’s Daughters Essay, Research Paper
Socialization of Gender,
Is it inherently negative?
My first reaction to Egalia?s Daughters, by Gerd Brantenberg, was something like "WHAT is this". I was immediately very confused, and had no idea what this author was writing about. In fact, I felt as though I opened the book to the middle of a story, and became turned off by the whole experience. It took about three chapters, and someone?s help, until I started to read the book understandably, with ease, and began to enjoy the world I was entering. It became very apparent that I would have to detach myself from all that I thought I knew about gender, and simply allow myself to take in the message Brantenberg was trying to convey. As soon as I began to understand what I was reading, I found myself thoroughly engaged by both the story and the sociological aspects of both the Egalian, and my societies social constructions of gender. Although I was aware, to some degree of the socialization of gender in our society, having not taken any feminist or women?s studies courses, I was not familiar with how much gender is ingrained in our culture, language, government, identities, etc. This book truly brings forth those ideals by expressing the opposite of what we know in our society to be true concerning the socialization of gender.
Egalia?s Daughters explicitly expresses how genderized our culture is by presenting the opposite of what we know to be true. The book reverses all that we know to be socially acceptable and correct for men and women by reversing those gender roles and creating what we know to be masculine as feminine, and what we know to be feminine as masculine. Brantenberg writes about a society where men (she calls them manwim) take on what we consider to be female roles. They stay in the home, take care of the kids, are stereotypically passive, ditsy, subordinate to women, unintelligent, etc. Whereas women in the Egalian society (she calls them wom), make the money, are powerful, dominant, aggressive, authoritarian, etc. Wom are looked up to and considered the more powerful sex, and menwom are considered to be vulnerable and weak.
Brantenberg even reverses what our society deems as feminine beauty, and masculinizes it.
"She had a fine rounded head and short-cropped black hair that always stood straight up. A straight nose, sharply defined features, small, piercing pale blue eyes, a thin determined mouth, straight shoulders and distinctive movements. When she moved, she always did so purposefully and efficiently. Her voice, which was sharp and penetrating, always gave the impression that she knew what she was talking about, even when she didn?t. That was how a wom ought to be. " (11).
The way wim dress is also different than what we know to be true in our society.
"Besides, she was always stylishly dressed. A loose brown tunic and baggy trousers. Brown shoes with thick soles."(12).
Men in our society are expected to "wear the pants," (in more ways than one,) in Egalia, men are considered beautiful if they are short, fat, have long beards and a full head of hair, and have very small penises. They are expected to wear flowing skirts and dresses, adorn themselves with jewelry and accessories, and behave in shy and reserved ways.
I was particularly interested in the way Brantenberg shows how incredibly masculinized our society is by reversing all of the gendered words to be feminine. For example, one calls one?s last name his or her surname (sirname in England) however, in Egalia, it is called your damename. When a boat is cared for or run, in our society it is "manned," in Egalia, it is "wommed," and "heroes" are called "sheroes." The list goes on and on. By expressing that even our language is gendered, awareness increases to just how our society ingrains masculinity into our culture and thus places men in positions of power.
It was interesting to look at a matriarchal society, and to compare and contrast it to our masculine society, in order to comprehend how our society is increasingly gendered, and how unequal that gender distribution is. For example, although the book expressed a matriarchy (as opposed to our society, which is a patriarchy), it helped to express that neither extreme was positive. Although women had power, money, and specific rights that they don?t have in our society, men were still inferior, considered weaker, lacking in intelligence and power, and were all around thought of as "less than wim. For example, because menwom do not have the power to birth children, men have a "purely subordinate function in the very process of life? Nature has not equipped him to take charge of life?"(61) and are therefore subordinate to women. This ideology, in fact, simply exacerbates the idea that men and women in our society will never be equal, or on level playing fields with each other, if one is thought to be better or more powerful.
By writing about a culture that is directly parallel to our culture, Brantenberg examines the idea of what we know to be feminism (in Egalia it is masculism). She shows how in Egalia menwim had to fight against the social norms and become deviants in order to have their voices heard. They tried to re-establish and change existing norms of their culture to become less feminized. "They (the menwim) maintained that one of the movement?s tasks had to be to stop menwim from feeling ashamed of the fact that they had a cock."(162). They asked the question, "Why was menstruation a source of power when sperm was a source of shame?"(168). They did not believe in the "Natural Order", where wim birthed the children, but menwim reared and cared for them. Brantenberg uses the Women?s Movement as a parallel to examine the power and forces within the Masculine League. I was especially interested in the way she expressed this uprising as one of deviance and power. She shows how society deems people in places of power to create the rules and norms within society.
This reversal of genders was a powerful way of trying to explain how our society creates such an emphasis on gender and gender roles. When I was first reading, I could not comprehend how terribly the menwom in Egalia were treated. I had to distance myself from the reading for a bit to understand that, to a certain extent, the level of inequality between men and women in our society is as bad as it is in Egalia. Although I have heard the statistics many times, (women make $0.75 to the dollar that men do, etc.) it is hard for me to comprehend the outward inequality that Brantenberg expresses.
Possibly, it is because I was raised in a family where I was always told that I could do and become anything I wanted, regardless of my sex. Possibly, it is because I go to a school where that inequality is not absolutely apparent. Never the less, I do not, on a daily basis feel as though I am being oppressed because I am a woman.
However, as I sit here and continue to type, I find myself thinking of more and more things in my life that are socially genderized. For example, my mom was a stay at home mom until my sister and I were older. She does most of the cooking and cleaning, and caring for, whereas my dad does most of the money making, and fixing. Although, my mom was always the authoritarian, and my dad was always the one I went to when I wanted to get away with something, they both had specific roles and functions within our family structure that were very condusive to what society deems as socially acceptable. Therefore, it can be argued that because I grew up in such an environment, I am socially determined to play into these gender roles and stereotypes. As a girl, I am socially conditioned to do the things that I have seen my mom do, and to act in a similar manner.
I find that my life is also very socially genderized in terms of my personal relationships. I have very different relationships with men and women, and treat those relationships differently. I find that often it is much more work to be friends with girls than with boys. My female friendships require affirmation, self-disclosure, an increase of emotional outlets, and often an exorbitant amount of "drama." With my guy friends, we can just hang out, we don?t have to compete with each other, and there is, more often than not, not nearly as much "drama" involved. Although these relationships are functions of the social expectations and norms of our society, I do not feel oppressed by them. In fact, I am increasingly glad that I am able to have different kinds of friendships.
Another feature of my daily existence as a woman is the social construction of gender in the media. Everyday women look at magazines, movies, television, advertisements, etc. and constantly compare their appearance, self-worth, and well being to the images of the women that are represented. To some, the answer is getting rid of "Cosmopolitan" and "Vogue" magazine, to others it is self awareness and understanding that what is shown is an ideal that is unattainable and ridiculous. I think that the answer lies somewhere in between, in changing our social views and expectations of women in our society. How to go about that, I have no clue.
As I keep writing, I find that I can express the social construction of gender in my life in a simple phrase: Every aspect of my life is socially gendered. The clothes I wear, the people I am attracted to, the emotions I keep, the activities I engage in, the way I speak, the friendships I have, the life I lead, all of it is completely genderized. By looking at the opposite of what I know to be true in Egalia?s Daughters, I am able to understand how much our society is surrounded by gender ideals and the social construction of gender. My question is, is the social construction of gender always a bad thing?