what it means to be gendered me

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Unformatted text preview: 5 m an What It Means to ' {understood the concept of “doing gender” (West and Zimmerman 1987) long before I became a sociologist. I have been living with the consequences of inappro- priate “gender display" (Goffman 1976; West and Zimmerman 1987) for as long as 1 can remember. My daily experiences are a testament to the rigidity of gender in our society, to the real implications of “two and only two" when it comes to sex and gender categories (Garfinkel 1967; Kessler and McKenna 1978). Each day, I experience the consequences that our gender system has for my identity and interactions. I am a woman who has been called “Sir” so many times that I no longer even hesitate to assume that it is being directed at me. I am a woman whose use of pub- lic rest rooms regularly causes reactions ranging from confused stares to confrontations over what a man is doing in the women’s room. Iregularly enact a variety of practices either to minimize the need for others to know my gender or to deal with their misattributions. I am the embodiment of Lorber’s (1994) ostensibly paradoxical assertion that the “gender bending“ I engage in actually might serve to preserve and per- am..i,. ‘ (a Or P .1 a ,7 \ "a I WW la Cine harem, 12 Be Gendered Me Life on the Boundaries of a Dichotomous Gender System BETSY LUCAL petuate gender categories. As a feminist who sees gender rebellion as a significant part of her contribu- tion to the dismantling of sexism, I find this possibility disheartening. In this article, I examine how my experiences both support and contradict Lorber’s (1994) argument using my own experiences to illustrate and reflect on the so- cial construction of gender. My analysis offers a dis- cussion of the consequences of gender for people who do not follow the rules as well as an examination of the possible implications of the existence of people like me for the gender system itself. Ultimately, I show how life on the boundaries of gender affects me and how my life, and the lives of others who make similar decisions about their participation in the gender sys- tem, has the potential to subvert gender. Because this article analyzes my experiences as a woman who often is mistaken for a man, my focus is on the social construction of gender for women. My assumption is that, given the gendered nature of the gendering process itself, men’s experiences of this phenomenon might well be different from women's. ____r_____r___#_______c___—————— Betsy Lucal, “What It Means to Be Gendered Me: Life on the Boundaries of a Dichotomous Gender System," from Gender dc Society, Volume 13/1999, p. 781-797. Copyright © 1999 Sage Publications, Inc. Reprinted by permission. 113 Witt/m cob ‘- r? ‘ ' .4 dub.— oattée, flaw/nee 114 THE S OCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF GENDER ' em . gender dISPlayz = 3:39" We apply gender labels for a vaner of reasons (Goffman 1976). From this perspective, gender is I P20 or example, an indivrdual’s gender cues our rnterac- performance, “a stylized repetition of acts“ (Bun; me.” E trons With her or hrm Successful social relations re- 1990, 140, emphasis removed). Gender displa refers med” qurre all participants to present monitor, and rnterpret to conventronalized portrayals" Of SOCial cor-1- 13mm, Sande] gender displays (Martin 1998' West and Zimmerman gender (Goffman 1976). These displays are culturally 316),. b 1987). We have, according to Lorber, no socral place established sets of behavrors appearances manner‘ 06nd,; for a person who is neither woman nor man” (1994 isms, and other cues that we have learned 0 assmiate (1973 96), that is, we do not know how to interact with such with members of a particular gender. . “per a person. There rs for example no way of addressing A person who fails to establish a gendered app ar (1989 such a person that does not rely on making an assump- ance that corresponds to the person ’8 gender faces her (I tion about the person’s gender (“Sir” or “Ma’am”) In challenges to her or hrs Identity and status, First, the Zimn this context, gender is “omnirelevant’ (West and Zim- gender nonconformrst must find a Way in which [0 Count merman 1987) Also, given the sometimes fractious construct an identity in a socrety that denies her or him our g 5' nature of interactions between men and women, It any legitimacy (Bem 1993) Aperson is likely to wam Pr ,7 mrght be particularly important for women to know to define herself or himself as “normal” In the face of , the r {9'1 the gender of the strangers they encounter do the cultural evrdence to the contrary Second, the indmd l Lion: {l women need to be wary, or can they relax (Devor ual also must deal With other people 8 challenges [0 misi 1989)? identity and status‘deciding how to respond, what [ribr ‘3 According to Kessler and McKenna (1978), each such reactions to their appeara ,‘ time we encounter a new person, We make a gender at— : tributi que end to or not For exam 1 gender and by learning rules ple, a woman athlete particularly one particrpatrng [I] def , that enable us to classify individuals With a wrde range a nonfeminrne sport such as basketball, might deliber- pea ‘ of gender presentations into two and only two gender ater keep her hair long to show that, despite actions COI categories. As Weston observed, “Gendered traits are that suggest otherwrse she rs a “real” (i.e. feminine) m8 called attributes for a reason' People attnbute traits to woman But we also do gender in less conscious ways wi others No one possesses them Traits are the product such as when a man takes up more space when srttmg m2 of evaluation” (1996 21) The fact that most people than a woman does. In fact 111 a socrety so clearly or 136 use the same traits and rules 1n presenting genders ganized around gender, as o ' makes rt easrer for us to attribute genders to them ay in ne . which to not do gender (Lorber 1994). place each individual ' EANS TO BE GENDERED ME A jfically, doing one of two genders. (There :15 in limited contexts such as people doing er 1990; Lorber 1994].) he follow the norms of gender can take i gzgdgfd Is for granted. Kessler and McKenna as- Of social 13 w people besides transsexuals think of their {SplayS c K anything other than ‘naturally’ obvrous’; Ppearanjre , ve that the risks of not being taken for the clear—fled es nded “are minimal for nontranssexuals” der. t _ 25), However, such an assertion overlooks the 5 of people such as those women Devor ls “gender blenders“ and those peOple Lor— ) refers to as “gender benders." As West and an (1987) pointed out, we all are held ac- ‘e for, and might be called on to account for, ' rs. 13 who, for whatever reasons, do not adhere to gilidfihrge risk gender rnisattribut'ion and any interac- p e 5 Ghana I onsequences that might result from this to respm cation. What are the consequences of nil-sat- Titian, and so k l for social interaction? When must misattnbu- I’lsms, and so Imjnirnized?Whatw1110ne do to minimize such )ur gender 3? In this article, I explore these and related or not. Fm e 7 s using my biography. tie pal-[imp me, the soc1al processes and structures of gen- all, might dc u that, in the context of our culture, my tip 3 ewill be read as masculine. Given the conunon 1L des 1‘ I . 1i, (1. ep E: 'on of sex and gender, I Will be assumed to be a S COHSCl-OUS , ecause of the two-and-only-two genders rule, I classified, perhaps more often than not, as a :uot as an atypical woman, not as a genderless Imust be one gender or the other; I cannot be , nor can I be both. This norm has a variety of e and serious consequences for my everyday ce. Like Myhre (1995), I have found that the not to participate in femininity is not one made Y is placed yr . . ex eriences a w o f - one With w % p s a woman ho does not d em illustrate a paradox of our two-and-only-two system. Lorber argued that “bending gender and passing between genders does not erode but preserves gender boundaries” (1994, 21). Al- ‘ people who engage in these behaviors and ap- ces do “demonstrate the social constructedness _x, sexuality, and gender” (Lorber 1994, 96), they actually disrupt gender. Devor made a similar I? “When gender blending females refused to mark 'ould like to by Our socie‘ 115 themselves by publicly displaying sufficient feminin- ity to be recognized as women, they were in no way challenging patriarchal gender assumptions” (1989, 142). As the following discussion shows, Ihave found that my own experiences both support and challenge this argument. . . . GENDERED ME Each day, I negotiate the boundaries of gender. Each day, I face the possibility that someone will attribute the “wrong” gender to me based on my physical appearance. I am six feet tall and large-boned. I have had short . hair for most of my life. For the past several years, I have worn a crew cut or flat top. I do not shave or oth- erwise remove hair from my body (e.g., no eyebrow plucking). I do not wear dresses, skirts, high heels, or makeup. My only jewelry is a class ring, a “men’s” watch (my wrists are too large for a “women’s” watch), two small earrings (gold hoops, both in my left ear), and (occasionally) a necklace. I wear jeans or shorts, T-shirts, sweaters, polo/golf shirts, button- down collar shirts, and tennis shoes or boots. The jeans are “women’s” (1 do have hips) but do not look partic- ularly “feminine.” The rest of the outer garments are from men’s departments. I prefer baggy clothes, so the fact thatI have “womanly” breasts often is not obvious (I do not wear a bra). Sometimes, I wear a baseball cap or some other type of hat. I also am white and rela- tively young (30 years old).I My gender display—what others interpret as my presented identity—regularly leads to the misattribu- tion of my gender. An incongruity exists between my gender self-identity and the gender that others per- ceive. In my encounters with people I do not know, I sometimes conclude, based on our interactions, that they think I am a man. This does not mean that other people do not think I am a man, just that I have no way of knowing what they think without interacting with them. Living with It I have no illusions or delusions about my appearance. I know that my appearance is likely to be read as “mas— 1. 1 gr irrelevant. Given our two-and—only-two gender struc- ture, I must live with the consequences of my appear- ance. These consequences fall into two categories: is- sues of identity and issues of interaction. My most common experience is being called “Sir” or being referred to by some other masculine linguis- tic marker (e.g., “he,” “‘man”). This has happened for years for as long as I can remember, when having en- counters with people I do not know.2 Once, in fact, the same worker at a fast~food restaurant called me “Ma‘am” when she took my order and “Sir” when she gave it to me. Using my credit cards sometimes is a challenge. Some clerks subtly indicate their disbelief looking my signature carefully. Others challenge my use of the card, asking whose it is or demanding identification. One cashier asked to see my driver’s license and then asked me whether I was the son of the cardholder. An- other clerk told me that my signature on the receipt “had better match” the one on the card. Presumably, this was her way of letting me know that she was not convinced it was my credit card. My identity as a woman also is called into question when I try to use women-only spaces. Encounters in public rest rooms are an adventure. I have been told countless times that “This is the ladies’ room.” Other women say nothing to me, but their stares and conver- sations with others let me know what they think. I will hear them say, for example, “There was a man in there." I also get stares when I enter a locker room. However, it seems that women are less concerned about my presence there, perhaps because, given that it is a space for changing clothes, showering, and so forth, they will be able to make sure that I am really a woman. Dressing rooms in department stores also are problematic spaces. I remember shopping with my sis- ter once and being offered a chair outside the room when I began to accompany her into the dressing room. Women who believe that I am a man do not want me in women-only spaces. For example, one woman would not enter the rest room until I came out, and oth- ers have told me that I am in the wrong place. They also might not want to encounter me while they are alone. For example, seeing me walkng at night whe they are alone might be scary.3 n I, on the other hand, am not afraid to walk meme day or night. I do not worry that I will be subjected [0‘ the public harassment that many women endure (Gard. ner 1995). I am not a clear target for a potential rapiSL I rely on the fact that a potential attacker would not want to attack a big man by mistake. This is not to Say that men never are attacked, just that they are not viewed, and often do not view themselves, as being example, I found that when I walked down the halls of my brother’s all—male dormitory making eye contact, men nodded their greetings at me. Oddly enough, these same men did not greet my brother; I had to tell him about making eye contact and nodding as a greet— ing ritual. Apparently, in this case I was doing mas— culinity better than he was! I also believe that I am treated differently, for ex- ample, in auto parts stores (staffed almost exclusively by men in most cases) because of the assumption that I am a man. Workers there assume that I know what] need and that my questions are legitimate requests for information. I suspect that I am treated more fairly than a feminine—appearing woman would be. I have not been able to test this proposition. However, Devor’s participants did report “being treated more re— spectfully” ( 1989, 132) in such situations. There is, however, a negative side to being assumed to be a man by other men. Once, a friend and I were driving in her car when a man failed to stop at an in- tersection and nearly crashed into us. As we drove away, I mouthed “stop sign” to him. When we both stopped our cars at the next intersection, he got out of his car and came up to the passenger side of the car, where I was sitting. He yelled obscenities at us and pounded and spit on the car window. Luckily, the win— dows were closed. I do not think he would have done that if he thought I was a woman. This was the first time I realized that one of the implications of being seen as a man was that I might be called on to defend Self frort gt Challenf What frighl‘ Recenu: who 1" walked dc Shotfld Pm nearby I I 1 could Pf the only said: “Y0 pearance ing a bat have be than a f‘ yelled 3 haPS ‘35 i GIVl i part Cl womei l viewe' brothfi 5 two Y‘ ized \ aW’d3I had I perie one i hete thro mit of str m: ot? th is 161’; I had to ten, ding as a greet- ms dc)ng mas- Brentlx f0!~ ex- ost exclusively ssumption that IkHOW whatl ‘6 requests for d more fairly lid be. I haw: 31']. HoWevBr’ iated more re- s. eing assumed 'd and I Were hen We both he got out of '6 0f the Car, 63 at US and the Win- d have done Was [he first ’“5 of being In to defend AT IT MEANS TO BE GENDERED ME self from physical aggression from other men who 1t challenged by me. This was a sobering and some- " ha, frightening thought. Recently, I was verbally accosted by an older man he did not like where I had parked my car. As I walked down the street to work, he shouted that I should park at the university rather than on a side street ,nwby. I responded that it was a public street and that [could park there if I chose. He continued to yell, but me only thing I caught was the last part of what he said; “Your tires are going to get out!” Based on my ap- pearance that daye—I was dressed casually and carry- mg a backpack, and I had my hat on backward—I be- lieve he thought that I was a young male student rather than a female professor. I do not think he would have yelled at a person he thought to be a woman;and per- haps especially not a woman professor. Given the presumption of heterosexuality that is Part of our system of gender, my interactions with women who assume that I am a man also can be viewed from that perspective. For example, once my brother and I were shopping when we were “hit on” by two young women. The encounter ended before I real- ized what had happened. It was only when we walked away thatI told him that] was pretty certain that they had thought both of us were men. A more common ex- perience is realizing that when I am seen in public with one of my women friends, we are likely to be read as a heterosexual dyad. It is likely that if I were to walk through a shopping mall holding hands with a woman, no one would look twice, not because of their open- mindedness toward lesbian couples but rather because of their assumption that I was the male half of a straight couple. Recently, when walking through a mall with a friend and her infant, my observations of others’ responses to us led me to believe that many of them assumed that we were a family on an outing, that is, that I was her partner and the father of the child. Dealing with 1! Although I now accept that being mistaken for a man will be a part of my life so long as I choose not to par— ticipate in femininity, there have been times when I consciously have tried to appear more feminine. I did this for a while when I was an undergraduate and again 117 recently when I was on the academic job market. The first time, I let my hair grow nearly down to my shoul- ders and had it permed. I also grew long fingernails and wore nail polish. Much to my chagrin, even then one of my professors, who did not know my name, in- sistently referred to me in his kinship examples as “the son.” Perhaps my first act on the way to my current stance was to point out to this man, politely and after class, that I was a woman. More recently, I again let my hair grow out for sev- eral months, although I did not alter other aspects of my appearance. Once my hair was about two and a half inches long (from its original quarter inch), I realized, based on my encounters with strangers, that I had more or less passed back into the category of “woman.” Then, when I returned to wearing a flat top, people again responded to me as if I were a man. Because of my appearance, much of my negotiation of interactions with strangers involves attempts to an- ticipate their reactions to me. I need to assess whether they will be likely to assume that I am a man and whether that actually matters in the context of our en- counters. Many times, my gender really is irrelevant, and it is just annoying to be misidentified. Other times, particularly when my appearance is coupled with something that identifies me by name (e.g., a check or credit card) without a photo, I might need to do some- thing to ensure that my identity is not questioned. As a result of my experiences, I have developed some tech- niques to deal with gender misattribution. In general, in unfamiliar public places, I avoid using the rest room because I know that it is a place where there is a high likelihood of misattribution and where misattribution is socially important. If I must use a public rest room, I try to make myself look as nondlreatening as possible. I do not wear a hat, and I try to rearrange my clothing to make my breasts more obvious. Here, I am trying to use my secondary sex characteristics to make my gender more obvious rather than the usual use of gender to make sex obvious. While in the rest room, I never make eye contact, and I get in and out as quickly as possible. Going in with a woman friend also is helpful; her presence legitimizes my own. People are less likely to think I am entering a space where I do not belong when I am with someone who looks like she does belong.‘ 118 To those women who verball ence in the rest room, I reply, y challenge my pres- they will provide a clue th “I know,” usually in an at I am indeed in the right People will t place. onjytwo rul annoyed tone. When they stare or talk about me to the There are other cases in which the issues are [E85 ; me, Still, alt women they are with, I simply get out as quickly as those of identity than of all the menus of in: - possible In general I do not wait for someone I am eractmn gender. 1 car that, in our society, are gendered. My most comm“ wave), at 16 . to lg, ' That is Vt - nore it, that is to go on With the interaction as 117;th~ orations of I stopped trying on clothes before purchasing them mg out of the ordinary has happened Unless I feel“1611 That is, 1 d a few years ago because my presence in the changing there is a good reason to establish my correct gender‘I mOnsensfi U areas was met wrth stares and Whispers. Exceptions are assume the identity others impose on me for the sak ‘ looks like. stores where the dressing rooms are completely pri- of smooth interaction For example lfsomeoneis 5e” others WU“ vate, where there are individual stalls rather than a ing me a movre ticket then there is no reason to make gender thfl' f room with stalls separated by curtains, or where busi— sure that the person has accurately discerned my gm that is H105 ness is slow and no one else is trying on Clethes. If I am der Similarly, if it is clear that the person usmg “sun [ions with ( trying on a garment clearly intended fora woman, then 18 talking to me, then I Simply respond as appropriath that I mus I usually can do so without hassle. I guess the atten- I accept the designation because it IS irrelevant to the “give off” dants assume that I must be a woman if I have, for ex- Situation. It takes enough effort to be alert fer misattn‘. 1959). i ample, a women‘s bathing suit in my hand. But usu- butions and to deCide which of them matter; respond. Becaus‘ ally, I think it is easier for me to try the clothes on at ing to each one would take more energy than it is obviously, 5 home and return them, if necessary, rather than risk worth. - 1989, 533's ! creating a scene. Similarly, when I am with another Sometimes, if our interaction involves conversa. with resPe 9 woman who is trying on clothes, I just wait outside. tron, my first verbal response is enough to let the other 1 or Wmng My strategy with credit cards and checks is to an~ person know that I am actually a Woman and not a - for-gran“? ticipate wariness on a cler ’5 part. When I sense that man. My voice apparently is “feminine” enough to wmeml there is some doubt or when they challenge me I say, shift people’s attributions to the other category. Iknow thE imam “It’s my card.” I generally respond courteously to re- when this has happened by the apologies that usually 1978) Th quests for photo ID, realizing that these might be rou- accompany the mistake. I usually respond to the apolo. l [ion is the tine checks because of concerns about increasingly gies by saying something like“No problem"and/or “I: E lowmg 0‘ widespread fraud. But for the clerk who asked for ID happens all the time." Sometimes, a misattributor will BY “f” C and still did not think it was my card, I had a stronger Offer an account for the mistake, for example, saying their lma reaction. When she said that she was sorry for embar- that it was my hair or that they were not being very 13150 m3 rassing me, I told her that I was not embarrassed but observant EL them ass that she should be I also am particularly careful to These experiences With gender and misattribution to be‘ make sure that my Signature is conSistent with the back provide some theoretical insights into contemporary 5 3”“ of the card. Faced With such Situations, I feel some- Western understandings of gender and into the social : (GUffmzf What nervous about Signing my name—which, of structure of gender in contemporary society. Although ' approp“ course, makes me worry that my signature will look there are a number of ways in which my experiences “ l0 gende different from how it should. confirm the work of others, there also are some ways I mme 3 Another strategy I have been experimenting with in which my experiences suggest other interpretations .' a" “we: is wearing nail polish in the dark bright colors cur- and conclusions. j' the “1.165 rently fashionable. I try to do this when I travel by ‘ [313 mm plane Given more stringent travel regulations, one al- def cam ways must present a photo ID But my experiences WHAT DOES IT MEAN? ‘ Ido have shown that my driver 3 license is not necessarily a ma convancmg Nail polish might be I also flash my pol- Gender is pervasive in our society. I cannot choose not Is an ac ished nails when I enter airport rest rooms hoping that to participate in it. Even if I try not to do gender, other gender —K lI‘Sfl- lot a h to now rally 3010- it “It ' will tying very ution orary :ocial tough ences ways itions Ise not . other WHAT IT MEANS TO BE GENDERED ME people will do it for me. That is, given our two—and- Onlyawo rule, they must attribute one of [We genders to me_ Still, although I cannot choose not to participate in gender, I can choose not to participate in femininity (as [have), at least with respect to physical appearance. That is where the problems begin. Without the dec- orations of femininity, I do not look like a woman. That is, I do not look like what many people’s com- monsense understanding of gender tells them a woman looks like. How I see myself, even how I might wish others would see me, is socially irrelevant. It is the gender that I appear to be (my “perceived gender") that is most relevant to my social identity and interac- tions with others. The major consequence of this fact is that I must be continually aware of which gender I “give off” as well as which gender I “give” (Goffman 1959). Because my gender self-identity is “not displayed obviously, immediately, and consistently” (Devor 1989, 58), I am somewhat of a failure in social terms with respect to gender. Causing people to be uncertain or wrong about one’s gender is a violation of taken- for-granted rules that leads to embarrassment and dis— comfort; it means that something has gone wrong with the interaction (Garfinkel 1967; Kessler and McKenna 1978). This means that my nonresponse to misattribu- tion is the more socially appropriate response; I am al— lowing others to maintain face (Goffman 1959, 1967). By not calling attention to their mistakes, I uphold their images of themselves as competent social actors. I also maintain my own image as competent by letting them assume that I am the gender I appear to them to be. But I still have discreditable status; I carry a stigma (Goffman 1963). Because [ have failed to participate appropriately in the creation of meaning with respect to gender (Devor 1989), I can be called on to account for my appearance. If discredited, I show myself to be an incompetent social actor. I am the one not following the rules, and I will pay the price for not providing peo- ple with the appropriate cues for placing me in the gen- der category to which I really belong. I do think that it is, in many cases, safer to be read as a man than as some sort of deviant woman. “Man” is an acceptable category; it fits properly into people’s gender worldview. Passing as a man often is the “path 119 of least resistance” (Devor 1989; Johnson 1997). For example, in situations where gender does not matter, letting people take me as a man is easier than correct- ing them. Conversely, as Butler noted, “We regularly punish those who fail to do their gender right“ (1990, 140). Feinberg maintained, “Masculine girls and women face terrible condemnation and brutality—including sexual violence—for crossing the boundary of what is ‘acceptable’ female expression” (1996, 114). People are more likely to harass me when they perceive me to be a woman who looks like a man. For example, when a group of teenagers realized that I was not a man be- cause one of their mothers identified me correctly, they began to make derogatory comments when I passed them. One asked, for example, “Does she have a penis?" Because of the assumption that a “masculine” woman is a lesbian, there is the risk of homophobic re- actions (Gardner 1995; Lucal 1997). Perhaps surpris- ingly, I find that I am much more likely to be taken for a man than for a lesbian, at least based on my interac- tions with people and their reactions to me. This might be because people are less likely to reveal that they have taken me for a lesbian because it is less relevant to an encounter or because they believe this would be unacceptable. But I think it is more likely a product of the strength of our two-and-only-two system. I give enough masculine cues that I am seen not as a deviant woman but rather as a man, at least in most cases. The problem seems not to be that people are uncertain about my gender, which might lead them to conclude that I was a lesbian once they realized I was a woman. Rather, I seem to fit easily into a gender category—just not the one with which I identify. In fact, because men represent the dominant gender in our society, being mistaken for a man can protect me from other types of gendered harassment. Because men can move around in public spaces safely (at least relative to women), a “masculine” woman also can enjoy this freedom (Devor 1989). On the other hand, my use of particular spaces—L those designated as for women only—may be chal- lenged. Feinberg provided an intriguing analysis of the public restroom experience. She characterized wo— men’s reactions to a masculine person in a public rest- 120 room as “an example of genderphobia” (1996, 117), viewing such women as policing gender boundaries rather than believing that there really is a man in the women‘s restroom. She argued that women who truly believed that there was a man in their midst would react differently. Although this is an interesting per- spective on her experiences, my experiences do not lead to the same conclusion.5 Enough people have said to me that “This is the ladies’ room” or have said to their companions that “There was a man in there” that I take their reactions at face value. Still, if the two—and-only-two gender system is to be maintained, participants must be involved in policing the categories and their attendant identities and spaces. Even if policing boundaries is not explicitly intended, boundary maintenance is the effect of such responses to people’s gender displays. Boundaries and margins are an important compo~ nent of both my experiences of gender and our theo- retical understanding of gendering processes. I am, in effect, both woman and not-woman. As a woman who often is a social man but who also is a woman living in a patriarchal society, I am in a unique position to see and act. I sometimes receive privileges usually limited to men, and I sometimes am oppressed by my status as a deviant woman. I am, in a sense, an outsider-within (Collins 1991). Positioned on the boundaries of gender categories, I have developed a consciousness that I hope will prove transformative (Anzaldua 1987). In fact, one of the reasons why I decided to continue my nonparticipation in femininity was that my so— ciological training suggested that this could be one of my contributions to the eventual dismantling of patri- archal gender constructs. It would be my way of mak- ing the personal political. I accepted being taken for a man as the price I would pay to help subvert patri- archy. I believed that all of the inconveniences I was enduring meant that I actually was doing something to bring down the gender structures that entangled all of us. Then, I read Lorber’s (I994) Paradoxes of Gender and found out, much to my dismay, that I might not ac- tually be challenging gender after all. Because of the way in which doing gender works in our two-and- only-two system, gender displays are simply read as BODIES evidence of one of the two categories. Therefore, gen. der bending, blending, and passing between the care- gories do not question the categories themselves If one’s social gender and personal (true) gender do nor correspond, then this is irrelevant unless someone no- tices the lack of congruence. This reality brings me to a paradox of my cxperi- ences. First, not only do others assume that I am one gender or the other, but I also insist that I really am a member of one of the two gender categories. That is, I am female; I self—identify as a woman. I do not claim to be some other gender or to have no gender at all. I simply place myself in the wrong category according to stereotypes and cultural standards; the gender I pre- sent, or that some people perceive me to be presenting, is inconsistent with the gender with which I identify myself as well as with the gender I could be “prOVen” to be. Socially, Idisplay the wrong gender; personally, I identify as the proper gender. Second, although I ultimater Would like to see the destruction'of our current gender structure, I am not to the point of personally abandoning gender. Right now, I do not want people to see me as genderless as much as I want them to see me as a woman. That is, I would like to expand the category of “woman” to include people like me. I, too, am deeply embedded in our gen- der system, even though I do not play by many of its rules. For me, as for most people in our society, gender is a substantial part of my personal identity (Howard and Hollander I997). Socially, the problem is that I do not present a gender display that is consistently read as feminine. In fact, I consciously do not participate in the trappings of femininity. However, Ido identify my— self as a woman, not as a man or as someone outside of the two-and-only-two categories. Yet, I do believe, as Lorber (1994) does, that the purpose of gender, as it currently is constructed, is to oppress women. Lorber analyzed gender as a “process of creating distinguishable social statuses for the as- signment of rights and responsibilities” that ends up putting women in a devalued and oppressed position (1994, 32). As Martin put it, “Bodies that clearly de- lineate gender status facilitate the maintenance of the gender hierarchy” (1998, 495). For society, gender means difference (Lorber 1994). The erosion of the boundaries would problema- . MEANS TO BE GENDERED ME .su-ucmre. Therefore, for gender to operate as _ ' fly does, the category “woman” cannot be ex- . to include people like me. The maintenance of def structure is dependent on the creation of a .gofies that are mutually exclusive, the mem- .f which am as different as possible (Lorber It is the clarity of the boundaries between the cries that allows gender to be used to assign “ and responsibilities as well as resources and want unless some fl .7 . :- S. _ ‘ . 'tis that part of gender—what 1t IS used foruwthat is problematic. Indeed, is it not patriarchal—or, , _more specifically, heteropatriorchal——construc- I of gender that are actually the problem? It is not 'Hifferences between men and women, or the cate- es dlemselves, so much as the meanings ascribed '5 categories and, even more important, the hierar- ‘cal nature of gender under patriarchy that is the « blem (Johnson 1997). Therefore, I am rebelling not aim: my femaleness or even my womanhood; in- I am protesting contemporary constructions of emininity and, at least indirectly, masculinity under patriarchy. We do not, in fact, know what gender ould look like if it were not constructed around het- erosexuality in the context of patriarchy. Although it is possible that the end of patriarchy ould mean the end of gender, it is at least conceivable that something like what we now call gender could 'existin a postpatriarchal future. The two-and-only-two jcategorization might well disappear, there being no hi~ erarchy for it to justify. But I do not think that we should make the assumption that gender and patri- archy are synonymous. . . . In a recent book, The Gender Knot,'lohnson (1997) argued that when it comes to gender and patri- ‘_ archy, most of us follow the paths of least resistance; we “go along to get along,” allowing our actions to be shaped by the gender system. Collectively, our actions help patriarchy maintain and perpetuate a system of oppression and privilege. Thus, by withdrawing our support from this system by choosing paths of greater resistance, we can start to chip away at it. Many peo- ple participate in gender because they cannot imagine any alternatives. In my Classroom, and in my interac- tions and encounters with strangers, my presence can make it difficult for people not to see that there are Prov Dug gender; pal-301m.“ e problem is that I do s consistently read as do not participate in ver, I do identify my- s someone outside of 1994) does, that the is constructed, is to gender as a “process statuses for the as- lities” that ends up oppressed position lies that clearly dc- ' maintenance of the lifference (Lorber S would problema- 121 other paths. In other words, following from West and Zimmerman (1987), I can subvert gender by doing it differently. . . . NOTES I. [obviously have left much out by not examining my gen- dered experiences in the context of race, age, class, Sexuality, region, and so forth. Such a project clearly is more complex. As Weston pointed out, gender presentations are complicated by other statuses of their presenters: "What it takes to kick a person over into another gendered category can differ with race, class, religion, and time" (1996, 168). Furthermore, I am well aware that my whiteness allows me to assume that my experiences are simply a product of gender (see. e.g., hooks 1981; Luca] 1996; Spelman 1988; West and Fen- stennaker 1995). For now, suffice it to say that it is my privileged po- sition on some of these axes and my more disadvantaged position on others that combine to delineate my overall experience. 2. In fact, such experiences are not always limited to encoun— ters with strangers. My grandmother, who does not see me often, twice has mistaken me for either my brother-inalaw or some un— known man. 3. My experiences in rest rooms and other public spaces might be very different if I were, say, African American rather than white. Given the stereotypes of African American men, I think that white women would react very differently to encountering me (see, e.g., Staples [1986] 1993). 4. I also have noticed that there are certain types of rest rooms in which I will not be verbally challenged; the higher the social sta— tus Of the place, the less likely I will be harassed. For example, when I go to the theater, I might get stared at, but my presence never has been challenged. 5. An anonymous reviewer offered one possible explanation for this. Women see women's rest rooms as their space; they feel safe, and even empowered, there. Instead of fearing men in such Space, they might instead pose a threat to any man who might in- trude. Their invulnerability in this situation is. of course, not physi- cally based but rather socially constructed. 1 thank the reviewer for this suggestion. REFERENCES Anzaldua, G. 1987. Borderlands/La F rontera. San Fran- cisco: Aunt Lute Books. Bern, S. L. 1993. The lenses ofgender. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Butler, J. 1990. Gender trouble. New York: Routledge. Collins, P. H. 1991. Blackfeminist thought. New York: Rout- ledge. ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/18/2008 for the course WST 2010 taught by Professor Boyer during the Spring '08 term at FAU.

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