Hon. English 313
December 16, 2009
Final Paper: Gender Identity and its Creation and Enforcement through Schooling
What is Gender? Is it determined by birth or is it a choice or simply just another social construction imposed by our society? All these questions pose just another question: How is gender created? The answer is through institutions of broad authority like the education system because parents can always choose they treat or identify their children where as the education system is streamlined and uniform. I will explain in depth the extent to which the education creates gender identity and to what extent is gender identity a combination of other innate factors and instituted through other institutions. I will use a variety of texts to support my thesis. These texts will include Rules of Attractions by Bret Easton Ellis and articles and essays by Chris Barker and Judith Barker. It will also include an internet article involving a recent case where a boy in
Throughout Rules of Attraction, there is a constant struggle between the identities that the main characters create when they are by themselves and those identities that are created and reinforced by their need to be accepted by their peers and teachers. One character in particular, Paul who happens to be Bisexual, is said to have a passion that “masks a shrewd pragmatism” on the back cover of this book. Thus from the very beginning, Paul has created separate identity, one that is real and one that is an artificial identity to gain acceptance among his peers but also to manipulate situations to get what he wants. His identity is essentially what gibbons from the barker book would call a postmodern identity that is composed of many fractured and often contradictory identities. With that said, because the book takes place at a small liberal arts college, characters like Paul necessarily have a certain amount of freedom with their gender identity considering that college students are considered adults and not children. However, identity is reinforced or imposed on the students by their peers in the form of acceptance or rejection. Paul is rejected in his own sexuality and his attraction to females as well as males when he decides not to have sex with Katrina, a girl he found at one of the Thirsty Thursday Parties. After Katrina “tells everyone I (Paul) couldn’t get it up, anyway.”(pg. 19-20), Paul turns his sexual energy towards and especially towards another main character, Sean.
Similarly, Lauren has her confidence strengthened by her poetry teacher, Vittorio. It is unclear if Lauren is indeed having sex with the teacher while in a relationship with Sean Bateman. However, it is clear, at least in my opinion, that this teacher makes her feel poetic and stereotypical fashion, ladylike. Her beauty or womanliness is definitely determined not by relationships with her friends like Judy, but her Romantic relationships with males: Victor, Sean and Vittorio. Interestingly, enough Vittorio only seems to be an active player in her problems with her identity when instead of offering rational and academic advice, he is more interested in getting her in between the sheets with him. Lauren’s identity is determined outside her home and is a postmodern fractured identity of multiple and often contradictory traits similar to Paul and his practical Bisexuality. ‘
It is quite obvious that while education in a small liberal arts college does create some type of gender identity, that identity will be more postmodern, fragmented and anti-essentialist that gender identities at a private elementary school. In this case, Paul and Lauren’s identities are projects of language and are used as practical ways of achieving their goals. When a child is much younger, their gender identity will mostly be an essentialist identity where they think of their identity as just they are and have always been.
In a recent event pulled from the news headlines a 4 year old boy was suspended from a pre-elementary school in
Similarly, school can also have an opposite effect reinforcing and encouraging kids to challenge notions of gender identity. According to a recent Nytimes.com article aptly titled “Can a boy where a skirt” There is something called a Mix ‘n’ match day at Ramapo High School in Spring Valley, N.Y. where students instead of “wearing polka dots with stripes, about 50 kids as cross dressers” in association with the school’s GSA. Again this is High School and not an elementary school where dress code rules are much less strict at some schools and to add teenagers’ tendency to not like rules. However, some high schools aren’t so lax even when dealing with something as inconsequential as a High School Senior Portrait
In the same a Nytimes.com article, there is a report about a girl at a
It is quite obvious that the education system has a large effect on children’s gender identity and changing or conforming to certain mores. Similarly, transgender students have some problems adapting to strict dress codes that must “keep within their gender” Some kids are lucky though. One transgender student at a
Much of Gender is what Judith Butler would call an “imitation for which their origin.” But society in any case treats gender as if there is innate original orientation and that transgenderism and that homosexuality is just a failed imitation of heterosexuality. Yet it is clear that our generation is changing that and that
Gender insubordination through the education system is also not uniquely western. It is clear through analysis of the
Within the sex scenes it also scene that the characters bodies are discursive and subject to institutional forces that either sexualize or desexualize the female body while emphasizing strength and muscularity in male bodies. Education does this very well in terms of Physical Education and other classes. Similarly, throughout
Body image is discursive and is a product of society just as the body itself is an image created through society. Through dress code at schools male and female gender identities are sought, imitated and re-created. As with the case of the girl who were a tux for her senior prom and the pre-school that suspended a boy for a floppy hair cut, there seems to both a want and a need for schools to determine a binary gender identity system of strictly feminine for girls and masculine for boys no matter how silly it is. In the nytimes.com article, dress code in many ways sexualizes young children’s bodies by making them the target of what is deemed to be acceptable expression and that which is “distracting”.
All these factors contribute to what Barker calls “politics of identity”. These include feminism and queer theory all of which seek to change traditional social norms in terms of how people think about gender and how people make their choices when it comes to social situations.
Michel Foucault in his historical critique of gender and of the problems posed by the idea of agency, he focuses more on identity through what he calls “techniques of the self.” In this sense he gives hope to people with issues in choosing their identities because it opens up the possibility and change and resistance to discursive gender identities imposed on children through societal institutions like schools. The knowledge of identity he argues leads to power and allows subjects “to focus attention on themselves, recognize and acknowledge themselves as subjects of identity. Thus identity has practical implications on how people live their everyday life but agency and structure also enable and limit choices to be made by school children. I’ve noticed throughout the year; the phrase “ignorance” is bliss and although Foucault argues that “knowledge=powers” that knowledge can create great confusion and distress for children how try to experiment with their gender identity.
Judith Butler makes an interesting argument about how identity is created in one of her essays “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” In her view the self or the identity only becomes that self through some sort of loss. Identity is forthright created by others who have been loved and loss and the gender identity is a desire and a refusal of loss. This can explain some of my unhappiness and other gender-queer kids issues of identity when desire, loss and identification are all part of a three-sided coin. Thus identity in itself is a mimesis of others in the Freudian sense of the word that I want to be like “mommy” or “daddy”. In essence gender can be an illusory physic need for identification that sets up an approximate estimate of an illusory ideal of “man” and “women” but always ends up failing which creates a gendered identity on the surface but at it’s core is tied to the loss of a very earlier other at an earlier age in a child’s development. Seemingly that explains the sexualization of gender identity in that is quite possible that gender is actually expressed through sexual orientation of an imitation of what
School does not want the sexualization of children but by deemphasizing any differences and imposing a uniform dress code, personal expression is necessarily limited but also confuses many children who seek to naturally express their sex through their orientation first and then their gender but by having it reversed are left to beg the question of what they really identify as in response to the loss or refusal of loss of innocence but also of earlier lovers or loved ones. Thus the binary system that is created through gender creates a fragmented self-identity that cannot figure out where they should be since in fact it is an ideal and not innate reality like common sense says that gender and sex are innate traits rather than what Butler would call “psychic excess.” Thus in reality the effects of a performance create the gender instead of the gender creating the performance.
All this can be explained by two references to the
In conclusion, gender identity is created through the loss of an other and a want to identify with that other and it is reinforced through school by limiting self-expression and challenges to authority which then in performance and craving for attention acceptance always fails in its attempt to create an “original” and is in fact a psychic mimesis of an imitation of no origin, otherwise known as a copy of another copy that failed to meet the ideal “compulsory heterosexual” identity or essential “male or female” identity.
For this problem I suggest that schools if they have a dress code have means of enforcement that do not abandon the student and their need for the expression of an identity which does not infringe on their mental health because of imposed binary gender systems that are social constructs and innate or natural to humans but are in fact a means to create a functional society of laborers.
- Ellis, Brent Easton. The Rules of Attractions.
- Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies.
Chapter 9: Issues of Subjectivity and Identity.
. Dir. Lou We. N/A. N/A, 2005. Summer Palace
- Butler, Judith. Chapter 7: Imitation and Gender Insubordination. N/A. N/A.
- Carlton, Jeff. “Parents, Schools Tangle Over Boy’s Long Locks.”
Sphere 15 Dec. 2009. 16 Dec. 2009. http://www.sphere.com
- Hoffman, Jan. “Can a boy where a skirt to school?”
New York Times 6 Nov. 2009. 18 Dec. 2009. http://www.nytimes.com