I Can Open My Own Door, Thank You, SirDecember 09, 2008
I witnessed change on my campus when a friend and I led a discussion on gender to talk about masculinity, sexism, and transgender issues. The purpose of this discussion was to deconstruct gender norms that have assigned separate rules and behaviors for males and females — from who wears blue and pink, to who must care for the children, and to something as minute as a man opening doors for women. The discussion went something like this:
“Every time I think about gender I get angry,” one female student said.
Another student commented, “The intolerance on this campus has to do with freedom of speech. When we make our voices heard, the majority of this school replies, ‘Why does this issue matter to you so much? You are being too radical.'” Her statement was in response to a lack of publicity in our college newspaper about a hate crime on campus and the backlash aimed at students who voiced their opinions against a sexist marketing campaign conducted by a campus organization.
“There is a double standard among males and females: when a woman walks onto a man’s turf, she is considered dangerous, radical, and emotional,” another said. “But when a man decides to identify as a feminist and be the house-husband, all women think he is a sweet, considerate, and an open-minded individual.”
Transgender people do not fit into the male/female dichotomy and so are usually left out of gender biases, either for simplification purposes or because society refuses to admit that they exist and are human beings. The violence against transgender individuals and transsexuals is outrageous. One cannot escape the blame for hate crimes against transsexuals because we inevitably perpetuate the gender-norm status quo.
At the end of our discussion, I knew we had all opened our minds a bit more. I realized there were many students who felt that gender norms were barriers to expressing all parts of their identity. By providing a safe space for students, we were able to find some solutions to this social construct: becoming allies to those who are marginalized and challenging the ubiquitous bigotry ever-present in our society.
For those who are ignorant of the repercussions of gender norms, I think we should approach them with respect in order to foster a constructive dialogue. The next time someone says, “Ugh, he’s so gay,” one can say, “Actually he’s quite compassionate and fashionable.” And the next time someone else says, “Dang, she is so hot and sexy,” one can simply reply with “Uh, no. I think she’s a beautiful woman.”
How do you think we can overcome harmful gender norms? How do you try to overcome them in your daily behaviors?