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I was recently invited to participate in a panel discussion on the nature of gender at a conference hosted by a particular university here in Colorado. I was honored to be invited and eager to participate because this topic is very important and seldom does the orthodox Christian point of view get represented. I also like to participate because it reminds me — and I truly mean this respectfully — just how wacky this field of academic inquiry can get. There's just no other way to say it. As I have said at such events, there is more connection between the science and religious departments on this campus than the science and gender studies departments. It is a true statement as this experience demonstrated dramatically.
The name of this particular group's campus-wide effort is "The Genderfree Bedroom" which immediately causes one to ask, "Then why bother?" Who seeks — regardless of morals or manners — a sexual mate without any thought or interest as to how they identify sexually? Isn't this exactly why the folks hosting this event and so many others are always telling us about the L, the G, the B, the T and the Q? Can they really seek to be "gender-free" when gender is all they seem to talk about? What other academic discipline seeks to deny what that very discipline is named for? Philosophers against philosophy?
Their conference was the kick-off event of a campus-wide effort to combat "heteronormativity." This is a fancy souped-up word used nowadays in gender studies circles to note the serious problem that everyone assumes that 1) everyone is heterosexual and 2) all good men act this way and all proper woman act that way. But it's a made-up problem, a baseless concern.
I reminded them that I was from Focus on the Family, one of the key groups that supposedly pays the gas and insurance to keep the 18-wheeler of "heteronormativity" moving forward in our culture. But the bad news for this thesis is that folks like us don't assume everyone is heterosexual. Do you? Like everyone else, we listen to the news when famous Hollywood, news and music people finally announce they're gay, and all when the whole world was pretty sure of it in the first place. We offer help to families dealing with issues of same-sex attraction among their children. We live next to homosexuals and have valuable relationships with them. We have loved ones who have same-sex attraction. We get called ugly names by activists who advocate for all the rest of us to approve of their homosexuality. Yes, there are homosexuals out there. This is not news.
And we also know there are plenty of good men and women who regularly color outside the lines of so-called "gender-stereotypes," and their standing as authentic men and women is never questioned. To illustrate this fact, I brought up a shining icon of the far right: Sarah Palin. She is clearly quite feminine — perhaps stereotypically so — but loves everything about guns, mostly shooting them. Big ones, small ones, loud ones, quick ones. And she can field dress a moose, elk or caribou with skill and finesse. Do any of her biggest fans on the right think she is radically challenging gender norms in any way?
There are a million such examples, and none of them create the slightest bit of confusion about what a male or female is for anyone, for even the most conservative and traditional among us. If there wasn't a way we all generally understand how men and women actually are, then Richard Simmons would have no shtick, would he? Again, this is a made-up problem.
As part of the program, a professor from this university gave an interesting presentation on gender stereotyping in advertising. Introducing himself, he said that obviously no one in the room could assume he was a man, even though he appeared like one. The group knew such a determination would have rested upon a "socially-constructed" assumption about what men look like and how they act. He did say that he could settle the question for all by removing his trousers, but that he would rather keep it a mystery. He was quite serious about this, and the group largely shared his seriousness. This was gender studies 101.
So we shouldn't assume he's a dude because only his genitals could confirm his manhood. Isn't this what Beavis and Butthead, Southern rednecks and inebriated frat boys believe, reducing one's manhood to just this one thing?
So our professor moves from this silly and imaginative explanation of his own sex into his presentation on gender stereotypes in advertising. Nearly all of the advertisements were deeply disturbing but for different reasons, which I will explain. The only one in his presentation that wasn't was a Wal-Mart ad where a nice lady was setting her dining room table for a special meal. She was smiling, and the professor told us that this was to make us believe that women like doing "women's work" when of course they don't. And for you ladies who actually do like setting a nice table for guests, you only like it because society told you, you should. Men don't like doing such things because society told them they shouldn't. Who believes such silliness? These gender-studies take it as a self-evident truth.
But here is the interesting part. The ads he showed that were most offensive — and he showed them because they were offensive — showed men as sexual predators and women as glamorized sexual objects. They bordered on the obscene but were dead-center repugnant. All the room was aghast, as they should have been. But guess what. These were not ads from everyday guy magazines like Field and Stream, Popular Mechanics or even Sports Illustrated or Maxim. They were from those very sophisticated, glossy, expensive fashion magazines. Such magazines are not created in Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina or Alabama where these students would assume such gender inequity and misogyny resides. They come from Paris, New York, Hollywood. They are created not by repressed Neanderthals, but by enlightened "progressives." This glaring irony seemed to be lost on the group.
But here is the real kicker. How could this professor — given his own instructions to us about not being able to assume one's gender without genital confirmation — tell whether that was actually a woman setting the table in the Wal-Mart ad, and thus gender stereotyping? How could he tell those were men doing the sexual preying and actual women being objectified and preyed upon? Wasn't this whole event about the "dangers" and simplicity of gender assumptions? He obviously couldn't live and operate by his own criteria.
I asked him about this in our panel discussion. He didn't have an answer, but it was glaringly obvious. As I have gone around the country speaking on these issues at colleges and universities, I encounter this sad type of fuzzy-headedness all the time. It's standard fare. And it shouldn't cause us to gloat, but to mourn because such smart and valuable people are so easily and deeply deceived by the enemy. You see, this is such an important issue that even Satan gets its significance. All his energy is given to getting us to deny who God is; therefore, he wants us to forget God created male and female as the only part of His entire creation that reflects His divine image in the world. This is what this whole gender studies stuff is really about, even if those being duped by it don't realize it. God's people must engage in the conversation in both compassion and truth.
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Well, if they read this I doubt they'll invite you again...
I'm glad I missed out on that conference.
The problem is that in the past gender roles have been associated with abuse. Academics have responded by trying to get rid of the gender roles instead of getting rid of the abuse.
Yes Christian men must resist the world's definition of manhood of being domineering, promiscuous, greedy, reckless, and foolish. Instead we must proudly replace it with God's ideal - providing for and protecting women and children, imaging the servant heartedness of Christ, and living disciplined and holy lives. The world should know us not by what we are against but how Christ's love can allow one to grow into a meaningful gender role.
Wow that panel just seems like a big waste of time. I personally would have walked out after the presentation of the walmart ad.
Yes I'm aware there are people who prefer not to have a straight forward gender identity and/or sexual identity. I respect them but I don't have the same view point.
Hi Glenn, I'm really glad that this panel made sure that they representative of LOTS of views on gender and made a point to invite you. I've had quite a few conversations abut gender both at college (I attended a Christian university) and also in the leadership program that I'm currently a part of.
I'm really struggling to see why this professor made this claim that you identified. Most intellectuals and discussions that I observe and participate in on the progressive end, are concerned about a society robustly endorsing gender identities because they allege that society's rigid views of femininity and masculinity (I would argue the latter is probably stronger) often cause men that express themselves in traditionally more feminine ways or vice versa, are in turn ostracized by much of society. (Even the fact for instance that the world "girl" is often an insult if you say it a boy/man."
The other thorny issue that wasn't addressed was about transgender folks, who I challenge this community to read their stories and experiences and consider how difficult it must be to live a life feeling like you are never yourself and can never "please" society. For all the difficulty that Christians may find in living out there faith, we can often "blend in" quite well. This may not be true of transgender folks...even for as mundane things as the bathroom (and well I understand the controversy about whether this is "safe" or not has some legitimacy, it is something that most of us have NEVER had as a problem and likely NEVER will."
There is also the issue too of those born with sex organs of both genders who may have grown up feeling like they don't align with the gender society calls them. I've also wondered how to reconcile these occurrences whenever I hear comments like Glenn's assertion that "God created male and female as the only part of His entire creation that reflects His divine image in the world." How does this work for them?
For all of us who comfortably "fit" some part of our gender roles and feel comfortable in it, I think it's a) helpful to remember, especially for women, how much hard work was done in the past two broaden that (thank you everyone that is now "ladylike" to vote, learn how to read, become educated, run a company, etc) 2) the extent to which men who stay at home with their kids still find people asking them questions like "are you babysitting your kids?" (uhhh, or just parenting them!) and 3) READ some of the experiences and imagine what it would be like to live them...just five years ago a transgender female teenager was stabbed to death down the street from my house.
What I've found is that people in general are incredibly confused about gender issues. I had a high school student argue with me that men are not physically stronger than women. And this is a common belief! It's just ridiculous! It's like these people live in a make-believe world.
I'm getting married in a few weeks, and let me tell you, I LOVE expressing my femininity, and I enjoy my fiance's masculinity very much. I can't imagine how boring a "genderless" world would be.
"Like everyone else, we listen to the news when famous Hollywood, news and music people finally announce they're gay, and all when the whole world was pretty sure of it in the first place." This is, in part, why gender studies exists: why would the whole world be sure of someone's sexuality? What about them "seems gay"? I've seen a lot of comments on this blog (remember the old short hair versus long hair post?) that lead me to believe that a conversation about how we see gender might be worthwhile for this forum.
When I came out, I remember being really angry by how "not surprised" people whom I shared the news with were. What about me seemed gay? What was it? If I wouldn't have had those signifiers, would I still be gay?
Just thinking out loud.
I don't think our society is or should be genderless, but so much of what is considered gender today isn't differences between the sexes, but just marketing. For example, in the early 20th century, blue was actually considered a feminine color while pink was assumed to be masculine, until advertising companies decided otherwise.
The panel you were a part of sounds pretty wacky, but maybe it just is an extreme reaction. It is an important issue, but I think Christians can get a little confused on it too, to the point that gender stereotypes sometimes get misconstrued as "biblical".
Haha, this blog reads like a typical class discussion at my university. I had to take a few Women's Studies classes to complete a major, and the professor was a real "feminist" --she used to almost apologetically admit she was married to a man, but then add they had separate bedrooms. :/ really strange lady. Anyway! At least she was a little more sophisticated than the prof who said the only way you could know for sure is pulling your pants down. In her class, she talked about how people are born with abnormalities or hormone imbalances and how with surgery and hormone therapy, you can pretty much change your gender. In her topsy-turvy world, male and female were very fluid entities, with individuals able to drift back and forth and in between, if they want. The only thing that you can't change is the DNA...the XX or XY chromosome. I guess that's what gender has to come down to in today's world! But of course, people should never be limited by chromosomes to live and look the way they want. D: I think her view was a little simplistic. I'm sure some people who are born with genitals of both sexes or whatever really struggle with identity, the way they were raised, and what others think of them. Gender for them isn't such a merry little river to row across or back again and then hurt our arms patting ourselves on the back for being so liberated and progressive.
Someone I know was born female, but prefers to be referred to as "he". This person is married to a man so "he" identifies as a gay man. Recently "he" underwent a surgery to remove both breasts, and seemed so happy about it. I was just a little shocked someone could hate the body they were born with so much. There is such confusion in the world today...
"I was just a little shocked someone could hate the body they were born with so much."
I think there's a whole cosmetic industry dedicated to exactly this conundrum. You don't have to be transgendered to hate your body.
A few thoughts.
" Who seeks — regardless of morals or manners — a sexual mate without any thought or interest as to how they identify sexually"
What about Bisexuals? Someone who is Bi would, in theory, be indifferent to the gender of their sexual partner. Though sometimes it seems like a lot of people don't believe Bisexuals actually exist, and I have heard that most self identifying bisexuals still claim to have more of a preference for one sex or the other.
For the heteronormative thing, I don't think it's so much "society assumes everyone is straight" but rather "society assumes everyone is straight, *until proven otherwise*". For an example, imagine if you met another guy and became friends with him, but you never talked about girls or who either or you like or anything like that. In such a situation, most people would assume the guy is straight, until some evidence proves otherwise. And while I don't really think that that is a wrong assumption to make, a lot of people seem to think that such an assumption is unfair and biased. They want us to get away from the mindset of "straight until proven gay".
"And we also know there are plenty of good men and women who regularly color outside the lines of so-called "gender-stereotypes," and their standing as authentic men and women is never questioned"
Lol tell that to the guy who has to admit he likes musical theater to his sports obsessed Jock friends *waves hands*. Seriously though, I think there is still a lot of societal pressure to conform to gender expectations. And focus of the family certainly can't plead innocent to that game ^^. How many articles have there been about how men should initiate and women should wait to be asked? That's a gender expectation. Even if focus on the family wouldn't tell a woman who asked a guy out that she "isn't a woman", you guys would still imply that she didn't behave as she should, I am sure. That's the sort of thing they are taking about. Your example of Sarah Palin works too. I'd don't think anyone would say that she isn't genetically female because she likes guns...but some people, especially in the past, would have "frowned upon" a woman pursuing such a past time as guns and hunting.
@cjane87: I totally agree with you. It is one of my biggest pet peeves how so much of society looks at things that have *nothing* to do with sexuality and use them to judge sexuality. I personally have been acused of being gay many times in my life, especially in middle school. If I came out as being gay today, there would be people in my life who would be like "aha I knew it!" ....um, no you didn't. What does liking musicals or Cher or sailor moon have to do with what gender I am sexually attracted to? Seriously? Despite what so many academics and society in general seems to think, I do not believe that sexuality is the driving force of every aspect of our likes/dislikes and personality.
cirquegirl - Great point on understanding and having compassion for the trans community. It's not something you can really learn unless you know someone, and seeing the process play out in front of you. One of my coworkers I knew as a man for three years - well she started dressing differently and a few years ago sent us a private email explaining her change, new name, etc. People deserve to be addressed as they wish, and honestly I felt nothing but sorrow and compassion. Amazing how snickering and jokes fade away when they are real people you see and interact with every day. I don't know her well but thankfully our area (Seattle) and company is very accommodating and there isn't much fear of repercussions or attacks. All I can do is continue to treat her as I would want to be treated. (though I still worry about messing up her name!)
I fully agree with the whole "heteronormativity" myth. I do not assume that everybody is heterosexual. Even I am not heterosexual. I am asexual (a bachelor for life). But unlike the Hollywood homosexuals, I don't feel the need to announce it in front of everybody. I only bring it up if somebody is talking to me about finding a wife or something like that.
As for gender roles, I don't feel any particular pressure to develop "masculine" traits. It's simply my personal preference. I am aware that such things as an ambitious spirit, an appreciation of wilderness, a taste for barbecue, and the enjoyment of sports (such as baketball) are typical masculine traits which I possess, not because I feel some kind of pressure on my gender to do that, but because I truly enjoy that stuff. God made us two different genders, and I like how different we men are from women. Gender is so much more than anatomy.
Wow. So glad you had this opportunity to share the truth in love. Well reasoned and presented post!
@ Dreamer Guy: Its great that you like those things just because of who you are, and not because of societal pressure or anything like that. But I would like to ask...What exactly makes the activities you listed "Masculine" to begin with, or why do you consider them that? Is there something inherently Masculine about them?? If so, what does that say about women who enjoy them? Are those activities Masculine just because, statistically, men are more likely to enjoy them than women? Or are those activities Masculine because society and advertising and such have painted them as masculine in our social conceptions?
Not that I think gender differences are non-existant, but I do feel like a lot of our ideas of what is "masculine" and "feminine" are constructed by society and culture rather than solely in-born differences. I mean, for instance, how is Barbecue really *inherently* Masculine?? As far as I can think, there is nothing gender indicative of enjoying tasty cooked meat with sauce. Anyone can like it. But we have the idea that its "Masculine" because of advertising and media portrayal and sterotypes about it.
@ Rocketshipper: I only call those things "masculine" just because of the statistics, not because society says that's how it should be. And personally, I feel quite masculine while exploring, camping, beef grilling, watching basketball, attending car shows, listening to metal, watching stunt jets, and hanging out with other men who also enjoy such things. But in reality, I would hardly call myself a stereotypical macho man. I am actually more of a nerd.
Still, having a hobby that is commonly associated with the opposite sex should not suddenly define one as LGBTQ or anything like that. I like the example of Sarah Palin. Liking guns does not make her any less feminine. Then on the other side, we have Bronies. Most men who watch My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic have no "sexual issues" to work out. They are simply average men who know how to appreciate an artistic cartoon targeted at prepubescent girls. In fact, many Brony communities claim that watching MLP:FIM is a very masculine activity.
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