Gender Issues in a Brave New World

<p>On another thread Mini wrote: Last year, the Smith Student Association changed the student constitution to be "gender neutral". (???) Students who have XX chromosomes but who identify as male can attend an all-women's college; however, students with Y chromosomes who identify as women cannot. </p>

<p>I find this to be a fascinating topic and wonder how women's colleges and colleges in general are dealing with the blurred definition of gender. In gay feminist circles it's also a hot button issue: the guideline is that a man-born-a-woman is classified as a woman, but a woman-born-a-man is still a man and therefore not welcome at some lesbian events. And it becomes exponentially more complex if the person has undergone a sex change operation. </p>

<p>This confusion must be giving the admissions committees and residence hall administrators extreme stress. Attending a women's college and sharing a room with a "guy trapped in a woman's body" would be quite an alarming situation. I'm curious to know how the schools are coping.</p>

<p>And then there was the young (wo)man I met some years ago. Went through high school as a he, decided in college that he was a she, applied to grad school as a she but decided upon arriving at grad school that she was a he; but by the time s/he was ready to get his/her degree , he had reverted back to being a she. It made everybody who had any dealing with this (wo)man quite dizzy. The only thing that kept people sane was that s/he apparently had a gender-neutral name.</p>

<p>Momrath, I am not sure how easy it would be to find, but the NYT (I think) had an article last year about this, with Brown and the various issues posed by the gender identification issues...</p>

<p>Actually the issue has raised its head at non-women's colleges more emphatically (of late).. Gay men (at Pomona, I think) raised the issue of how they found it uncomfortable to share bathrooms with other men, and wanted to know why they couldn't be paired as roommates with straight women. It is slightly easier at the all-women's colleges, as homophobia has already been confronted rather forthrightly (hasn't disappeared, of course, but is rather outfront.) It is also easier because, almost by definition, women's colleges have been dealing with the "social construction of gender" for a long time. Alistair Cooke, in his convocation address at Smith in 1954 (!), spoke about how the destiny of the new Smithies was being determined "at that very moment" by freckle-faced boys unpacking their luggage at Williams, Amherst, and Yale, and that this was something they had to be thinking about NOW. </p>

<p>Jil Ker Conway basically crossed that bridge at Smith in 1975 - the issues have always continued to cause angst, but they have an academic context as well as a social one. Lots of the other LACs are still getting their feet wet because, while they have a individual meanings for those involved, the social construction of gender as a central issue has yet to hit the center of academic concern. </p>

<p>(My personal opinion, given the way women live their lives in the work world and world of the home, and the way gay folks have to function inside an economic system designed for straight ones, is that it should be at center, or pretty close to it, along with the social construction of race. Put women, gay folks, and people of color together, and they are the large majority of the population.)</p>

<p>Interesting world!</p>

<p>I agree that the more "out there" schools like Smith, Brown or Wesleyan are going to be closer to solving the problems of gender bending because they acknowlege them. The real challenge is going to be when a state university has to make policy on students with non-traditional gender identification. Can you imagine the lawsuits? It will be interesting reading. Very operatic.</p>

<p>I recall reading an article (may have been an apocryphal tale) about a gay lad at Swarthmore who wanted a straight female roommate so they could "talk about guys!"</p>

<p>Wouldn't it just be a lot simpler if gender were determined by "hardware" and sexual preference were none of anybody's business?</p>

<p>I guess I'm just old-fashioned like that....</p>

<p>It strikes me that after 4 more years of our current administration (in the US that is) that these issues might be more closeted. There might be pockets or islands of discourse, but on the whole, marginalization will be the rule. It was eye opening to me this summer to hear discussions of these issues on some college campuses (in blue states of course). A real contrast with what I heard at 0400 EDT as the pundits on CNN were talking about the gay marriage issue and other "moral litmus tests." Are the issues generational? Will universities lead the way, or will they be held hostage on these issues as on so many others to the limits imposed with federal funding. </p>

<p>I am in a book group and dying to suggest we read "Middlesex" but wonder if it would cause discomfort to some (though the issues were specifically endocrinological). Sometimes, Interesteddad, even the "hardware" is confusing!</p>

<p>perhaps this is a reason why my daughter insisted on attending a coed college, interesting points.
Reed has coed bathrooms and I haven't noticed any problem with that. I feel this issues are one of privacy and common courtesy which are present whether the students are single sexed or the spectrum that is present whether it be out or in the closet.
As far as assigning roommates I believe most of her friends have had single rooms/apartments with exception of freshman year, where virtually all had single sex assignments, which did not take into account sexual orientation.
This issues I think are much more difficult to deal with in a larger situation, but I firmly believe in co-ed dorms although I also believe that for those who opt in, single sex floors should be available.
Intrestingly, while Reed does have "womens" floors, no one has apparently asked for a "mens" floor.</p>

<p>ID--it would be simpler. But for many people, it's really not a question of sexual preference, it is how they see who they are. I work with a transgendered formerly male woman; she lives with another gay woman. Both before and after gender changing, she was, apparently, oriented towards women, but also believed that her gender was that of a woman.</p>

<p>And they appear to be a very happy couple.</p>

<p>But the point is (and why I quoted Alistair Cooke) is that "gender bending" is not just about sexual preference. The Smith women of 1954 were not being defined by their sexual preference, but by their social definition as future spouses and housewives. Many rich ones to be sure - wives of future ambasssadors, CEOs, etc. The "gender bending" then had to do with the possibility of their imagining themselves taking "male" roles in the society. That hasn't changed today as much as people think - given that women can indeed take on "male" roles, but the assumptions about their roles in childbearing and home life haven't changed to accommodate it. In the larger sense, one should start with the recognition that gender is not determined by hardware, and never has been.</p>

<p>Housing issues are the easy part. </p>

<p>(Momrath - like the "operatic part". You see there is this opera called "Marriage of Figaro". The opera begins with Figaro - the Count's servant -- having received permission to marry Susannah, the Countess's chambermaid. The thing is - Figaro got HIM the job. In order to be together, Susannah has been in drag the entire time, and is a gay male. After years of pressure, the townspeople are celebrating because the Count has just allowed gay marriages for the first time. But he doesn't know about Susannah.</p>

<p>Now, the plot thickens. See, the Count's father wanted a son to pass on the family name and inheritance - women can't inherit. His wife died in childbirth, as did the son, but the Count had had a relationship with a courtesan named Marcellina, which bore him a child at the same time. But the child was a girl. Rather than go without an heir, the Count was raised as a boy.</p>

<p>A marriage was arranged with the Countess. Marriage of convenience. The "hardware" of the Count was only revealed after the wedding, leaving the Countess disconsolate. But she wouldn't reveal it, as she received all her social prestige from the marriage. However, the Countess quickly saw through the Susannah ruse, was sexually attracted to her chambermaid, and they've had a long steamy affair.</p>

<p>What is yet to be revealed is that the Count is attracted to Figaro - and it could work, except for their differing socio-economic stations in life.</p>

<p>Stay tuned for the denouement....</p>

<p>"A real contrast with what I heard at 0400 EDT as the pundits on CNN were talking about the gay marriage issue and other "moral litmus tests." Are the issues generational?"</p>

<p>You need also to be aware about what much of the fundamentalists leadership has to say about "women's place in the world". Needless to say, they haven't sold the whole package to their flocks, but they have been working on it. Single women shouldn't be allowed to keep their children. You remember Gingrich? Well, he didn't come up with idea himself. Christian women shouldn't be working once they have children. College opportunities for women should be limited, starting with an end to Title IX protections. The gay-related issues, for much of the fundamentalist leadership, do not exist in a vacuum. They understand that gender - ALL GENDER - is socially constructed.</p>

<p>Average family income in the U.S. has declined since the early 1970s. Much of this decline can be attributed to the massive increase in single-parent (read: mother) households. The lack of accommodations in the workplace, the lack of clear professional tracks for mothers, the lack of childcare, the lack of health insurance, all taken together, have put working women, as a class, on the margins - just as gay people exist on the margins, and transgendered folks even more so.</p>

<p>Unfortunately, to my way of thinking, almost none of this has become central to the academic and social discourse of most co-ed colleges (and most certainly not the "best" ones). My alma mater, from what I can tell, treats female students like male ones, only more likely to be interested in studio art and less likely to play football. That's fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't reflect the reality of glass ceilings and women's lives, or what their own students may face as graduates.</p>

<p>"Average family income in the U.S. has declined since the early 1970s. Much of this decline can be attributed to the massive increase in single-parent (read: mother) households. The lack of accommodations in the workplace, the lack of clear professional tracks for mothers, the lack of childcare, the lack of health insurance, all taken together, have put working women, as a class, on the margins - just as gay people exist on the margins, and transgendered folks even more so."</p>

<p>Outsourcing, even professional level jobs have combined with the above to put a lot of two adult families on margins, not just households headed by single parents.
Unions have lost a lot of ground, but investors are doing well.</p>

<p>Statistically, that isn't true, but that is because assumptions around consumption (number of cars per family considered necessary, computers, increase in size of houses and housing expectation, etc.) have all increased. Many white middle-class families today would be appalled by the idea that they should live in a house with the same number of square feet that their middle-class parents did.</p>

<p>But, yes, outsourcing is serious business. I doubt there is a course on the impact of outsourcing on American families and, especially, on women, taught at my alma mater. But, come to think of it, there are very few students from middle-class families (statistically speaking) at my alma mater. 60% have family incomes in the top 5% of the population; 9.6% in the bottom 35%; 8% are internationals; leaving roughly 22% in the middle class broadly speaking (only half of whom would be women).</p>

<p>I know "you" hate ancedotal data, but we live in a house smaller/older than our parents, have same number of cars( but they are older) we do have computers, but we go on vacation less, work longer hours, buy our clothes at value village, whereas my mother shopped at Nordstrom ( and still does)</p>

<p>We also have to pay money for tutoring , and my youngest attends a school that physically is in really bad shape, being kept alive by the thousands of $$ that the parents have to raise each year to provide what the district does not.
Even though my husband belongs to a union and works for a big company, because of cutbacks and reduced contract benefits, he makes less now after allowing for cost of living than he did when he was 25 and starting out in this field.</p>

<p>I don't argue that the suburbs are filled with huge homes that no one has time to enjoy, but there is a huge population that has never seen that affluence and it doesn't appear to be getting any better for the next generation</p>

<p>No, it is not likely to be getting better (economically speaking). And for women (and gay folks and transgendered folks) it might get much worse.</p>

<p>Doubt you'll see fewer middle-class folks at my alma mater, though. "Need-blind" admissions have already pretty much eliminated them already.</p>

<p>Didn't mean to sidetrack this forum totally from the question of "blurred genders"; but I do think these issues become clearer when viewed across the social continuum.</p>