|"Is it a boy or a girl?" K.F. circa 1996|
The limitations of the two genders division is a game we all enter as soon as we are born. Anatomically we are all either male or female, but everything else about an individual exists on a continuum where we all have our own specific coordinates. What we feel like, who we are attracted to, how we are supposed to act, and many more gender-centric behaviors and expression have been molded and prescribed by society and the “norm” it dictates. Men are strong, aggressive, ambitious, active and big. Women are nurturing, thoughtful, empathetic, passive and small. Even if our parents don’t impose these stereotypes on us, society does with an immense force as soon as we are labeled “girl” or “boy”.
The evolution of gender studies has made a transition from the school of thought called essentialism to that of social constructionism. Essentialism encompasses the idea that for any entity (such as gender), there are sets of characteristics or an overall “essence” fundamental to its identity and function. These characteristics could be as abstract as a person’s intrinsic role or goal in life, or as superficial as facial hair. Yes, many women want to have children and yes, many men have facial hair, yet is this what makes us a man or a woman? Social constructionism is the idea that there is nothing intrinsically male or female inside of each of us, and that those differences are a result of social and cultural history and practice, which have been going on for thousands of years. Our ancient cavemen and cavewomen ancestors acted a certain way to survive based on their separate biology and set a precedent, which traps us still today. Men used their physical strength to provide for their women who had holed herself up in a cave in order to create a safe and healthy environment to have babies, an endeavor which an average cavewoman wouldn’t survive. The pattern of men working and women staying at home to focus on child rearing has hardly changed at all since the times of cavemen until the last fifty years or so.
Statistically we live in amazing time some deem The End of Men, where in the United States women actually hold a majority of the jobs. With the percentage of women to men in college fast approaching sixty percent, the statistical marvel is only set to continue. The job market steadily shifts away from physical strength and stamina centric jobs where men excel above women, to cognitive and communication centered jobs which women are just as well equipped for. Beyond being equally equipped, many men will need to actually evolve away from a reliance on their bodies to make a living to the exercising of their minds. In this recession, three-fourths of the eight million jobs lost by Americans were lost by men, many in the domains of physical strength focused jobs like construction and manufacturing. It’s not easy to be a man out of work who now depends on his wife or girlfriend as the primary breadwinner, many new male support groups have appeared to help unemployed men come to terms with this role reversal in their families. The personal pride women gain which comes with raising their formerly marginalized gender creates its own momentum, motivating women more and more.
Another school of thought is an independence from gender at all and instead an individual’s personal and specific place on the gender spectrum. This spectrum disregards the limitation of deeming yourself or someone else as male or female and instead allows room for the complicated identity, expression, and role that each of us has. Imagine for a second not being anatomically on the outside how you feel on the inside, and the struggle of everyday changing your identity to fit in with what society and people in your life expect you to look and act like. Most people wake up every morning comfortable with their body and their identity, and for many years people who didn’t have that luxury lacked resources also. Now there are organizations such as http://www.genderspectrum.org/, which educates about and reaches out to transgender adults and youth. Most people haven’t had to think about or fight with the social constructs that surround us because those constructs have suited them. Historically there have been people living outside of gender norms across the globe, yet many Western traditions have been behind the times and still are. As soon as we all realize what a trap gender and gender norms are, the sooner we can be free to be whoever we each are. The End of Gender touches upon what more and more parents are attempting to do by raising their children in a gender-neutral environment. This doesn’t always mean not disclosing the anatomical sex of the baby, like the approach Storm’s parents Kathy Witterick and David Stocker have taken, with considerable backlash. All they want is to let him or her decide exactly how he or she wants to be, free of expectation from society.
“The end” is too definitive and limiting for this blog post, we may be at the end of classic gender roles for men, but more importantly it just may be the beginning of the end of gender roles in general.