My “Gender”

Our first post of the semester comes from Prof. Joel Nadler, who is based in the Psychology Department and directs the Industrial/Organizational Psychology Masters program at SIUE.  His research interests include gender bias in selection and performance appraisal, sexual harassment, organizational attractiveness, adverse impact (EEO law), and assessing inclusive diversity practices.  You can read more about his work at his website, www.JoelNadlerPhD.com.

In this post, Joel thinks about gender both broadly and personally, and his discussion of the “heroes of gender” is a celebration of gender fluidity and a call to “wave our own flags of gender defiance.”

Disclaimer.  I consider myself to be a passive feminist.  I both accept the concept of gender conformity for those that are comfortable with the two factor solution, while simultaneously supporting all those that struggle against the oppression of such a system.  I am not a feminist scholar.  I am an Industrial/Organizational psychologist.  My research interests are practice based and legal in nature. I study how to reduce stereotype bias in section and promotion that results in increased success, productivity, and profit for organizations.  My research also focuses on what works for the individual in the context of the “world as it is” with little focus on social justice and the sociological context of our world.  What follows is my personal reflections of gender as I have experienced it inspired by, but somewhat separate, from my academic endeavors.

What is gender?  It is dichotomy, it is historical, it is cultural, it is roles established by occupational and family expectations, and it is opposing social constructs of masculinity and femininity.  The expectations of these gender based terms, stereotypes, and roles vary from culture to culture. However; with only a very small number of exceptions across cultures and times gender is almost always conceptualized as an either or.  Gender is indicator of power, gender is weakness, gender is agency, gender is communality, gender is sexual orientation, gender is attraction, gender is behavior, gender is conformity, gender is blue and pink, gender is who pays for the date.  Gender is monolithic, gender is stiffing, gender is a prison, and gender determines what emotions can be expressed. Gender is the first question asked of each human and one of the most basic categorizations we are trained to view the world through.  Gender is a box to be checked on a form and then conformed to…

What should gender be?  That is just as complex of a question.  Gender should be identity, gender should be malleable, gender should be unique, and gender should be personal.  Gender should be cherished, embraced, and accepted.  Gender should be intimate, discovered, and through a lifetime evolved.  Sex can guide gender but gender should not be constrained by it. Gender should not involve absolutes and should be one of the last questions asked regarding how to define a person.

Who are the heroes of gender?  The heroes are those that struggles against the norms.  Those that do not fit in the box and those that refuse to conform.  People that proudly identify with terms such as transgender, gender queer, those that struggle to insist there is more than male and female, and those that cry out “I don’t want to fit”, but I want my culture to be ‘OK’ with that choice.  Those that say “what does it matter what is my chromosomal make up is or the nature of my genitalia, I am so much more, and deserve to be allowed to define myself in a way that makes sense to me.”

Who should be the heroes of gender?  The heroes should be each and every one of us.  The man that cries at ‘Marley and Me’ the woman who loves and knows everything about the Green Bay Packers.  Every single one of us that does not perfectly fit the gender box.  All of us need to accept where we fit and were we differ and focus on the individual differences. The man who loves kittens and muscle cars, the women that loves Michael Bay movies (explosions!) and pink dresses.  The trailblazers that challenge all of our gender norms are important, but so are the day to day heroes that proudly display their small deviations from the gender norms with pride.

So I want to celebrate my gender congruences and incongruences.  I was born biologically male and the much younger brother of a self-identified gay man.  My parents were openly liberal, accepting, and egalitarian… and very obviously terrified I would “be” like my brother.  I love boxing, weight lifting, sport cars, and Harley Davison motorcycles.  I like heavy metal music, first person shooters, bourbon, and the movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I love westerns and war movies especially those of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne.  I love dinosaurs, Godzilla, and the James Bond movies. I am attracted to independent and intelligent women and I am semi-obsessed with Julianne Moore.

However, I also love romance movies (Laws of Attraction), cry when I hear inspirational music, and do the majority of the house work and cooking in my relationship.  Fortunately, I love to cook and entertain. I gladly took a year off when my son was born to become his initial primary care giver.  I have performed drag (badly, and more than once), I enjoy manicures and pedicures, and I am a proud ‘neat freak.’  I have no interest in most sports and still regret ‘faking it’ in grade school and high school by wearing team shirts just to appear to be into sports like everyone else (I chose the Dolphins for football simply because I like dolphins).  My favorite color is purple. I love old Doris Day films, musicals, and the music of Tom Jones and Barbra Streisand.

So sound off, how do you wave your own flag of gender defiance?

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