Thoughts from my study of Horror, Media, and Narrrative

Posts tagged “Gender

Self-Love and a Touch of Kant

I began walking toward my car anxious to escape the cool air and the crowds. Turning to Kim, I asked, “So, we almost joined a cult, right?”

This was, to be sure, not where I had ever pictured myself on a Sunday morning.

Scott had been trying to get me to attend a spiritual movement called Agape for about a year or so and I finally caved with the stipulation that Kim came along. Perhaps it was my skepticism, or perhaps it was my nature, but I began to question my surroundings as words rained down around me. I didn’t go in with the mindset that I wanted to disprove or discredit anything, but I did want to figure out if this made sense for me.

A part of that morning’s discussion focused on the “Big I” (a representation of the true self) and the “Little I” as an amalgamation of external influences. The “Little I” is the summation of being told what we should think instead of thinking for ourselves. I didn’t disagree with the duality, but I did struggle with the concept that the two selves were mutually exclusive.

In my mind, gender is one of the arguments against the distinctiveness between the “Big I” and “Little I.” The conception of male and female is integral to our fundamental nature but is also something that we learn. (I should take a moment to differentiate gender as a societal creation reacting to the biological sex of a person and not the actual physical sex of a person.) I understand the tendency to confuse the two types of “I”—the difficulty arises when we are unable to see the influences that these exterior constructions have on us. In a sense, we are like the Bluepills in “The Matrix”:  it is impossible to see the fabricated world around us until we step outside of it.

Traditional gender roles and heterosexuality are no exception to this idea as they represent, for many people, the “normal” way of thinking and are, as such, frequently invisible. The notion of heterosexuality is pervasive and ideas of gender are constructed in the schema of heterosexuality. Others’ normative heterosexual perceptions continually affect who we think we are, and our identity is often built in reaction to the world around us, for we do not develop in a void. Yet, heterosexuality also depends on our ability to create, identify, and define gender—how can you conceptualize “straight” without first defining “man” and “woman”? Our general inability to escape heterosexual standards (not necessarily a bad thing) means that our sense of self is continually tied to gender and, thusly, our “Little I.”

Although we may not have always consciously debated the issue, we have been continually exposed to the constructed nature of the self. Take Superman, Anya from Buffy, or Cylons—these figures in popular culture mirror the process of learning to become human (and/or people!) and all of their processes necessitated a struggle with what it meant to be male or female in a society. The archetypes of gender that these outsiders have come up with are both incredibly false but undeniably true.

Even if the “Little I” were always bad, some followers of Kant would argue that there is nothing wrong in maintaining one’s inclusion in an ultimately detrimental system if one had made an informed choice to participate. So, rather than eschew the “Little I,” we should strive to understand how we assemble our self-images. The real danger lies in those times when we only define ourselves by external criteria or our “Little I.” Although I might disagree with Agape’s execution, I do believe that it is cautioning us against this perilous tendency, telling its followers, like every other religion, that “this is not all that we are.”

Role Play Is Not Just Foreplay

She scratched her head for a second and slowly placed her hand back on the table.

“I guess the most important thing that I’ve learned is that Feminism isn’t about hating men, but…well…more about equality of the sexes.”

The process of interviewing had been long and tiring but here, at last, was what I had been waiting all day for. Finally, as some might call it, was the breakthrough moment when this student understood that something that she had learned had actually changed the way in which she viewed the world. I left the interview room happy that this student had come to a deeper understanding about a subject but didn’t think much about our conversation for a couple of days.

Then, while catching up on e-mails, I happened upon a news story where a group of men marched against domestic violence. “Great!” I thought, “It’s always nice to see males take on this issue.” But as I looked further into the event I realized that the primary focus of the march was to end domestic violence instigated by men on women.

Okay, sure, if you play the odds, male on female violence probably represents the cases that you hear about most often. However, the question that I had was, “Why did it matter?

While I certainly don’t want to imply that any type of domestic violence is necessarily less deserving of attention than any other, why is it that we are so eager to get fired up about protecting women but not about protecting men from females? Or even from other males for that matter? Can you make a case where a male is physically able to defend himself from a woman and therefore doesn’t need outside help? What about non-physical abuse? If so, what does this say about your assumptions about gender roles? What happens to this argument when the aggressor and the victim are of the same sex? Is this any worse or better than an assumption about Feminists?

For me, sex education is not just about the act itself but also the host of things that surround the deed; gender roles, gender stereotype, and perception of gender all engender inform the various ways that we interact with our sexual partners. How do our expectations for our partners (or others) depend on our preconceived notions of their gender? For that matter, how do our expectations of ourselves hinge upon this?

Sometimes I think that it would be easier if we had been assigned roles in life—we would know our job, our lines, and our costume. The other way to think about it, though, is that we now have the freedom and the opportunity to define ourselves as we see fit. Instead of asking ourselves “Who should I be?” we get to inquire “Who will I be?”