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Cooperfull1 - ' '- r b The majority of social science...

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Unformatted text preview: ' '- r b The majority of social science research on homo» sexuality has been on men (see Oberstone and Sukoneck, 1976). Most nonfeminist work on les- bians has been of a quantitative nature, attempting to study the issue of lesbianism numerically. It has not allovved the women’s experience to be quoted directly but to be interpreted solely for the reader by the researcher. This study allows women to speak about their own gender identity development. The difference between “sex” and “gender” should be empha- sized since it is a crucial distinction made in this article. Kate Millett (1970, p. 39) wrote of the “overwhelmingly cultural character of gender." She. along with others (Stoller, 1968), was active in distinguishing gender from the term “sex,” which refers to one’s anatomy and physiology. Robert Stoller (1968, pp. viii—ix) wrote that gender is a term that has psychological or cultural rather than biological connotations. if the proper terms for sex are “male” and 'female," the corre- sponding terms for gender are “masculine” and ‘feminine ”.- these latter may be quite independent ofsex. METHODS AND SAMPLE Martin and Lyon (1972) felt surveys may not even be likely to include the respondents’ true feelings, REJ TIN “ININITY”: .\. v 1 ' 'u thereby forcing the respondent to fit into a cate- gory she or he might not otherwise. They were critical of quantitative methods in the study of les— bianisrn when they wrote: Experience indicates that the questions are made up generally by heterosexuals and asked ofhomo- sexuals who very oftenfind them irrelevant to their particular lifestyle. The questions, for the most part, are unanswerable by the required “yes” or "no ” or multiple choice, and their only virtue is that they are easily computerized into instant (mis— leading) statistic ( p. 2). . _ .. .. i ._ Itallows for respon- dents to create their own categories rather than merely try to fit into those preconceived by a re- searcher. The validity of the qualitative method relates directly to the validity of the women‘s experiences. Lesbians were identified . respondents were assured confiden- tiality and assigned pseudonyms. The interviews were conducted and analyzed according to the pro- cedure suggested by Schwartz and Jacobs (1979) and Lofland and Loiland (1984). Rather than (i contacted through utilizing the statistical analyses of quantitative Source.- Margaret Cooper. “Rejecting ‘Femininity‘: Some Research Notes on Gender Identity Development in Lesbians." Deviant Behavior, vol. 11 (1990), pp. 371—380. Reprinted with permission. 171 172 PART SEVEN VICTMS OF STIGMA methods, the interview data were examined for emergent patterns of responses and descriptions. The ages of the respondents ranged from 19 to 38, with the average age of 25.3 years. All of the Women were born and reared in small towns and cities in the South and Midwest. All of them currently live in and around cities with a popula— tion of 50,000 or less in various towns in the cen- tral region of the United States. Four of the women considered themselves to be feminists. The rest did not. One other woman had recently become involved with the gay rights movement. A few others expressed interest in the gay rights and feminist movements, but not from the standpoint of a participant. Since the sample size of this study is small, no attempt will be made to say that this sample is reflective of all lesbians. However, this article is an honest account of the experience of the women who did take part in this study. RESULTS Q All of the women interviewed indicated a rejec- tion of traditional femininity. Even as children, so e even e ore ere consciously aware of ht not have known what they wanted, they knew what they did not want. For them, it appears that the female gen— der role represented more than femaleness. It also represented heterosexuality: That role is all sex—oriented. It 's the dumb house- wife image. if you really look at it, that 's just the way it is. (Pat) I remember as a very young child not identifying with the female role because it seemed like, and this was growing up in the sixties, that the. female role was strongly attached to your role as a wife and mother and I knew I couldn’t do that. So I felt more identified with the male role. When I was a kid, I would play the boy when we played house. And I wanted my mom to buy me "boy clothes." (Kate) For Kate, this role rejection was directly linked, in her view, to her attraction to other girls. She was aware of this attraction at a very young age and she reported that she developed quite a “macho” image of herself by age seven. She explained it this way: I used to think, as a kid, that you had to be mascu— line to get a woman. That women liked masculinity and men liked femininity. So I tried to convince every girl on the block that l was a boy. I even took a male name. And of course, it made perfect sense to me. I never understood when people ’3 parents were flipping out. The other women’s responses fell into three categories: (1) ' 1ke Kate’s ex- ple), (2) .-.- d Owing i.-._:".: ' . . e m. These responses overlapped in all of the interviews. Taking the male role was seen in both play and fantasy. Cindy said, “Kids would play house; and I was the one, when my cousins would come over, I’d play the boy. I’d always do the boy parts." This led her to believe that she might be gay. This also “concerned” her cousins, one of whom later said to her, “We was all worried about you. won~ dering about you because you always wanted to play the guy.” Cindy said she wanted to respond by merely saying, “Take a hint.” Anita’s childhood fantasies often involved taking the male role. She described them by saying: I might not have known what it was called when l was real young, I can remember going to see "James Bond” and like when . . . my imagination would run wild or I would have some kind offan— rosy, Pd never fantasize as being one ofthe women. I was always "James Bond". . . "Matt Dillon." you know. .- study by eener and re orted by Lewm tomboy phase. In the sample for this article, all fif- teen women told of their “tomboy” experiences as children. Not only did they engage in sports, tree» climbing, etc, many of them chose to play with boys. Robin said, “I was the only girl in my neigh- borhood my age when we moved here, so that was a lot of fun to hang around with the boys . . . I used to be a tomboy really bad.” Barbara enjoyed “gee ting out and playing baseball with my brothers or basketball, things like that.” This led her to con- clude after some period of time, “I ltnew I was dif- ferent. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.” . . . LeWis (1979, p. 23) called the “rebellion against what is seen as being female and restrictive“ that coincides with the desire for “those elements of male identity that carry independence . . . the first rite of passage into lesbian selfhood.” The third set of responses involved this “rebellion against what is Seen as being female.” Carole said that she would “rather take a beating than put a dress on.” Barbara not only disliked the frilly dresses her mother bought for her, she also hated the Barbie dolls. “I wanted to burn the Barbie dolls!“ she laughed. During the childhood years, -. - to change in adolescence. The world again be- comes the dichotomized place of girl/femininity and boylmasculinity, now with an additional im- perative: heterosexuality, complete with its em- phasis, for girls, on attracting the boys who will become their future protectors of social responsi- bility (Lewis, 1979). Lewis found that girls then began to lose their desire to be boys. Only 2 per- cent of her subjects wished to be boys after pu- berty. Most accepted female identities. However, most did not succumb to tradition, but sought to personally redefine what it meant to be female. As teenagers, sports became an outlet for many of them. Nine of the fifteen women in this study played in sports. This was enough to cause rumors to start. Two women explained it this way: I played basketball and srufi’: and you know, when you’re an athlete and a woman, there’s a lot of stereotypes. You know. “she’s real bullish!" Or "she can really shoot that hard for a woman.” Peo— u ee. is begins 26 COOPER REJECTWG“FEWNITY“ 173 pic would say something and my sister heard about it and she ’d go home and tell my mom. She would say, “I heard Stella’s gay." (Stella) if you were in athletics at that point in time when I was in high school. you were automatically stereotyped that you were gay because you Were a big athlete. . . . You were automatically labeled. (Carole) For Stella, these rumors were instigators of problems at home. The mere label of “lesbian” proved to be a threat to women. It was a warning that they were stepping outside the lines of accept- able gender behavior. ' -' ' ' = It .. i" '- pt a little more pressure on me as to trying to prove myself not being that way as far as dating and stuff like that.” As teenagers, and for some even into adult— hood 3 - no.) . .. . " " s rJection ranged from not wearing overtly feminine apparel to dressing in a way that was considered to be “mannish.” I went through that stage when I had to play o Dyke. Yeah, I had to ride a motorcycle and wear men ’s pants. men ’s clothes and I dldn ’r wear wom- en ’3 mafia: all. Men ’3 underwear even, you know. You go through this phase and it’s one of those things. (Par) I don 't‘ know why I’m so hutch, why I wear men 's clothes. It’s not that I want to be a man, because I don 't. Because God knows, if! were a man, I wouldn ’t‘ have been with some of the women that I've been with. (Anita) For Pat, as with the rest of the women with the exception of Anita and Jennifer, it was just, as she said, a phase. Whether as a child, teenager, or adult, it did seem to serve, as previously stated by Lewis, __ ’ at .’ It is crucial to con- sider, as Anita articulated, that gay women do not want to be men. Instead, they had desired male privilege and access to women. They desired the freedom that men had; and every woman in the sample, whether or not she considered her- self a feminist, found the female role restrictive. 3 said, “It n 1'74 PART SEVEN VICTJMS OF S'I‘IGMA on 7.. ' I " escents W Sasha Lewis (1979, p. 24) wrote, “The young lesbian realizes that she cannot be a boy, yet she realizes that she cannot be like her female peers and in many cases she feels a sense of intense isola- tion." Not understanding why such pressure to com form even exists, lesbians then must determine their own paths. For many, as Pat and Kate explained, the lack of role models dramatically increased their problems. The problem was not merely finding good or even adequate role models. It was finding - .- -' = . ._ - e lack of visibility, on the part of lesbians reinforced their fears of being In what they perceived as a way to escape the constraints of female roles, two of the women had expressed a youthful intention to enter the mili- tary. TWO more eventually did. Although the army did not satisfy either in her search for identity, both felt their reason for joining involved this re: jection of traditional roles. Pat explained: Why did I join the army? Because it was not a fe- male role. To prove that l wasjust as good as they ( men l were. That I could do anything they could do. . . . CON CLUSION While the issue of gender identity in lesbians calls for further research, this study does reveal some im- portant points. Even at an early age, the women in this study were rebels where gender behavior was concerned. Many of them described experiences as “tomboys.” They, as children, indicated they had no problem with this behavior but were forced by oth- ers to “wear dresses” or “play with dolls.” Some did these willingly but rejected traditional femininity REFERENCES when they saw it as representing heterosexuality. Most rejected the traditional female role, because even as children, they could not foresee themselves in the future portraying a heterosexual role. Some, in childhood fantasies, already perceived them- selves in lives with women. Many of them saw a need to take the “male role” to achieve the relation to women that they desired. At the onset of adoles~ cence, much more pressure existed from both peers and adults to abandon “tomboyish” behaviors. . . . It should be reiterated that the women in this study found the traditional female role to be re- strictive and constraining. Beginning as children, they began a journey of self-discovery usually without the assistance of role models or appropri— ate guidance from those they considered authori- ties. As adults, each reached her own conclusion on what it meant to be a woman and what it meant to be a lesbian. Risking the labels of “deviants” or worse, these women have chosen roles for which there were no scripts. Consequently, many femi- nists would consider their androgynous approach to selfhood to be much more well-rounded than those straining to conform to rigidly limited roles. In their paper on the psychological adjustment of lesbians and heterosexual women, Oberstone and Sukoneck (1976) concluded their analysis on gay women with the following: Are they really more “masculine ” in their behavior than their "normal" heterosexual counterparts, or are they more Jfree to develop both their feminine and masculine and. infact, their human potential? It is possible that, rather than being "masculine." the lesbian woman, by virtue of being an outlaw, has had to develop personality qualities that have been traditionally the domin of the male, such as independence. self—determination, competence, and aggression. ( p. 185) Lewis. Sasha G. 1979. Sunday ’s Women: Lesbian Life Today. Boston: Beacon. Lofland, John, and Lyn H. Lofland. 1984. Analyzing So- cial Settings: A Guide to Qualitative Observation and Analysis. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. Martin, Del, and Phyllis Lyon. 1972. Lesbian/Women. New York: Bantam. Millet, Kate. 1910. Sexual Politics. New York: Ballantine. Oberstone, Andrea, and Harriet Sukoneck. 1976. “Psy- chological Adjustment and Life Style of Single ‘lllllilllllilfii 26 COOPER REIECTIING “FEMIINWITY” 175 Lesbians and Single Heterosexual Women.” Psy- Stofler. Robert J. 1968. Sex and Gender New York: Sci, chology of Women Quarterly, Itno. 2): 1727188. ence House. Schwartz, Howard, and Jerry Jacobs. 1979. Qualitative Wolff. Charlotte. 1971. Love between Women. New Sociology: A Method to the Madness. New York: York: St. Martin’s. Free Press. REVIEW QUESTIONS 1. Cooper discovered four uniform responses given by the women in her study as they relate to the development of a lesbian identity. What are they? 2. Given the way that Cooper coliected her data, why must her conclusions be treated cautiously? 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Cooperfull1 - ' '- r b The majority of social science...

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