Revisiting Pop

Definitelygendered wrote earlier on the subject of Pop, the Swedish child whose gender identity is not being revealed until the child chooses for itself.

So much of the concern over Pop had to do with “hiding” the child’s gender, and setting the child up for problems later in life.  Something I hadn’t realized is that this concern is incredibly ethnocentric.  I took it for granted that Pop’s parents were doing something fairly unheard of.  I made the same assumption that I think most of the readers may have, which is that by not gendering Pop at birth or very shortly after, Pop’s parents were doing something highly “unnatural” (although, in my opinion, awesome.)

It turns out, this is not the case!  Not all cultures assign gender at birth or shortly after, and not all cultures see a direct correlation between biological sex and a person’s gender.

The Lakota, for example, don’t use pronouns like “he” or “she” or otherwise gender a child until 4 or 5 years of age, at which point the child will have shown the gender that it is.  In cultures that include a third gender, gender is not necessarily related to biological sex, and cannot necessarily be assigned until the child is old enough to demonstrate their own gender.

The thing that I find most interesting about this is that I knew that cultures existed that included an idea of a third gender.  I knew about the Berdache (although I didn’t know that was a term created by the people studying the First Nations, and is offensive.  Winyanktehca is their own term and the more appropriate one.  If you’re interested, here is some more information) and the Sworn Virgins and the Hijra, and others!  And yet, this knowledge didn’t sink in far enough, obviously.  I still looked at the Pop story from a very narrow, ethnocentric perspective, without applying my knowledge of third genders and alternative gender systems.  It makes sense that in a non-binary system, gender would not be necessarily linked to biological sex.  It makes sense that assigning gender would be a more lengthy and individual process, because gender is linked more to personality than to body parts.  It makes perfect sense!  And I had all the necessary pieces of knowledge to put that together, but I didn’t make the connection.  That inability or unwillingness to make the available connection is a kind of blindness that comes with privilege.  By assuming that the system I use is somehow the more “natural” system, I am putting myself in a position of privilege.  By choosing not to make the available connections, I am ignoring knowledge that would question the “natural” or “right” nature of my little part of the world.  That’s problematic!

I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege and perspective lately, and it amazes me how often we are blind to our own privilege.

At the moment, I’m working on a paper for my Anthropology of Sex and Gender class, on the topic of masculinity.  One of the assigned readings was a David D. Gilmore article, “My Encounter With Machismo in Spain”, which is terrible.  His bias is so screamingly obvious.  He describes routine street harassment of women and young girls, which often results in the girls being terrified, and even having their clothes torn off.  A few pages later he says that the men are not violent, and that “a barroom brawl is anathema to these genteel, courteous folk”.  His definition of violence is so narrow, and his definition of gentility (a curious word to use, in itself) and courtesy are also questionably narrow.  To my eye, the article is written from a very biased, very male-privileged perspective without taking into account the relevant experience of the women involved, or the fact that violence does not always include fisticuffs.

My paper was supposed to be on the topic of definitions of masculinity within various cultures, how these differ and how they are the same.  It’s an interesting topic, but I wrote to my professor this morning to see if I can write instead about how anthropologists represent those definitions of masculinity, and how the language used to describe a culture’s definition of masculinity can reflect the anthropologist’s own biases and views.  I want to look at how anthropology interacts with gender, more than gender itself.  I have no idea if she’ll let me, since it’s a pretty significant shift in topic.  I’m also not sure that it would be a good idea since the paper is due in a week (gulp).  But it’s so much more interesting!

Anyway, that bit of new information (I learned about the Lakota not gendering the child until 4 or 5 in class on Tuesday) cast the whole issue of Pop in a new light, and was the final little piece that fell into place for me in recognizing one of the problems with the way that concern over Pop was voiced.  It was interesting.

I don’t think you can ever get to the point where you don’t unintentionally speak from a privileged position on a regular basis.  We’re so comfortable in our perspectives, and it’s not easy (maybe it’s not possible?) to constantly question your own views.  But, it’s worth trying, at least!

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~ by Gloom Fairy on June 17, 2010.

One Response to “Revisiting Pop”

  1. I love the new perspectives you’re exploring. I also love it when you flay people because of their assumptions.

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