In her work What It Means to Be Gendered Me, Betsy Lucal, a professor of sociology, examines the problem of a person who does not visibly represent their gender and has to survive in the system with strict gender frames. The author illustrates her analysis of this issue with her own experience.
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The work is based on the premise that gender is a social construction. Lucal claims that this social construction leads to the so-called gender-bending – a specific form of behavior when people do their best to correspond with the standards of their gender. If a person cannot comply with one standard, they try to make up for it by following others. For instance, a female athlete (athletics is not feminine) has long hair to look like a woman even if it disturbs her during exercises (Lucal 318). Visibly following the standards, we demonstrate our gender and recognize the gender of others.
If a person refuses to follow standards or does not have any gender, it does not mean that they will be out of this system. People will scan their appearance and attribute them to one of the two genders depending on their observations. Those not willing to comply with gender standards carry a stigma and may face violence; for instance, a male-looking woman can be labeled a lesbian and face homophobic violence (Lucal 325-326). Lucal illustrates her thoughts with her own experience. Being often mistaken for a man, she gets not only annoying misattribution but also problems with air tickets and credit cards, trouble visiting restrooms and fitting rooms, and the threat of violence (Lucal 320-321).
The argument developed by the author can be placed in a broader sociocultural perspective. Lucal connects the topic of her work with the topic of the patterns and features of human communication. As she explains, gender labels help individuals to socialize. The labels help people understand how to treat a person, with whom they interact. For instance, a woman has to find out whether her companion is a woman or a man to know if she should relax or be wary (Lucal 317-318). Since all individuals are interconnected (we all have to buy food, pay taxes, and socialize), one cannot choose not to participate in this labeling. If one fails to carry a label, one will be ostracized and stigmatized for being a threat to society since other people would not know what to expect from such a person. As Lucal states, the main problem is that these labels are based on the heteropatriarchal understanding of gender, which makes the standards uncomfortable or impossible for some persons to comply with (Lucal 327-328).
Lucal’s work, of course, contained many things, with which I am already familiar. However, it was really surprising for me to learn about so many difficulties that people who do not look like a person of their gender face every day. I found out that nail polish, apart from being a decoration for nails, can also be a protective weapon for a person who has to prove that they have a right to buy a plane ticket with an ID that has a female name on it.
In conclusion, Betsy Lupul has demonstrated how the strict requirements of the two-gender system make the lives of some people more complicated. To my opinion, it is necessary to talk more about such situations to demonstrate that the border between the male and female genders is more imaginary than real.
Lucal, Betsey. “What It Means to Be Gendered Me: Life on the Boundaries of a Dichotomous Gender System.” Mapping the Social Landscape: Readings in Sociology. Ed. Susan L. Ferguson. New York City, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 315-330. Print.
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