Gender Trouble

Light of truth

Fr Justine Kaiprampadan

Gender binary is a system of classification of sex, which is based on the individual’s reproductive framework and it signifies the socially constructed notions and expected behaviour that a culture has for a particular sex. It establishes two distinguishable and often opposite genders, male and female. This over powers all areas of the individual’s life, choices, interests and skills.

According to Simone De Beauvoir, sex is distinguishable from gender and suggests that gender is an identity which an individual gradually acquires. She states that, “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” Sex is a definitive and invariable fact of a body, whereas gender is a social construct and variable form of the body. Any distinction between paired opposites is not absolute, as each term of the pair can only be understood and de ned in terms of the other. The distinction of male and female, and masculinity and femininity, are perpetuated. The varied constructions of gender and the power relations which they necessitate intersect with the structures of sexuality, social class, race, ethnicity, age, nation, religion, and other differences.

Genesis points out this difference; of men and women is when God curses Adam and Eve, for eating the forbidden fruit. God tells the woman that she would bear great pain during childbirth and that her desire would be only for her husband and he also asserts that man will rule over the woman at all times. We also see instances in the scripture which ascribes certain fixed qualities of maleness and femaleness to the genders. It says, a woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, and anyone doing so is abomination to God. However, the scripture does not portray men or women as superior to each other. It says, ‘woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman, for as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.’ But the parity between men and women does not diminish the differences between them.

Young children, who are easily in fluenced by the language and images of pictorial books and cartoons, learn to define gender through stereotypes and associate certain behaviours, actions and attributes with gender which in turn reflects in their generalization of gender roles in the society. Gender development at an early age is of crucial importance to children, who determine the concept of gender identity and make a selection of their interests and skills. Pictorial books and cartoons are among the earliest tools available to children and it makes a collective influence on the child, for whom it is the only available text or medium to learn about the social, cultural, historical and ethical frameworks. Illustrations are more powerful and they register in the child’s mind even faster than texts, the emotions, feelings and facial expressions of the characters and make it easier for children who find the text incomprehensible.

However, many such books selected for children projects disparity in the representation of males and females. These gender stereotypes would make an impact on what children perceive about themselves and of others. Young children who have not yet developed their fixed identity become all the more vulnerable. Gender becomes a stereotype when it describes to the child how a girl or boy is ‘supposed’ to be. In comics and cartoons there emerges a general trend of showing men as the centre and all powerful, whereas women are silhouetted in the background and are given secondary roles.

Children in every culture learn to adopt certain roles and behaviours as part of the socialization process. Many of these behavioural roles are based on identification with a particular sex. In most cases, the features of competence, achievement, and strength are considered as highly desirable traits and they are often associated with masculinity. On the other hand, females are perceived to be nurturing, dependent, and submissive and they exhibit traits that are regarded as less desirable. But, in this week a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice of India struck it off Section 497 of IPC. They say that husband is not the master. It perpetuate subordinate status of women, denies dignity based on gender stereotypes. Society imposes impossible virtues on a woman, raises her to a pedestal, and confines her to spaces. The society objectives her and says she should be pure. But society has no qualms to commit rape, honour killings, sex-determination and infanticide. And in another judgment, the court upheld the right of women of all ages to worship in places of their choice. This verdict will pave the way for the famed temple of the Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala. In this context we need a new way of looking at the society’s attitude towards gender and the children’s socialization process.

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