One thing I never got completely used with or maybe accept is the cultivated image of woman in nowadays societies. Regardless of the different set of characteristics each culture has and which shapes/dictates behaviour of society’s individuals (seen as women), there are major stereotypes promoted of what woman is or should learn to be.
I was recently asked to write a critical essay upon necessity of anthropologists to uncover truth when working with cultural material and I couldn’t see any difference between that type of work of a professional and how a human being born by feminine sex (biologically attributed) has to master to reveal their own personality and uncover their unique truth during lifetime in any society that being was born and raised in whether 30 years back or happening now, in 2017, society in which stimulated and encouraged stereotypes and labels towards feminine as gender are reality. It is said that : Things are the way they are by virtue of the fact that men are men and women are women – a division perceived to be natural and rooted in biology, producing in turn profound psychological, behavioral, and social consequences. (Candace West and Don H. Zimmerman, Gender and Society, 1987),
I made it a personal piece of writing (although it shouldn’t be contaminated with my own personal views) as it perfectly shapes my inner most intimate feelings at this current time. Accuracy will be judged by readers and so will be factual information. My background is Romanian (Eastern European- ex communist block) but I have lived abroad and have come in contact with various cultures, my curiosity and openness to communication has brought me, along time, in multicultural environments. Exchanging ideas and information is common nowadays; we are facilitated towards expansion more than what history shows us it was available at large scale in the past. That doesn’t mean ideas or information differs on a profound level when it comes to how social relations are developed or that the images/identities or roles of the people involved in relations have different values or characteristics according to each foreign background. I have come to witness a linear set of characteristics of the woman, promoted features that have reached a global level, I call it a layer of woman definition and, moreover, a layer of what a woman is expected to play as gender role in society and in social relations. What is gender?
Doing gender means creating differences between girls and boys and women and men, differences that are not natural, essential, or biological. Once the differences have been constructed, they are used to reinforce the “essentialness” of gender. In a delightful account of the “arrangement between the sexes,” (Goffman 1977) observes the creation of a variety of institutionalized frameworks through which our “natural, normal sexedness” can be enacted. (Candace West and Don H. Zimmerman, 1987)
There still are societies that stick to their traditions fiercely yet taking a closer look, either as a comparison between Universalist civilizations and local/primitive culture or assessed as, can’t we find similar traits of woman stereotypical patterns of development perhaps used in a different way but generating the same outcome?
How does a human being become a woman?
What is the contextual situation in which one can become a woman?
Between my experience as a child and observing my friends’ children of feminine sex now, I hardly see differences in how a child is educated into becoming a girl towards maturing into a woman, even though there is a 25+ years difference, a changed political system, a huge increase in multicultural exchange, different educational system and a seemingly shift in mentality. I have traveled to the west and touched more of the countries in the civilized world where I found more or less the same aspects of how a human being is suggested or educated (some might say indoctrinated) into becoming a woman.
Categories help us master the information we come in contact with, structure it and deposit it until it will become necessary, we develop stereotypes from early ages, psychology discovered that in the second part of the first year of life a child starts using the recognition function of the mind, correlation and repartition of exterior data (Wright K. Vision and Separation: Between mother and baby, 1991, London/ Anna Freud Center studies). A child learns what is accepted/tolerated/encouraged or disapproved from their caregivers and what those caregivers assume it is a right thing to do. Societies have assumed a parental role at national or transnational level (EU) and have created simplified options along with suggestions of necessary cultural material one would need to support their apparently harmonious development, starting from infancy to senectitude.
The free choice – Is it free within a previously established cultural ground?
We witness how children of feminine sex (I have chosen women as topic) are encouraged towards colors, stories, cartoons, toys, fashion, sports, music, expected behavior, education, life choices, goals, ideals, summing all up
– a way of expression who that human being is, directed towards specific “woman” identities available in a society and regarded as models. Accepted and promoted as the models to fit in society.
How politically correct is that?
Part of an individual’s behavior is inherited as genetic predisposition to connect (that is aimed towards survival) and part is learned (aimed towards expansion), to be developed through the cultural background (including social relations, education, traditions) and enrich life experience and personality. Of course there are biological differences between all of the members of a society but these differences are gathered in categories that establish patterns of development. As mentioned in Gender and society.
As a child grows and learns gender differences (children learn to recognize differences based on appearance/clothing items/voice; Don H. Zimmerman : Moreover, the received doctrine of gender socialization theories conveyed the strong message that while gender may be “achieved,” by about age five it was certainly fixed, unvarying, and static-much like sex.), will find out that the feminine role is expected to be sensitive (the intensity of emotions is rarely understood), act/react in certain ways (as others are capable of understanding), be willing to cooperate in certain situations (even though it means complete denial of inner feelings), be willing to accept compromise (sometimes in their disadvantage), hide feelings when more mature persons are around and accept to be frequently identified with the image of parents or caregivers (this is a generalization yet it is so frequently used as I find it alarming). Culture teaches (through parents, educators, media materials, literature, music, art) what is good/encouraged and expected from a human being, and what isn’t good/seen as bad, shameful at times (frequently used in religious ideologies), disrespectful maybe, unappropriated and discouraged from a human being’s behaviour, one identified as woman. Gender, is the activity of managing situated conduct in light of normative conceptions of attitudes and activities appropriate for one’s sex category.
It may seem pessimistic but to simplify this I see a woman’s role, once born simple, is to learn how to become complex, to become sophisticated, as a cultural product, in a directed and structured way, a way that is considered acceptable in the society she was born in and according to that society’s needs.
I have to add as a parenthesis and short reminder that education was available at large scale for women starting 19th century and furthermore, equal rights were recognized even more recently. We’re still experiencing baby steps when it comes to women recognition and accepted contribution to world development, my question is why? Why nowadays women are still less paid than men, regardless of the working field?
Human society is rated as being much more complex to be treated as a scientific field where one can make an analysis but how is it possible for similar traits to be publicly present at global level when it comes to women category?
A woman that has reached maturity is expected to:
- Fit in one of the stereotypes frequently used in nowadays society: housewife (caregiver), career oriented (perceived as cold hearted/sacrificing family or relationships), trophy wife (seen in many consumerism campaigns and celebrities trend), the opponent (“the other” as in the woman who disturbs relationships), the actress, the designer, the adventurist (who is perceived as unreliable), the daughter (idealizing parents), the professional (less paid that men co-workers and probably more active reported to equal abilities and capacities, still uncommon within working field), political activist/politician (rarely encouraged or accepted – see latest USA elections) etc.
- Adapt, obey/follow and respect requests as a well behaved woman should.
- Be intuitive about others’ needs (as you’re a woman therefore you have to possess maternal intrinsic features) and whenever necessary cancel your own emotions, views or you’ll be labeled as selfish, egotistic or bitch.
- If one manages to succeed and doesn’t display personal views or express emotions most chances will be labeled as zombie.
- A woman will be stimulated during infancy through family or caregivers, then through education and within working field to become competitive, to develop strength, be fierce, cancel sensitivity, to hide emotions or deny feelings, will be encouraged to assimilate a masculine approach to life then will end being accused of not being feminine, or good enough to suit in social relations or roles needed by society.
When one decides, as a woman, to uncover the truth about what woman means, how connection should be established between members of society, in a way that would satisfy the inner feelings and transmit an accurate message, they will meet refusal, ignorance, a wall of disapproval coming even from the closest persons.
A woman is expected to communicate in a manly manner, transform during life to adapt into a role requested by a man’s society, wearing a skirt but act as if wearing trousers, shape the message in a way a man can understand it and not to be made herself understood as a woman but to present herself as the woman a man expects her to be.
What about motherhood? Is it really accepted? I feel motherhood to be encouraged when a man decides it is suitable for a man. There are many examples present worldwide of single mothers, too many. Regarding this, some people might come and add “Okay but my lover/wife got pregnant even though I didn’t want to or felt ready for establishing a family and it was her decision”, and how was that possible? It takes two to procreate. What was your input? Did you act as if you wouldn’t want that to happen? Isn’t this an example of denied motherhood?
A scientist or intellectual has to explain their theory in order for people to comprehend it and evaluate the reality, realism and efficiency of that theory then approve it as being an available theory to be applied/used. Is it the same when it comes to woman? Women came to be recognized as important researchers at the end of 19th century. Before that, women weren’t allowed even to publish their writing pieces under their name for a period of time. I see a perfect example Mary Wollstonecraft (27 April 1759 – 10 September 1797) which was an advocate of women’s rights, among being a novelist, essayist, philosopher, long before the Suffragette and Emmeline Pankhurst. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason, and this was the 18th century and very little mentioned. A little reminder of the importance of women here http://www.localhistories.org/18thcenturywomen.html.
People seem to declare their support and approval of a woman’s views, or to seemingly respect them, all the while keeping one hand at their back, giving way to mistrust. The most brilliant idea is perceived as bizarre and nuisance when it comes from a woman, why most of the discoveries are attributed to men? Women weren’t accepted positions in Universities until the middle 20th century, although most educators are women.
Are women still perceived as “a possible danger”, as in the dark ages, one which must be kept under tight surveillance, oriented towards certain results society needs to be receiving from women, therefore make a woman a perfect product, consequently not allowing a human being to learn and establish by themselves what a woman is, how that being feels a woman should be?
Sexuality in a woman’s life is frequently presented as an object of consume, not a communication process or a way of expression. We see the image of woman commercialized as a sexual accessory and not a human being with an intimate capacity and natural expression of communication.
Authenticity has become scarcity, the more authentic the way of expression the more marginalized it tends to be. Trends set global layers of behaviour, perfect consuming patterns that are aimed to consume lives in uniformity and not to encourage development of unicity, the necessity of finding the truth of each of individual’s characteristics, what is it that they have innate as unique feature?
Furthermore, for a woman, finding out what a woman is, what she profoundly means, it is a journey throughout the whole world, a journey set with an inward course that will take her to her inner truth, and a declaration during this experience of the necessity of a new interpretation and construction of her own image as the previous cultural strategy with its promoted models is clearly outdated.
Social change, then, must be pursued both at the institutional and cultural level of sex category and at the interactional level of gender.
Excerpt: Doing Gender, Candace West; Don H. Zimmerman
Such a conclusion is hardly novel. Nevertheless, we suggest that it is important to recognize that the analytical distinction between institutional and interactional spheres does not pose an either/or choice when it comes to the question of effecting social change.
Reconceptualizing gender not as a simple property of individuals but as an integral dynamic of social orders implies a new perspective on the entire network of gender relations: The social subordination of women, and the cultural practices which help sustain it; the politics of sexual object-choice, and particularly the oppression of homosexual people; the sexual division of labor, the formation of character and motive, so far as they are organized as femininity and masculinity; the role of the body in social relations, especially the politics of childbirth; and the nature of strategies of sexual liberation movements. (Connell 1985, p. 261)
Gender is a powerful ideological device, which produces, reproduces, and legitimates the choices and limits that are predicated on sex category. An understanding of how gender is produced in social situations will afford clarification of the interactional scaffolding of social structure and the social control processes that sustain it.