n. the pervasive and systemic belief in male/masculine and female/feminine as the only true, natural and correct gender identities and expressions

gender normativity n. the privileged state lived - whether momentarily or perpetually - by those whose genders perceptibly 'fit' with locally-derived and understood expressions of masculinity (for men) and femininity (for women)

gender non-normativity n. the oppressed state lived - whether momentarily or perpetually - by those whose genders do not perceptibly fit, as above

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Education that always already links genderism with racism and classism

In my formulation (see the definitions below the header), gender-normativity involves the qualifiers 'locally' and 'momentarily or perpetually'. I think that it's important to be clear on what I mean by including these qualifiers, and this is excerpt from my upcoming AERA conference paper spells out the main reason why I include them: doing anti-genderism in coalition with other anti-oppression projects.


I use the terms genderism, gender-normativity and gender non-normativity to denote a project that differs from the approach I have discussed. I define genderism as the pervasive and systemic belief in male/masculine and female/feminine as the only natural and acceptable gender identities and expressions. Gender-normativity is the privileged state lived, whether momentarily or perpetually, by those whose genders perceptibly 'fit' with locally-derived norms of (usually but not always) masculinity for those assigned male and femininity for those assigned female. On the other hand, gender non-normativity is the oppressed state lived, whether momentarily or perpetually, by those whose genders do not fit locally-derived norms for their assigned sex. In these definitions, the spatial qualifier ‘locally’ and the temporal qualifiers ‘momentarily or perpetually’ align with two reasons why I have found it necessary to generate or reclaim (see Airton, 2009a; 2009b) this terminology.

First, the spatial qualifier ‘locally’ names gender as inextricable from race and class. As a white gender non-normative queer, it is all-too-easy for me to elide my whiteness and, in the history of my family, my consequent middle-classness by highlighting the social traumas of my youth and the harassment that I face in clothing stores or on the bus. Because I have my parents’ whiteness, I will perpetually have access to the liberal space of higher education where my gender non-normativity will always flourish. Similarly, in asking students to name a new source of oppression in their lives (genderism), I am responsible for ensuring that white students do not elide their white privilege in the process. I do anti-racism and anti-genderism at the same time by keeping ‘gender’ local.

In my framing of it, ‘gender is generous’. The meaning of ‘generous’ is two-fold. First, if your gender accords with the norms of your community, you are given certain rights and freedoms there. Second, if you are of the dominant culture (white, middle-class, heterosexual, Anglophone, male/masculine or female/feminine and Christian) your rights and freedoms follow you everywhere. This is because your culture controls how power relations are structured through discourse and representation. Everyone has a local context wherein they are gender-normative and we have all had to learn how to do that gender-normativity. The gender-normativity privileged by the dominant culture, however, is only available to a few by virtue of their race, class, sexuality, etc. and the degree to which these are legible.

I will now move on to the temporal qualifiers ‘momentarily or perpetually’. These invoke the critical importance of examining one’s own experiences of gender-normative privilege or gender non-normative oppression, however fleeting these may be. In my experience, education on gender beyond the binary often begins with definitions of Other identities such as transsexual, transgender or intersex. This is intended to provoke students into realizing that gender is more than man or woman. In reality, however, most people who occupy these Othered spaces firmly identify as men or women. Homophobia and transphobia are consequently identified as the oppressions that police the boundaries between these Others and Ourselves. Even if we broaden homophobia and heterosexism to include their terrible effects upon heterosexuals who are momentarily or perpetually read as queer, their associations with queerness still preclude heterosexual students from naming themselves as subjected to them. And while transphobia denotes a gender-based oppression, it is only invoked if the recipient is transgender or transsexual, whether or not they live or identify as trans and are so perceived by their oppressors (c.f. Lamble, 2008).

Anyone can do gender wrong and suffer the consequences, but these rarely named as flowing from a gender-based oppression to which everyone is susceptible (see Airton, 2009b). By contrast, within an anti-genderist framework everyone is at one time or another gender non-normative and subject to genderist oppression or coercion for this failure to conform. I required new concepts that separated gender and sexuality with which to prompt largely gender-normative and heterosexual pre-service teachers to look critically at their own genders and name the processes that brought them to that – usually – male or female place. This is necessary for students to recognize the contingent nature of all genders, particularly their own. In direct opposition to the dominant mode of gender in teacher education that sees the individual as expert on everyone else’s gender while simultaneously denying that gender is individual, an anti-genderist pedagogy foregrounds the individual. My doctoral research will explore whether students of anti-genderist pedagogies understand themselves as contingent instead of model gendered subjects and, as anti-genderist teachers, whether they try to combat genderist hegemony in their classrooms.

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