This week was all about the ways we construct identities and categories to define groups and individuals. This can provide a sense of belonging or be used to other outsiders for social, political, or economic reasons. Kimmel writes about modern masculinity as a fear of homosexuality (often conflated with femininity), Katz discusses heterosexuality as a recent way to define attraction and procreation, Lorber illustrates the idea of gender as a verb, Wendell highlights the ways society and masculinity form disability, Coates uses historical quotes to show the ways “race” has changed, and Omi and Winant look at the difference societal and cultural definitions of race.
If we take the idea that the “normal” or baseline human in Western society is white, male, healthy, and typically Christian, a common thread through the readings begins to stand out. Men must be strong and suppress “softer” emotions: girls can be tomboys but boys can’t be femme. Heterosexuality is a means to define family and reproduction. Hetero folks are the norm, and queer folks are, well, queer. Odd. Disability can often mean no sexuality, no children, and a lack of access to much of the world. Race also limits access, while taking gender traits and flipping them: Black men are violent rather than strong, children of Color are negatively seen as older rather than precocious.
When I was 4, I was given the option to choose a style for my first “real” haircut (salon, not the kitchen with scotch tape on my bangs acting as a guide). I asked for “boy hair”. These days, I ask for a pixie cut, but when I was little I had no words for short hair on girls and likely had never seen any women with short hair. Between my short hair and build, I was regularly mistaken for a boy into my mid-20s. I was “doing gender” incorrectly, an idea reinforced after every awkward pause or apology (Lorber, 1). At no point was I in physical danger, but I have a good friend who has received threats when presenting as masculine, and a trans niece who has a supportive family but an uphill battle through the world.
Perceptions of disability swing between laziness and heroism. Much of this comes from the idea that a person’s worth or value comes from their productivity (also applies to poverty). Those who have a difficult time meeting acceptable cultural standards of productivity are just not trying hard enough, and will be accepted if they just push themselves further, regardless of the physical, mental, emotional and social sacrifices necessary. Wendell lists some of the factors that create or enhance disability, in a way that is similar to vulnerability bundling. In emergency management, vulnerability bundling is an intersectional look at how similar factors combine to increase the vulnerability of marginalized individuals or communities. Disability contradicts standards of masculinity and the baseline human. Surely upending public infrastructure for just a few people is going too far? Never mind that increased accessibility for a few more visible groups increases accessibility for everyone (Wendell 62). An excellent example from a blogger called Ozymandias: “Curb cuts, which are intended for wheelchair users to be able to get on sidewalks, help bicyclists, parents with strollers, delivery people, and a dozen other nondisabled groups”. Expecting people to just tough it out or push through is unnecessary. There will always be obstacles in life, and there is no point in adding to them.
The following clip from the tv show American Gods is rather intense, but I do recommend it, particularly since my transcription has no hope of communicating the emotional aspects or the shifting accents and inflections. The trickster god Anansi/Mr. Nancy is speaking to a group of slaves during the Middle Passage, telling them about their future. But the lines that stand out most to me in the context of this week’s readings:
You all don’t know you Black yet. You think you just people. Let me be the first to tell you that you are all Black. The moment these Dutch motherfuckers set foot here and decided that they White and that you get to be Black, and that’s the nice name they call you.
This ties together with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ final line in “What We Mean When We Say ‘Race Is a Social Construct’”: “Race only requires some good guys with big guns looking for a reason.” Conquering nations, chattel slavery, and genocide have all been conducted with race as an excuse. “Such a worldview was needed to explain why some should be “free” and others enslaved, why some had rights to land and property while others did not”: if you don’t have define the people you harming as…people, then of course it is acceptable to cause harm (Omi and Winant). They become a different race, lesser beings, not human.
Such socially constructed differences serve as gatekeepers to social privileges. If you are too femme, too dark, too disabled, the world tells you there isn’t necessarily a place for you, at least in the areas you like. Wendell discusses the public and private spaces, and so much of the public spaces aren’t as accessible if you don’t meet the laundry list of standards required for entry.
Bassett, Helena Rose. “Helena Rose Bassett: What Have You Thought About Since?” Restorative Posters, 7 Sept. 2016, http://www.rjposters.com/helenarosethoughtabout/. Accessed 7 Feb. 2018.
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “What We Mean When We Say ‘Race Is a Social Construct’.”. The Atlantic, 25 May 2013. www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/05/what-we-mean-when-we-say-race-is-a-social-construct/275872/. Accessed 14 Feb. 2018.
Katz, Jonathan Ned. “The Invention of Heterosexuality.” Socialist Review, vol. 20, 1990, pp. 7-34. http://www.english101sp2015.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/jonathan-katz_the-invention-of-heterosexuality.pdf. Accessed 14 Feb. 2018.
Kimmel, Michael S. “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity.” Women in Culture: An Intersectional Anthology for Gender and Women’s Studies. 2nd ed., edited by Bonnie Kime Scott, Susan E. Cayleff, Anne Donadey, and Irene Lara, John Wiley & Sons, 2017, pp. 24-33.
Lorber, Judith. “‘Night to His Day’: The Social Construction of Gender.” Paradoxes of Gender, Yale University Press, 1994, pp. 13–36. http://www.sociology.morrisville.edu/readings/SOCI101/SOS28-Lorber-NightToHisDay.pdf. Accessed 14 Feb. 2018.
Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. “Racial Formations.” Racial Formation in the United States, 2nd ed., Routledge, March 1994, pp. 3-13. Accessed 14 Feb. 2018.
Ozymandias. “The Curb Cut Effect, Or Why it is Basically Impossible to Appropriate from Disabled People.” Thing of Things, 15 Nov. 2014, http://www.thingofthings.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/the-curb-cut-effect-or-why-it-is-basically-impossible-to-appropriate-from-disabled-people/. Accessed 29 Jan. 2018.
“The Secret of Spoons.” American Gods, created by Brian Fuller and Michael Green, performance by Orlando Jones, season 1, episode 2, produced by Canada Film Capital and Fremantle Media North America, 2017.
Wendell, Susan. “The Social Construction of Disability.” The Rejected Body, Routledge, 1996, pp. 59-71. http://www.moodle.fhs.cuni.cz/pluginfile.php/19118/mod_resource/content/0/Wendell_Social_construction.pdf. Accessed 14 Feb. 2018.