Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Race and Gender

Dr. Johnson began Tuesday's class discussion with the "ten things to know about race." I often find myself juxtaposing my courses at Rhodes, not necessarily intentionally but some times things just seem to web together. As the list progressed parallels between the ten things to know about race and my gender studies courses arose. The context in which gender is discussed is similar to the way in which Dr. J introduced race.

Gender, like race, is often now studied as socially constructed. The third thing on the list for race was that there is no single genetic marker or basis for race. Gender is studied similarly by separating the terminology of biological sex and focusing on the characteristics that differentiate between male and female. These characteristics in gender can be equally offensive and stereotypical like race. Asians are good at math. Women are good at vacuuming. Right? No.

The seventh thing to know about race was that we are all mixed, there is no pure racial ancestry. This may not directly relate but the practice of anti-miscegenation laws, those that forbid people from marrying outside their race in order to maintain pure ancestry, are similar to the practice of kinship that is studied in gender courses. Kinship practices vary in different cultures but the main purpose is to control and govern who marries who. As the anti-miscegenation laws proved unsuccessful, no one is pure, so are the flaws in any kinship practice.

The eighth thing to know is ovioulsy similar. Classifications constantly change over time. The distinction between biological sex and gender as I mentioned before wasn't proposed until the 1950s and became common in literature in the 1970s. Not all biologically born "Women" associate themselves with typical female characteristics. Just as certain races do not associate with the racial categories society has created. I realize they are completely separate histories that we are studying but the oppression race and gender experience is real and often relatable.


  1. I think you nicely associate the concept of gender and race here at the end; they are concepts which are most definitely related not only in their collective legacy of oppression, but also in the ways in which they have been created, perpetuated and ingrained into our societies as "natural" over time. Understanding the malleability of gender categories is a very similar task to understanding the unavoidable ambiguities of racial categorization. Thinking about gender and race comparatively, in my experience, is an incredibly helpful way to understand the constructions of norms and the collateral damage of persons rendered less human or non-human by these norms.

  2. I like how you found common ground in order to explain how both gender and race share a common mode of categorization. That is an interesting connection. It is true that the traditions of some cultures require individuals to acknowledge a gender identity from a very young age. Among the Apache, children go through a test where they are put inside of a tent and within the tent are a doll and tools. The tent is then set on fire and what the child takes out of the tent determines their gender identity. If a young boy comes out of the tent with a doll he then claims the role of a “Berdache” which means “of two spirits”. The Berdache are considered to have mystical powers that accompany the dual path that they walk in life. It is interesting how important categorizations like gender and race are so important across cultures.

  3. Race and gender are two classifications that definitely seem to go hand in hand. One thing that connects them in my mind is the fact that neither are traits that can necessarily be hidden. A person's racial background, at least in simplest terms, can be easily determined within the first few seconds of being seen. In the same way, a person's gender can be determined almost immediately as well. These drastic physical differences opened the door for the stereotypes that have been constructed over the years. It seems to be human nature to try to separate things and people that don't look the same.


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