Creuset of Ideas
» Gender issues


Gender issues

2006-06-4 @ 10:35

I’ve just read about the interseting, if informal, social experiment:

A new baby was left in a park with an attendent who, when ask by passerby, would claim to have agreed to sit with the child for a few moments and did not know if it was a boy or girl. Everyone stopping to admire the infant was quite distressed at not being able to know the child’s gender. Some even offred to undress the child to find out.

I already knew little girls and boys were treated differently (there is a lot of evidence on the subject), I never knew how bad people had to know. We are so used to social pressure that we feel threatened if, through lack of information or other reasons, we don’t know the right way to behave, even if — as in this case — there is no one to judge us, since no one else knows the sex of the infant.

5 comments to “Gender issues”

  1. this is too true! Marilyn Frye, feminist philosopher, wrote extensively about how practices of sex-marking and sex-identification are ubiquitous and obligatory and begin at an early age. Remember Pat from SNL? No one could tell if it was a man or a woman? And then remember Pat’s “partner” Chris, and how it was also androgynous, so nobody still would know (this of course presumes heterosexuality)? It is distressing for people when they don’t know the sex of the person they are dealing with.

  2. I think there’s two things at play here: the deeply ingrained gender roles, and the fact that people feel threatened when they don’t know what to make of someone. I remember, many years ago, I was in a grad student committee and we were negotiating a fund-raising contract with this guy. There were three of us. The other two did all the talking, I just sat there, took a few notes (I almost felt like standing in a dark corner, smoking cigarettes, à la X-Files). After a while, the guy couldn’t stand it anymore; he didn’t know how to react to me because he could figure out what I was. It’s why people often automatically label someone, so they don’t have to really pay attention to the person to know how they “should” react.

    And it’s probably much more important when it comes to gender; because it is usually the first things you notice when you meet someone, but mainly because it remains the big division of our society. And, as you point out, Pat wouldn’t have been such a favourite if it weren’t the case.

  3. yes, good point. when people can’t figure you out, they just don’t know what to do with themselves. It’s so weird; I’ve had the chance to meet several transgendered people, and it is somewhat disconcerting knowing how to approach someone who is clearly male but who is dressed as a female or vice versa. Which bathroom is appropriate for them to use? What tone of voice should I use in addressing them? What sort of body language should I display? And of course, the biggest thing in my mind is to try to make sure they understand that I am not uncomfortable with their lifestyle… but how can I do that when my hard-wired gender coding tells me I should treat this person differently than they might like me to treat them? It’s complex sometimes. I guess the only thing to do is sipmly be nice, be direct, and treat them like they want to be treated.

  4. I read a blog comment the other day on a discussion about appropriate-gendered-clothing for babies; the commenter said that she’d dressed her baby girl in a dinosaur print jumper. A woman who passed by said something about the cute little boy. When the mother corrected her, the passerby actually argued with the mother and insisted “it must be a boy because it’s wearing dinosaurs.” People are crazy when it comes to gendering babies.

    Nice blog!

  5. Thanks

    That is crazy! Maybe in the mind of the passerby, it was more inconceivable that the mother would not know her baby’s gender, than to dress it in the “wrong” clothes…

What do you think?