Guest Blogger: Stephen Raulli

The Gender Gap

Last Spring, Constance McMillen was barred from bringing her girlfriend to prom. The story leaked, and rightful outrage ensued. Now, in the same state of Mississippi comes another story of discrimination. Ceara Sturgis decided to wear a tuxedo in her senior portrait. The school responded by excluding her from the yearbook entirely. Two very interesting cases; the latter is an issue of basic human rights, while the latter covers the much more broad rhetorical term we call gender.

First, let me say this about yearbooks: they’re pointless. If you want to remember those times, then stay in touch with the people who meant most. 20 years down the road, you won’t care about the room you took Spanish in. And as for the submission of senior portraits–ridiculous. My high school would allow nothing besides a professional portrait. So, we overpaid for mediocre pictures. Then, there are the quotes, where seniors are asked to submit a favorite quote to be printed under their portrait. I remember my friend submitted “Murder Lunch,” and it was printed. When I asked him why that phrase, he said, “It’s just stupid. I like to make fun of the people who think they’re so deep, but use the same quote as 20 other people.”

But, back to Ceara’s case. To me, the issue of her wearing a tuxedo goes beyond sexuality and fashion choices. By wearing a tuxedo, Ceara dares to defy the norm, where girls wear pink and boys wear blue. Remember, sex is biological in terms of male/female, but gender refers to the way we act; the debate is whether it is assigned or learned. The moment a baby boy is born, we place a blue hat on him. From birth, we assign babies a gender. If they can break free of it, then good for them. Although breaking the mold isn’t easy.

I was in a Toys ‘R’ Us a few weeks ago helping a friend grab a gift for her little cousin. When I asked what the cousin liked, my friend said, “She’s a girlie girl. Anything pink.” As I wandered around the toy store, I was dumbfounded by how rigid the gender roles are for children. Even in toys, boys are being taught how to be manly and girls are raised to be “girlie girls.”

Let’s look at those toy kitchens everyone had. Of course, they’re much more modern now; some have dishwashers, and stoves that are built into the wall. More interesting is the box. Rarely will you see a boy playing in the kitchen. No, it’s usually a young girl, smiling innocently as she cooks or wash dishes. If you do happen to see a boy, take note of his position: he is usually being served the food, or on a pretend cell phone. Because the boy is supposed to grow up and work, while the girl waits at home for him.

Look at the term “girlie girl.” We as a society come up with new words and phrases to keep the definition of our roles. If a girl plays sports, she’s slapped with the label “tomboy.” Unfortunately it seems the roles for boys are more strict. I won’t forget the day a father yelled at me and my co-counselors at day camp because his son made a bead necklace in crafts. According to the father, he didn’t want his son to grow up queer.

I applaud Ceara for refusing to go home and put on a dress for her photo. It’s blatant discrimination on the school’s part. It is not a school or government’s place to assign gender. We as human beings possess that right to carve out our own identity. We as human beings should be allowed to be who we are. The key word there is “should,” because unfortunately discrimination and hate is a daily thing. But, why don’t we walk towards growth one step at a time: let Ceara wear the tuxedo. Let your son buy a barbie doll or the race cars. Let your daughter choose if she wants to be a stay-at-home mother or kick ass on the soccer field. Hell, maybe your kid can do both! We all should have a choice. It’s a freedom. And until we are able to make our choices freely, can we really call our country the land of the free?


11 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Stephen Raulli

  1. Grace B says:

    Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. High School yearbooks are for THE STUDENTS, not for faculty, not for boards of trustees and not for parents. They are foremost for students to remember their friends (and enemies) on paper so that they can take a trip down memory lane later in life. If this Ceara wore “boys” clothes everyday then why would her peers want to remember her in a dress? How could they?
    I went to a performing arts highschool in New York City, and in our yearbook a girl in a tuxedo was pretty tamed. Although the majority of headshots were traditional, we had headshots with kids holding chicken thighs instead of scrolls, we had a gay male student posing coquetishly with a penciled on unibrow, we had a girl smiling in her traditional black dress with a lizard on her shoulder. We had girls in tuxes and guys in fur stoles. My school was a creative, artistic, and non judgmental space where people were not only free to be, but encouraged to be exactly who they were. Looking back now I realize just how lucky I was to grow up in this environment.
    As I look back on my yearbook from time to time I’m glad that I can see my friend Matthew (the pinup with the fake unibrow) portrayed in a way that is accurate to his character and personality.
    I cannot believe that Ceara’s school would leave her out of the yearbook simply because she wore a tuxedo jacket. It is so outrageous that it makes me want to stomp on over to Mississippi and give her school a piece of my mind, yet its so sad that it just makes me want to cry. People are just so ignorant. The only arguments I can fathom in opposition to Ceara’s case is that the school administration simply wanted uniformity in their yearbook, or that Ceara’s school is a blatantly rigid and pitifully homophobic community.
    In any event, this ordeal is simply not ok, and this comes from a self professed girlie girl. There is nothing wrong with the fact that Ceara chooses to present herself in a more “masculine” fashion then most girls, just like I don’t see that there’s anything wrong with the fact that I like to do my makeup, go shopping and have an obsession with cleaning. Those are not my preferences and habits because I think its how society wants me to be, but because its who I am.
    America is founded upon the ideals of freedom and justice for all. If this is how we are treating such principles in 2010, we are certainly doing a great job of mucking up the founding values of this country.

  2. Grace B says:

    *spellcheck, I meant to say NOT “because I think its how society wants me to be, but because its who I am.”

  3. Evan Gove says:

    I went to Catholic school…there were absolutely no same-sex couples at prom, nor was there any cross dressing in our senior portraits. Everything was about being true to tradition, and tradition says at the prom, the boys wear suits and girls wear dresses.

    Is tradition wrong sometimes? Of course. Basic human rights should trump tradition 100% of the time. We live in a world that is very different from the way it once was. During the infancy of humanity, we relied on innate characteristics to insure survival. Sexual desire is certainly one of these traits. If sex didn’t feel good, we wouldn’t want to do it. If there’s no sex, then there’s no species. Our brains are wired so that sex is pleasurable. If having sex was an awful experience then we wouldn’t want to do it. But we do want to do it; even those who have nightmarish first experiences with sex keep coming back for more. It’s simply biology.

    We assign babies a gender because that’s what we needed to survive. We needed a boy and a girl to get together and have sex. If the two are attracted to each other then it’s that much easier to make it happen. Today, we no longer need these instinctual survival traits because we are the biggest and baddest species around. It’s difficult for people to break traditional gender roles because they have been ingrained in us for thousands of years. Now that we moved out of the caves and into luxury apartments on the upper west side, our instincts are kind of pointless. The human population has grown so tremendously that continuation of the species is a moot point. Our rules for gender identification no longer have a subconscious motive, so the rules are starting to change. We are in a difficult transition period from one generation to the next and unfortunately we will probably continue to see issues like the ones faced by the two young women from Mississippi for quite some time.

  4. Marcela Melara says:

    First off, I totally agree with Steven… people get too caught up with the image of “girlie-girl” versus “tomboy”, and many girls/women have a real hard time trying to fit in because of these roles. Something that REALLY bothers me about these two terms is that the average person (I’m using this term without any kind of derogatory connotation), I feel, would say that being a girlie-girl is good and a tomboy is rather “bad”, or simply not the norm. All I have to say is: Be who you want to be.

    I remember being given Barbies for a couple Christmases when I was a little girl, and I used to have fun playing with them, and changing their clothes and what-not. Now that I think of it, I guess I was “forced” into this norm of girls having to play with dolls and such, but I have also been an athlete and VERY into science since I can remember. As I grew older, I grew out of this whole “being girlie” ideal, and really began to see that not being a “girlie-girl” was not the norm. And that’s how I began to go against the flow, as many like to say…

    I could keep on talking about my personal experiences, but I think it would be more conducive to thought and/or conversation to simply post a list of questions I have come to ask myself throughout the years, all related to what many people perceive to be right or wrong for a woman to do or be…

    First of all, Why do I have to like Pink?

    Who says, I have to like (and be good at) gymnastics and dancing?

    Is it wrong if I can tell a Toyota apart from a Lexus?

    Am I allowed to practice Martial Arts for fun, and not simply for self-defense (well, it is a good reason, but not the only one…)?

    Is it really so surprising that a girl might not like Britney Spears but Rock/Heavy Metal? (This question is directed to so many of the boys I went to high school with…)

    Are Computer Scientists really only fat white men? (no offense!)

    Why do I have to say that I’m going against the flow?

    I just want to say, that I seriously am not opposed to people liking gymnastics, pop music or the color pink – everybody has the right to do what they want. I really don’t intend to offend anybody.
    My point is to say that people have these gender images so embedded in their minds, even when it comes to the more subtle things in our every-day life. I believe, we should all try to think outside of the box, once in a while.

  5. Nick says:

    I think that there are several quality points about gender in this post. I would like to first agree in saying that year books are pointless and it is ridiculous that this young girl cannot wear what she wants for her photo. As was mentioned, it is a simple matter of having the freedom to express yourself however you want. Gender is definitely an area that breaking norms tends to create controversy and unnecessary discussion. Would it really hurt anybody if this girl was pictured in the yearbook in a tuxedo? Though I have to admit, usually when I see something this out of the ordinary, I am a bit taken aback. It is not that I am against it; I just am surprised by it. I think that probably has to do with another one of the points about being born in pink or blue. How we are raised is a major influence on what kind of “gender” role we come to understand. And I guess that idea is true for most the beliefs we hold in life. But no matter how we are raised there is always a point when decisions and choices become our own, so if you want to wear a tuxedo for your photo, then do it, no matter what sex you may be.

  6. Kathryn says:

    I’d like to add to the toy-store experience Stephen mentions. These rigid gender roles are easy to overlook because they seem normal to the majority of the population. I remember when I was younger, I had a bunch of barbies and a Ken doll. My two brothers would often play with me with the dolls, and my mom was well aware that her sons played with barbie (not sure if my dad knew, though). One day I recall how we decided to tie all the dolls to the blades of the overhead fan, and as they were flying around, ken’s string broke and he smashed into the wall, his legs permanently separated from his torso. Now all three of us thought this was hilarious, and we deemed Ken “Stub and Legs” and continued to play with him. When my dad came home that day, he saw the situation, laughed to himself, and immediately clapped my older brother on the back, saying that it wasn’t nice for him to break his younger sister’s toys, even if it was just a stupid, girlie doll. I bring up this memory because it reflects the deeply-ingrained gender roles in our society that we don’t even realize we are perpetuating. Why did my father assume that my brother had broken Ken in an anti-doll rage? And why did he automatically think that I was deeply upset about it? It’s interesting to use this example because I’m sure my dad didn’t think twice about his reaction. And for all those wondering–Stub and Legs is still alive and well in our basement.

  7. Allison May says:

    Everything in this post, especially the bit about gendered toys, really got me thinking. I know I’ve written about this in a paper before, although I’m struggling to remember which class it was for and when I wrote it, but one of my favorite topics is gendered halloween costumes for kids (and adults too I suppose!).
    Think about it. I can just picture myself in a halloween store overhearing a mother speaking with her six-year-0ld daughter, “Oh, honey…put down that soldier costume. Wouldn’t you want to wear this pretty tutu and be a ballerina? Or how about a princess? Look! It even comes with a pink crown!”

    Thinking back to when I was little, I am remembering what my friends and I were for halloween every year. From my kindergarten class, I can distinctly remember dozens of Cinderellas and Snow Whites, ballerinas and babies, cowgirls and….brides. That last one is the worst, but I swear it’s true. Everything a little girl dreams of being for halloween…a bride in a white gown. WHAT!!?! And costumes for boys? Let’s see…firemen, doctors, football players, rockstars, monsters…basically anything badass. Yeah, there were the occasional kids who broke the mold…but not often. How many little boys have you seen dressed as princesses for halloween? And how many little girls have you seen dressed as werewolves with fake blood on their hands? I haven’t been at an elementary school for halloween for a loooooong time, but I can’t imagine that things have changed that much.

    Let kids dress up however the hell they want, even if it is for just one night (for a start!). Forget about “girl costumes” and “boy costumes”…can’t we just call them “costumes”?! Speaking of which, I am excited to see the costumes on campus this halloween- should be an interesting weekend! And I know that (most) people at HWS will be whatever they want to be and forget about complicated gender norms, if only for one night (sadly).

  8. JoJo says:

    I’m going to piggy back off of Marcela’s comment because her inquirieshave reminded of questions that I used to ask myself growing up and even to this day about my gender…

    As per social norm, when I was brought back to my house from the hospital, my room looked like Disney threw up all over it and the color pink wasn’t exactly used in moderation. As I grew older, my dresses got bigger, and the amount of accessories added to my outfits had more sparkles and even more colors.

    Then, I suddenly grew to an age where I developed an interest in a hobby–karate. Now I know what you’re thinking, “well here is her tomboy binary that everyone is talking about.” Well, I’m going to throw you a curve ball and say that my parents’ intentions for karate were in no way shape or form an expression for me to “play a boy.” Its purpose was solely to “be able to defend myself as a GIRL against a BOY.” I remained in karate until my later years of elementary school and never thought of myself as a “tomboy” or “one of the guys.”

    Years later, I did not realize everything I owned, used, or played with had a distinct function to my “girl-like” upbringing. Even my karate classes were not meant to allow me to experiment or enjoy a hobby primarily dominated by boys. Instead, I was given the tools to develop and fully function as a girl–in my parents’ eyes.

    Looking back on these memories, I truly question what type of gender role I might have naturally followed if I had not been guided so much by social norms throughout my childhood. When I sit back and think about those few, courageous parents that attempt to bring their children up gender neutral, I applaud them. Working outside of the institution within the institution is quite the task and I hope to live and see a change…

  9. Kylie B. says:

    Yearbook photos, what else is there to say? This makes me try to recall my own high school yearbooks and how people dressed for the photographs. My school was nothing like Grace B’s school. The boys wore sports attire, polo shirts or oxfords and the girls wore earrings, necklaces and most occasionally a low cut top. No one really attempted to defy the “norms” of gender roles, except for the occasional girl that would wear a sweatshirt for picture day (her picture would always be laughed at once the yearbooks were published).

    I like the way Stephen mentions the fact that gender roles are, for the most part, determined at birth. The colors of blue and pink. If a baby is dressed in a neutral color such as yellow, we often find ourselves wondering if it is a boy or girl. So in attempt to answer his question concerning if gender roles are assigned or learned, I would say the following:
    As Michele pointed out in class, blue and pink colors given in the hospital began in the 50’s. This to me covers the “assigned” role of gender and then as soon as those babies are taken home and begin to grow there is a separation (the learning). Boys are taught not to cry and girls are taught its okay. Boys should be tough, macho and play with trucks while girls should dress pretty, play with barbies, and always act proper. Society teaches us right from the moment we are born how we should act, what we should look like etc.

    It seems as though times are finally starting to change. Seeming as gender was introduced into society, maybe sometime it will no longer exist. It takes those like Ceara Sturgis to break society norms to break down this barrier. A more famous example of this would be Betsy Lucal. We read about her in Sociology 100 and how she defied gender norms by cutting her hair and dressing like a man. When she attempted to use the “Women’s Restroom” she received odd looks and comments that “she” needed to leave.

    It seems to me that the question I take away from this post is this: If gender was learned can it be un-learned? And if it can be un-learned, will it someday not exist? I have a feeling that I will not be alive to know the answer to the latter, but only time will tell.

  10. Courtney Waugh says:

    Gender is instilled in us at such a young age that we not only attempt to follow gender roles for children, but also we attempt to begin to follow our future roles as adults. We learn where our place will be in society as young children. The kitchen set reminded me of my earlier years. In my group of friends, we played house from the start. The girls, in my group, were the mothers and took care of the ‘babies’. We stayed ‘home’ all day while the boys, our husbands, came at the beginning of recess and then left. They often went off to play sports while we pretended to keep the house clean and took care of the children. We assumed the boys were working to support the family. Some of the ‘men’ had jobs. There was a postal-man, a police officer, a businessperson and a football player. Men occupied all of these jobs. We, the girls, had baby dolls and miniature kitchen sets, like the one above. Sometimes we had arts and crafts or pretended to be the Spice Girls however I never remember being “allowed” by the group to participate in “non-girly” activities. Being a “tomboy” would outcast us from the group and that was the last thing you wanted in Elementary School.

  11. Ashley Yang says:

    …omg does that kitchen have a washing machine? MINE DIDN’T HAVE A WASHING MACHINE!

    So not the point of this post, I know. But that’s a wicked awesome example of a toy kitchen that I think anyone, boy or girl, should be chomping at the bit to play with. Because you know a kid of any gender will want to EAT the cupcakes…why are they so opposed to BAKING (or pretend-baking) them??

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