The Discussion of Gender Standards in Lorber’s, Halberstam’s and Man’s Work
Judith Lorber eloquently and efficiently conveys her argument that the male/female binary is false. Lorber illustrates that sex categories are formed in part by cultural beliefs about gender through the utilization of the intersex example. The intersex example shows how that in the 1800’s, an intersex child was only a woman if the child had ovaries, if the child was ovary-less and was unable to procreate, that child was not a woman at all. In modern times, the length of the clitoral/penis tissue is the “deciding factor” in whether an intersex child is a girl or boy. Lorber further shows the arbitrariness of these categories with the rigidity of men’s and women’s sports. Men’s sports are ways to construct a masculine (a legitimated powerful and violent outlet for aggression) identity while women’s sport are considered “unfeminine.” Women are often forced to undergo a battery of chromosome and genital tests to prove they are enough of a “woman” to compete at the female level. Ultimately, Lorber believes and argues that gender is a consequence of nature, not human sex and pleads others to stop using the gender binary as the “end all, be all” of feminist analysis. Lorber’s arguments complicate my understanding of the category of sex because I perceive sex to not be a pure binary but to still have perceivable physical differences such as menstruation, wombs, and sperm production. My understanding contrasts with Lorber’s view that bodily functions, such as menstruation, do not determine the social category “woman” or its anatomical counterpart “female.” Lorber’s viewpoint directly challenges my understanding of the category of sex with the question of whether a post-menopausal cis woman is still biologically female or not? My learned understanding of sex would argue no, but Lorber would argue yes.
Pascoe’s main point in her study of masculinity is her explanation of fag discourse. Pascoe claimed that being a fag was, by definition, the polar opposite of masculinity. She emphasizes this point by pointing out any boy can be a “fag” in the right social interaction or space. Additionally, it is important to note that a fag identity can be attributed to heterosexual boys as well (not just homosexual identifying ones). Pascoe argues that fag discourse runs so deep that the harassment between boys is key to developing a boy’s gender identity and that the only way to evade or get out of the fag position is to thrust another boy into the same position, perpetuating a cycle of endless harassment. The boys even go so far as to utilize fag discourse as a disciplinary mechanism amongst themselves. The fag narrative (speech and imitations) allow the boys to discipline each other (as well as themselves) through joking relationships centered around fag discourse. Ultimately, Pascoe argues that the fag discourse is key to the understanding of the construction of masculinity in U.S. schools. Reviewing the other gender, Jack Halberstam reviews the concept of female masculinity through the utilization of the idea of tomboyism. Halberstam defines tomboyism as an extended childhood period of female masculinity. However, this behavior is only tolerated if the child remains prepubescent. Once a girl hits the age of puberty, Halberstam argues that gender conformity is pressed heavily onto the girl and that it becomes exceptionally difficult to maintain this period of enjoying the greater freedoms and mobilities boys enjoy. Post-pubescent girls continue to grow up in a male-dominated society where boys view growing up as a social ascension whereas girls struggle to find independence and dominance in a repressive, restraint-filled society. Many of these girls take these tomboy instincts and have them remodeled into societal-compliant forms of femininity. Both authors touch upon the development of masculinities, however, Pascoe directly discusses the formation and construction of male masculinity through the fag discourse while Halberstam takes aim at the guarded status of male masculinity and shows how female masculinity has offered a unique alternative to it through the evolution of tomboyism. When going over the topic of masculinity, it is interesting to point out that both authors point to the conclusion that male masculinity has often been regarded as a form of ritual function in male homosocial cultures while female masculinity has often been vilified by both heterosexist and womanist programs, with some cultures even going so far as to state that female masculinity is a pathological sign of misidentificationa and maladjustment. In our society, it is saddening that the construction of male masculinity is commonplace and revered while the construction of female masculinity is shunned after puberty.
In Glenn Man’s interpretation of Thelma and Louise, he identifies the concept of recuperation as the two women taking over the dominant roles typically assigned to men and their resistance to conform to typical gender roles in our society. Thelma and Louise take on main character roles, not the commonplace stereotypical societal side/supporting roles of wife, mother, or mistress. One scene from the film that shows the women defying this recuperation is when Thelma and Louise destroy the sexist truck driver’s truck and fuel tank. Stereotypically, women would never participate in the violent actions required to pull this off by shooting a gun successfully to set off an explosion. By resisting to recuperate, the two women gain dominance and empowerment through their adventures. Recuperation is not a theme explored solely by Glenn Man. Carol Stabile, in her essay, also brings up this concept of recuperation in a different manner. Stabile argues that although women take on the role of superheroes, their roles are still gendered. For example, in the television show, Heroes, Stabile explains that the women cannot use their powers to protect themselves and often can only use their powers when being “a promiscuous or sociopathic bitch” (Stabile 89). Stabile points out that although the show is trying to allow the female characters to defy recuperation, they still fall into the stereotypical gender norms of our society.
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Judith Lorber eloquently and efficiently conveys her argument that the male/female binary is false. Lorber illustrates that sex categories are formed in part by cultural beliefs about gender through the […]