Day Twenty-one: April 13


We wil be watching this video in class today:

Tomboy from Barb Taylor on Vimeo.

Here are some questions to consider from kjfalcon's discussion of the movie:

  • What are some of the main messages from the cartoon?
  • Why is gender something that has to be policed?
  • In the cartoon how do you interpret the representation of the intersections of gender and race? If you don't see the explicit connection between gender and race/ethnicity does it matter that this Alex - the tomboy - is a Latina character?
  • What do you think of the representation of the mother character?
  • This is meant to be a tool for teachers learning how to teach - is this affective in this sense? What value do you see in encouraging dialogues around these issues to occur through this movie?
Is it possible to raise children in a gender-neutral environment? How do toy advertisements discourage this and encourage rigid gender divisions?

We are also watching some clips from free to and me.


I am going to try to keep this comment relatively brief, as I know we all have so much work to be getting done. I was, however, a little bummed that we didn't get to address "Transparent" by Susan Bernstein in class last week. I think it's a really important article to critique and engage with, so I wanted to bring some of my curiosities up here on the blog and see if we could have a bit of a discussion.
My main concern here is that we understand that Bernstein's perspective is quite problematic on a couple of levels. The article is not meant to be taken as an authoritative perspective on what it means to raise kids with gender-neutral values. Bernstein does nothing to address the consequences of her kid's gender non-conforming behavior, which can be severe and damaging. Throughout the article, Bernstein writes from a stance that suggests an almost utopic (not-a-word; adjective form of 'utopia') understanding of the world. As early as the third paragraph she says, "'s a commonplace to encourage children to try on all sorts of identities." Really? I think not.
She at one point explains to Nora (her daughter) that, "...once in a while boys grow up and decide to be women, and the other way too." This seems like an overly simplistic description of transgenderism, if not outright misinformation. Most transgender folks I know don't 'decide' to be transgender, or to transition to living as some other gender than they were assigned at birth, it's something they need to do in order to begin the process of being comfortable with their bodies--which I would argue is an undeniable human entitlement. While I understand that some of the complexities might be hard to put into language that young children can comprehend, it's important to not set them up with assumptions that could potentially lead to transphobia ("If they're simply deciding, why don't they just not do it?") Is this all we can say to kids to trouble sex/gender assignment? Can't we work outside gender binaries to ensure our children have a full range of ways of expressing their gender and, more importantly, their personhood?
Perhaps even more troubling is the way Bernstein deals with and addresses Nora's eventual move toward gender conformity. She praises Nora's androgyny as if it were the ultimate answer to gender troubling--some phase on the path to personhood at which we can all arrive and feel at ease. Bernstein also largely ignores the question of Nora's sexuality, which clearly deserves to be addressed.
Finally, the second to last sentence of the article, "Today's multiplication of options, though inevitably a challenge, definitely bespeaks a better chance for adult postgender happiness," almost critiques itself. Bernstein's uptopic vision is made so apparent in this sentence that I'm not even sure what else to say. Postgender!? Equivalent to color-blindness!? Eek.

Thanks, nosecage, for beginning this discussion. I agree that it is important to be critical of this essay and I think you do a great job of raising some key points of concern. As I was reading this essay, I also found myself writing all over the margins: what about the consequences of violating gender norms? In many ways, this story of Nora seems very utopic. The recent s**tstorm over a boy wearing pink nail polish demonstrates that "playing with gender norms" has serious consequences--consequences which are exacerbated by social media and the ability to spread violations so rapidly and effectively across the interwebz.

I also agree that sexuality needs to be a big part of this discussion. In many ways, Bernstein's essay and her promotion of postgender happiness seems to be an extension of the second wave gender-neutral parenting techniques and the "free to and me" attitude that was always haunted by heteronormativity and the threat of homosexuality (this gets hinted at when Bernstein discusses Nora's "baby dyke" haircut on page 4). How are negotiations of gender tied to negotiations of sexuality?

This essay is from the perspective of Nora's parent and not Nora. What might Nora's narrative about growing up and negotiating the gender binary look like? How might she talk about the experience of being mis-identified at the hotel or being accused of being in the wrong bathroom? We focused our discussion on family values from the perspective of feminist parents and their attempts to educate kids/youth. How can youth be engaged in the process of educating? Check out Put This on the Map and their video about reteaching gender and sexuality (created in the wake of the It Gets Better Campaign from last fall).

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