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Gender: in Theory

Pachali Brewster



Gender excites me. I cannot deny it any longer. Unfortunately it’s too big a topic to squish down to six hundredish words, so I’m going to divide it into two parts: gender in theory, and gender in practice. This week we’ll be dealing with the former.

Gender is like… this huge fucking thing which dictates every aspect of our lives: how we look, think, behave, hold ourselves, relate to others, and how we are treated, judged, and categorised by others. Its technical definition is “the social and cultural significance of being male or female.” In this culture, gender is divided into the “feminine” and the “masculine.”
Girls are feminine. They wear pink dresses, play with dolls, and smile sweetly until they turn into women, get married, have babies, maintain the household, and spend the rest of their days putting the needs of others before their own. Boys are masculine, and wear pants which get ripped from too much tussling outside. They are big and strong, and have to keep being big and strong when they grow up, so they can work hard to earn money for their wives while hiding their emotions.
This, of course, is crap. It makes far more sense for men to wear the dresses, anatomically speaking. But I hope you can see what I am getting at: that the gender difference between male and female is as large as the difference between Barbie and her arch-nemesis, GI Joe.
So where does gender come from? Did traits that are described as “feminine” and “masculine” arise from the biological differences between men and women that Barbara and Allen Pease are always touting? Does having clearly-defined roles serve an evolutionary function? Or are they just another arbitrary standard to live up to in this conformist world we live in? I believe it’s the second one, not because I am a rage-filled feminist, but because there is a more significant gap between the genders culturally than there actually is between the sexes in biology. Yes, women are born physically smaller, and their muscles can’t get as big as men’s can, and perhaps being the child bearers has given them some traits to help them deal better in related areas. But why did I have a collection of over twenty-five Barbies when I was a kid? And why was I more shy to raise my hand when there were boys in my high school classes as opposed to when there were none? Why do I cackle with subversive delight every time I slap a guy on the ass? And why do I feel different when I wear a skirt and a low-cut top from when I wear a pair of baggy jeans and a t-shirt that says “Liquor, she’ll love it”? And men, why do you resist so much whenever I try to apply mascara to your eyelashes? Come on, you’d look so pretty! It’s not like there’s anyone around…
Traits that form(ed) the basis of gender may be genetically dictated, and have their roots in evolution, but I don’t think having “roles” for us to this extent is evolutionarily functional. Where’s the sense in basing our social identity on ways of thinking along the lines of: “Ohhh, I’m the woman. I guess I’d better get back in the kitchen. You’re the man. Go get a job, then give me the money, and afterwards you can play a carefree game of rugby with your mates.” It may have been necessary to divide the sexes back when we were living in caves and had to hunt antelope and fend off dinosaurs, but it somehow seems less important now.
Next week: Deviant genders, and feeling comfortable in your own. By the way, UniQ’s annual Traffic Light Dance party is on this Saturday, May 5, at Our Bar on Cuba St. It costs $5 for students, and the doors open at 9pm. ‘the band called dave’ is playing, and there will be performances by Ellie Kat and Data Boy, and also go-go dancers! It’ll be a rip-roaring good time.