Gender analysis

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Sep 19 2011 18:57
Gender analysis

Admin: theoretical discussion of gender split from the macho posting on libcom and SolFed thread.

futility index wrote:
It was my understanding opposing gender essentialism was central to feminism, yet in this thread behaviours are being labelled masculine or feminine with no explanation.

i think the usage is that masculinity and femininity are social constructs which are largely mapped to biological sex and sociallly conditioned through associational learning. That means they operate on a pre-cognitive/pre-rational level, and so even if you consciously have a bang on critique of gender roles you can still reproduce them, and still respond to subconscious gendered cues. I'm getting all this from Cordelia Fine's recent book btw, which is a very worthwhile read (i only got half way through but will finish it when get the chance).

The way it was explained to me (this isn't from Fine now) is what you could call 'halving the species'; human attributes are divided up into binaries, and these are arranged hierarchically. So:

Reason > emotion
Stoicism > sensitivity
Violence > care
Competitiveness > co-operation
Aggressiveness > conciliation
Assertiveness > passivity
etc

'Patriarchy' (though i don't really like the term myself) thus means everyone is socialised into one side or the other (to everyone's detriment, since all of those attributes are part of being human and repression has consequences), with very traumatic peer pressure consequences for violating the norm, especially during childhood (often leading to depression and suicide). So whether or not we consciously agree with these roles (i'd imagine most libcommers reject them), we're still socialised into them and liable to reproduce them subconsiously, and suffer cognitive dissonance when they're challenged (e.g. a woman 'wins' at reasoning). So basically talking about masculinity and femininity as more-or-less stable categories doesn't require essentialism, imho. Although the fact these terms are used without explanation is perhaps an example of the 'exclusive discourse' problem identified earlier.

What i'd add to the above is I suspect gender roles are not arbitrarily constructed, but have to do with the structural requirements of the state, the left hand column being the attributes required for the realpolitik of public political life and the right hand column relegated to the domestic sphere, which then becomes a gendered division of labour... but that's going off into comfortable territory gender theory per se rather than the concrete manifestations in terms of macho forum behaviour etc.

Arbeiten wrote:
I'm not sure how I feel about that. Though there has been a lack of focus on class in the past, I wouldn't say now the mantra of class has been picked up again we need to subsume everything else under 'good' and 'bad' class politics....

I think Fall Back's argument is that if you're not attentive to the needs of women, then you're not doing class struggle properly since women are 50% (or more) of the class. So it's not a case of 'economic (and implicitly male) class issues' over here and separate, neglected 'womens issues' over there. Gender issues aren't 'womens issues', they're class issues, and a failure to address them is a failure to do class politics, which is not just about economics but the assertion of our needs. I suspect Fall Back has in mind SF leafletting over abortion rights, campaigns around maternity rights, defence of creche facilities etc which we've all been involved in and have all had large majority male participation. So the argument would be we're not failing to do 'womens issues' which appeal to women, but failing at doing class issues in a way which includes half the class (after all women pay rent and have jobs too as well as specifically 'womens issues').

In my experience 'womens issues' don't i themselves attract women, because women aren't one-dimensional creatures. I've been on all-male picket lines over maternity rights and fairly mixed ones for Office Angels for example, or the much better gender balance of university occupations. So i think the focus on behavioural norms on this thread is probably more productive than thinking up some tokenistic 'womens issues' to tack onto our activities without looking at behaviour, informal hierarchies etc (i don't think anyone has suggested that, but it has come up in the past).

Anyway, another long intellectual post from an assertive male poster, er... what was that about subconscious reproduction of gender norms?

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Sep 19 2011 18:57

I personally have a real problem with the assignation of behavioural categories on to genders as a whole. I am male, but by nature I tend to dislike interpersonal confrontation. If I make a point in a forum or in a meeting which is countered aggressively or forcefully (by a man or a woman) then my natural instinct is to back down away from the initial point and attempt to find a consensus.

This isn't necessarily a positive thing - if anything I need to learn to be more assertive and confident with the points I make. Yet the debate currently being had seems to revolve around assumptions that 'males' are over-aggressive and too confrontational with their beliefs. I have to say that I don't self-identify with this type of masculinity. I personally don't get involved in over-confrontational online discussions with other people, I don't have any real desire to build up a mountain of theory to show off.

Now I understand that the point being made is that many males behave in this way and not all - I don't have a problem with that. The thing I would like us to stay away from is pidgeonholing certain characteristics into either gender and building classifications en masse. I don't feel that is helpful when dealing with the very complicated issue of gender equality. I definitely don't want to be classified into a 'gender grouping' built of character traits that don't match my own.

For the record I am a very strong supporter of Gender equality. I am very glad SolFed is taking the time to deal with this issue and I think it will have a very positive effect on the organisation as a whole. I'm also not saying that I don't have any socialised/gendered personality traits - just that I don't identify with many of the ones that are being discussed as inherently more male than female.

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Sep 19 2011 18:58
Auto wrote:
Now I understand that the point being made is that many males behave in this way and not all - I don't have a problem with that. The thing I would like us to stay away from is pidgeonholing certain characteristics into either gender and building classifications en masse.

Auto, i can't speak for others, but i'm certainly not saying 'all males are aggressive, competitive etc'. This is not about saying men should be a certain way it is about pointing out that there are strong socialising pressures to conform (try being a male and wearing a skirt in any school in the country, for example, and even if the state doesn't discipline you the playground will). So saying 'i'm a man and i don't feel i conform to this gender role' is precisely the point!

Anyone who did completely conform to masculine norms would be a violent sociopath (and/or head of state). So the fact you "personally have a real problem with the assignation of behavioural categories on to genders as a whole" is a reason to be against the gender binary, not analysis of the gender binary! The 'assignation of behavioural categories' is a material, violent social process not an intellectual analysis, if that makes sense (which is why gender roles are to everyone's detriment, including men, and imho gender equality - as opposed to sex equality - is a contradiction in terms since the construction of binary gender is inherently hierarchical).

Anyway i don't want to get drawn into posting too much as i've said quite a lot already, i just wanted to clarify the point that analysing binary gender roles is categorically not telling you or anyone else how you should behave, but the opposite!

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Sep 19 2011 18:59
Arbeiten wrote:
Your first paragraph is contradictory futility, you exclude 'immovable rightness' then seem to suggest immovable rightness is an inherent part of of rational debate.

I took 'immovable rightness' to mean refusing to change an opinion even when your argument has been torn apart or when there is evidence that contradicts it. People of both genders express their authority, as in the belief in their own rightness, whilst remaining open to being proven wrong. So I see no contradiction in what I've said.

Quote:
If feminism and other 'identity politics' (as a obscure label these other traditions are sometimes tarnished with) taught us anything, it is that there is nothing inherent in reason and rationality, but they are instead socially and historically situated. Reason has been a key player in the exclusion of women and ethnic minorities (oh, and workers, lets not forget about them!). Unfortunately this is where the left and other 'liberal' traditions seem to converge, on a steadfast refusal to admit there might be a problem with the methods through which we debate with*.

So whats the alternative, to talk about our feelings? Exchanging arguments is the best way humans have developed to determine the right course of action. If people are less confident in that mode of expression and its excluding them then we should be helping them to become confident. The idea that ethnic minorities and women somehow can't cope with this is patronising crap. I'm a black anarchist with no university education btw!

Joseph Kay wrote:
So basically talking about masculinity and femininity as more-or-less stable categories doesn't require essentialism, imho.

I think on an individual level there is too much divergence from one category or the other to call them stable, or for the terms to be useful. Particularly when devising a groups policy. Just today on the list we've had an example - one woman says violence is a turn-off for women's involvement in class struggle, another says direct action/violence is why she is part of it. I think the idea that people are socialised in to one half or the other of your table of behaviours is reductive and even if they are socialised, this doesn't mean they can't override that conditioning with a later intellectual understanding.

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Sep 19 2011 19:00
futility index wrote:
I think on an individual level there is too much divergence from one category or the other to call them stable, or for the terms to be useful. Particularly when devising a groups policy. Just today on the list we've had an example - one woman says violence is a turn-off for women's involvement in class struggle, another says direct action/violence is why she is part of it. I think the idea that people are socialised in to one half or the other of your table of behaviours is reductive and even if they are socialised, this doesn't mean they can't override that conditioning with a later intellectual understanding.

i think this is shooting the messenger. it's not reductive to point out masculinity and femininity exist. what's reductive is the violence which socialises these norms from a very young age and shoehorns people into permissable behaviours. But really i'd like to hear what other people think tbh so i'll duck out for a while.

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Sep 19 2011 19:01
Quote:
So whats the alternative, to talk about our feelings?

Yes way to miss the nuance. If we arn't speaking absolutely rationally, then we must be speaking from the position of emotions. Its difficult, I am highly dubious about feelings ever being able to be fully excluded from a debate, and I actually think it is a bit condescending to presume your view is emotion/feeling free while others just have clouded reasoning wink.

Quote:
I think the idea that people are socialised in to one half or the other of your table of behaviours is reductive and even if they are socialised, this doesn't mean they can't override that conditioning with a later intellectual understanding.

I don't think anybody is saying that it is as dualistic as this (in fact, JK explicitly rebuffs essentialism). You are creating a massive strawman of this debate. you may be able to 'over-ride' certain social characteristics, but that doesnt mean they do not exist. You can't just bury your head to the differences between people.

futility index
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Sep 19 2011 19:02

How about telling me how reasoned argument excludes minorities and women instead of jumping on a flippant remark? And what you think of my suggestion that we should be helping everyone become more effective and confident instead of deciding who needs help based on their gender or race.

Quote:
I don't think anybody is saying that it is as dualistic as this (in fact, JK explicitly rebuffs essentialism). You are creating a massive strawman of this debate. you may be able to 'over-ride' certain social characteristics, but that doesnt mean they do not exist. You can't just bury your head to the differences between people.
Joseph Kay wrote:
'Patriarchy' (though i don't really like the term myself) thus means everyone is socialised into one side or the other

More than likely JK didn't intend it to come across like that, but plz don't accuse me of misrepresenting opinions unless your gonna read the thread properly.

I recognise there are differences between people. What I reject is the idea that the categories of behaviour mapped to gender that are being presented in this thread are anything more than averages, which means they are basically no different to stereotypes. I don't see how 'women are peaceful/caring/whatever' is different from 'blacks are impulsive/lazy/whatever'. I've also given an example from today of two women clashing over the meaning of femininity. So I don't think its unfair to say this way of thinking has problems.

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Sep 19 2011 19:03
futility index wrote:
I think on an individual level there is too much divergence from one category or the other to call them stable, or for the terms to be useful. Particularly when devising a groups policy. Just today on the list we've had an example - one woman says violence is a turn-off for women's involvement in class struggle, another says direct action/violence is why she is part of it. I think the idea that people are socialised in to one half or the other of your table of behaviours is reductive and even if they are socialised, this doesn't mean they can't override that conditioning with a later intellectual understanding.

Whilst I agree that conditioning can be overridden (it must have been, since I am the second woman) I don't agree that it's necessarily due to intellectual understanding. That implies that women who have not 'overridden' this conditioning lack understanding, whereas I think it is more likely they often aren't given the space and time needed to work this stuff through.

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Sep 19 2011 19:04

Yes, your right people should be encouraged. But not so we are all gobby know-it-alls. Rather some need to be more encouraged and some need to slow down a bit.

However, I don't think I said women and ethnic minorities need more help*. I said reason is historically situated. Check out what Kant has to say about minorities for what I was getting at here. I didn't say (or mean to say, just to clarify) that reason necessarily does and always will exclude women etc, etc, what I was trying to get across is how reason has done in the past, and how, ya know, it may not be so infallible now.

Quote:
More than likely JK didn't intend it to come across like that, but plz don't accuse me of misrepresenting opinions unless your gonna read the thread properly.

Don't get upset man, I can easily quote JK saying something different,

Quote:
So basically talking about masculinity and femininity as more-or-less stable categories doesn't require essentialism, imho.

I don't think here JK is saying what you think he is. He is saying there is categories that have social effects.
See, we are both following two different chains of reason(ing) here wink. I think your totally misrepresenting what JK was saying to make him appear to be saying that women are essentially emotional etc, etc.

Your example of women falling out over the meaning of femininity doesn't exactly blow any argument out of the water either. It is a fallacious category that has no objective meaning, though it has social effects. When we try and objectively define both (masculinity, femininity) we will surely fail, because they are irrational social constructs, but they 'exist' never the less (just look at little boys playing with action men and girls with barbies for a trivial example of a wider argument).

*I could now say please don't misrepresent me and learn to read properly here, but I actually think thats quite a patronising way of dealing with misunderstandings wink

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Sep 19 2011 20:04
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When we try and objectively define both (masculinity, femininity) we will surely fail, because they are irrational social constructs, but they 'exist' never the less (just look at little boys playing with action men and girls with barbies for a trivial example of a wider argument).

They exist in the way that stereotypes do, as averages of behaviour filtered through individual experience. And when you apply those stereotype-like concepts of behaviour to actual people the two will often not mesh. I can see no *practical* difference between the more elaborate explanation you have given and basic gender essentialism. Everything you have said boils down to stating 'more often than not' women act like x.

Femininity is either a fallacious category as you say, or it isn't. It can't be both fallacious and a sound basis for SF policy on meeting dynamics.

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Sep 19 2011 21:15

well, I think we have moved from SF policy, so I won't comment. I don't think just because something doesn't have a water tight definition it doesn't exist? Since at least Mary Wollstonecraft people have been pointing to these contradictions in the definition of gender, but it still seems to have tangible effects? The pay gap, etc, etc.

I believe identity to be constructed dialectically through the social (which, is often stereotypical of course, but none the less there) and individual experience. I think there is a huge difference between the explanation i have elaborated on and so called 'gender essentialism' roll eyes . I'm starting to feel a little bit like your shooting the messenger here as JK said above. Recognizing that there are differences (historically and contemporary) is not the same as affirming that there should be differences.

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Sep 19 2011 21:21

Sorry, just to further elaborate. I don't think any policy in any organization should be written to gender its members. However, I think it is a good thing that gender differences of a nimnally gender neutral organization have been bought up. It shows us the persistence of those pesky social prejudice that us radicals sometimes think we have gotten over and therefore do not need to take seriously.

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Sep 19 2011 22:13

edit: snip

futility index
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Sep 20 2011 00:00

Going to come back to this tmmrw. Interesting stuff.

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Sep 20 2011 00:26

I wonder - can anyone posting here dance? I mean "a deux" - waltz, lindy, tango, etc? What do you think it takes to make a great dance experience with a woman? I ask because this is the kind of "praxis" I - and many women I know - can understand.

I go to lots of "old style" social dances, where men and women dance together, and I've never seen a woman lead, nor met one that wants to. I have met plenty of women unable to follow (who are too passive and lank, or two active and try to predict what you are doing) and plenty of men unable to lead. In fact its also fair to say that most men are terrible dancers. They try and force their partners, or follow a rigid internal plan, or are too indecisive and weak. They don't understand that they are following too - but in a subtler way - they can't hear the rhythm and let it flow through them. They aren't really sensitive to their delightful gal.

I suppose you'd all say that all of this is down to socially constructed gender role playing and such? That men are subtly educated / conditioned to lead the waltz and women to follow? If so I wonder, do you think a time will come when most men are followers on the dance hall? Would you ever want that to happen? Do you think most women would want that?

They don't, and neither do I.

What we want is to enjoy the dance.

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Sep 20 2011 00:45

nice post dronboddly. To quote myself from earlier,

Quote:
But not so we are all gobby know-it-alls. Rather some need to be more encouraged and some need to slow down a bit.

I guess that this didnt make too much sense, but if we further elucidate it in the context of the waltz, i think I can express what i meant better. I would hope that the 'leader' role would not switch sides, but just would not become an issue. Some men may lead, some women may. Why pose the question in such all or nothing terms? either all men lead or all women do? I try to escape from this simple dualism, that if you don't think A is primary, then B must become primary.

I also think the waltz example is a little disingenuous. Lets think of another example. I hope if I have a son who wants to go to school wearing a pink shirt and playing hop scotch isn't going to come home crying because all the boys in the playground laughed at him, called him a 'girl', then beat him up. Perhaps while everyone else is doing the waltz he is trying to fit a jive into 5/4 or something....

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Sep 20 2011 01:17

Frankly it keeps me away from any ballroom dancing, the thought I'd be expected to lead on account of my penis.

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Sep 20 2011 01:48

Seems to me that a very large part of the debate about gender roles is a way of excusing one's unhappiness, anger, anxiety, fear, boredom, confusion catastrophic love life and, above all, lack of genuine empathy (to each other and to the music). One man is an arrogant uneducated egomaniac - and so he says "I'm a MAN!" Another man is a weak or indecisive intellectual and so he says "gender roles are culturally determined!"

Or. I'm not coming to the dance

a. because I'm a MAN, or

b. because of

Quote:
the thought I'd be expected to lead on account of my penis.
Jason Cortez
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Sep 20 2011 12:18

wow you are just so insightful, glad you got everyone pegged. The dances you refer to are socially constructed to have gender roles in a gendered world. So no surprise that folks attending these dances are happy to accept these roles in this situation. You really aren't going to keep attending otherwise. So a self selecting situation as the bias for exploring gender constructs would start from the question why?

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Sep 20 2011 12:45
Quote:
wow you are just so insightful

Is that kind of opening a human way to begin a conversation? I ask because...

I'm afraid I do not have the pleasure of understanding you. Why what? Why are social dances "socially constructed to have gender roles in a gendered world"? My point is that there is something here that participants are appreciating more deeply than "socially constructed" roles. More deeply even than genetic impulses.

....something you could call human.

smile

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Sep 20 2011 13:34

so...let me get this straight....gendered waltzes are....human? man, this waltz example is crummy....

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Sep 20 2011 14:06

I am asking what it is to be human. Not what it means, what it is.

If we ask what a waltz, between a man and woman means, we come up with all kinds of ideas, some pretty daft. But is there another way to approach a waltz that is not interpretive, analytical, linguistic, abstract? What is the experience of the waltz, as a man, with a woman? I am suggesting that the experience reveals an entirely different understanding to the theory or even the "praxis" (to the extent that this word means the acting out of a theory or belief or analysis) and this experience - if you really go into it - reveals something more fundamental to man-woman affairs than 'gender roles' or genetic programming.

(Not that you have to dance to see this, but its a nice way to start.)

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Sep 20 2011 21:43
Jason Cortez wrote:
wow you are just so insightful, glad you got everyone pegged. The dances you refer to are socially constructed to have gender roles in a gendered world. So no surprise that folks attending these dances are happy to accept these roles in this situation. You really aren't going to keep attending otherwise. So a self selecting situation as the bias for exploring gender constructs would start from the question why?

This.

Dron, I don't think you understand the parameters of the debate and that's coming through in the absurd waltz analogy.

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Sep 20 2011 21:47

TBF I don't think I've ever felt quite as emasculated as the time I went to a salsa club... sad

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Sep 21 2011 03:42
Chlli Sauce wrote:
Dron, I don't think you understand the parameters of the debate and that's coming through in the absurd waltz analogy.

I'm fairly sure I understand the parameters. They are - correct me if I'm wrong - based on the premise that...

Joseph Kay wrote:
masculinity and femininity are social constructs which are largely mapped to biological sex and sociallly conditioned through associational learning.

This is a perfectly rational view. It is quantifiable and composed of discrete relative units. Viewing anything in exclusively rational terms is insane. I am endeavouring to express, or point towards, a kind of healthy irrational experience, found in a certain kind of communication (or dance) between the sexes.

Naturally if you cannot see anything making sense outside rational 'parameters', you'll find my analogy absurd.

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Sep 21 2011 08:32

Tbh it's not rationality which I'm finding it difficult to get here, it's that you're being a bit vague - deeper than social or genetic meaning what? Are you alluding to a spiritual construction of gender?

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Sep 21 2011 08:41

I'm alluding to a non-rational construction of gender.

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Sep 21 2011 09:04

Ookay, doesn't actually answer what I asked, so let's try again, can you expand on what you mean by a non-rational construction of gender, preferably without analogies as (for me at least) it's confusing rather than clarifying.

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Sep 21 2011 09:37

Before we do, can you clarify what you mean by "so let's try again"? Its just that I am familiar with this phrase being used to express condescending forbearance, which I register as unpleasant, and as I am not in the habit of doing what I find unpleasant, I'm unwilling to engage. However, I may well be mistaken, so please let me know if your intention was friendly and open-minded.

Thanks.

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Sep 21 2011 09:39

I don’t know how much sense this post will make as I am not sure what I think about other people’s contributions. The comparatively gentle ridicule which dronboddly’s analogy regarding dancing has provoked seems to evade the point (if I’m interpreting it correctly), which is about the special magic two people can generate when their roles are complementary - synchronised.

This ‘magic’ is not the norm (maybe to some lucky people it is?). Dronboddly’s term ‘a non-rational construction of gender’ appears to me to take us into a metaphysical realm of which we can know nothing. We cannot step ‘outside’ our social conditioning. What we can do is recognise our behaviours and try to change them. Similar to an alcoholic always being an alcoholic, only the behaviour can be modified.

This post has reminded me of Dory Previn’s song, ‘I Dance and Dance and Smile and Smile’

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Sep 21 2011 10:06

It was expressing mild frustration based on an answer which didn't address the question I asked and which I thus couldn't reasonably reply to.

And while I wasn't trying to be patronising, if you don't wish to be condescended to perhaps you could try extending the same courtesy, rather than trying to rhetorically tie the exclusive use of rational "parameters" to insanity and then suggesting this is what Chili does. Polite language does not make insulting behaviour less irritating.