Friday, January 25, 2013

Hard wired Gender differences?

Aline commented on the previous entry that she believes the difference between men and woman are hard-wired. I have found some evidence for that with small children--at my daughters' preschool playground, it did seem that the most persistently and noticeably wild and energetic were more often boys than girls.

I also am perhaps imagining it, but I think baby boys seem more frustrated at their inability to move around, and cheer up quite a bit once they're able to crawl around.

My favorite story that relates to this was when I was pregnant with our second daughter. We were at a family gathering with my two sisters, who had each a boy and a girl. The grownups were lingering over tea and noticed that all the children had dispersed.

"Where are the kids?"

"The girls are upstairs, playing with dolls," came one reply.

"Then where are the boys?"

"Outside. They found a dead rat in the gutter. They're poking it with a stick."

My husband and I looked at each other smugly.  "We're having another girl," we said.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Baffled by Gender

At Arisia this weekend I went to two panels where the topic of Gender was discussed.

I admit I bailed on the first one:  I was feeling guilty because I wasn't at the reading for someone in my Writers' Group. When I found the panel was not very informative, I ducked out to go to the reading.

I went to the second panel in part because Cecilia Tan would be on it. I've read some of her work, and have attended her panels and readings at past sf conventions. I have a lot of respect for her.

Here is the panel description, provided as a quote in case the link disappears:
Beyond Binary: Exploring Gender Via SF/Fantasy — Literature, Panel — 1hr 15min — Paine (2)
When words can take you to the outer limits of space and far-flung fantastic lands, why should so many cultures share the same gender definitions (and oppressions) as we have in the present-day US? How has SF/F given us a different (and hopefully better) perspective on defining gender, and where is it falling short? What are some examples of literature that do a good job in exploring or addressing gender issues of our real world? What are some things we haven't seen yet but would like to?
Dash, Greer Gilman, Julia Rios (m), Cecilia Tan
I could think of two science fiction books that I read in the 1980's that would apply to this topic. The first was the genderless humanoids in Ursula K.LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness. The second was a set of stories by John Varley. One of the stories started with a boy meeting a woman on a train. Later he calls his mother and tells her he doesn't want to go through with previous plans. I remember the mother's response was something like, "After I stayed up all night convincing myself it would be nice to have my daughter back, you tell me that now you don't want to go back to being female?"

I was used to stories about people being able to change gender willy-nilly. That is not at all new. I do think that Varley's characters had the advantage of more advanced medicine to accomplish this than people do currently.

Back in the 1990's, a coworker of mine was in a weekly role-playing game. He told me about a character who had ended up inside a body of the opposite sex. He then had to explain that it was a bad thing, because I couldn't understand that.

There may be something lacking in my imagination, because when I imagine waking up one day as a man, I imagine myself thinking, "Oh, this is fun." Being a woman is fun too. I don't see much importance either way. Use what you've got.

On the other hand, Greer Gilman admired that response in Virginia Wolf's character Orlando, so maybe they don't disapprove of that attitude.

I raised my hand and asked the panel what they thought of The Left Hand of Darkness and of the John Varley stories. They forgot about the John Varley, which would have been a lot more apropos, and talked about the LeGuin. Greer Gilman gave a useful summary of the story and the mechanics of the gender/sexual functioning of the aliens, most of which I had forgotten. One audience member provided the information that LeGuin has revised her thinking on the issue and updated it in another work.

Years ago, I remember my father commenting on Virginia Wolf's writing, saying that he thought her characterizations of men were like a little girl's conception of men and not what men were really like. He said there wasn't any difference between men and women, and I believed him. Since then, people have told me that's not true.

After it was over, I still didn't understand what they were talking about.

My trouble with this panel and with the one previously is that there was a discussion of Gender without a definition of what they meant by "Gender".

I was reminded of Groucho Marx describing an early caveman's discovery: After a lot of observation, he noticed a difference between boys and girls:  The girls were wearing skirts and the boys were wearing pants. I heard no better definition than this at the panels, so it is all I have to go by.

If you reject defining Gender based on your physical form, or your function in sex or reproduction, and you reject the much weaker means of defining it based on roles you tend to take in society or areas of interest, or emotional vulnerability, then what are you talking about when you use the word?

If there really isn't anything fixed about gender then why do you care about it?

I don't care about it, so I have a hard time understanding people who do.

Why is it so important that you need to define yourself in terms of being a particular gender, or no gender or as being "non-binary gendered"?

The panelists spoke of a person they knew, with first name "An" or "Ohn". That's how it was pronounced. They didn't spell it. Anyway, "Ohn" rejected all pronouns and wanted to be referred to as simply as "Ohn". As in "Ohn is going to Ohn's house to get Ohn's cat to play with Ohn's friends..." etc.  They were very respectful of this.

I don't get it. I think that Ohn and those like Ohn are being a pain in the neck to all who have to refer to Ohn.  But I'm open to being convinced otherwise.

So please, un-Baffle me.