The Gender Binary
What does it mean to be man/woman in the context of colonialism? Men were brave, warriors, the protectors, strong, tough, and certainly not vulnerable. Women therefore were the caretakers, empathetic, the nurturers, the weaker and more submissive sex, the less “visible” and less important. Women at one time could not even vote. Men cut their hair short, women wore long dresses. Men do not show emotion and absolutely cannot cry because that is considered to be a weakness. Media consistently and detrimentally reinforces that to be a man he needs to use force, which often, if not always, comes out as violence.
I really enjoyed the “Tough Guise” YouTube video with Jackson Katz because he challenges these normative narratives. He boldly declares all people will benefit from changing these normative narratives deeply ingrained in society; women and the men themselves because men inflict pain and suffering on women, other men and themselves. It is so important to disrupt this binary so that the pain and suffering from violence can end.
The gender binary myth can be undone with small acts one by one. For example, 5-year old Dyson has given us a beautiful example that boys can wear the same clothing as girls (and girls can wear the same clothing as boys). Dyson’s parents have shown courage and bravery in allowing Dyson to make his own choices and decisions about his clothing. Allowing Dyson his agency will increase his self esteem and his confidence in being able to choose. It is vital for the world to remember to be kind always. There is no harm in what color clothing we allow our children to wear: the harm comes from the judgments inflicted upon from greater society.
As an educator I need to remember that children are constantly growing, maturing and developing and I cannot hinder their development. I am there to support and encourage. “Boys will be boys” is an unacceptable slogan that does not allow boys to embrace their feminine characteristics. I need to be careful with the words and phrases I use and constantly challenge my normative narratives, otherwise I too will continue to contribute to the gender binary.
As we work to climb ourselves out of the gender binary we will free ourselves from the roles each gender is expected to perform. Boys can learn to cry and show vulnerability, which according the Brene Brown’s research, gives power. And girls can be considered both strong and empathetic rather than pathetic.
Writing the Self Analysis: Looking for Normative Narratives
- Normative Narratives
Reading many of my classmate’s blogs on classism I realized I assume so much in my life, which I often interpret to be true, referred to as normative narratives. I assume because someone drives up in a nice vehicle (or what I perceive to be a nice vehicle) they are rich, wealthy, judgmental, arrogant, etc. Brandon reinforced this normative narrative in his blog: “I watched a rich man and women, drive up to the grocery store with their brand-new vehicle.” It is the same idea: rich and wealthy people are terrible, egotistical and horrible people because (we, the less wealthy, think) they have money, or at least more than us. I laughed (and cried) along with Brandon’s comment “I watched as arrogant and egotistical individuals, flaunted their wealth during social gatherings; like their wealth meant very little.”
Jaclyn’s experience while she was driving to pick her son up from preschool reinforces this normative narrative of the rich and wealthy. She says “I can feel the stare of the mother driving her fancy sleek black Mercedes suv. I then look away and to the right and see the next mom in her massive shiny sliver BMW suv. I can feel their judgeing eyes staring at me in my small old foggy Honda Accord.” This normative narrative tells us that the rich and wealthy who drive nice, new, shiny, etc vehicles are better than the less wealthy. Jaclyn pointedly states “that somehow she is better then me because of her social status.”
I could relate to these stories by observing the house keeping staff on board the cruise ship I sailed on. The house keeping staff all came from developing countries and therefore were quite poor. The house keeping staff were placed at the bottom of the ship and were given the dirtiest and most difficult, tiresome, and tedious work and tasks. They worked long, hard days all to serve the rich. The normative narrative that the rich and wealthy are judgmental and arrogant becomes deeply ingrained in our society especially considering our society does not have equal opportunity for everyone to create wealth.
2. Disrupting normative narrative
Ali had a different approach in her blog stating she had “two parents who worked hard to create a wealthy lifestyle for their children.” The normative narrative pulled from her comment is that two parents just need to work hard in order to create wealth and allow their children to “play(ed) high-level sports and (were) able to be apart of other extra-curricular activities.” Robyn’s comment “finally, with careful planning we save up eight hundred dollars. It isn’t much, but it is all we have…” very quickly silences the normative narrative that simple hard work will create wealth. However, Ali can only believe her own normative narrative that hard work pays off because that is the example she has seen in her own life. She says: “they (her parents) were shown an example of this lifestyle from their parents and aspired to create the same for their children…”
The story of just working hard to create wealth silences the story of the house keeping staff who are working hard! The house keeping staff are arguably the hardest working crew on the ship with very long working days. They cannot work any harder nor can they obtain any more wealth. Carmen Rios in her article “Debunking the ‘Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps’ Myth” says it best: “If we lived in a land of equal opportunity, working toward our dreams would ultimately pay off for all of us.”
To see my own stories differently I need to acknowledge that I do not know the full back story behind the perceived wealthy person but I live life thinking I do! The brand-new vehicles referred to could have just been inherited from a dying relative……… It is normal for me to think of the “rich as arrogant and egotistical, flaunting their wealth” yet I have spent very little time with the rich so I do not really know if they are arrogant and egotistical. They may be huge philanthropists for all I know! Ali’s comment “social-status is not something I see when I look at others, it does not matter where you grew up, who raised you, how much you have…” is a gentle reminder that some of the wealthy may not actually be arrogant and egotistical individuals that all drive brand new vehicles. I chose to explore the normative narratives as I did because I hold narratives that are not always true nor correct but I think are normal; these may prevent me from developing meaningful relationships. By critically exploring stories of others and myself I can remove false beliefs within myself.
Self Story #4- The Spank
Reflecting back to a time I discovered I was a girl, or rather, different from my two younger brothers was the day my paternal grandmother spanked me but not the boys for what I perceived as the same activity. My parents were in the hospital having just given birth to their fourth child (a second girl now) while my dad’s parents, my grandparents who my brothers and I did not know well, were caring for the three of us kids at home. I was 3.5 years old. The boys were 2 years and 1 year old.
To say I was surprised, shocked, disgusted and dismayed at this spank was a huge understatement. My brothers and I were playing in the living room without pants nor a shirt on, only our underclothes. I can remember it so clearly even today. It was a warm spring morning although still too chilly to go outside to freely play. It was a huge pile of muck and mud out there anyway, winter melt was messy. We had a huge front window in which the warmth of the sun rays shone through, giving heat to our old home. My mom loved sunshine so she always opened the ceiling to floor curtains up wide, not caring for any neighborhood privacy. The carpet was old but cozy compared to the cement floor in the old, unfinished, dark, and odd smelling basement, so the living room was our play room of choice. Mom was usually not far from reach here so she easily kept an eye on us. My brothers and I were rolling around on the carpet, bored, but enjoying the suns warmth. I liked being included in their rough housing play and my parents never discouraged it.
This was not a new scene. My two younger brothers and I played together like this often. I think my mom appreciated having less laundry to tend to, especially considering she was sick and pregnant with baby number four!!! However, her mother in law most certainly did not view it this way. My lack of clothing and my form of entertainment was not suitable to that of a “young lady” and it earned me a big wallop on my behind. I think I am still scarred from this! It was so undeserved and unfair! The boys and I were instructed to go get dressed immediately but the boys were sent without a spanking! I learned that boys/”them” received better treatment from my paternal grandparents. I did not understand the differences between the boys and me but grandma sure did and I felt punished. My 3.5 year old self had no context to understand why, other than I was a “young lady”, whatever that meant. My brothers could not be “young ladies”? I would gladly let them be “young ladies” so as to share my punishment from our grandparents whom favored boys. Was I spanked because I was a “young lady” or because I was dressed the same as the boys? I did not know.
Self Story #3- The Cruise Ship
A huge realization of my socio-economic class happened while aboard our Eastern Caribbean cruise this past Christmas. My husband and our four children flew to Miami, Florida to board a week long cruise to the Caribbean. We struggled to save enough money to fly to the departure port (Miami) and then cruise. We fall into the working middle class.
What I was not expecting and completely surprised me was to witness the class distinctions on board the cruise ship. The more willing one is to pay, the higher (from the bottom of the ocean) the state room you are assigned. So the “poorer” folk (like my family) are given the windowless state rooms at the bottom of the ship, just above the staff state rooms. This means a longer and farther walk in order to access the on board ship amenities and activities. This could be upwards of a 15 minute walk each way because cruise ships are so massive in size (5,000 people on board). My children’s on board friends joked about our state rooms being in the “bad area” of the ship as their rooms were on upper decks, not as close to the bottom of the ocean where we could hear the creepy noises the ship made (which seemed more disturbing in the dark, late at night!).
Another thing that distinguished the poor from the rich on the cruise ship was the on board house keeping staff. All the house keepers I could see were brown-skinned people from very poor or developing countries (their name tags indicated their home country). I never saw one White Person in house keeping. The White people had the more desirable positions on upper decks in more visible areas where there was more interaction with the paying (even though cruise ships are all inclusive, there is much to purchase while on board) customers. I was very bothered by this because the house keeping staff worked long, hard 12 hour days on nine month contracts. Not many White persons will work those hours for that pay. I find this inequality disturbing, even though they are provided a job that pays more than their home country. As Canadians we will not accept such poor wages yet we still want the luxuries of such. I am not sure I know what the right answer is, I just found it an inequality and certainly an in balance among the rich and the poor where “poor” seemed to be assigned to brown-skinned people at the joy, pleasure and leisure of the White Person.
A third thing that stuck out to me was observing the workers in the cities of the ports where our cruise ship docked for a day. Again, all brown-skinned people “serving” the upper class of White Peoples. Yes, they do receive a pay cheque but it is most likely not any where close to the full amount of what the cruise ship passengers pay. Another example of inequality that benefits White People but do not want to admit.
Self Story #2- Pink
“Mom! She has black skin! Can I have pink skin? I like pink!” said my 4 year old white self to my mom as we were driving home from grocery shopping. We were stopped at a red light awaiting a black woman to cross the cross walk when I noticed her as I looked out the car window. I had never noticed anyone with different skin colour than me and my family before. I was starting to learn there were differences in people as I now had 2 younger brothers but different skin was brand new to me! I grew up in a generation (1970’s/80’s) where Canada had not as fully embraced its multiculturalism as it does now so seeing this black woman would have truly been new for me (and quite possibly for our community also). My parents were very embracing of others no matter their ethnicity- they just did not have anyone in their circle of influence whom was coloured.
I found this so exciting! We can have different skin colours! How wonderful! Being a typical 4 year old little girl, I loved pink! I especially loved the “red” dye in my mom’s homemade icing on my birthday cake the previous month because, like magic, the red dye was actually pink!!!! (much to my dismay as I aged I realized red dye usually comes out pink, it is not magic)
Looking back on this experience, I wonder what my poor mother must have thought and felt? How does she explain we cannot “dye” our skin pink, blue nor white, yet black women do indeed try to bleach themselves and their babies because lighter skin tones are viewed as more beautiful? I do not remember how my mother responded but I am sure I was greatly disappointed to learn I needed to stay whatever “colour” I had and I did not know what that colour was nor what it meant.
I love the innocence young children hold. It seems we develop negative ideas related to skin colour as we grow and develop. We could really take a lesson or two by observing young children and their interactions with their peers of colour (unless the child has had strong, negative influences from within their home, or elsewhere, relating to the issue). By the ripe old age of 4 I learned I could not be pink and for the next several decades I would come to realize that my colour “white” was viewed as privileged.
Writing the Self Story #1- From a milk jug & BLUE liquid, I knew I was Canadian
One moment I felt truly Canadian happened this past September 2018 while living in Regina, Saskatchewan. Our family was hosting a family from Nigeria, Africa (whom I shall call Nathan) for a few months while they settled which included for them buying a used vehicle. I do not like the cold stormy months of winter however we have made Saskatchewan, Canada our home and we were very proud and excited to share our home province with our new immigrant family, showing them the ropes of Canadian life. We were about to learn how hard it was to keep ahead of them though!
The weather was just turning from those long, sunny, hot, lovely summer days to the impending dreaded, long, dark, and chilly autumns that then turn into nasty, cold, snowy, and windy Saskatchewan winters. I could especially feel the change in the weather in the mornings because the air was crisp and beginning to become uncomfortable, although not freezing yet. I now needed to wear a sweater. The leaves were beginning to turn colour and find their way to the ground. This change in weather is important because we know once the mercury dips under that ZERO we care for things in Canada such as our vehicles, plants, yards, homes and so forth, in ways that I realized is unspoken knowledge, taken for granted.
Nathan came back inside the house the day after purchasing his new to him vehicle holding an empty 4 Litre milk jug announcing he had just taken care of the windshield wiper fluid in his new vehicle. Stunned, my husband and I looked at each other wondering what on earth he was talking about. As we prodded Nathan for more information (truly hoping he had not just poured 4 Litres of milk into his vehicle) he told us he did what is done back home in Nigeria: added a dollop of dish soap to 4 Litres of water, swished, swooshed and swirled it around and then poured this homemade soapy solution into his vehicle as the windshield wiper fluid. This is my moment realizing I am Canadian……… as Canadians we pour BLUE liquid, with anti-freeze, into our vehicles to care for our dirty windshields when we know the cold, cold winter is coming on. And we could feel winter coming on! Nathan’s car came with a bottle of this blue liquid but he didn’t know what it was, so he discarded it. I fully realize this blue liquid looks like poison, and if you drink it it most likely is. However, living through Canadian winters we all learn at a young age what that blue liquid is and what we use it for!
So after having a good laugh (Nathan possibly now a silent and very worried cry, and terribly embarrassed) we teach Nathan his first, of many, lesson of winter in Canada! Please do not pour any soapy water solutions into your vehicle as the weather is changing, preparing for winter. We could all feel the temperature negatively dropping but coming from Africa, Nathan had no idea how cold cold becomes and how hard it is on our vehicles. No more milk jugs for Nathan!