i. Normative Narratives
It is expected in our society that we all conform to the “norm”, in many cases this norm does not even represent the majority population, rather it describes those who have used their power over others to ensure that they keep it for as long as possible, and they do so through whatever means necessary. As I read through my classmate’s stories I saw examples of those who felt they performed their gender perfectly as well as examples of those who felt like they differed from the norm. In my own blog post “it.,” I described how I was affected by the societal norms surrounding gender, specifically femininity, and how my physical appearance, my baldness, isolated me from my identity. While searching through the blog posts of my classmates, I noticed that both Hayley and Trevor shared instances in which they felt they didn’t perfectly conform to the societal norms pushed on us all from birth. There is an underlying normative narrative to these situations, like an unspoken rule that everyone must fit on one side of the gender binary. As we have learned in class the gender binary is the “socially constructed, strict stories (stereotypes) of what it means to be a male/female (biological) > boy/girl (gender)” (Slide 5). We also learned about how gender is actually on a spectrum and that you can really identify wherever you please. The gender binary also produces a problematic view of how women and men should act: men need to be hypermasculine at all times and never express any feminine traits, and women are seen as weak and emotional.
Within my own story, I told of how I felt that I didn’t look how other girls and women looked. All throughout my life I had seen this image of what I was supposed to grow into and “I didn’t feel like the young woman that I was supposed to be growing into anymore.” In Hayley’s blog post she recalls the time she had her makeup professionally done for her graduation. She criticizes the tradition around graduation, especially for women, and how we are supposed to celebrate this huge milestone by making sure that everyone knows how much money we put into looking beautiful. She even mentions that she felt as though “we are not truly graduates unless our success can be measured in beauty.” Although she recognizes that she looked beautiful, “[she] was still left feeling that [she] had done [herself] a disservice.” Further, she says that she performed her gender perfectly but her feelings around the whole situation were definitely not the norm. Most young women have internalized this rigid binary structure that has been applied to gender, and similar to how our social positionality is like the water we swim in, these internalized ideas about what women should look like are unseen to us unless we are the “other”.
Similarly, I recalled that I felt like I could no longer identify as a woman because I looked so different from my female classmates. Trevor tells about a situation he had with his mother in which she confronted him about why “[he] wasn’t the stoic hard masculine figure that she wanted [him] to be.” He too, felt that he did not necessarily fall into the strict dichotomy separating male and female. He “[loved] the colour purple . . . painted [his] nails . . . [had an] interest in makeup . . . [and] preferred to practice piano over playing sports”. The “rules” in our society surrounding gender are expected to be followed and for anyone to deviate outside of those rules, whether it be accidentally like myself or not, there is a label attached to them that identifies them as the “other” and they are outcasted. In Trevor’s case, he was attracted to things that are seen as more feminine, by societies standards, and this was looked down upon by his own mother. I also found it interesting that he mentioned that “if [he] wanted to do things like that [he] might as well just become a girl,” demonstrating how heteronormativity also plays a role in how we perceive our own gender. It is seen as one or the other, rather than a spectrum like it should be. Of course, we have to move past this place of gender binaries and heteronormativity, and in order to do so, we have to let go of the long-standing and problematic traditions that precede us.
ii. Creating Counter-Stories: Disrupting Normative Narratives
In the stories mentioned above, my own, Hayley’s, and Trevor’s, we spoke on how the normative narratives surrounding gender and how we present said gender was and is displayed in our lives. On the opposite, another student in the class shared his story of how he came to understand this normative narrative and helped to disrupt it. Braden told a story of the time he was required to wear a pink shirt for anti-Bullying Day at his school as a young boy. At first, he rejected the idea going as far to “[try] to throw it in the garbage before [his] mom could see it because [he] knew she would make [him] get a pink shirt and wear it.” Of course, this is a common sentiment for young boys to have should they be faced with a situation that they were previously told is wrong. Braden says that he grew up thinking “girly colour[s]” such as pink and purple were strictly for girls and women. His opinion changes however, when his father confronts him about the pink shirt situation. In order to make a point, he pulls out a pink tie from behind his back, showing Braden that it is not a bad thing for men to wear colours that have traditionally been gendered as female.
In class, we read an article on how gender roles are introduced to toddlers and reinforced by their parents. The article summarizes a study done on toddlers and how the parents treated the children differently based on their gender. (I am sure that this is done unintentionally but it is still done nevertheless.) It was revealed that during snack time “fathers tended to encourage assertive behavior while mothers encouraged cooperation and fairness.” It also pointed out that with children in the same family, they also experienced different play-time experiences based which parent they were exposed to. These cues may seem little, maybe even insignificant, but it is proven by this study that it gives children indirect ideas about gender roles. As these children grow up, they carry these preconceived ideas about gender roles and it allows for third-party groups, such as friends, peers, the media, to further reinforce and internalize the same ideas. Further, the article gives some useful tips on how parents can start to disrupt the gender roles that are placed on their children. Instead of buying ‘gendered’ toys, “buy toys such as Legos for girls, which encourage “the kind of visuospatial skill that is linked to higher mathematic achievement,” and perhaps getting your son a pet, as it encourages boys to be nurturing and patient.” Instead of noticeably making changes to the things your child does, parents should focus on making little cues that will have a deeper impact that children can carry forward into the rest of their lives.
Braden’s article spoke to a bit of hope for me, the hope that we can slowly but surely move away from the silly practice of gendering everything imaginable. No colour or type of toy or clothing should ever be directly marketed to children based off of their gender. I guess because pink was a girls colour I never questioned wearing it for Anti-Bullying day and was not embarrassed to be seen in such girly colours. Braden’s article, therefore, gives me a bit of insight into how it was for him, growing up with negative feelings towards looking or being girly, and how he was able to resolve those feelings through a strong male figure in his life. I will admit though, I was almost disappointed with the results. It seems that his father swooped in and saved the day and it was almost as if he could only accept this change from his father, a man. I am not saying that this is a fault in his story or that his feelings and understandings are invalid. But, I will say that it demonstrates another level heteronormativity that he, and almost all other children, are exposed too. For young boys, they are subconsciously taught that they do not have to listen to women or respect what they have to say. I guess I do not know enough about Braden’s story to say that his mother tried her best to get him to wear the shirt, it was just something that sparked inside my mind when reading his story.
It is nice to see that young people are slowly being introduced to more and more diversity in their lives, and soon enough maybe we will not have to walk through clothing racks of boys clothes and girls clothes, through crowded aisles filled with girls toys and boys toys. One day we may even get to the point where the general public will be able to rid themselves of their hetero-, cisnormative, and gender binary views (that should have been gone long ago).
Smith, Hortense (2010). Girls Are Pink, Boys Are Blue: On Toddlers and Gender Roles. Retrieved from https://jezebel.com/5561837/girls-are-pink-boys-are-blue-on-toddlers-and-gender-roles
Hildebrandt, Katia (2017). Weekly Slides: Week 9 day 1. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1lByuXfXvWkP-kZMQA1rhja6apV-xrQwqEbEAYAG2ELo/edit#slide=id.g298a5e12c9_0_67