Monday, April 13, 2009

Gender emphasis

Today in my feminist theory class we were discussing the concept of gender emphasis as resistance; women (or men) emphasizing their femininity (or masculinity) because they know doing so will make it easier to get what they want, even if they normally question those norms. So the professor spoke about deliberately getting dressed up, doing her hair, and putting on makeup and heels when she went to meet with the trustees of her school to ask for more money for the women's studies program- because she knew that by temporarily buying into those gender norms she could get what she wanted- more money for the womens studies program, which would ultimately empower women. While if she dressed in her normal manner (much more tomboy-ish), she wouldn't get what she wanted.

I think that concept nicely sums up my feelings about marriage.


  1. An interesting question for her would have been what she felt about herself when she got all decked out. Did she hate it? Or was there something inside her that actually was happy to look feminine.

  2. Actually, I don't think this is limited to gender emphasis. In reality, this is the type of tactic that many people use to get something from someone else. It is much more likely that someone will grant you something if they view you as being more like them. Whether it is manner of dress, speech, or anything else that helps them to feel that they can identify with you. In general, those who don't learn this tactic can spend much time being frustrated about why "they never seem to get what they want".

  3. Ah, a gender studies professor tarting herself out to get what she wants!

    The irony is delicious.

  4. she didn't "tart herself out" she put on heels and a skirt. Jebus.

  5. But for her, it was "tarting." She didn't come being herself, she had to be someone else. A "someone else" that her class supposedly strives against, no? So it seems all the gender talk is good in the class setting, but when it comes to a real world situation, it all becomes worthless.

  6. all the gender talk aye? So you're reducing the entire feminist movement to high heels and pants vs. skirts?

  7. no no, thats not what I meant at all. Just focus on this one instance. Clearly she is against the perceived gender norms, is this correct? So why when she has to go out in the real world, she does not practice what she preaches? She gets money, to empower women, as you say, so they can go out, and basically do the same thing that she just did.

  8. A another question for her is why she feels that putting on heels and skirt and just being a regular "lady" is someone disempowering women?

  9. Plenty of men get "dressed up" for important meetings. Where I work, you can always tell when someone has a big meeting by the way s/he is dressed. I don't think it is "buying into gender norms," it's just showing you respect the importance of what you are doing.

  10. How does this sum up your feelings about marriage?

  11. chaimsmom- but she gets dressed up for work every day too- she just gets dressed up in pants and flats and more gender-neutral type clothing, while when talking to these trustees she specifically wears gender-specific clothing

  12. TikunOlam-

    Because I think that in an ideal world, people who are cohabiting should be treated the same (Socially and legally) as married fact my entire dissertation is about how married people and cohabiting people are almost exactly the same in terms of most of their patterns of behaviors (work, housework, economic and health situations), and how a year of cohabitation is equivalent to a year of marriage (in terms of divorce probabilities...)

    If not for all the legal benefits that come with marriage, I would be perfectly content cohabiting forever, since I know that we are committed to staying with each other. I also don't like the idea of getting married when a lot of gay people can't, although now that gay marriage is legal in 4 states and out of staters can get married in those states, it's a little less troubling to me.

    Marriage is also generally associated with a bunch of traditional gender roles that we will not be fulfilling. I don't kinda feels a bit like selling out and joining the establishment.

    But I am doing it anyway, because in order to get what I want (for example, health insurance for B, social benefits of marriage), I need to get married.

  13. AE - Nowhere in your article does it say she gets "dressed up" everyday. All it says is that her usual dress is "tomboyish." A woman can dress professionally without putting on a skirt and heels. I've never seen my (female)department chair in anything but a business suit and flats. But for the tie, her clothes are indistinguishable from her male collegues.

  14. AE,

    "But I am doing it anyway, because in order to get what I want (for example, health insurance for B, social benefits of marriage), I need to get married."

    That can be accomplished by a visit to the court. Obviously you're putting more into the proceedings and preparations for the ceremony than would befit mere legal convenience.

  15. I can't argue with any of what you said. I always say that the reason that my husband and I got married when I was 22 and he was 23 is because at that point in time, the only way our parents could survive us moving in together, was if we got married. So since we were already committed to a life together, we figured, why put it off.

    I do think though, that it is hard to ignore that the break-up rate for people who cohabitate but don't get married in the eyes of the law, even after many many yrs, is higher than for those who get legally married, or married in the eyes of their religion. There is something psychologically different, at least still in 2009, about making a public statement about the forever thing. Of course, nothing makes the union more committed than sharing children. Someone once (correctly) noted that a couple with no children who break up can eventually move on with their lives and maybe even lose track of each other. Once you have kids, you are never truly completely "divorced" or broken up, as you always share the children making you forever interconnected.

  16. I thought cohabiting and marriage was the same thing? don't you automatically become married by common law if you cohabit for seven years or so?

    anyway eden, don't buy into the every married woman is a prostitute philosophy from 100 years ago. a good marriage is good for both partners. nothing unfeminist about that.

  17. >There is something psychologically different, at least still in 2009, about making a public statement about the forever thing.

    I agree. I think its something in males (from a male perspective) that has less commitment when one is just living together rather than marriage. I think males have a yearning for independence and less incentive to work things out and compromise when its not something set in stone as marriage

  18. Life is like that.

    When I go to the furnaces, I dress in protective gear. When I go to the lab, I dress in white coat. When I deal with my usual daily engineering jobs, I usually wear T-shirts and jeans. And when I deal with the upper echelon management, I dress business-style and put make-up on.

    The question is of two things. The first is practicality and second is credibility. You simply are not credible if you dress in laboratory as a tart and in business meeting like a slut.

    If that professor had been male, what would his credibility been if he had had unkempt hair, dirty jeans, rock band T-shirt and sneakers instead of suit, tie and neat haircut?

    For me, the choice is to be treated like a lady or like a professional. In the first I wear nice dress, make-up, jewelry and heels or pumps. In the second I wear jeans, T-shirts, docksides and no makeup. Trust me, the difference is something you can cut with scissors. Which do you choose, to be treated like a lady or an engineer?

    In the first choice the men are incredibly polite you and treat you like a fragnant flower and something special, but they do not care about your opinions or professional merits. In the second choice your substance is taken seriously, but you are treated as one of the boys.

    Which one do you choose?

  19. Another thing:

    Nowhere in the human life is the concflict between style and substance more apparent and more striking than in engineering.

    The engineers are usually very talented, canny, practical and able people. They emphasize substance. Their first and foremost question is: Does it work? For them, the substance is the question, and they could care less about style, about being nicely dressed, what your outer shell is or what do you look like. Most engineers really don't care either what your race or gender is - all what matters is what you master.

    The management - those usually called "suits" - are a different breed. They seldom are as intelligent, able or clever as engineers, but they are able to lead and to make money - to deal with people. They do not bother themselves with scientific or engineering issues. They do not need to master derivatives, matrices, differential equations or Laplace transforms - or other nerdy stuff. For them, the primary question is: Does it sell? Does it produce cash flow? What is the place in pecking order and politicking? For them, the substance is nothing and style is everything.

    Style can be noticed immediately and style makes us the first impression. Style affects to emotions. To notice substance takes special knowledge, experience and thinking. Style affects to common sense.

    And when choosing between style and substance, almost all non-engineer people choose the style. Because they are more inclined to be dictated by their emotions than their common sense.

    If the professor had not "tarted herself out", the only milieu where she would have been taken seriously, would have been amongst engineers and those people who deal with "hard" sciences. But never amongst the academia - especially within the management!


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