Category Archives: Gender Identity

Rape Culture: Consent in Movies

I have mentioned before how insidious the negative forces of society can be, and how something that seemed forever innocuous can actually be quite dangerous.

I realised today that there is something we as a society seem to accept wholly and fully that could just be a big part of the rape culture problem.

Picture a big, dramatic love scene between a romantic heroine and the man of the hour.  How does the first kiss usually go?  Most of the time, there is something “spontaneous” about the kiss; one of them, usually the guy, just goes for it, grabs the other, usually the girl, and plants a kiss on their startled mouth.

But guys…  He never asks her if she wants to be kissed.  He doesn’t ask because he assumes that, because she is looking at him a certain way and acting a certain way, she is asking for it.

Doesn’t that ring a large, loud, dangerous bell?

Thankfully the solution is simple.  All that needs to happen from now on is that the guy looks at the girl and asks her: “Can I kiss you?”  Then, after she has stated her consent, he can grab her almost as spontaneously as before and kiss her however way to Sunday.  And I also hope that regularly enough, the girl will say no, and the guy will step back, completely confused of course, but respectful of her wishes.

The Woman Carries the Baby, The Man Does… Nothing? More Thoughts on Supporting the Partner of a Pregnant Woman

Nothing about the birth of my child was about the other person that had so much to do with it: my husband.  I have already discussed this matter previously, but I think it’s such an important topic that I have to bring it up again.

During labor, no one took care of my husband.  And the funny thing is that, because I could see how hard it was on him that I was in so much pain, I was worried about him—which made it all worse on me.  So ironically enough, but not taking care of him, the medical and nursing staff were undermining the person they were focused on—me.

It remained the same after the birth.  As one hospital staff after the other came into the room to check up on me and the baby, my husband was barely acknowledged, let alone addressed.  And when, in response to a question, I would tell the staff member that I had to consult with my husband, I was met with looks of surprise and even confusion.

Even now, a couple of months later, I find that people address all their questions and comments to me.  And when I consult with my husband, they are surprised, some of them even exclaiming: “But she’s your child!”

To them I try to explain that yes, she is, indeed, my child, but she is also his.  While I was the one that carried her for nine months, I didn’t fall because he was the one carrying me.  While I was the one that labored to deliver her, I was able to do so because he was laboring in his own way right beside me.  While I am the one breastfeeding her, he is the one feeding me.  He is just as involved and as sleep-deprived, reads just as many posts, articles, and books about parenting, asks just as many questions about what to do, and wonders just as much as I do on how well he is doing as a parent.  His heart clenches as much as mine when something happens to her, he worries as much as I do, he suffers right there alongside me when something is wrong.

And yet he doesn’t get any of the support that I get.

I’m not sure what the underlying assumptions to this pattern of behavior are.  They could be only positive—perhaps it is a sign of the respect we give mothers for what they go through.  There is definitely a lot of that, thankfully.

But I think there is also negative underlying assumptions, one of them related to the definition of what it means to be a man.  Being loving and nurturing, caring and supportive—it is assumed that the woman, and only the woman, has these.  The bills, the heavy items, and the logistics—all of those are given to the man.

The challenge seems to be that we have yet to overcome our constraining definitions of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man.  There is a lot to be said about this matter, and surely a short post like this one can’t hope to touch on all aspects of this complex matter.  But when it comes to how each one of us, as individuals, can address this matter, I think it’s quite simple, really.

Don’t forget about the father.

Ask him how he is doing.  Ask him how he is feeling.  Ask him what support he needs.  Make sure that this essential piece of the puzzle remains sane and whole.  Because both the baby and the mother need him, and no family can hope to achieve its full potential if all of its members are not functioning at peak capacity.

Is it a baby boy? No? Then why is she wearing blue?

Even before we knew if our child was going to be a girl, her father and I started shopping for clothes.  On the one hand, we were looking for any excuse to get our hands on the ridiculously adorable miniature versions of what we wear that grace the stores (I mean have you seen the selection that Carter’s Oshkosh offers?)  On the other hand, we knew that a large part of our child’s wardrobe would be gender-neutral.  After all, it’s not as it there is a big difference between boys’ and girls’ proportions at that age!

But it seems that what we consider neutral is gender specific in the eyes of many after all. When our daughter wears grey, black, orange, or green, we are inevitably asked if she is a boy and, when told that she is a girl, we are met with confused looks. Out for curiosity, I asked a friend of mine to dress her baby boy, who is around the same age as my daughter, in yellows, creams, and lavender; she was asked if he was a girl and, yes, met with a lot of similarly confused looks.

Are my friends and I, who shop on both sides of the stores to fill our children’s closets, being avant-garde by throwing away some if the superficial societal expectations placed on their wardrobe? Or are we breaking a necessary social rule by which young babies, who for the most part do not look like they are of a specific gender, are dressed in pink and blue to eliminate such awkwardness? Or is it time for a maturing society to grow out if this rule by accepting that clothing does not define gender, but rather, that genetics do?

I personally think it is a balance between the two, as we are in a period of transition between the old ways and the new ones.  It used to be necessary to have certain patterns that governed our interactions, including clothing that clearly identified us and, of course, defined us.  But now that our understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman evolves, what we do naturally evolves as well.

So to those of us who are dressing our children according to the dictates of beauty and esthetics rather than limiting ourselves to only the colours assigned to our child’s gender: keep at it.  But remember to be patient and loving towards those who question our choices; of course they are confused, they never thought about things the same way.  And we must be very careful to never, ever judge those parents who stick to social conventions.  Because who knows; we might be completely wrong after all.

Missing the Point: What a Girl’s Anthem Should Not Sound Like

The title seems harsh, doesn’t it?  I know that this the post might get my inbox filled with emails from irate Beyoncé fans, but her song “Run the World (Girls)” still is, in my opinion, part of a series of popular girl’s anthems gone wrong.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the song.  Quite the contrary, I love it; the repetitiously addictive chorus of “Who run the world? Girls!” has been stuck in my head ever since I first heard it.  The first few notes of it make me want to get up and boogie around the room.  And who can forget Channing Tatum’s epic lip sync version and Beyoncé’s guest appearance?  As for the video clip to the song, well, it serves to prove yet again that Beyoncé.  Can.  MOVE.

However, when it comes to sharing an empowering message, lyrics such as: “Boy I’m just playing, come here baby/Hope you still like me” and “My persuasion can build a nation/Endless power, our love we can devour/You’ll do anything for me” seem to encourage the wrong kind of empowerment.

What is, in fact, empowerment?  The online Oxford dictionary tells us that empowerment is to give someone “the authority or power to do something”, and to make someone “stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights”.  While making someone “do anything for [you]” definitely is a sign of strength, what will it yield in the long run?  Certainly not a just and fair world in which all women and men will be empowered.

Other parts of the song seem to first build up empowerment only to strike it back down. For example, take this verse: “Boy you know you love it/How we’re smart enough to make these millions/Strong enough to bear the children/Then get back to business/See, you better not play me/Don’t come here baby/Hope you still like me.”  What are we being told here? That we as women are empowered if we are smart enough to make millions, bear children, and then go back to work—and hopefully men will still like us.

Is this true, universal empowerment?  I mean, what is the percentage of smart people who actually make millions?  And, seeing as how this percentage is, is it fair to consider a song with such a lyric as an anthem for all women?  Similarly, what is the percentage of women who can’t bear children?  And what about the women who don’t want to bear children?  What if a woman who bears children doesn’t want to go to work?  Is it actually empowering to tell women that, to run the world, they have to fit a certain mould?

By the same token, a video clip that portrays women using their sex-appeal to win a war doesn’t seem to be reflective of an “enlightened” generation in which girls are empowered.  In a video where she seems to channel both Nefertiti and Cleopatra, it feels all the more dissonant that Beyoncé seems to have forgotten to reflect the fact the side of these two Egyptians queens that made them formidable: their keen power of intellect used to govern an empire.

On the one hand, I agree that women do, in a way, run the world.  After all, they are the primary educators of the next generation.  Take this as a good investment value: if all teenage girls in the entire world were educated before they became mothers, the entire next generation would receive basic education.  But on the other hand, this empowerment shouldn’t be based on sex-appeal; this empowerment shouldn’t be only for certain types of women; and this empowerment shouldn’t be at the cost of men’s very important and essential contributions.

And so, while I look up to Beyoncé’s drive, focus, and consistent hard work, to how she has beauty and talent and has created art that I appreciate and grown into an inspiring confident attitude I like, I do think that there is still work to be done with regards to her becoming an even stronger and more influential icon—by, for example, really reflecting on the idea of empowerment that she is endorsing.   And let’s be honest, if someone can do it, it’s Beyoncé.

Barbie has Three New Body Shapes: A Step Forward Well Worth Exploring

You might have heard that Barbie now comes in four different body types. On top of the original body type she is known for (tall, thin, busty, and blond), she also comes in tall, curvy, and petite. The top secret project apparently took years to take shape (ha) and even came with a code name. The Times’ cover story about this development is well worth a read and includes a great video about it to boot.

In it, the author states how Mattel “hopes that the new dolls, with their diverse body types, along with the new skin tones and hair textures introduced last year, will more closely reflect their young owners’ world.” I understood this as meaning that the toy company hopes its new line of Barbie dolls will better reflect an increasingly small world in which diversity seems to be multiplying daily.

The original Barbie had quite a few dedicated haters, to say the least. And while indeed having access to only one kind of doll could imply that other body types and hair and skin colours are not worth being modeled, having access to a whole array of them does not inherently mean that we will learn to appreciate beauty in its full diversity.

I’m glad that there are new body types for Barbie, but I feel like we need to be careful not to go overboard. More specifically, we don’t want the pendulum go completely the other way and have a tall, thin, blond girl be labelled as ugly—which would be a reflection of what happened not long ago with the ban on super skinny models.

The release of Barbie in four body types and so many skin and hair colors is a great step in the direction of broadening our definition of what is beautiful. And just like with the original Barbie, it provides for a great discussion tool. Material things are for the most part not inherently bad; the original Barbie in a home of women who are secure in their bodied, whatever it may look like, wouldn’t cause body image issues.

Similarly, the new dolls in a home of women who are constantly verbalising how unhappy they are with how they look will not solve the body image issue just like that. I hope that we will challenge ourselves to use both the original Barbie and it’s three new body types as a teaching tool for both ourselves and our children to learn what real beauty is all about. Or, conceptually speaking, how can we solve the root cause of this challenge: to look not just at the body, but at the entire person, body, mind, soul, and spirit, when we discuss the concept of beauty?

Header image from Times Magazine.

What Did He Mean? Some Thoughts on Justin Bieber’s Latest Track

Let’s be honest, ladies; we do experience mood swings that take us completely by surprise. It’s so confusing, irritating, and frustrating to not understand what is going on in our own bodies and minds. I can understand that it’s also irritating to those around us to live through a mood swing; but what is needed is for all parties to ride the wave together and make the most of the situation.

Video clip aside, Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean” has captured my attention because it feels like the beginnings of such an attempt. While its sticky factor is bound to make this earworm settle in for quite some time (and a great workout track, as well), what makes it particularly interesting to me is the message I get of the desire to understand his partner.

I don’t know what Justin Bieber had in mind when he co-wrote and recorded this song; but what I get from it is a positive message about the importance of communication. First, the melody; it’s a cheerful, upbeat one, with a piano leading into the track using a relatively high range, starting things off with a feeling of optimism. The background beat thumps its way in and around Bieber’s confused and at times frustrated breathy vocals, giving the track a throbbing life quality reminiscent of blood flowing through one’s body. The lyrics seem honest and even raw as they seek to understand the meaning behind the mixed signals Bieber’s partner is giving him: “What do you mean/when you nod your head yes/but you wanna say no” and “What do you mean/when you don’t want me to move/but you tell me to go.”

It’s such a different take from songs in which men (and women!) pretty much rage against female hormones and their ensuing mood swings. We are often made to feel ashamed of a natural phenomenon occurring in our bodies because it is so hard to understand. But what if instead, we held an ongoing, joyful conversation about the ways in which mood swings can enrich our lives? I know of a couple whose husband is so aware of the strength behind his partner’s mood swings that he plans things around them. When he knows she will be particularly emotional, they have conversations that require the insights of emotions to advance them. When she is in an anti-social mood, they plan date nights in. When she is in an energetic mood, they plan to host events or go out. They have been told he is being condescending and that she is letting her hormones control their lives, but they have told me, over and over again, that this has enriched their lives in many ways they had not anticipated.

And how did it start? With him asking her what she meant when she was being contradictory.

Picture courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo.

Him Wearing a Dress, Her Wearing a Suit: Why the Fuss?

Sahar's Blog 2015 06 02 Him Wearing a Dress, Her Wearing a Suit Why the Fuss (Gender Identity)Last Friday, Amanda Stenberg went to prom with Jaden Smith. He wore a dress, the internet is up in arms, and I’m confused.

Why can’t Jaden Smith wear a dress? Is it for the same reason little boys are told they can’t wear princess themed shirts or pink shoes? This doesn’t make much sense. How would we have reacted if Amanda Stenberg had worn a suit? There is a clear contradiction between calling a little girl who wears a superhero shirt picked out of the boys clothing department “avant-garde” and “feminist”, and calling little boy who wears a princess shirt words I prefer keeping off this blog. Did our focus on building a world that treats our girls and women better make us forget about the well-being of our boys and men? Why are we letting the same constraints girls and women are constantly fighting against to cause boys and men to suffer?

Why are girls and women allowed to do “male” things, but boys and men are not allowed to do “female” things?

Perhaps it is an attempt at making sense of an ever-increasingly confusing and chaotic world—a world in which the list of gender orientation terms has been steadily increasing—by clinging to old-fashioned, narrow definitions of gender. After all, we humans do have this pesky little instinct called “fear of the unknown” that has historically contributed to our survival.

Thankfully, we have tools and methods allowing us to safely explore the unknown without threatening our survival. We have a higher nature that can control this fear. We have advanced intellectual abilities that can be used to refine our understanding of our new collective reality. We can rid ourselves of toxic mental constructs and embrace more complex ones. In other words, we have it in us to create an environment in which we are can examine these changes, find our place within them, and accept the place that others have found for themselves.

Perhaps the most toxic of mental constructs we should rid ourselves of posthaste is the false dichotomy of old versus new. Just because new definitions of gender are emerging doesn’t mean the old ones are obsolete. It just means that there are new ones in addition to the old ones. Similarly, being “old-fashioned” doesn’t mean being a bigot or a racist. Open-mindedness doesn’t mean adopting a behaviour; it means accepting that it exists. A man who chooses not to wear dresses or a woman who chooses to wear pink can be extremely open-minded. But those who judge them are not.

Image courtesy of Chad Mauger.