clip of good people gives me a glimmer of hope.

 

 

 

And finally, why reverse racism is not a thing. I seem to be explaining that a lot lately, and this video sums it up way better than I can:

 

 

 

 

I hope desperately that we can all learn – quickly – to lead with love and listen first.

 

<3

 

 

Master of None – most recently devoured Netflix series

This past week has been tough – it is disheartening to read everything in the news right now. Things can look so bleak, and people can be so unkind. Sometimes I can get overwhelmed by the lack of change and how ignorant and awful our society can be. But certain things give me hope. Hope that we can one day be a society that is less xenophobic. That maybe we can have more enlightened conversations in the mainstream media.

In grad school, I studied media and the messages it sends to us about society – messages about gender, race, and class. I also have a love for TV, so I get so happy when I find a show that breaks the mold and tries something new – like sending messages about equality and changing the narrative. I love supporting these shows too, and seeing what they are doing and the conversations they are starting – shows like How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, and Empire, for example. They give me the drama I love, but add a twist with strong, badass women of color as leaders who are complex, relatable individuals – something that is rare in popular media.

Aaaaanyywwaaaayyy, this leads me finally to Master of None. I don’t have cable, so I rely on Netflix to try and catch up on months-old episodes of prime time TV. Thankfully, they have their own shows now that I can binge on all at once (in this case, it only took me and Anthony a Saturday night to watch the whole thing since we were sick at home). Usually Netflix originals are good, and I like Aziz Ansari so we tried it out.

I now love Aziz Ansari.

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This show has a Louie feel (Louis CK’s show), but it’s much less dark and is just so good at understanding millenials so precisely, while presenting social issues in a simultaneously well-educated and funny way. Aziz is the main character, a single actor with late 20s/early 30s problems like deciding whether he wants to settle down and have kids, how to deal with a serious relationship, and seeing his parents in a different light.

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The great thing about this show is that it isn’t just a comedy with a cute and relatable person that we follow through the growing pains of a young life – it changes the narrative. For example, instead of having the typical group conversation at a bar with members of the opposite sex about gender stereotypes (“Women, you know? Always so misleading and dramatic!” *high fives* “Oh yeah? Well men just think with their penis and have no emotional capabilities!” *banter ensues*), this show has a conversation about the commonplace harassment of women over beers, with a supportive and thoughtful dialogue.

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They hit a ton of amazing and thoughtful topics in the first season – immigrant parents and how different their lives are from their children, aging and relating to the elderly, sexism, racism… I mean, it’s a sociologist’s dream. There might be room for improvement (like always) but this show really blew me away. I was so impressed how well they handled these sensitive topics and made it look easy – and everything was still funny and interesting as hell.

I want mainstream media to take notes – you can be funny, and not a downer, and successful and hip, and talk about these issues appropriately while using a diverse set of characters. See?! No excuses.

 

Have you seen it? What did you think? What is your favorite show right now?

 

 

Friday TV Rant

 

I have been watching two very different shows lately: Empire and House of Cards.

One show is set in a world of white power – politicians in DC are plotting against each other, only interested in influence and money. All you see is ties, crown molding, conversations in dark luxury cars, and fake smiles.

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The other show is set in the world of an African-American bootstraps success story – R&B and hip hop stars are doing anything for fame and money. All you see is amazing clothes, expensive parties, and threats thrown across hallways with platinum records framed on the walls.

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So today I am at work, and I’m working (I swear) – and all of a sudden, it hit me – Lucius Lyon and Francis Underwood are very similar characters. They are murderers, liars, and manipulative men who are obsessed with power.

Since I still have a sociology brain from grad school, I immediately thought – what does this say about masculinity? Here are two main characters of two of the most popular shows out right now – and both men are despicable, but successful. Is that what it takes to be a successful man? To sell part of your soul? According to mainstream media, it is becoming quite a pattern.

The president in Scandal had to do it (don’t tell me anything! I’m so behind!), Jamal in Empire is doing it… they come to a crossroads where, up until this point, they were a good guy. And then another evil dude in their life has shown them that they have to do “whatever it takes” to “make it” and they cave. They hold a man over a balcony, or kill someone, or whatever – just to keep their success.

The women, meanwhile, are doing some of the same things, but they seem to keep their relateable-ness and they still seem to have a conscience. We root for them. Zoe in House of Cards is annoying and she bugs the shit out of me – but she seems to still have a trace of humanity, and you don’t put her in the same category as Underwood (and don’t tell me anything! I’m only on the first season! Maybe I should have caught up before writing this… ah, well.) Cookie on Empire (WHO IS THE BEST CHARACTER EVER ON TELEVISION) does some intense stuff, but you like her. You feel bad for her. If she kills a dude who is coming after her or beats up her son for a sec, you are okay with it. Why? I have no idea.

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But these main characters – Lucius and Underwood – they just have too many parallels. Narcissists who throw their loved ones under the bus to achieve their goals. Where is the main male character whose conscience is clean and is still successful? Who has a loving and healthy family life?

I just think it is interesting that there is this message: whether you started out as a good guy, or were the devil to begin with, you will have to do some evil shit to be successful (like, history books and household names successful).

Where did this come from? What do you think?

Side note: I like House of Cards. But I wish I liked it more. House of Cards is like vegetables and Empire is like ice cream. I know House of Cards is quality television that has all this good stuff like amazing subtleties in character development and production… but I get a little bored. What can I say – I like the flashy, Glee-y, R&Btastic tastiness of Empire. But now that season one is over I have a sugar hang over. COME BACK TO ME.

 

Check out this great article about diversity in Hollywood – so well written!  Shows like Empire and Scandal are finally proving that we like seeing non-white people on TV! Deal with it.

 

I hope you have a great weekend! I am off to Cambria with Anthony to celebrate our two year anniversary. <3 Hope you all find time to relax!

 

 

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