Gendered Messages

I was having a conversation with a friend a few weeks back, and the talk turned to his romantic difficulties. He’s a good guy, but has limited romantic experience, and tends to put women on pedestals and engage in bouts of self-pity punctuated by occasional dips into ‘chicks dig jerks’ territory. As you can imagine, these tactics have not led to astounding romantic bliss.

Anyhow, I was explaining that I think that part of his difficulty is that he thinks of women as essentially different from men, where I don’t believe that they are. The topic of different ‘gendered messages’ that people get came up, and I found myself saying, “I don’t actually think that any gendered messages, no matter how ostensibly positive the messages may be, are actually good.”

He was taken aback, and asked, “Wait, none of them are good?”

I thought a minute before saying, “No. None of them are good. Do you have an example of a gendered message you think is actually good?”

“Yes! Women should be taught that their bodies are sacred.

That’s when I realized it was probably hopeless. *Sigh*

Anyhow, I open the question to you, dear readers . . . are there positive gendered messages? I figure things that rely on differences in biology are a gimmie (Men don’t need to be taught that they have the choice of whether or not to carry a child to term. Women don’t need to be taught to wear a condom. Etc.), but beyond that, can you think of anything? I’m uncomfortable with absolute statements, but right now my position is fairly absolute, which is why I’m opening this up to discussion.

Please do not comment unless you accept the basic dignity, equality, and inherent worth of all people.

This entry posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Gender and the Body. Bookmark the permalink. 

70 Responses to Gendered Messages

  1. 1
    Heather Davis says:

    What about what I believe to be a positively gendered message in roller derby: “Hit Like a Girl”.

    There are others and I am trying to collect them all in my memory.

    Heather

  2. 2
    Helena de Groot says:

    That’s a really interesting post. It’s so hard to explain to some guys that putting women on a piedestal is just a fancy way of demeaning them. Cause it’s hard to move freely on top of that tiny piedestal.
    When I think about it, you just might be right with your absolute statement. Because if you would make a positive statement towards women alone, it sounds almost like an excuse or a defense. “Women are just as well at math”, “Women can be leaders too”, “Women are much more sensitive”, “Women are better at negotiating”. Essentially, it’s confining. In any case, that’s how I feel it.

  3. 3
    Myca says:

    What about what I believe to be a positively gendered message in roller derby: “Hit Like a Girl”.

    Hm.

    Since I’m not really familiar with roller derby, I may have to interpret this a bit.

    My assumption is that what they’re really saying here is, “hit hard,” and they’re making a play on the standard, “you hit like a girl,” meaning, “you hit weak.”

    So in context, the meaning behind, “Hit Like a Girl,” here, seems to be something like, “Hit hard, because that’s how girls really hit,” or even, “reject your gender training.” Does that sound about right?

    —Myca

  4. 4
    ashley says:

    i think i can get on board with the basic point that no gendered messages are inherently “good” (i.e., maybe not aggressively bad, but certainly not creative of or conducive to positive images of a multiplicity of genders), especially since the majority of gendered messages are fundamentally premised on the false gender binary. also, as you said, they are based on essentialist identity politics: yin and yang, self and other, in two dimensional opposition.

    i’d like to propose, however, that while “gendered” messages are never good, we can perhaps do a lot of good by using messages about “gendering.” it’s the -ed on “gendered” that gets me–that idea of a static, was-is-and-ever-shall-be essential quality of a societally constructed notion. when we talk in universalities about what “boys” are or should be, for example, “gendered” is an adjective–a descriptor of some idea about a basic nature that doesn’t leave room for dynamism, fluidity, and creativity.

    but “gendering?” that implies action, movement, and agency. a “gendering” message is more about process, self-definition, and–most importantly–the individual’s creation and navigation of hir own gender expression and self-identification, rather than the way our traditional constructs seek to describe the individual. or, perhaps, a gendering message might be about creating an alternative paradigm to using “gendered” messages as descriptors of absolute categories and phenomena.

    so, concretely, what do i mean?

    a gendered message might be something like “chicks dig jerks.” from that, we can get a lot of information about societal concepts of gender and masculinity/femininity– all “chicks” (presumably self-identified women in your friend’s view) like to be treated badly, men who don’t treat women well are likely to be perceived as more attractive, men who treat women well are ignored and thought of as “pussy whipped” or somehow less worthy of the opposite gendered-message side of the coin, the monolithic label of “masculine.”

    a gendering message to counteract this, then, might be something like “society says that allowing oneself to be treated as less-than-worthy or whole is inherently ‘female,’ and being assertive and/or abusive is inherently ‘male.’ i identify as male, but not with these supposed characteristics of masculinity. in my conception and creation of my own gender identity, i will choose to continue to claim a male gender identity and simultaneously engage in behaviors that don’t fit into that normative category.”

    will this subtle and theoretical shift help your friend get “chicks?” prolly not–especially if he’s looking for “chicks” who are likewise stuck in black-and-white thinking about gender and sex and yada yada yada.

    it might, however, encourage folks like me to engage in an ongoing process about the dynamic and ever-evolving construction of gender in response to the written-in-stone gendered messages that bash me over the head every day.

  5. 5
    Holly says:

    Gendered messages are good insofar as they teach kids about gender, and the kinds of positives and negatives they should expect to experience in life as a result of gender. For instance, making sure that girls know that there are people out there who will have certain expectations of them, simply because they’re girls. Of course, it’s good to teach boys this stuff too, so that they aren’t unconscious of their privilege and end up internalizing and naturalizing it. But it’s more of a direct life-or-death situation for many “gendered messages for girls.” And naturally, if you want it to be a “good message about gender for kids,” you might want to include the idea that this stuff is not a just-so story, but something that people made up, and that they can resist and help change about the world. But gender is a fact of life in all current human societies; kids need to know how to recognize it, deal with it, and for better or worse, adapt to it. It’s better for them to be able to do this consciously and with the support and guidance of parental figures, simply because they’ll be at less risk for trauma and risk and stumbles.

  6. 6
    Myca says:

    I think what I meant by “gendered messages” was more, “Girls are X because they are girls,” or, “Girls should Y because they are girls.”

    Messages tailored to tell one gender something specifically different about how their lives ought to be as opposed to another, in other words. I think that both genders ought to be taught “here’s how the gender system works,” and, “reject your gender training,” but like I said, that’s both (or, actually, all) genders.

    —Myca

  7. 7
    Lilian Nattel says:

    At a certain age kids sort things into girl-things and boy-things. This isn’t taught, it just happens around the time that kids realize that their gender is permanent. Even if I don’t give them gender messages, they are going to absorb them from their classmates who do get gender messages either at home or from the tv. It’s possible that gender messages are all bad–but there are better ones and worse ones. So I’d rather my daughters get some positive gender messages from me. And by contradicting some other gender messages, they can get the idea that this is socially constructed. In kids’ language: different families have different rules.

  8. 8
    Sailorman says:

    In what context?

    For example, women are taught “be nice to children.” Now, in and of itself that’s a relatively admirable trait–we’d probably have a better world if more parents actually did it–but in combination with all the other shit women are told to do, it comes across as oppression.

  9. 9
    Jeff Fecke says:

    No, I don’t think gendered messages are positive — at least given our current view of gender.

    Consider some basic ones, even positive ones, like “Girls can be tough.” Implicit in that statement is that girls aren’t usually tough, but they can be. Or “Boys can be sensitive.” Implicit in that is that boys usually aren’t sensitive, but can be.

    In general, I’m trying to teach my daughter that anytime anyone says “Girls like _____” or “Boys like ______,” they’re wrong. And I do so by pointing out to her that, for example, she likes dinosaurs — which blows up the idea that “Boys (and not girls) like dinosaurs,” because there are exceptions to the “rules.”

    Of course, I’m swimming upstream…but to me, the best message I can give her is that she is a person, and that what she wants is more important than what she, as a girl, is supposed to want.

    As for your friend, it’s classic Nice Guy&tm; behavior. You can have him read this and this, but he probably will view it as proof that women want bad boys.

  10. 10
    Holly says:

    At a certain age kids sort things into girl-things and boy-things. This isn’t taught, it just happens around the time that kids realize that their gender is permanent.

    Like you said, different families have different rules, but in my community (and my family of origin, for that matter) we definitely try to make sure that kids know that gender isn’t necessarily permanent. I agree that kids will do gender-sorting, but I think it is taught, albeit not explicitly. Kids realize that there are categories and rules and punishment for not figuring out the rules and following them; a lot of this is peer-enforced and mimicking of adult behaviors even without explicit teaching, but it’s still “learned.” That still leaves room for idiosyncratic or even pre-social-learning tendencies and personality leanings on the parts of individual kids, but a lot of that is positively or negatively reinforced when they run into the rules. (i.e. a little girl that likes playing dolls vs. a little boy that likes playing with dolls)

  11. 11
    Thene says:

    In general, I’m trying to teach my daughter that anytime anyone says “Girls like _____” or “Boys like ______,” they’re wrong.

    This.

  12. 12
    Mandolin says:

    I think that sometimes gendered messages are used to deconstruct previous messages which have been established by gender.

    So, for instance, if girls disproportionately receive a gendered message indicating that their value rests in their physical appearance conforming to normative beauty values, then it makes sense to ensure that the message “no one’s worth is inherently found in whether or not their physical appearance conforms to normative beauty values” reaches women more strongly than men. That may often be phrased as “no woman’s worth is inherently found” instead of “no one’s worth is inherently found” because it’s women who are most often and strongly told their worth resides in the social acceptability of their bodies. That doesn’t mean that the message isn’t true in its ungendered form (as is “people should respect their bodies”), but I can’t argue with it being phrased in a gendered way given the realities of social conditioning.

    So, I suppose gendered delivery may be a useful tool in breaking down the harm of gendered messages.

  13. 13
    Myca says:

    For example, women are taught “be nice to children.” Now, in and of itself that’s a relatively admirable trait–we’d probably have a better world if more parents actually did it–but in combination with all the other shit women are told to do, it comes across as oppression.

    Although your objection is true, I would also have a slightly different one, that shouldn’t we teach men to be nice to children too?

    It’s like my friend’s original statement, “Women should be taught that their bodies are sacred.” Well, what makes that screwed up is both the women-are-special-angelic-creatures-ness of it and the, “Waitaminute . . . isn’t everyone’s body sacred?”

    —Myca

  14. 14
    Schala says:

    At a certain age kids sort things into girl-things and boy-things. This isn’t taught, it just happens around the time that kids realize that their gender is permanent. Even if I don’t give them gender messages, they are going to absorb them from their classmates who do get gender messages either at home or from the tv.

    Yeah, though it shouldn’t be assume that all males will pick up or interpret messages aimed at males the same way we shouldn’t assume all females will pick up or interpret messages aimed at females (and vice-versa).

    I picked some messages aimed at males, and some aimed at females. My “gender-blindness” as a child, until I was about 8, led me to think much of those were arbitrarily given. The fact that I missed certain messages aimed at males, and certain aimed at females, means I’ve had less expectations about men and women as far as roles, likes, dislikes, etc. I think that’s pretty healthy.

    I also missed messages that might have helped me though (like how to style long hair), but those things I can learn if I want to, without someone forcing their image of it on me (“girls should always do x thing with their hair”) which would probably have been damaging.

  15. 15
    chingona says:

    I’m with Mandolin. I can’t think of a positive gendered message that isn’t also a universal value, but I think there’s benefit to girls to hearing a message targeted at them, particularly because a lot of girls learn from a very young age that things that are supposedly generic or universal actually exclude them.

  16. 16
    Myca says:

    I think there’s benefit to girls to hearing a message targeted at them, particularly because a lot of girls learn from a very young age that things that are supposedly generic or universal actually exclude them.

    Totally, my concern is just that there’s also the phenomenon of “women are special and different and magical, and that’s why we can’t let them be in combat, see, because they exist to civilize the brutishness that is men, and . . .”

    I mean, “women should be taught that their bodies are sacred,” could mean, “women’s bodies have traditionally been judged by men, and judged solely on how physically/sexually attractive they are to me, and women ought to be taught that their bodies have worth and value no matter how they’re shaped,” but that’s not what he meant when he said it.

    But yeah, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with trying extra-hard to make clear that universal messages apply to women too. “You can grow up to be anything you want. Including a football player or a scientist, Sally! Hint hint. Nudge nudge.”

    —Myca

  17. 17
    chingona says:

    Agreed. That’s why I said I can’t think of a positive gendered message that shouldn’t also be a universal value.

  18. 18
    kira_dancing says:

    Well, MY body is sacred, but that’s only ’cause I consecrated it to the goddess of Awesomeness ages ago.

    Ahem. I don’t think any gendered messages are good, period. I’m with Mandolin on the messages that work against gendering being positive, but I don’t see those as inherently positive, they’re just a stopgap against a negative culture. So they don’t count.

    To go back to the “women’s bodies are sacred” thing– I think the statement is inherently deleterious because it’s a marker– men’s bodies just are, they’re just bodies. Women’s bodies need some sort of qualification because of their strangeness, whether that’s to say they’re polluted and toxic, or delicate and weak, or sacred and pure. Calling somebody superhuman instead of subhuman doesn’t actually bring them much closer to “human” (I mean, it’s better, don’t get me wrong. But it’s the difference between being the dog chained starving in the yard and the lapdog with her own satin bow and celebrity liver chef. I’d definitely rather be the lapdog, but who wants to be a dog?*)

    *Actually I kind of do want to be a dog, maybe a French bulldog. But I have no illusions that my perspectives on society would be taken more seriously.

  19. 19
    DSimon says:

    Feminism itself is a positive gendered message. It says (among other things): “Women, don’t believe jerks when they tell you that something is unavailable to you, or unavoidable for you, merely on the basis of you being a woman.”

  20. 20
    neff says:

    As for your friend, it’s classic Nice Guy&tm; behavior. You can have him read this and this, but he probably will view it as proof that women want bad boys.

    In all honesty, Jeff, based on Myca’s description I think that would be counterproductive — I gather the guy in question is in generally a good person who only occasionally veers toward “nice guy-ism” thinking, and thus doesn’t really need the 2×4-to-the-head that those pages provide… those pages seem to be for the guy who totally puts down women because of the “chicks dig jerks” thing, not for the average man who has problems with social roles but doesn’t usually put down women for them. I presume Myca’s friend isn’t that far gone, or Myca wouldn’t be friends with him anymore…. in this case, if Myca sent those links, he would probably get suicidally depressed and think “Myca doesn’t want to be my friend anymore, since those links show that he thinks I am worthless and should just kill myself.”

  21. 21
    little light says:

    I figure things that rely on differences in biology are a gimmie (Men don’t need to be taught that they have the choice of whether or not to carry a child to term. Women don’t need to be taught to wear a condom. Etc.),

    Nope! Not a gimmie. I sure needed to learn how to use a condom once upon a time, and there’s a nice guy from my hometown who everyone knows needed to know about his choices regarding carrying a child to term.
    Even the “biological” stuff is still just useful information for everybody.

    I can’t think of a positive gendered message that wouldn’t be improved by being universalized. The only gendered messages I think are much of a good idea are a: as Holly said above, educating about gendered messages as a self-defense buffer, and b: messages specifically gender-targeted in order to counteract the oppressive barrage of the current ones. Both are sort of limited-deployment, and still universally applicable.

  22. 22
    Myca says:

    Nope! Not a gimmie. I sure needed to learn how to use a condom once upon a time, and there’s a nice guy from my hometown who everyone knows needed to know about his choices regarding carrying a child to term.
    Even the “biological” stuff is still just useful information for everybody.

    Ooooh, that’s a damn good point!

    —Myca

  23. 23
    meerkat says:

    Feminism itself is a positive gendered message. It says (among other things): “Women, don’t believe jerks when they tell you that something is unavailable to you, or unavoidable for you, merely on the basis of you being a woman.”

    But this applies to men as well, who don’t have to be raping brutish monsters or macho bodybuilders with no emotions other than rage and who should be able to be nurses/flight attendants/elementary school teachers/stay-at-home parents, despite being men. The women’s side of the message is probably more central to feminism, but I haven’t heard the men’s side from anyone except feminists.

  24. 24
    Froth says:

    Good gendered messages? No, I don’t think so. I can think of good messages that end up being gendered, but the gendering part is always a hindrance.
    “Girls are good at empathy” is the one I always hated. I suck at empathy. I do not understand people very well. I understand things like maths, and spatial rotation of complexes.
    What’s wrong with “Some people are good at empathy”?

  25. 25
    Rosa says:

    …and, from the other side – men who are taught only women are good at empathy sometimes go through their whole lives not learning to be as empathetic as they could.

    This is an obvious problem just in terms of developing as a well-rounded human being, but it will have specific material disadvantages in dealing with office politics, dating, parenting – anything that requires predicting what other people will do.

    This is on my mind a lot as a parent, because we have a little boy who has real problems with expressing emotions, predicting emotions in himself and others (wow, you mean if I hit that kid he won’t want to be my friend?), and grasping that other creatures even have emotions. It’s causing him a lot of problems already, and he’s only 3.

  26. 26
    MisterMephisto says:

    Ahhh… to think that I, too, once was like this fellow of whom Myca speaks.

    Thank the gods for the positive re-education I received after high school.

    But, yeah, I have to fall in the camp that believes that there are no positive gendered messages.

    In fact, I even have to disagree with Mandolin, though I agree with her purpose. I don’t see the gender “de-constructing” messages as positive. I see them, instead, as a necessary evil to combat the gendered messages that have already been inflicted upon a person.

    It’s a bit like using a poison in the hopes of curing the disease.

  27. 27
    nobody.really says:

    Feminism itself is a positive gendered message.

    Not to derail the discussion, but I can’t help notice that the term Feminism has a gendered quality, and consequently the label Feminist sends a gendered message. Is this fact good/bad/indifferent? For those who argue that there are NO good gendered messages, do you wish that we used a different term than Feminism/Feminist?
    ____

    I’ve often heard it said that people don’t want to live in a color-blind society; they want their race acknowledged, just not used as a basis for discrimination. And I get that. And yet whenever I acknowledged that I recognize that a person belongs to a different demographic group than me, I find that I immediately regret it. Somehow just the act of acknowledging that I know you’re “one of them” alienates people.

    Yeah, I love how the guys on Scrubs are constantly joking about their differences with playful remarks like “yo, my Negro Amigo,” etc. But honestly, wouldn’t even this light-hearted banter seem alienating over time? Initially it conveys the idea that you’re comfortable with another person’s differences; but if prolonged, the remarks convey the idea that the other person’s differences are a perpetual source of novelty to you; that you can’t help obsessing about them.

    (Even acknowledging that you’re “one of us” can be alienating. If you discovered that your girlfriend was initially attracted to you because you’re a fellow Jew, would you find this endearing? Or would you find it off-putting that she wasn’t attracted to your uniqueness but rather to your “type”?)

    That’s a long ‘way around to saying that, as a male, I often sense a loss of connection when I express a gendered message to a female. And here’s my sense of this: I want to think that my friends and colleagues regard me as a unique individual. Mostly this has to do with my desire to control my image with my friends and colleagues; I hate the idea that they’d make assumptions about me because, well, you know how that type is. And I suspect that other people harbor the same anxieties about my regard for them. Thus I strive to avoid acknowledging that demographic distinctions exist. Sure, if the issue comes up I acknowledge it. But I strive not to let the issue come up.

  28. 28
    Sailorman says:

    Aha! I think I got one!

    Women: Breastfeeding Is Generally Cheaper So Consider It Strongly!

    OK, OK, it is more than a bit contrived. but does it count? Do I win a cookie?

  29. 29
    Myca says:

    Ah, sorry, no cookie. I’d put that in the category of messages predicated on difference in biology, which as little light pointed out, don’t necessarily need to be gendered.

    Still, good try though. If I had a home version of the game, you’d get it.

    —Myca

  30. 30
    Nick Kiddle says:

    The xCLP keeps insisting that she’s a boy, right up until the moment I call her “good boy” and she says “I’m a good girl!” But she’s also doing the gender-sorting thing: she keeps saying that she’s a girl because she’s got long hair, no matter how many times I insist that hair has absolutely nothing to do with the matter, with examples.

  31. 31
    Schala says:

    Mostly this has to do with my desire to control my image with my friends and colleagues; I hate the idea that they’d make assumptions about me because, well, you know how that type is.

    I definitely understand this part. I want to be seen as someone unique, basically not defined by my transition to female in others’ eyes. And similarly to your example above, I might be turned off if someone revealed they were attracted by “my transness” rather than who I am as a person.

    My (romantic) feelings regarding other people often doesn’t consider their demographics much, but principally goes regarding their personality. While I may express a preference for a man taller and bigger than me, it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be romantically involved with a man shorter than me (smaller than me would be a long shot, considering how small I am), or with a woman of any kind.

    At the moment, the guy I’m seeing online is a bit shorter and younger than me, and this is not a problem at all. His personality so far seems great, and he seems as open-minded as I am (which, if not, would be a compatibility issue).

  32. 32
    Schala says:

    Women: Breastfeeding Is Generally Cheaper So Consider It Strongly!

    Ah, sorry, no cookie. I’d put that in the category of messages predicated on difference in biology, which as little light pointed out, don’t necessarily need to be gendered.

    Well, men, who have never and will never transition, and who are not intersex, can also lactate. I’m not sure how the breast growth is done overall for someone like that, but it’s apparently been done before by a father.

    she keeps saying that she’s a girl because she’s got long hair, no matter how many times I insist that hair has absolutely nothing to do with the matter, with examples.

    Children often gender by the obvious, when children. Replace gender with categorize, and you get the same thing. I bet I considered trucks as cars before I learned to refine my categorization. The reasoning being: It has many wheels, and an engine, and it goes fast.

    I’d say children also like to justify themselves to themselves. It’s not just trans women who want to have their gender validated by people, its most people who want that. Even if it means pulling stuff like “I play with dolls” or “I like wearing skirts/dresses” to “prove it”, which end up reinforcing gender roles.

  33. 33
    Brynn says:

    How about statements such as, “Boys and girls both cry.” Slightly different emphasis than the sentence construction Jeff objected to. Or, “Some girls are tougher than some boys.” Or transgender statements, such as, “Not all boys have penises. Some do, some don’t.” Or, vice-versa, “Not all people with penises are boys.” Or, “Some boys love to wear dresses.” “Some men love to wear women’s underwear.”

  34. 34
    Silenced is Foo says:

    I believe that women are fundamentally different from men, but I consider it a tragedy and that any gendered messages are meant to exploit that tragedy, so I steer well clear of them.

  35. 35
    Mandolin says:

    Yeah, my opposite-sex spouse and I are indeed fundamentally different, which leads to such problems as my having to wear a mask to breath methane while he prefers a mix that includes oxygen, the inability of his tongue to form the complex syllables that make up my name and the basis of my language, our differing preferences for room temperatures nearing absolute zero (he’s for, I’m against), and our total inability to understand each other’s moral systems which bear absolutely no commonalities at all since mine is derived from a complex evolutionary process that favored small-group cohesion and his is derived from a process I don’t understand but which his people call Gr’a’th’z’lpbg.

    On the other hand, I have some married friends who just have differing views on how much emotional expression is appropriate in public.

  36. 36
    MisterMephisto says:

    And Mandolin WINS THE INTARWEB!!

    Or, in my man-language: “Oog ma goo-goo (grunt grunt) gaggamaga!!”

  37. 37
    Myca says:

    Seriously, Mandolin. You win 1000 Internets.

    —Myca

  38. 38
    dutchmarbel says:

    I think the “chicks dig jerks.” mantra just means that the person saying it is more focussed on girls at that time. My 10 yo son wanted to know why popular kids often are not the nicest personalities – wouldn’t that be the best way to judge friends? Which is basically “schoolmates dig jerks”, isn’t it?

    I think there is nothing wrong with acknowleding gender differences as long as you also make them aware that those are stereotypes and there might well be exceptions to the rule. When my 8 yo son told me that boys are stronger than girls I told him that until puberty hits boys and girls are more or less the same but that after puberty their bodies changed and men have more muscles than women. But there are a lot of weak men and strong women, so it doesn’t say anything about an individual.

    I think that saying ‘not all boys have penises’ is a confusing message. I’d much rather explain that boys have penises and girls have vagina’s, but that sometimes people feel as if they are born in the wrong body. If the fysical characteristics don’t matter, why would people go through all those operations to change those?

    So I put the emphasis on the fact that a group statistic doesn’t mean it’s always true, that the individual may differ – and that some differences are cultural so they can’t be biological. You always belong to groups, so feeling that you can be a part of a group yet still have some differences is an important message for me.

  39. 39
    MisterMephisto says:

    dutchmarbel said:
    If the fysical characteristics don’t matter, why would people go through all those operations to change those?

    Except that not all trans-folk get or want to get the operation.

  40. 40
    brynn says:

    I think that saying ‘not all boys have penises’ is a confusing message. I’d much rather explain that boys have penises and girls have vagina’s, but that sometimes people feel as if they are born in the wrong body.

    dutchmarbel, as a female-to-male transsexual, I was totally confused by the “born in the wrong body” statement because I didn’t feel like I was in the wrong body. At a very early age, I decided that some boys had penises and some didn’t, and I was one of the ones who didn’t. Other FtMs have told me similar stories.

    Of course, I knew better than to share that sentiment with anyone in 1950′s America. Consequently, I didn’t end up in a mental institution –which is great!– but I also didn’t figure out why I was so unhappy until middle age.

    The “born in the wrong body” meme was conceived by non-trans psychiatrists, and while it matches the reality of some trans folks, it does not describe all.

  41. 41
    PG says:

    brynn,

    I think “born in the wrong body” also is an attempt to make sense of what the term “boy” or “girl” means nowadays. As this thread makes clear, liberals and progressives do not think that there should be much socially-assigned meaning to “boy” or “girl” (both boys and girls can be aggressive, empathetic, have sex with men, be married to women, dress-wearing, soldiers, primary caretakers, boxers, etc.). Having stripped the terms of social and cultural meaning, there’s not much left except biological meaning, so to the extent that we still use these words (announcing at a birth “It’s a Boy/Girl!”), it’s based on genitalia.

    Ideally I think we shouldn’t bother assigning a sex at all, and all children can grow up choosing what best expresses and fulfills them, but I’m aware that for this to be functional (unisex bathrooms!), we’d have to have a society in which the group that on average is physically weaker does not have reason to fear the other group that on average is physically stronger. And sadly we don’t have that society yet.

  42. 42
    chingona says:

    Just in practical terms, it can be hard to always say the right thing when little kids ask the kinds of questions that little kids ask.

    Sometime between 18 months and two years, my son became obsessed with penises. He had a penis. His dad had a penis. The dog had a penis. And then, of course, he asked about my penis. I said I didn’t have one, and when he asked why, I said it was because I’m a woman and women don’t have penises. In retrospect, this wasn’t an absolutely true statement. If I had time to think it through, I might have just said some people have penises and some don’t, but I was on the spot.

    And upon learning that some people didn’t have penises, he demanded to know, of every single person he knew, whether they had one or didn’t. He would run through the names of all his friends from day care and whether they had a penis or didn’t. After about two months of very loud announcements about his friends’ genitalia in the middle of the grocery store, his dad hit upon an idea that seemed brilliant – at the time. We taught him to say boy and girl, which really is just the socially acceptable way to say who has a penis and who doesn’t.

    He had a hard time keeping it straight, and he would check with us a lot about who was a boy and who was a girl. I remember thinking how weird it is that this is what we consider the most essential information you can know about a person. At the same time, I would assume folks whose gender doesn’t match their sex don’t particularly want to be defined as penis or no penis.

  43. 43
    Schala says:

    At the same time, I would assume folks whose gender doesn’t match their sex don’t particularly want to be defined as penis or no penis.

    The word ‘gender’ has mostly lost its meaning in the social and gender identity arena, easily conflated with gender roles, rather than subconscious sex. The DSM’s GID diagnosis does nothing at all to alleviate this, even going as far as proclaiming it a mental illness, and making it ALL about roles. Many psychiatrists don’t mind that, they’ve always thought of it that way since the early 1900s anyways.

    My subconscious sex doesn’t match my genital sex. I seek to correct this. Redefining my subconscious sex, if at all possible, would be through death. Redefining my genital sex is at least more feasible. Wether someone has a penis or not is immaterial to who they are, imo.

  44. 44
    chingona says:

    Thanks. That makes sense.

  45. 45
    dutchmarbel says:

    @brynn: but what happened when you developped breasts and had your period? I am not transgendered, so I don’t know how that feels, but ‘being in the wrong body’ gives me a picture of how someone feels (though saying that the subconsious sex and the genital sex don’t match sounds much nicer). Saying that some boys have breasts and periods sounds weird.

    I also hesitate about the ‘gender doesn’t matter these days’. My husband and I are both rather in the center, genderwise, not very feminin of masculin in our likes and behaviour. Yet while I feel that I am not a very feminin person I do feel very much a female. That is part of my identity. We have three sons and I want them to feel at ease with their gender too, without letting it define them.

  46. 46
    Schala says:

    @dutchmarbel:

    Most people don’t question their identity as male or female. At best they question their gender expression. Most don’t even go there. I suspect anyone considered out of mainstream, say a gay man, a lesbian woman, or bisexual men and women, would at least briefly consider their gender expression. Asexual people also seem to consider it.

    As for someone’s subconscious sex, most people take it as a given or hate the very concept saying such a thing exists (anti-trans radfems for example). Trans and intersex people are eventually forced to consider their identity as male or female, society will not let them go undecided on the matter.

    A 35 years old study by Person and Ovesey says their “primary” transsexual (MtF) clients were not especially feminine in childhood, essentially asexual, and loners as children. Pointing to no actually-visible marker that society could say “See, its obvious”. It’s one of the few studies who does not conflate trans and gender roles.

    I find it interesting that you are aware of your identity as female, beyond accepting it as given or being about gender expression. Could you elaborate? I don’t mean to call it into question, but I’m curious.

    The overwhelming majority of non-intersex people feel at ease in their assigned sex, and don’t question it, because it either doesn’t come up, or is not sufficiently important to them to talk about it, maybe also fear of being considered out of mainstream socially. So your children have a high statistical chance of feeling at ease in their subconscious sex.

    If by chance, they don’t feel at ease with it, but a climate of understanding and empathy exists in your family regarding those issues, they are likely to come to you to talk about it. Few trans people choose outright to reject their family…its sadly usually the other way around.

    I was lucky to have an understanding mother, even being her firstborn son (out of four), now I’m her only daughter.

  47. 47
    brynn says:

    Very well said, Schala.

    Sex and gender are complicated, to say the least. Many people commenting here seem to desire concrete, black and white imperatives in the natural world to support what they believe about sex and gender. But the natural world doesn’t operate that way. When you look at nature, you see a huge range of sexual options—which makes perfect sense in evolutionary terms, but defies easy categorization.

    The ideas of sex and gender are human constructs. They are our attempts to impose order on a chaotic natural world that actually consists of a statistical ranges with blacks and whites on the poles, and a lot of grays in between.

    When you actually accept that gender is a social construct, you understand that gender DOES matter, but only in human terms. You can’t go to the natural world to discern a foundation to support alleged gender differences, but you CAN go to the human world to understand why we divide things the way we do. Mostly, IMHO, it comes back to power and the transmission of that power from one generation to the next. But that’s another discussion.

    Anticipating arguments: it IS true that statistically, most males have penises and females have vaginas. But then, what about intersexed individuals? Which, by the way, constitute as high as 1 in 2,000 human births according to the former Intersexed Society of North America.

    And dutchmarbel, when I developed breasts, it’s true I felt alienated from them. (As for periods, mine were very irregular. And who really likes their period?!) But again, my alienation wasn’t definitive. I eventually had a child (years before I transitioned) and nursed her, and that was the best experience of my life. Since then, I have had top surgery, and am happy to have a flat chest.

    I can’t speak for anyone but myself. I assume there ARE transsexuals who feel “trapped in the wrong body.” But for me, the phrase only caused confusion and never expressed my reality.

    If you really want to understand gender, I’d recommend letting go of the quest for incontrovertible differences. We are all humans, more alike than different. In fact, if you compare personality differences you are as likely to find them as wide-ranging within one sex as between male and female. But many people have to take off their blinders to see that.

    As for the way we do gender: offering only two choices seems to comfort many people, but it is an artificial construct. I consider myself transgender, but I have to operate in a world that typically eschews that category, or worse. In that world, I’m much more at home living as a man than I ever was living as a woman.

  48. 48
    Schala says:

    Which, by the way, constitute as high as 1 in 2,000 human births according to the former Intersexed Society of North America.

    The retrograde ISNA, thankfully now gone, had very low statistics it seems.

    1/500 “male” birth has XXY syndrome just to name one. That’s at least twice as much as ISNA’s figure.

    The best figure is about 1/100 considering all intersex conditions falling in the “neither totally male or totally female by imperfect biological standards”. An hypospadias might qualify.

    I say retrograde because it was…it invented the term Disorder of Sex Development to remove the “intersex as identity” thing, and considered that a good thing somehow. Applying negative terminology and removing the basis for the identity of many…way to go.

    It also had very negative attitudes towards transsexual people, and anyone with an intersex condition who subsequently decided to transition was considered an heretic, and banned forever from the intersex classification.

  49. 49
    Nick Kiddle says:

    Sometime between 18 months and two years, my son became obsessed with penises. He had a penis. His dad had a penis. The dog had a penis. And then, of course, he asked about my penis.

    This is reminding me of the game the xCLP and I sometimes play about who’s a boy and who’s a girl. “Is Granny a boy or a girl? What about Uncle Edward?” We went through all the family members she’s seen lately, but got totally unstuck on my cousin’s partner, because of the hair thing I mentioned above. I tried saying, “I think she’s a girl because she’s J and J’s Mummy, and most Mummys are girls.” The “most” was a failed attempt to forestall the next objection: “Mummy’s a boy,” (meaning me).

  50. 50
    PG says:

    This is reminding me of the game the xCLP and I sometimes play about who’s a boy and who’s a girl.

    I now feel very guilty about playing that game with my cousin when he was little because when he said that one of our friends must be a boy because she had short hair, we all laughed hysterically at her expense instead of gravely telling him that hair length had nothing to do with it. Thereby instilling a lifetime of gendered expectations! In my defense, this would have been when I was about 10 years old.

  51. 51
    chingona says:

    PG, I think they’ll learn it in spite of any of our best efforts. All we can do is try to mitigate. My son thinks all children with long hair are girls, even though he has long hair and knows that he is a boy (though strangers almost always think he’s a girl).

  52. 52
    Phil says:

    Ideally I think we shouldn’t bother assigning a sex at all, and all children can grow up choosing what best expresses and fulfills them

    That sounds good, but… If (as this discussion suggests) there isn’t a single character trait that is “male” or “female,” and we also don’t assign the label “boy” or “girl” to people with penises and without, then when criteria is a child supposed to use, if they ever decide to identify as male or female? Isn’t it inevitable that such a choice would rely on stereotypes they pick up over the years, just not from family?

    At the risk of sounding like a bad liberal/progressive, that illustrates something that I find hard-to-understand about the transgender people that I know. It often seems that a very nuanced view of gender can go hand-in-hand with a sexist view of what it means to be a man or woman.

    If a child said, “I want to grow my hair long and wear skirts and makeup, because I’m a girl,” it seems reasonable for a parent to respond, “Actually, Ashley, long hair and skirts and makeup are not what make a person a girl.” But if a transgender person, born with a penis, said to me, “I want to grow my hair long and wear skirts and makeup because I’m a girl,” I’d feel like a jerk saying, “Actually, Ashley, long hair and skirts and makeup are not what make a person a girl.”

  53. 53
    Phil says:

    I think I want to clarify my previous post, because I’ve been thinking about it. So, this is what I’m sort of mulling.

    Generally, if a person says, “I am a girl, because I ___________,” there seems to be nothing that can reasonably fill in the blank. Anything that does would be an unacceptably gendered message. If I’m following this discussion, then, there isn’t a single personality trait, physical trait, or other trait that we ascribe uniquely to girls.

    I don’t have a problem with that.

    But then, logically, if someone says, “I am a girl because I ________,” it’s somehow wrong. That doesn’t mean that I have an obligation to point out that they’re wrong or discourage them, but it still means that I’m feeling or thinking that they’re wrong. Because there isn’t anything that can fill in that blank that isn’t a truism (“I am a girl because I am a girl”) or a meaningless abstraction (“I am a girl because I feel like a girl.”)

    So, if gendered messages aren’t positive, and we also do not use physical characteristics like penises or ovaries as a way of identifying gender, then the class that is “boys,” or the class that is “girls,” has no traits within it. As such, anyone who insists that they are a boy or girl does so for no logical reason, and the more emphatically they believe themselves to be a boy or girl, the more regressive their reasoning must be.

  54. 54
    Brynn says:

    Phil, why do you say, ”I am a girl because I feel like a girl,” is a meaningless abstraction?

    Essentially, I think that’s what gender-identity boils down to. (WHY we feel what we do is another question. Is it biological? Environmental? Both?)

    Most females don’t come into conflict with society’s definition of girl in that they have the prerequisite vagina. Likewise with most males who have penises. Thus, the fact that their gender-identity hinges on what they feel and not their genitals remains obscure.

    This link only becomes clear with transgendered folks, but I believe it is true for us all.

  55. 55
    Phil says:

    Phil, why do you say, ”I am a girl because I feel like a girl,” is a meaningless abstraction?

    Brynn,

    I say it because it is an abstraction, and because it is meaningless.

    It is an abstraction because if you try to make it any more concrete, then it turns into the same statement that I found problematic in post 53. “I am a girl because I feel like a girl. Girls feel like ______ .” If gendered messages are not positive, then there is nothing that can fill in that blank.

    Further, it is meaningless, because the statement does not consist of components that make sense. It cannot be further explained. If you say, “I am a girl because I feel like a girl. When someone feels like a girl, that means that they _______,” you then have to make a gendered statement.

    So, these are the two questions that I’m trying to figure out.

    1.) Is there anything meaningful that can fill in this blank that is not a sexist, gendered message: “I am a girl because I __________”?

    2.) If there isn’t anything that can fill in that blank, then is it regressive to insist that one is or isn’t a girl? (That is, unless you insist “I am a girl for no reason,” then how can you possibly have anything but a sexist reason for thinking that you are a girl?)

  56. 56
    dutchmarbel says:

    I wouldn’t mind elaborating, but it’s hard enough in my native tongue so I’m not sure my English is up to it ;)

    I think that gender sets a sort of framework for people and that you subconciously measure yourself to that standard. So when I say about myself that I am in the ‘center’ of the scale if you measure female on one end and male on the other, I mean that I do not score high on many of the female traits. Ditto for my husband. He is the caring person that loves babies, I like to talk sports and cars, that kind of thing.

    Problem is that quite a lot of that framework is cultural, comes from the outside, can change in a different environment. So it’s not really male/female but promoted stereotypes and people adapt to those from a very early age. Sometimes it’s hard to know wether you have some traits because they are really you, or because nurture forced them upon you. Do I have empathy because I am a female, because I am a middle child or is it part of the characterset I was born with? Trying to create a more gender-neutral environment (books, films, toys, adds, examples we set ourselves) is important imho to let people develop into who they really are.

    I used to think that the difference between the sexes was all nurture. In my adolescence (around 1980) the Netherlands was doing pretty bad in the women’s emancipation department and I hated both the stereotypes and the consequences of it when I didn’t fit them. I felt completely equal to the guys in my environment and didn’t see why having a penis should make that much of a difference.

    Over the years I’ve changed that opinion. I think there is some nature too, some basic differences. But, as with all those things, the individual and the statistics are very different things and the fact that there might be a gender difference doesn’t mean that a specific person follows that pattern. So I’m not very fixed on gender specific roles, but I do think that there are two gender prototypes.

    My husband was raised by strong women with a lot of subconsious messages about male behaviour and particularly how bad that can be (men are agressive, violent, know-it-alls). It made him insecure about himself. He doesn’t fitt all male stereotypes eigher (center of the scale, like I am) but feels both proud and apologetic about the area’s where he differs and it often makes him question his masculinity. I don’t have that. I have traits that are perceived as more masculine, but they never make me feel less female. My femininity is not based in those traits. Yet I do feel that there is a gender difference.

    We have three sons (6, 8 & 10). I want to raise them without too many stereotypes and rolepatterns. They should be as free as can be to be who they are, which is hard enough because you cannot control the environment. I don’t think they are transgendered, they’ve been through a few very body-oriented fases allready and I think we would have noticed something. But I don’t want them to question their gender because of how they feel or what they like. I wouldn’t like them to think that they might be girls with a penis if they fall in love with a boy or like to play with girls or fail to meet the proper gender stereotypes. I want them happy and secure with who they are. The fact that there are grey area’s, genderwise, doesn’t mean that there don’t grow up in a society with two genders. I don’t want those genders defining them, defining who they are, but I don’t want them to question their masculinity unless they really are in one of those grey area’s.

    I’t a long reply and I still dont feel I made myself clear, but I tried.

  57. 57
    PG says:

    Phil,

    wh[at] criteria is a child supposed to use, if they ever decide to identify as male or female?

    For myself, I’m not particularly attached to identifying as male or female, at least not where I think it ought to be irrelevant. That’s one reason I don’t use a gendered name online, and don’t bother correcting people if they assume the incorrect sex (unless they use that assumption to tell me I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, or to say that I have a biased self-interest in defending M2F transfolk). People sometimes guess my sex correctly from cultural cues like my talking about romance novels and “chick lit,” but I’m just as happy to leave my sex identity out of a discussion on, say, the blameworthiness of credit-rating agencies in the mortgage-backed security mess.

  58. 58
    dutchmarbel says:

    Weird, when I refreshed Schala at 46 was the last reply, when I posted my reply a lot of other comments appeared. So I hadn’t read those when I posted my epistel.

    @Brynn: I’m glad that you are at ease with who you are. You went through surgery to adept your body, but was that because it made your role in society easier (being visibly male) or because you felt more at ease with your body that way? Maybe ‘the wrong body’ is a formulation that comes across as too negative. That is not what I want to convey.

    I don’t think that I’d have a problem explaining to my children that there *are* grey area’s in gender, either biologically or psychologically and that some people have to think harder about which gender they feel they really are – and that there aren’t just two opposites between which you have to choose. I think I would have more of a problem telling them that gender doesn’t really exist.

    @Brynn: You say:” I consider myself transgender, but I have to operate in a world that typically eschews that category, or worse. In that world, I’m much more at home living as a man than I ever was living as a woman.
    Why do you feel more at home living as a man and what does that mean for you? what defines ‘living like a man’? Is that a protest against the role you feel society puts you in, is that an acknowledgement of the fact that you have more traits that would fit the ‘male stereotype’ of my gender scales, or is it something else?

    @Schala: you really changed your gender. Doesn’t that mean that you have a strong sense of gender instead of the sense that there is not really a thing like gender? If one of my sons decided that he had to change genders I’d grieve for the difficulties he/she would encounter, but I love them as individuals not because of their genitalia. However I would assume that his/her idea of gender would be stronger than if they for instance chose to be as androgyne as can be.

  59. 59
    chingona says:

    So, these are the two questions that I’m trying to figure out.

    1.) Is there anything meaningful that can fill in this blank that is not a sexist, gendered message: “I am a girl because I __________”?

    2.) If there isn’t anything that can fill in that blank, then is it regressive to insist that one is or isn’t a girl? (That is, unless you insist “I am a girl for no reason,” then how can you possibly have anything but a sexist reason for thinking that you are a girl?)

    Ay, there’s the rub.

    Like dutchmarbel, I would say that I “feel” female or have a sense of myself as a woman, despite not being particularly feminine and not having been taught proper performance of femininity by my mother, who also failed to fulfill many expectations of “feminine” behavior. But I don’t really have a vocabulary to describe what feeling female is like or what it means. I also don’t know to what extent this is because my subconscious sex matches my physical sex and to what extent it’s just the result of living in this body for 30-odd years. Obviously, some people live in their bodies for longer than I’ve lived in mine and still don’t feel like it matches their sense of their self. But I’m also not completely comfortable with a sense of gender or sex being innate and not shaped by society and culture.

    My own sense is that most of gender is cultural, but I also think that the way we treat boys and girls from birth is different in so many subconscious ways, that it would be nearly impossible to ever tease out what is cultural and what is innate and what is just the differences between particular individuals.

    All that said, it seems very strange and almost nonsensical to describe someone who is transgender as “sexist” in their strong identification with one gender or another. It seems to me that if it’s what you feel, it’s what you feel, and trying to wrest it into the “right” or the “wrong” theoretical framework about gender or sex is useless.

    As for whatever that means for “gendered messages,” is “boys have penises” or “girls have vaginas” a “gendered message”? What kinds of answers should we give to our children’s questions about their bodies that are simple enough for them to understand and account for both the fact that they have to operate in a world in which terms like male and female, boy and girl, have widely understood meanings and the possibility that they may grow up to not fit those widely understood meanings?

  60. 60
    Brynn says:

    it is an abstraction, and because it is meaningless.

    I disagree that it is meaningless. As a transgender person, my experience has been that the only indisputable fact that separates the two genders (not sexes) is whether a person feels like a boy or feels like a girl. It is not behaviors. I’ve lived in both worlds, seen the diversity and similarities within each gender from the inside. Despite the truth of stereotypes, there is as much diversity within a gender and as much similarity between genders, as there is across genders. That most people fall in the middle of a bell curve does not negate the edges of the curve. Moreover, looking at differing standards of masculinity and femininity among cultures and throughout history, one could make a strong argument that much of the behavioral diversity between the sexes is a result of social conditioning.

    Again, because most people’s “feel” like the sex that matches their gonads, genitalia, and chromosomes, most people accept the myth that gender flows from their sex. In reality, gender-identity–whether you feel like a girl, boy, or neither–is separate. Hence, the only definitive marker of a person’s gender-identity is how they feel–and that is as true for cisgender people as for transgender people.

    dutchmarbel, I said “living as a man,” not “like a man.” Unless I come out (or for some reason am unclothed) no one knows that I wasn’t born male. What I meant to say by my statement is that, given the complexity of my life history, I will never fit comfortably into either of our society’s two genders. I wish that society had a more complex understanding of gender and sex and offered more acceptable choices–which is why I participate in discussions like this one. To try to increase people’s understanding of the complexity of sex and gender.

    Given our current world, and the fact that I must chose a gender, I am most comfortable living as a man even though that often forces me to compromise parts of myself I’d rather not. For example, not disclosing to most people that I am a mother. I hate the fact that that statement creates drama. I doubt that in my lifetime, we will evolve to a place where transgender people can easily live anywhere.

  61. 61
    Schala says:

    @Schala: you really changed your gender. Doesn’t that mean that you have a strong sense of gender instead of the sense that there is not really a thing like gender? If one of my sons decided that he had to change genders I’d grieve for the difficulties he/she would encounter, but I love them as individuals not because of their genitalia. However I would assume that his/her idea of gender would be stronger than if they for instance chose to be as androgyne as can be.

    Yes I have a strong sense for it. It’s strongly polarized. That polarization is only made worst by perceived injustices done in the name of the gender police to me as I grew up, forcing me to create a second personality to cope. But a part of it is definitely innate. The rest builds up on it, or clouds it, but it is always there, an unshakeable, deep-knowing feeling that you are NOT the sex you were raised as. (It’s gender dysphoria, not gender euphoria for the other gender).

    That hormones dominant in females have stabilized my mood and made my mind clearer is only another sign. The same for surgery, its only a sign that this second choice (as opposed to belonging nowhere or in a third place) is the right one.

    I don’t identify as not-male though. I found out quickly enough that female was the right “box” for me, stereotype or not (and I’m not that big on maintaining stereotypes, I eschew all kinds of conventions because I find them inconvenient or bogus). I’m the kind of girl who goes to work with no make-up, unbrushed hair, with something thrown out together in haste (but hopefully matches, I’m usually good with that).

    What difference does it have with when I was perceived as male? I actually feel alive. I feel life is worth living and that there is a future, albeit uncertain, for me. Before, I saw no future for myself, at all. Even without the bullying I suffered from, it would have been the same, just less urgent.

  62. 62
    dutchmarbel says:

    I doubt that in my lifetime, we will evolve to a place where transgender people can easily live anywhere.

    I am really sorry about that. I still hope that that’s not true though. I’ve seen how fast the emancipation and acceptance can go in my native country, where females have made real progress in my lifetime and where being gay is a minor hurdle nowadays. There will always be small groups that can’t cope with change and have very fixed ideas about society, there will always be peope who will laugh at what they don’t understand, but general acceptance should be feasable.

    As with most things it probabely helps when people know more about it. Coming out is hard though, when you know that there will be a lot of averse reactions. I have great admiration for people like the mayor of Cambridge and her partner and hope that they may make a difference.

    @Schala: I’m glad things worked out for you. It confirms my idea about gender, but in bringing up my kids I try to make sure that they understand the difference between generalities and individuals.

  63. 63
    Schala says:

    Kathoey in Thailand can “easily live”. The issue though is not one of being persecuted, they are somewhat celebrated. The issue is that they are then boxed in the “artificial” category, where their hope for any meaningful work that isn’t related to cosmetics or show-stuff is very limited. Their post-transitional sex is also not recognized.

    So they have less issues in childhood, and coming out, and even general appearance (since they’re encouraged to come out even as children, thus they get hormones before testosterone destroys it all). But their social status is low.

    I don’t know the situation of cissexual Thai women and if it is similar. If it is, then it’s probably not contempt for a kathoey’s artificialness as much as contempt for feminity overall.

    I’m not sure about the marriage possibilities of kathoeys. Unless Thailand recognizes same-sex marriage, then they probably can’t marry, since their legal sex remains unchanged.

  64. 64
    Phil says:

    I disagree that it is meaningless. As a transgender person, my experience has been that the only indisputable fact that separates the two genders (not sexes) is whether a person feels like a boy or feels like a girl.

    I suppose I didn’t mean that such a statement is meaningless to the individual saying it. Obviously, “I feel like a girl” is a statement that a great number of people would feel comfortable making, both cisgendered and transgendered, and they would probably mean it.

    But if we’re examining the question of “are there positive gendered messages?” the statement “I feel like a girl” doesn’t have a meaning that can be communicated beyond the abstraction.

    If it wasn’t an abstraction, then you could say, “I feel like a girl. What does it mean to feel like a girl? Well, girls feel like _________.”

    The question is not whether a person has the language or the desire to fill in the blank. It’s whether the blank can be filled in or not, even in theory.

    What I’m genuinely curious about is: is there anything that can fill in the blank that is not a gendered message?

    If we’re examining the question, “Are there positive gendered messages?” then I think this is a useful type of statement to consider. There doesn’t seem to be a way to make the statement “I feel like a girl” or “I feel like a boy” without operating from at least one internalized gendered message.

    Thus, either there are positive gendered messages, or the statement “I feel like a girl” is not a positive statement.

    So, if we accept on faith that “I feel like a girl” is not an illogical or regressive thing to say, it follows that there must be some kind of positive gendered message. Even if we can’t deduce what that message is, we can calculate that it exists based on the trail that it leaves.

  65. 65
    Schala says:

    If it wasn’t an abstraction, then you could say, “I feel like a girl. What does it mean to feel like a girl? Well, girls feel like _________.”

    Girls feel like they are girls.

    Subconscious sex doesn’t involve quantum mechanics, it involves feeling a truism as relating to your body configuration. When it matches, no problem. When it’s complete at odds, all hell breaks loose in the mind of the affected. When someone feels like neither, there might still be discomfort, but little can be done about it medically-speaking. Getting a more neutral endocrinology might be effective for some (it certainly works wonder for certain intersex people).

    I’ll go in computers.

    If your subconscious sex says 1, and your body shows 0 to the world, there is mismatch. Same if its 0 and 1. But some people might have some unclear number for the subconscious sex (say, 2, in binary, or nothing at all, or a 1 that almost looks like a 0).

    The fact that for most people, it says 1 and 1, or 0 and 0 does not mean it does for everyone.

    Nature works on a spectrum, a continuum. We have wave frequencies ranging from ultra-low to ultra-high and probably beyond. We have the same in nature. There’s straight and gay people, but there’s also bisexual, pansexual, asexual and personality-sexual and probably more. Why would it be irrealist that some people feel completely at odds with their bodies sex characteristics on a deep biological-knowing level?

    How are they supposed to express it in English? It’s not like I can show you my mind and tell you “See, it says so here.” You’re putting people in a catch-22 where they can’t say anything about their subconscious sex because its apparently inherently sexist to say anything about it.

  66. 66
    Phil says:

    You’re putting people in a catch-22 where they can’t say anything about their subconscious sex because its apparently inherently sexist to say anything about it.

    Schala,
    I’m not saying that it’s inherently sexist to say anything about it. I’m saying that, if it’s not sexist, then there must be positive gendered messages, even if we aren’t able to figure out what they are.

    Girls feel like they are girls.

    As you sort of suggest, that is a truism. But the subtext of such a statement either has meaning or it doesn’t.

    If you say, “I feel like I am a girl or a boy,” then that isn’t a gendered statement. If you say, “I feel like I am neither a girl nor a boy,” then that isn’t a gendered statement.

    But the most likely subtext in that statement is, “I feel like I am a girl, and not a boy.” Is it possible, Schala, to make such a statement without having a concept of what it is to feel like a girl, and that feeling like a girl is distinct from feeling like a boy?

    I suggest that if you state “I feel like a girl and not a boy,” then you must have some sort of concept of how girls are distinct from boys. It doesn’t matter whether you have the language to describe it, or indeed, whether such language exists.

    If you state, “I feel like a girl,” and you mean, “I feel like a girl as distinct from a boy,” then you must be operating from some kind of internalized gendered message. That “message” may be textual, nonverbal, chemical, what-have-you. But the conclusion I draw is simply:

    If it is not a negative thing to say, “I feel like a girl,” then there must be some kind of positive gendered message.

  67. 67
    Brynn says:

    But if we’re examining the question of “are there positive gendered messages?” the statement “I feel like a girl” doesn’t have a meaning that can be communicated beyond the abstraction.

    I agree. I didn’t realize you were going back to the original discussion.

    As for filling in the blank…I view gender as an intensely personal interaction (some academics say “performance”) among individuals that goes on 24/7. (Gender is almost meaningless if a person is completely alone.) Our society, for the most part, forces people to choose one of two and only two genders. So I’d fill in the blank by saying something like, “Boys feel happiest when the rest of the world treats them like boys, thus confirming their own deep set sense of self.” Same for girls.

  68. 68
    Nick Kiddle says:

    If it wasn’t an abstraction, then you could say, “I feel like a girl. What does it mean to feel like a girl? Well, girls feel like _________.”

    It gets very confusing, because “I feel like a girl” and “Girls feel like X” aren’t exactly equivalent. I feel like I have a mental compass pointing me towards being a boy, and I call that “feeling like a boy”. I’m sure there are plenty of boys in the world who don’t feel that, or aren’t aware of feeling it, so it isn’t true to say “Boys feel like they have this mental compass”.

  69. 69
    Daisy Bond says:

    Sort of paraphrasing Nick Kiddle at #68,* reading this discussion, it occurs to me that the construction “I feel like a girl” implies “girls feel like X.” But what we’re actually saying here, I think, is “I feel like I am a girl.” The latter implies only self-knowledge. Does that make sense to people?

    Also, I think the question of whether “positive gender statements” must logically exist in order for people to have genders is, frankly, taking it too far. The fact is that people do have genders, whether we like it or not, whether it fits into our theoretical framework or not. Any quest for a just gender system needs to start there, grounded in reality.

    * I saw your comment after I posted! Sorry for any redundancy.

  70. 70
    Schala says:

    But what we’re actually saying here, I think, is “I feel like I am a girl.” The latter implies only self-knowledge. Does that make sense to people?

    It makes sense to me at least.