Tag Archives: gender

Clinging to “Gender”

24 Jun

Above the desk that my computer sits on (as I type this) there is a piece of cardboard that says “GENDER” on it, propped up atop a little painting. The little cutout was placed up there over two years ago after I snipped it off of a shoe box that was to be recycled.

Looking up at it, I’ve been trying to remember why I put it there, why I kept it at all. To the left of the “GENDER” thing is the binder divider label from my Women’s Studies 101 course I took my first term of college. Recently, I also hung my 2011 graduation tassel on one of the tacks that holds up the painting.

The theme obviously has something to do with my academic life over the last four years. It’s true that I studied “gender”. But why did I place “GENDER” up there and proceed to surround it by things I consider accomplishments, or things to recall fondly?

The person I was when I put that piece of cardboard up there was not the same person – politically – I am today. The Gender Studies I received was through an entirely non-radical framework, hence my former self thinking that “gender” was something to be proud of. When I finally became a radical feminist through and through (not just anti-porn and anti-prostitution), gender revealed itself for what it was. Not something to happily ponder about, “subvert” with pointless post-modern ‘individuality’. . . gender was nothing but a collection of harmful stereotypes. It needed to be abolished, not rallied around.

Yet rally was what I did. I wrote papers using the terms “gender identity” and “cis” without a hint of sarcasm. And despite my belief in gender, I propounded page after page, in one case, about how one could never define a “category of women”.

Women, that category I was studying. Women’s Studies has been replaced with Gender Studies and the growing Queer Studies (and to a lesser extent there’s men’s/masculinity studies as well). I’m almost certain I was the only one in my graduating class who knew there ever was such a thing as Feminist Studies in academia.

‘Gender’ as a course of study is less threatening to the male order because of its inclusion of men and because it is depoliticized from feminism. In an essay in “Radically Speaking”, Victoria Robinson and Diane Richardson point out that the inclusivity of Gender Studies also makes men teaching in this area seem more justified (after all, ‘men’ are a gender too!).

‘Woman’ and ‘feminist’ cannot be rallying points when ‘gender’ takes center stage. One cannot be openly proud to have studied women and feminism, but one can say ‘Gender Studies’ and be seen as somewhat legitimate. Studying gender doesn’t reveal the nitty gritty of female oppression or the histories of resistance to patriarchy by women.

I couldn’t have snipped ‘women’ or ‘female’ off of the shoe box, although only because they were “men’s”. Gender Studies (along with its kinky cousin Queer Studies) encourages women to do away with organizing politically around ‘woman’. In far too many of my courses, ‘woman’ was just a category that couldn’t really be defined. Devoting oneself to the study of women’s oppression was not enough whereas Gender was.

When people used to ask what my major was, I tended to say “Gender Studies” far more often than “Women’s Studies”, undoubtedly because I didn’t want to seem ‘provocative’. While someone might find it peculiar that one would want to study gender, at least I wasn’t involving myself overtly with women or feminism. ‘Gender’ isn’t as threatening as ‘feminist’.

I think I’m going to strike a line through “GENDER”.