IntersectionalityGender Understanding Gender And Rethinking Gender Roles

Understanding Gender And Rethinking Gender Roles

In ‘Night to his Day‘, Judith Lorber highlights the paranoia of classifying the gender of a person right from the moment of birth. She shows how the idea of adorning a child with a ear-ring is itself an endeavour to portray a difference, a classification through assigning gender and gender roles. Gender roles are assigned on everything a person does from time to time. Gendering works as a process wherein, every small activity, actually anything at all, leads to a system of classification – a few examples: ‘don’t drive like a woman’, ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘such a wuss’ in contemporary usage is not uncommon. In this way, gender works as a continual process, a never ending constant direct, or in some cases sublime, process. Strangely, most of the classification and distinction that we create in the society is sublime from the way women are expected to walk, to how men are supposed to speak. We do not realize at what point our impulses of gender classification go on and a distinction is set.

Simon de Beauvoir’s statement is the most apt statement for such a phenomenal process- “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman”. You see, gender in itself is not born. Gender is an idea, an idea to create a distinction, a differentiation. In the words of Christine Delphy, in Rethinking Sex and Gender, – a differentiation to cater to the pre-set hierarchies. In this way gender roles are not just imposed but violently imposed in the society. Lorber elucidates such a form of violent imposition by narrating the incident of a woman who aspired to be a rock-star. However, in order to become a rock-star it was also important to fulfil the character profile that is expected of a rock-star, a predisposition of gender. This woman, later, identified herself to be a man, became a rock-star, married a woman and adopted children. Now this narrative has two readings- one which is a hopeful reading, wherein this woman was lesbian and she lives a dream-life; the other where she is a heterosexual woman who is forced and coerced to live a false identity, the violence of which is unimaginable.

There could be an extended corollary to this idea,  and I shall use a few examples from the pop-culture series of Game of Thrones to explain this.The character profiles of Brienne of Tarth and Arya Stark (from Game of Thrones) are also a good narrative in this regard. Both Brienne of Tarth and Arya Stark are two tomboyish tough females of different age-groups (Arya in her pre-teens and Brienne in her mid-30s). Arya and Brienne love to sword fight and ‘fight the battle’ and do what the men are supposed to do. But this does not stop here. The narrative gets interesting- both Arya and Brienne lead almost the lives of men, except it is almost never clear whether they prefer to be called a male or a female (Arya mentions it twice that I’m a girl, just because I fight does not make me a boy) and live the life of women doing the job of men better than men. This is an ideal situation, except the part where both are portrayed as anomalies, for this discursive trend, in the society.

If no one is associated to or assigned a gender then the process of gender role-imposing/ assigning turns into gender-choosing. This maybe a site where violence of gender is discarded. A boy is always taught, perceived and structured/ conditioned into thinking that a ‘sari’ is a woman’s attire, exclusively. Imagine a situation where such a construction is not there. A situation where whoever, irrespective of gender, can where a sari. Can a sari ever become a gender-neutral attire? If not, why can’t it? Judith Butler, in Gender Trouble, raises an interesting argument in this stead as to how the attire one wears is, in itself, an act of performing gender. One performs the act of gendering through the acting of attire and accessories. This is something that ought to break. The rigidity for such a performance needs to break. The idea of attaching gender to inanimate accessories and clothing needs to break. Although I understand that it is easier said than done to break such a deeply ingrained form of social order, but at least- question!

The violence of gender is so implicit that it almost changes the likes, lifestyle and personality of an individual without the individual knowing himself. Take for instance, these two scenarios:

1. Morris, a transsexual man to woman interviewed by Lorber felt her whole life changing in front of her and learnt to adapt to it. “The very tone of voice with which I was addressed, the very posture of the person next to me in the queue constantly emphasised my change of status…. The more I was treated a woman, the more woman I became. I adapted willy-nilly.

2. The upper-class/ upper-middle class conception of the woman in 1963, as highlighted by Betty Freidan, in The Feminist Mystique, anticipated certain demands from women. And in such a demand-ridden setting, women were expected to perform the roles of their gender. Women were expected to have no problem with performing this role of mother, wife, good wife, and home-maker but unfortunately she did. What is even more saddening is that she does not know what the problem is.

Both these instances show not only how the society perceives gender and expects gender to perform in one particular way, but also proves the Lacanian psychoanalytical argument – your desire is never your desire. The desires of Morris or the upper class white women were not really their desires, but they were tuned to think of and act in a way such that these are their desires. This is the greatest achievement for the patriarchal hegemony.

Before concluding, I would like to culminate the above Lacanian standpoint and juxtapose it with gender in one personal example. Back home during the summer vacations, while visiting my aunt’s house, we lost the way. My aunt drove her car and came to get us, and while following her car my mother in a childlike (and in a proud sense too) fashion remarked, ‘she is the man of the house’. It is interesting to note that the word ‘the’ in this phrase is deliberately used quite often to reinforce the emphasis on the essentialist characteristic of men & women and the performance of such character personas. This attribution of essentialism is the biggest barrier one needs to break to obliterate the gender-divide. It was also quite funny to me how such a small thing such as who gets the car and picks you up can also have a gendered notion to it. It was also quite interesting as to how we have inherently classified works and jobs as job of man and job of women.

We did not always have a gender divide. Anthropologically, as elucidated by Fredrich Engels, it was the first sexual division of labour in order to safeguard property that the idea of ‘chief-housekeeper’ and monogamous marriages as an institution came about.

It is an altogether separate discourse as to how to annihilate this gender difference.  I use the word annihilate, more as the idea of annihilation and not the word per se, deliberately similar to the Ambedkarian sense. Ambedkar, for the annihilation of caste, propounded the annihilation of religious notions. To annihilate this notion of gender and gender classification and difference, we ought to annihilate the idea of a ‘difference as a whole’. This created difference leads to the way gender is perceived in the society. And this difference is created for just one reason, put forward in various versions: for the subjugation of women. Be it through monogamous marriage (Fredrich Engels), through structured hierarchies (Christine Delphy), through hegemonically instilled desires (Betty Friedan) or through exclusionary practices (Mary Wollstonecraft) – the end reality is in one modicum or the other- achieved, thus proving the following statement of Mary Wollsteonecraft completely valid:

Man, taking her body, the mind is left to rust; so that while physical love enervates man, as being his favourite recreation, he will endeavour to enslave woman: – and, who can tell, how many generations may be necessary to give vigour to the virtue and talents of the freed posterity of abject slaves.

But just one point of difference of opinion needs to be highlighted here – No one needs to give vigour to the virtue and talents of the woman.

Featured Image Credit: A popular representation of the male & female genders | Sophie Moet

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