Additional Thoughts on Gender

October 29, 2009

Going through a minefield… hope I keep my limbs.

These are some additional, half-pondered thoughts after going through class today and my seminar presentation:

I ended up using Soviet propaganda posters as visuals, just to give people a concrete identifier of how gender roles are sometimes articulated. For your perusal, these are the images I used:
Soviet Propaganda
1974 sovetskie_cea8d79157

One of the things I like about these images is how they show the malleability of Soviet rhetoric on gender. The last one shows women being engineers, agrarian workers, and factory workers; in other words, doing everything a man could do. The third image is a Soviet Rosie the Riveter. “The men are all off fighting, keep them fighting!” The second? The Soviet Union is embodied as a woman calling on people to sign up to fight to defend her. The women in the last poster don’t need defending, though.

Another thing I noticed in my reading is that masculinity need not be the exclusive province of males; which seems self-evident, but look what happens when a woman leads a country. Most leadership positions in nation-states have been masculinized, so when Angela Merkel was elected Chancellor of Germany, people started calling her The Iron Frau. Maybe (I don’t really know) this is a subconscious reaction to the event of a woman taking on a masculinized role. “Of course a feminine person could never run a country! Right?” (Necessary disclaimer: not what I think.)

Furthermore, another author described “nations” as hetero-male. This does a couple of things:
A. It marginalizes homosexuals, because they can’t reproduce the nation. I don’t have space to go into this all, but I did run across some literature on this.
B. It discounts non-western conceptions of gender. For example, in India there are (at least) two more genders: hijras and sadhins. Hijras are men who take on a feminized societal role, including dress, and sadhins are women who take on a masculine role, also including dress. Now, you may say these folk are just cross-dressers, drag queens, etc., but that’s importing a Western conception of gender. To the Indian mind, these aren’t men cross dressing or women cross dressing, they’re hijras and sadhins. Different things entirely. This kind of phenomenon is common in language. The example that comes easiest to me is a Russian one. English has one word for truth, and if we want to clarify we add adjectives. Russian has two: правда and истина. правда is generic, scientific truth. истина gets at more fundamental, universal truths which hold the world together. They aren’t two different kinds of truth; they’re different things altogether.
C. It fetishizes women as reproducers and guardians of cultural heritage. If homosexuals and their non-reproductive nature are anathema to the nation, then a woman who is bearing children is the Holy Mother. The population boundaries of the nation are set by who the women give birth to, the women teach their children what it is like to be part of the nation, and if these women are violated then the nation has suffered a grievous insult.

That’s all for now, comment away.


5 Responses to “Additional Thoughts on Gender”

  1. Katie said

    Kind of going on a tangent sparked by the Angela Merkel comment: one female leader I’d like to read up on is Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko of Ukraine – I don’t know a whole lot about her, but from what I understand, much of her public support comes from the fact that she is not only feisty, but attractive and feminine in appearance (unlike many other female leaders), and sports a traditional-looking braid, all of which add up to a certain image.

    And then contrast her with scar-faced President Yushenko…

  2. Allegra said

    Remind me to come back to this and comment more thoroughly, at the moment I am going through a brain fog that won’t let me give this entry justice.

  3. christophermahlon said

    That’s a fascinating point, although I think it can still be accommodated in my earlier comments: if she’s sporting a traditional braid, she can be identified as upholding traditional values, things like that. Contrasting her to the President is predictable, but unfair, since he’s scar-faced because he was poisoned by rivals. He was actually also a very charismatic, attractive leader before that.

  4. Katie said

    Sorry for the very vague comment about Yushenko earlier. I didn’t really have the time or brain energy to expand on it. Basically I just meant to point out that they are, visually (and personality-wise), an intriguing pm/prez “duo” (if you can call them that at this point, as from what I understand they are at odds), and I would be very interested to know more about how their respective images play into their politics. And also where you would fit women like Tymoshenko into your discussion.

  5. christophermahlon said

    Sorry, yeah, that’s what I was trying to say: With her traditional braid, she *might* be diffusing some antagonism towards her role. It’s worth noting, too, that Ukraine is a former Soviet country, and they have had a longer, more aggressive public system of egalitarianism, so it may be that Ukrainians are just more ready to accept a feminine woman running things as compared to an American electorate.

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