Sex and Gender in Society

We have spent the entire semester learning as much as possible about how our society treats sexuality on all different levels (I have over 500 pages to prove it). We have explored racial, gender, and sexual privilege, the social construction of STDs, hegemonic masculinity and femininity, beauty, sex, rape, language, and just about everything else you can think of. But now as this class is coming to an end, it’s time to apply our knowledge we have gathered to real world situations. Bellow are pictures taken from my day to day life. Even though we had the option, none of these were staged. Personally, I felt that would detract from the authenticity of this assignment. As you go through, each picture is a thumbnail of a much larger one. If you feel the need to see the original size, click on the picture.

When I was going through all the pictures I’ve taken this year I flipped past this one a few times before I realized the potential it had to launch my project. There are a couple things I noticed that fit right in with our reading. First of all, these girls are around 8 or 9 I would say so still very young, very impressionable, and still very much influenced by their parents. I would assume their outfits are based on what their parents think they should be dressed in. They are being taught gender by their family by how they are or are not supposed to dress (Martin 1998). I never really noticed how children dressed before but after reading about how much of an influence adults have on children’s ideas of gender, I have been noticing small indicators. In this picture for instance, the girls are all wearing some kind of spaghetti strap shirts. They all have long hair and also all have pacifiers hanging from around their neck (the boy that later come that was with them did not.) Also something I noticed is that two of them are wearing quite short shorts and the 3rd one is wearing jeans, but even those are rolled up to her knees. It seems like they are showing quite a bit of skin and are comfortable with it. It seems that sexualized fashions are starting to appear on younger and younger people (Wolf 1991).

The next thing I’ve noticed in this picture is their body posture. On the left, you have my partner Alex showing these three young girls a snake. Notice how he is sitting. His legs are spread out and his arms are off his body. Now compare that to the three girls next to him. They all have their legs relatively close together, their arms are right next to their bodies, and they are very much confined. This is a real life example of how females generally are more confined in their movements and males are more spread out (Young 2005). It’s surprising to me that these girls are very young and yet are already so much influenced by societies ideas of gender.

I chose this picture for a few of the same reasons I chose the previous one. In this picture, my mom, my dad, and my dog are relaxing next to a river after a hike. The most obvious thing in this picture is posture. My mother is sitting very much confined with her legs together and pulled close to her body while her arms are to her sides and holding her legs. My dad is sitting slouched over with his legs all sprawled out in front of him. When comparing the two pictures we have two groups of people, two totally different generations, and all of them are reacting subconsciously to the gender norm of posture and dress (Young 2005).

Here we have my lovely lesbian roommates all dressed up for a rave. At a glance, you can notice that the one on the left is the “fem” and the one on the right is the “butch” so to speak. Often when girls go out, particularly feminine girls, they dress in a very sexualized manner often not matching their personality because “a girl can become known as possessing a sexual personal simply because of the way she looks, not the way she behaves.” (Tanenbaum 1999) This is a perfect example of how sex and gender are not the same because a “woman can be seen as unfeminine, but that does not make them ‘unfemale.'” (West & Zimmerman 1987:157) Homosexuality is something that a lot of people view as “un-natural” since the majority of the population is “heterosexual” (Ingraham 2006). Most people are at least aware that homosexuals exist and that the opposite of a homosexual is a heterosexual but this separates sexuality into a binary. Peoples sexuality, gender, and sex are more than just black and white but rather are on a sliding scale landing somewhere in between. (Marshall 2010)

Here is a picture of your stereotypical drag queen at a popular gay club in Denver, Tracks. Now, even though genitalia wise, this is very much a man, gender wise, they are a female. If you ever have a conversation with a trans-gender or intersex individual, you very quickly learn how important pronouns are when you mistakenly refer to them as “he” or “she” when that is not how they identify. To try and clear things up, “‘Sex’ refers to the biological apparatus, the male and the female… ‘Gender’ refers to the meanings that are attached to those differences within a culture.” (Kimmel 2006) It’s a general thought that “penetrated men symbolize a masculinity devoid of power” (Pascoe 2005) but let me tell you what, they have obviously haven’t seen a 6’6″ bodybuilder in heals and a dress before. I’ve never seen a more physically and emotionally powerful person before in my life.

Here we have a general crowd shot of the most well known gay club in Denver, Tracks on a typical Thursday night. Every time I go it’s always a wonderful display of everything on the outer layer of the charmed circle (Rubin 1984). If people thought that the way in which “straight” men and women dress and act at a club was provocative, they obviously haven’t been to a gay club before. People “dress in whatever manner would facilitate in hooking up.” (Grazian 2008) You see people, both men and women, in short shorts, no shirts, short skirts, and heals. The sole purpose, to look hot and get some action. On top of that, all of the bartenders are very muscular wearing often times just brief underwear. It seems that anyone that works there where customers interact with them be it security, ticket booth operators, or bartenders, everyone is over sexualized and objectified. It seems, especially in the gay community, that the traditional date is dead. Everything is so focused on hooking up and looking hot to get a partner (James 2009). It really doesn’t surprise me that so many gay youth, including males, have self image problems. According to The Beauty Myth, self image problems and, in turn, eating disorders in males started in the gay subculture and spread out to the general population within the last few decades (Wolf 1991).

If you enlarge the picture you can see examples of several variations of gender and sex. If you look far right, you see a young man in a pink v-neck, towards the bottom you see another guy in sweats and no shirt. You can also see a couple women with tank-tops and a few others with more feminine tube tops. I wish I could have gotten a more clear picture but the club was so dark I was lucky to get this.

My final picture is that of a sign that a group of religious soap-box preachers had with them. In it, it lists specifically what is good and evil. This is basically supporting in full the inner layer of Rubins Charmed Circle. (Rubin 1984) I find this really frustrating because these religious views have a huge impact on what society views as a perfect male, that is “a young, married, white, urban, northern heterosexual, Protestant father of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight and height, and a recent record in sports” (Kimmel 2009:61) but hardly any of the population can fit into that criteria. Honestly, I feel that a lot of this homophobia within religion has been intensified and, to them, justified by the AIDs epidemic which created a moral panic throughout the world. I can only imagine them using that as support that homosexuality and promiscuity is a sin (Herdt 2009).

I find it interesting that when all major religions were born, there was no such thing as a “homosexual” but rather just homosexual acts, but even those didn’t have a term defined to them (Weeks 1989). I just don’t understand how they can say so outright that being a homosexual is evil and sinful when the term “homosexual” didn’t exist when their religion was created. I had a conversation with one of them and trying to talk to them about the subject was impossible. They were so dead set in what was right and wrong that noting I said, or the 30+ other people around, would make a difference. It’s this kind of blind morals that scare me.

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