Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Hermaphrodite

Before I blog The Blog (look for it on Friday/Saturday), I feel it is important to thoroughly explain one major concept I've been making reference to which you as a reader need to know in order to understand the Big Blog. The concept, hermaphrodites. But many people who I talk to don't seem to know what a hermaphrodite is, and that's ok! The term is kind of "hush-hush" within our modern-day society and doesn't play a huge role in everyday conversation (unless you talk to me ; D!). First, let's begin with defining the word.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives many definitions for the word, the prevailing definition being:
"A human being in which parts characteristic of both sexes are to some extent combined."
By this definition, a hermaphrodite is a physical merging of two different sexes.

A second definition, while identical in theory, paints a less clear cut picture of hermaphrodites.
"An effeminate man or virile woman."
This definition suggests characteristics attributed to sex, or more precisely, a merging of gender.

If something is "hermaphroditic" in nature it is "Belonging to or of the nature of a hermaphrodite: combining male and female characteristics" and hermaphroditism is "The condition of a hermaphrodite; coexistence or combination of male or female organs in the same individual." Which brings me to an explanation of where this idea originated.

In Plato's Symposium, Aristophanes is quoted telling the tale of the hermaphrodite, the "androgynous race," in the classical tradition. He states that our natures started out as not two but three, male, female and "a race whose name still remains though itself has it does not exist except for the name that is reserved for reproach." We were, by today's definition, monstrous looking things, with 2 heads, 4 arms, 4 legs and a big ego...we were a bit too big for our britches and Zeus, along with the other gods, decided to cut us in half, leaving the state of humankind separate and always searching for the other half. The only time the halves could feel whole would be through intercourse, the genitalia of one sex fitting the other bringing it all home with our previous definition of "coexistence of male or female organs in the same individual."
Before this gets too too long, let's explore the idea behind the hermaphrodite. The idea: there is a being which possesses a wholeness of men and women, an ultimate understanding, if you will, of both sexes and genders. Within the humanities discipline it is understood that we are cultivating and educating the "moral imagination," the bridge between Us and the Other. If this bridge is made, it is assumed we can understand anything foreign through imagination. The idea of the hermaphrodite removes the need for that bridge, the wholeness of knowledge as viewed by different genders already present.

Is it possible? Can such an understanding of men or women occur in the opposite sex? Not a secular knowledge but a personal knowledge, a knowledge of the Other based upon self, not a textbook. I know what I think, what about you?!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Blog Me Masculine

Here's the "Now" in reference to my previous "Then" blog "Color Me Feminine."
Colors, fonts, widgits, graphic designs, pictures, etc., all ascribe gender to a blog, the modern day forum for online communal bloggers to give a Tilbury Speech of their own. "How do I want my reader to read this?" is a question which should be asked by any blogger and their visual design should reflect the desired tone. Here's a good example I came across just one hour ago. Online, I've been exploring different university graduate programs. I went to BYU for such information, saw the page, thought little of it, went to UTD's page, and suddenly thought a LOT of BYU's. Look at the difference. While UTD's page is flashy and caught my eye, I didn't get a "professional" feel from it and quite honestly thought the design was tacky for a page introducing their graduate school programs. It looked more like a page off of Amazon, trying to sell you on their product by making it look better than it really is. "Pick me pick me because I'm a pretty color" works when I'm shopping (to the demise of my banking account [author tugs at collar and begins to shift uncomfortably in seat] and graduate school as well) but not when I'm shopping for graduate programs.
Ok Becca, but what about gender? Here's an example of design reflecting tone/gender. Say you saw these two sentences and were asked to give your first thoughts about which sentence was written by a girl and which a boy:
I love Terry = D!
I love Terry.
Gut reaction? Now tell me, what gave you the impression?
Referring to the Texas A&M study in my last post, color will dictate gender and the attention of specific genders. It begins in the hospital, "It's a girl, get a pink blanket" or "Blue blanket for this baby boy" and ends with us deciding whether or not to paint our nails when we're in our coffin. Look at the "emoticon" of the first sentence. A study showed "traditional gender roles define the female role as communal, embodying emotional expressiveness and a focus on the needs of others" Did you pick up on that? The emoticon "= D" and "!" might have made you think the author is more emotionally expressive and thus there's a greater likelihood it's a girl. Why is that? Why, when for hundreds of years, men such as Milton, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Donne, etc., could write some of the world's most famous, beautiful poetry, expressing inner thoughts in poetically metaphoric terms, do we now say men can't express emotion? Why does masculinity=little feeling and if a man is seen as tender or openly emotional we classify him as "effeminate" if we're feeling generous and giving him the benefit of the doubt about which team he's swinging for? Tell me what you think:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Color Me Feminine...'s all monkey business, right? You've never been so right! In 2002 Texas A&M (author places hand over heart in respect for the mere idea the word "Texas" brings about) conducted a study in which male and female vervet monkeys were given the choice between masculine and feminine toys. Monkeys were used because they supposedly have not been socialized to know "boy" toys from "girl" toys. The result: male monkeys went for the masculine toys while females went for the feminine. Suggested reasons: toy movement and...appearance!
"Females may have evolved preferences for object color, relating to their roles as nurturers. A preference for red or pink – the color of the doll and pot – has been proposed to elicit female behaviors toward infants that enhance infant survival, such as contact."
Appearance can affect the perceived masculinity or femininity of an object. As a female, I'm not particularly interested in tractors (something my younger brother is fascinated by) but when I saw a PINK we're talking!
The Reainssance, with all its transvestite and homosocial glory, is the perfect time period to do a "Now and Then" comparison. Here's the "Then," the "Now" comes in the next post.
Queen Elizabeth, the female King of England, knew how to shape public opinion concerning her gender through words (as discussed in my last post) and appearance. An excellent example, her reaction to the threat of the Spanish Armada. Against the counsel of her adviser, Elizabeth dressed in armor from the waist up (wearing a skirt waist down) and stood boldly before the crowd of militia to address the men in what is one of her most famous speeches, the Tilbury Speech. The militia being so large, runners were sent into the crowd and on a cue they read Elizabeth's speech in sync with her. Here Elizabeth, a female, is standing dressed as a man and the audience hears her proclaim in a man's voice (due to the male runners reading the speech) "I have the heart and stomach of a King- and a King of England too." Elizabeth used visual appearance to her advantage, here dressing as a soldier to address her military and aid her in convincing the men she is their "King" "Leader" and "General."
How much do visual gender cues dictate what you perceive, buy, and even think? You thoughts:

Monday, May 24, 2010

I Believe in the Power of Words

That's a good justification for being an English major, right? Well, it's true! I believe that a well placed adjective can make all the difference from something "tasting good" to being "mouth-wateringly delicious." I don't believe words to ever be "thoughtless," for language provokes thoughts (whether they are your thoughts or the thoughts of others provoked by your words) and believe a person's vocabularly reveals much of who a person is. Language etches a person's character, mind, beliefs, etc., and with that we're back on our main issue of favorite!

My cousin, Amy, enlisted in the Army after high school and quickly learned that no matter how she tried to talk like, look like, act like, a boy she was still a girl. It was when she learned to combine her understanding of males and masculine behaviors and use that knowledge as a girl with feminine characteristics that she found her place in the Army. She didn't look at her unit as "boys and girls" but rather as enlistees with a common mission and goal of becoming a soldier. How each person achieved that was not based upon gender alone, but personality and preference. Women soldiers could be a modern-day version of England's "Female King!"

Referring to my post "Playing with Discovery," I give my readers to Queen Elizabeth's Tilsbury Speech where in it Elizabeth utilizes the masculine technique of defining herself as an individual, yet she does that through her country and people. Look at her uses of "I, me, my, myself" and notice it is always followed with a method of definition ex. "My people." Does this make sense? As she defines herself through others she exhibits a feminine communication method of caring for others. This woman was a MASTER of combining the masculine and feminine.

Here's today's question for the bloggosphere: Where have you seen such a combination in your life, digital or human in nature?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sabbath Day Musings...

Given the very spiritually touchy subject I am working with here, I decided since it's the sabbath my post today would be based upon the spiritual counsel leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS church) have given their members concerning sex, gender and the role it plays in religion.

The best text for this issue is The Family: A Proclamation to the World. This statement, officially presented in 1995, holds current today the values it presented 15 years ago.

It begins by proclaiming, "All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God." Thus we have physical bodies, as God himself, which dictate us as being male or female biologically speaking. This sex-determined state is a definite and we of the LDS faith believe Heavenly Father to be male, biologically speaking.

Right after this open affirmation of sex comes "
Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." So it seems to say that gender has been, currently is, and forever will be what defines us in our male/female bodies. Without our gender role, we would lose ourselves and our purpose. In other words, ascribing to our gender roles is imperative to our eternal identity.

Towards the middle of the statement, it very clearly shows roles which with both "
man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife" and as parents have towards their children. These are to "rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live." These are the obligations parents have towards their children yet the way each parents is to fulfill these requirements differs, and here is when gender roles comes into play:

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.
Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.
The roles are set there, in black ink and without any "wiggle room." Yet, in the last sentence the most beautiful message is taught about the common state of human nature which makes me as a woman understand my role as the "feminine" gender in a different way!!!

In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as
equal partners.

So what's the point? I'll make it quick as this post has been long and for that I apologize but I wanted to use direct quotation instead of summary.
1. Sex is determined
2. Gender is essential
3. Men and women both are responsible for the same obligations towards their children
4. There are gender roles ascribed to parents
5. While these roles are set, it is both parent's responsibility to help each other as equals.

I, as a female with a feminine gender role, am responsible for assisting a male in a masculine role and since I am equal in that assistance I am assisting in both gender roles, masculine and feminine, and thus in a strange paradox of life (there are oh so many!) by recognizing and assisting in gender roles, I bring my state of gender to a somewhat neutral ground! What are your thoughts? Is this an accurate claim to make? A genderless state can be achieved through assisting gender's kind of a crazy thought and is really more of a tangent of my paper's main topic, but still I felt I needed to post something like this so you would know I'm not a crazy feminist with no regard for religious counsel which has been given!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Playing With Discovery...

My dear friend Krista, told me about an experience she had which I related in my first blog. She wrote for an online question-answering service and didn't disclose her sex. Her readers were shocked when she revealed *ta-da* "I am female!" I read some of their responses...hilarious! Here's the link:

My post today is based upon an article found by a colleague of mine regarding blogs and gender identity:
It's a long article but SO worth the read! Under the section heading "Gender and Language Use" it says "In online forums, including weblogs (blogs), language is a key means through which sexual identity can be expressed and explored."

"The adolescent is increasingly expected to assume a sexual identity, one of the markers and anchors of a mature identity...language is a key means through which those roles are explored and constructed"
It continues to describe the general language used by female bloggers vs. male bloggers.
"The communication patterns of males and females often differ, with males using a direct and forceful style while females use a more indirect and intimate style of interaction."

Traditionally the family environment has been the forum where gender roles are learned, but with this new mode of exploration, aka blogging and the language used in the post,
could the digital natives have found a place to explore not only their ascribed gender role but perhaps the opposite? With online gaming networks such as Second Life, the player's online avatar can be whoever he/she desires with the online viewers being none the wiser.
Sooo, what do you think? Are blogs the new place where our digital world can learn not only about their own gender but the Other as well? Has the internet become the "moral imagination" needed to create the bridge between self and the Other? What are your thoughts?!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Take Away Gender and What do We Have...

Continuing in the line of gender indeterminacy, what if we had no gender? Think about it for a second, what truly defines you? Is it that 6th toe no one knows about which gives you a secret thrill knowing you're separate, distinct and definitely an individual? Or maybe it's the fact you are the only person you know of who can search for "wet haired monkeys" and actually get a good picture! Does gender define you? I would say yes, it's a fair assumption to say gender is a major factor as we interact with others, both in terms of how we act and how we react to others and how others act/react to us. Isn't that funny? Roughly 1/2 the population shares the exact same quality which we claim "defines" us as separates from others.

Gender is an easily accessed safe-haven which we retreat to in order to define our, as well as others', actions. Example: My sister crying in her room and my 16 y/o brother comments "Girls" yet he can't possible think of admitting I can beat him in arm wrestling because a girl beating a boy in arm wrestling is not a feminine thing to do and would "swipe his man card" or masculinity (note: I do recognize that the biological sex factor of muscle mass does play a part in that thinking. The example is simply used to make a comparison).

Again with the online identities. What about my blog tells you I am a girl? Perhaps the strikingly PINK nature of it along with the beautiful flower and picture of me (clearly distinguishable as a girl I hope! If not, I don't want to hear about it!). Well what if I suddenly admitted to being a boy and changed my blog to a dark blue color, no frills or flowers? What if I was Del Julio Hernandez from upper-state New York and this was a project I explored to see how readers respond to a blog based upon the projected gender? Would you comment on this one question: how would you answer this question for both a male and female and honestly tell me, did gender or sex play a part in that response?

Question: I need a fun night out! What should I do??? Any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's a boy. It's a girl. It's a hermaphrodite!

Spencer Tracy: What is the first thing you notice about a person?
Katherine Hepburn: Well I guess whether the person is male or female.
(from the movie "Desk Set")

This distinction between male and female is a subtle element of social communication hardly ever noticed until we meet that one person with boobs and a crew-cut and suddenly we don't know how to act because their sex is indeterminate and thus we can't cater to their gender.

Sex: the biological factors which categorize one as male or female
Gender: the social roles assigned based upon biological factors and referred to as either masculine or feminine.

In the Renaissance time period, the transvestite theater was the perfect medium for exploring this idea of distinguishing one's gender despite their sex. Boy actors played women onstage, particularly in Shakespearean plays, and it was a point of pride for these boy actors to attend dinner parties where, lined up with other women, guests would attempt to pick out the "false" girl. Many of these actors were so perfectly disguised they couldn't be discovered. Imagine being a biologically distinct girl in that line-up and chosen as the fake girl! So glad that wasn't me, my fuzzy upper lip and unshaven legs might make the chooser question my sex.

This combining of the male and female as well as masculine and feminine becomes the basis of the hermaphrodite. This being, originally upon the earth in three forms, male-male, female-female, and male-female, was thought to possess a whole or complete state of knowledge and being. When the hermaphrodite became a bit bold in their boastings, Zeus split the one into two and thus made the state of man divided, always found wanting. Only when the two parts combined, the two making one, would that divided state be whole for a time.

Well, that's nice but what does it have to do with life today besides having the occasional "weirdie" whose genderless state society shuns? Believe it or not, society is much more tolerant of the hermaphrodite than one would think. One word:
Online avatars, or online social identities, allow the digital representation of the human become whoever they want to be. My friend, Krista, related the following experience:
I used to write for an online question-answering service, and for several months I didn't disclose my gender because I didn't want men or women to be able to disregard what I was saying because they thought the other side's (or their side's) point of view was irrelevant. I tried to write a little more "masculine," whatever that is, so that it was even more ambiguous, and I had people guessing both genders.
The world wide web has become the ultimate stage for exploring the fluidity of gender. What are the benefits of such a hermaphroditic social medium? Could this be proof that gender is simply a social role we play, not a way we "need" to be? Does this genderless forum enhance one of our foundational rights "freedom of speech" without impairment of a gender-bias opinion? Or does it create confusion within a society so dependent upon social cues established by gender?

This is just the beginning of a large issue which will be explored a little bit with each posting but I would LOVE to hear your opinions, as well as any articles you might have read which helped for, that opinion. Comment, comment, comment!