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Next: Poetic Break Up: ACT 1 Previous: Scene 1 (Opening Scene)

Scene 2 (The Question and the Other)

[Erin is seen talking to everyone, but the first thing this audience hears is:]

Erin (22nd June, 2:17):
The issue of essentialism will inevitably be raised regarding sexual identity. ``You cannot possibly know what it is to be a man because you aren't one.'' However, once in a full body suit in virtual space, one could ``present'' as whatever gender or image one wanted - whether as male, female, mammal, amphibian or alien. This gives rise to the question of essences of identity. If one can fully project and receive sensorially as a gender other than one's own, then what else apart from bodily experience constitutes gender identity? Many people will argue that there is infinitely more to gender identity and sexuality than anatomical experience. I, however, suggest that anatomical and hormonal differences are the only differences between male and female sexuality. Everything else is cultural indoctrination and reification of meaning and implication; i.e., everything else is due to gender assumptions and stereotypes. And in this discussion, separating the term ``gender'' from the term ``sex'' is to imply the sociocultural portion of this discourse.

Michael (23rd June, 14:12):
I asked ``What is gender?'' and Erin referred to two common everyday understandings of gender in biological or sociocultural terms. These common explanations are explanations of origin and causation. Erin suggests that one can channel these explanations in two different directions and he distinguishes between sex and gender - parlance that has become accepted in the discourse on gender. Then my question What is gender? would have the answer: It is determined socioculturally. This is an answer referring to causal determination.
But my question was not: What causes gender? Nor was it even: What is the origin of gender? It was simply: What is gender? There is a difference between the two questions: What causes gender? and What is the origin of gender?
The latter question asks where gender comes from; it does not necessarily ask what causes or effects it.
I would like to put this proposed origin of gender into question. For me, it is questionable that gender comes from society and culture, i.e., that it is a product cultivated by society. Erin's answer presupposes that the question of gender is a question of identity in being-and-living-together. Identity is a matter of self-understanding, of how one understands oneself. However, I would suggest that gender is not primarily or originarily a matter of self-understanding; it is a mode of being (human).
Identity is a part of gender-being only because self-understanding is part of being a human, that is, of living a human life. As far as self-understanding in terms of gender goes, it would be a matter of exploring what it means to understand oneself living malely or femalely. Maleness and femaleness would then be modes of human being that are understood as such and which are open to human being to being understood as such.
Not only can I understand myself in my maleness and/or femaleness (and thus I have an identity), but I can also understand other humans in their maleness or femaleness. Maleness and femaleness can be a part of my self-understanding and thus of my identity, but where do maleness and femaleness themselves as modes of human being come from? And what are maleness and femaleness as modes of human being in themselves?

Erin (23rd June, 18:17):
I suppose the question might be raised: is there any essentialism to male or female sexuality? What makes a male know he is a male? How is his experience of maleness different from a woman's experience of femaleness?

Debbie (24th June, 9:40):
My response to Michael's point is that whilst there may be a process of self-understanding to identity, it is very important to remember that the other names us too. In other words, our identities are inextricably inscribed from both the internal and the external processes of socialization, realization and cultural interiorization (cf Franz Fanon). Both the self and the other are implicated in the process of identity inscription. In other words, identity is both inside and outside the self. Marcia Langton, in her work, shows how this is evident when the (here: indigenous) ``other'' names me too. For example, I am not just identified by who I am when the ``other'' calls me European; I am, at the same time, named by the ``other.''

Lydie comments (25th June, 20:09):
Identity is certainly shaped by interaction and language. How come the first question people raise when a child is born is still: Is it a boy or a girl? Why do we need to know?

Erin adds (24th June, 7:11):
Yes, Debbie's point is well taken. The process of identity inscription informs particularly marginalized groups in our culture, such as gay and lesbian sexual identities and racial and ethnic identities. It also illustrates that internalized conceptions of cultural belief can become part of one's ``identity'' as much as any other construct can. If a culture tells young black men, for instance, that they are obviously genetically predisposed to criminal activity because 80% of the jails in California are populated by black males under 25, this message is easily internalized by the youth who are incapable of seeing the flaws in this logic. Then, if this message is reified by a white populace that wants to scapegoat a segment of society, the message becomes ``I am a criminal, my uncle who is in jail confirms that this is my rite of passage and the white guys who wouldn't hire me obviously knew it.''

Michael replies (25th June, 1:07):
I agree with Debbie. In fact I would go even further and say that only the other inscribes us and marks us into human beings. But then we must differ, because Debbie understands the other as society and culture. This socio-cultural other is not otherly enough for me.

Lydie (23rd June, 10:44):
But gender-specific schemata are acquired through language. Studies (Cameron, 1992) consistently indicate that females use a more standardized language than do men. Girls are encouraged and rewarded for using ``elegant'' language, whereas boys are allowed more flexibility and roughness in language use: ``Rough talk is discouraged in little girls more strongly than in little boys, in whom parents may often find it more amusing than shocking'' (Lakoff, 1975, 6). When considered from a historical perspective, the difference in the use of vernacular styles across genders can be explained as follows: Keeping in mind that languages have evolved from vernacular forms, non-standard styles are the avant-garde of the next generation's standard language. As such, speaking non-standard forms is an expression of both freedom and creative power in which females are not allowed to participate. Cameron (1992) also points out that children's activities shape various styles of speech: ``Boys tend to play in large groups organized hierarchically; thus they learn direct, confrontational speech. Girls play in small groups of `best friends', where they learn to maximize intimacy and minimize conflict'' (Cameron 1992, 73). As a result, adult females are socialized to speak in order to maintain harmony and strong relationships, whereas adult males are socialized to use a competetive and assertive discursive style - hence their tendency to control topics of conversation (Cameron, 1992). I do not dispute that personality differences along with sexuality differences (heterosexuality and homosexuality) add a complex dimension to the whole issue of gender. Moreover, the socialization process affects both females and males. Specifically, males are often trained to fear sounding like a female.

[Lydie turns to her audience and shows them her paper about these studies. This audience sees ``Lydie's paper'' at

Erin reads and responds (28th June, 23:20):
Lydie correctly notes that human beings can be competent in both male and female paradigms, because all human beings (children) have the potential to develop such traits if they are given the freedom to do so. However, I'd like to add that although homo-or-hetero-or-bi orientations are apparently formed at a very early age (6-18 months - Freud), the acting out and manifestations of these orientations do not show up until around the ages of 6 or 7 (George Herbert Mead). This is almost exactly the same age as when a child develops a clear abstraction of the generalized other. Before then children identify with their parents. For example, if you give a five year old some money and say ``pick out a gift for your mother'' they will pick out something that they themselves would like. In so doing, they assume that the rest of the world holds the same values and preferences that they do. If you give a ten year old the same amount of money with the same instructions, they will actually put some thought into what the other person would like. It is tempting to speculate that the child's generalized other must be gendered, or at least contain gender-appropriate language.

Michael (28th June, 22:30):
We are talking about the self and the other, but this other is still all-too-human for my liking.

next up previous
Next: Poetic Break Up: ACT 1 Previous: Scene 1 (Opening Scene)

Fri Jul 25 22:00:35 MEST 1997