In this installment of the Pre-Education Blog, we will be sharing some resources as a starting point for exploring the complex concepts of gender and sex. There is so much to say about this topic, and we can only begin to scratch the surface here, so we encourage you to take in this extensive post at your own pace. We hope you will also help us deepen and expand this conversation via this blog, on Facebook, and in person at the conference (read through to the end to find some of the conference offerings that touch on these topics)!
EXPANDING THE BINARIES
People often use the terms gender and sex interchangeably, but they are actually very different concepts, rather than a singular concept. Sam Killerman created a concept called the Genderbread Person (see below) to illustrate the differences between Gender Identity, Gender Expression, Biological Sex, and Attraction, and where each of those aspects of gender could live in the body. Our society has long considered attraction, gender identity, and sex to be a system of binaries: you are either one or the other, man or woman, gay or straight. Research and best practices into understanding these concepts suggest that rather than a binary, a full spectrum exist in terms of attraction, identity and expression. In drama therapy terms, imagine that these concepts instead of being either/or are instead on a spectogram, and may change over time. Understanding these identities and concepts in this way is more inclusive of a wider range of diverse identities and intersections thereof.
Click for a link to the website, and for more of Sam Killerman’s work on explaining concepts around gender, check out this website.
PLAYING WITH AND PERFORMING GENDER NORMS
Just as with other areas of identity, there are certain societal norms that play out in relation to gender expression. While gender “norms” (check out related article HERE) may be shifting and changing with the times (and are certainly different from culture to culture), there are still many societal influences that determine these so-called norms. A. K. Summers explores her own internalization and challenges with performing some of these expectations in her graphic memoir, Pregnant Butch, and explains her experience of being “a masculine woman in a world bent on associating pregnancy with a cult of über-femininity” on the podcast, “The Longest Shortest Time”. One of the important things this kind of non-dominant narrative provides is an opportunity to open up our understanding of gender roles, how they are performed, expressed, and transformed by our society and in our relationships.
It is important to understand the real life impact and potential harm that may come from our ideas of gender norms or seeing identity through a binary lens. How does bias around gender play out on a broader scale in our daily lives and experience? While some of these norms may be changing, a great deal of unequal access to power and privilege remains. For example, there is still a noted bias against women in certain professional fields that are perceived to be largely male or masculine. Social psychologist Corinne Moss-Racusin researches gender bias at Skidmore College, and in her article, John VS. Jennifer, discovered a glaring discrepancy between the practices around hiring and employing men vs. women based on masculine vs. feminine names alone, in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. Check out her findings by clicking HERE.
Bias plays out in social and mass media regularly, as evidenced by this Buzzfeed article which chronicles the viral trend happening under the hashtag #DistractinglySexy, and highlights another bias against women in professional fields. Nobel Prize winning scientist Tim Hunt commented about women who work in science labs, saying that they conform to this trajectory, “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry” illustrating one of the ways in which women in the workforce may be treated or perceived differently.
Check out some of the highlighted Instagram and Twitter responses here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/skarlan/biohazard-suits-are-nsfw
Y CHROMOSOMES HAVE A VOICE TOO!
But these biases aren’t just directed toward women and girls! They also play out in societal norms and expectations of men and boys. This article highlights the dangers of prescribed norms of masculinity for men and boys:
The following trailer for the documentary, The Mask You Live In, speaks to American masculinity and the detrimental effects that occur when the notion of manhood is imposed on boys and men. It explores the struggle that many young men and boys face in trying to find self while constantly being forced by society’s expectations to prove their (socially and culturally defined) masculinity.
“Our work to change masculinity has to be grounded in more than paternalism or accountable relationships across difference (though the latter is vital). Our work to transform masculinity must be grounded in ourselves and our stories.”
Just like everything else in our world, social pressures and issues don’t affect only those whose gender identity aligns with their assigned sex at birth (cisgendered men and women). Transgender issues have also been at the forefront of our societal consciousness in recent months, via individuals like Laverne Cox (actress from the Netflix smash hit TV show “Orange is the New Black”), Janet Mock (well-known activist, writer, and TV host), and Caitlyn Jenner allowing society an in-depth look into their struggles transitioning from male to female.
Check out this interesting take on intersections, privilege, and cisnormative standards of beauty by Laverne Cox: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/02/laverne-cox-caitlyn-jenner_n_7495364.html
One of the important points to consider here is that, “too often, mainstream acceptance is based on how traditionally feminine a trans woman can look, and often, a lack of material access, or a lack of desire to appear traditionally feminine makes it harder to achieve that acceptance.”
Despite recent media attention on transgendered individuals, it is important to recognize that both societal bias and real violence against trans* persons, particularly trans* person’s of color, continue to exist. News satirist John Oliver, focused on this issue on his show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. While this commentary is not perfect, he utilizes his platform to challenge some of the deeply-ingrained patterns and rigid binaries that exist in our society when thinking about gender and sex, showing us just how ridiculous some of our societal norms around transgender “rights” and stereotypes are.
Check out the video here:
PLEASE NOTE: Some mildly explicit language in this video is not censored/bleeped out.
INTERSECTIONALITY AND BEYOND
As we explore our intersecting identities, our relationships to privilege and difference, and ways to call upon our work to generate and fight for social justice, we must constantly remind ourselves to be aware of our biases and how they perform in the world.
Some additional questions to consider:
- What is your personal lived experience of gender identity and assigned sex? How has that lived experience been validated or challenged by society or your personal networks?
- How have you uncovered or dealt with bias (for or against you) based on your gender identity or assigned sex?
- How does your gender identity intersect with your other identities? How can we open up conversations around gender identity and assigned sex in our community? In our work? In our society?
As always, we invite you to start having these conversations within your personal networks, and respond with what comes up for you! Let us know what you think, what we might have missed, and/or what you would like to see us explore in the future! We look forward to seeing you at the conference in October to keep the conversation going.
Psst! Are you still reading? We know this has been a hefty article, but if you’re still with us, and want more, check this out for bonus points! Search Google or Twitter for more about the issues that inspired the #SayHerName hashtag campaign. This is one great example of the intersections of multiple identities and how they are dealt with by our society and media. Here’s an article to get you started: https://www.autostraddle.com/sayhername-shade-schuler-is-the-13th-trans-woman-murdered-this-year-in-the-u-s-302616/
Additional note: If you are interested in finding conference offerings that specifically touch on this topic, here are some of the offerings at this year’s conference that focus on gender and sex in drama therapy:
PC 7: Examining the Impact of Personal Identifiers on Career Advancement in Drama Therapy
A3: LGBTQI Foundations: Providing Competent and Affirming Care
A4: “You’re too Female For This Job”: Sexism in the Institution/Therapeutic Relationship
B1: Gender Performance, Role Concepts and the Therapeutic Encounter
D4: Gender Privilege through the Lens of Masculinities and Femininities Theories
D5: Bridging Documentary Filmmaking and Drama Therapy: Women’s Narratives on Skid Row
Click here for more information and to register today!