See? Last one! Though you lucky, lucky people! You get three blog posts today! All in one day too! Then again these were all pretty much pre-written and done for a class, sooo hope you enjoy it. As always, if you want more, let me know. Paper follows after the break.
What’s in a Gender?: Observing and Comparing Three Theories
What is a man, and what is a woman? Gender is a difficult concept to fully unwrap, as there is not a binary between genders but a scale. Though there are various theories that examine the differences between genders and what constitutes a gender. Among these are four branches, biological, interpersonal, critical, and cultural theories. Of these, three theories can be taken from each branch and compared to better understand the nature and creation of gender: symbolic interaction, social learning theory and queer theory.
The first of these theories, symbolic interactionism, is a cultural theory of gender. This theory claims that the communication we have through others is how we learn who we are, with various symbols culminating into a role for the individual to play in society Woods, 2013 p. 50). This can be demonstrated in part through the movie Brave, a film principally about the relationship between a mother, Elanor, and her daughter, Merida, with the principle conflict involving the daughter’s resistance towards marriage, due to her role as a princess. This conflict is further muddled as there are certain symbols that constitute Merida’s gender, primarily the bow and her dress, with the dress being symbolic of femininity and the bow more masculine, demonstrated by Elanor’s irritation at Merida possessing a bow, or weapons (Brave, 2012). Furthermore, Merida notices this discrepancy due to the role she is forced to enact by mentioning her brothers are allowed to effectively run wild while she’s being held as responsible (Brave, 2012). This has also been seen in how Merida was marketed, as sparkly, with bigger eyes and more tamed hair, to make her appear more feminine in her appearance to little girls (Dixon, 2013).
Social learning performs similarly to symbolic interactionism, but is more of a conscious choice as individuals where children will imitate the communication that they see on television or in regards to others (Woods, 2013 p. 45). I’ve noticed this with my little brother, and myself where we would act in ways that our father acted, and would get praise or attention due to it. Furthermore, this is also demonstrated in other aspects of western culture, primarily around Disney, where in addition to the media produced, outfits resembling the ones the princess characters wore, but for younger girls. In addition, there are boutiques within the American parks that cater primarily to younger girls, where “girls can be transformed into little princesses!” ( Bibbidi). Under this standpoint, it could be seen as a way of creating a scenario where the girls are rewarded with praise and or attention from parents in return for acting and dressing in a feminine way. Similarly, this is a subtle facet of interaction during Halloween that I’ve noticed from when I was younger, where girls would be complemented on how pretty or cute they were, while the boys would be complemented on looking strong, heroic or scary.
In comparison to the first two theories, queer theory questions the validity and need for the labels and terms given to gender (Woods, 2013 p. 54-55). This aspect specifically observes the abnormal and how that relates to gender as a social construct. Effectively, this theory questions what is and what isn’t male and female, and would rather show gender as a spectrum status, with highly masculine and feminine positions on the scale. This can be partially observed in regards to the brony phenomenon, in how adult men enjoy the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic wherein men enjoy a show traditionally seen as a feminine show, thereby subverting the gender norms to a certain extent (Fahey, 2012). This has been both derided and seen as subversive, but under the idea of queer theory this could be interpreted as a male that acts as a male in a different way, similar to comparing the ways that individuals like “Zac Efferon, Barack Obama, and Kanye West” have “very different ways that these three people enact their identities as men” (Woods, 2013 p. 54). A similar example would be a trans individual, whom could be biologically male or female, but identify stronger with the opposite gender (Woods, 2013 p. 54-55). This demonstrates the fluidity to gender central to queer theory.
Taking these three theories together, while the first two seem to mix readily, the third is more of a challenge. As stated earlier, symbolic interactionism and social learning can be seen as similar, as they are about enacting gendered roles, though interactionism does so through symbols while learning would be through copying actions. However, interactionism can use symbols of gender, implement them on an individual and reward the cis-gendered behavior. So individuals will create and construct roles through symbols, and is rewarded by positive reinforcement as per social learning theory. However, when adding queer theory, this methodology can be criticized, though the example from Brave can be seen as an example with symbolic interactionism, where the bow and the dress could be given as examples as gender on a sliding scale, and Disney as a whole can give a similar example of female characters who express femininity in different ways, from Merida to Cinderella, or the more explicit example in Mulan, which demonstrates a fluidity of gender as Mulan adopts a masculine persona by adopting symbols of masculinity (Mulan, 1998). Thus, all theories can be combined, and while demonstrating differing outlooks on gender and it’s origins, can be compared and synthesized in observing current society.
Andrews, M. (Director). (2012). Brave [Motion picture]. USA: distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at the Disneyland Resort. (n.d.). Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Retrieved February 5, 2014, from https://disneyland.disney.go.com/shops/disneyland/bibbidi-bobbidi-boutique/
Bancroft, T. (Director). (1998). Mulan [Motion picture]. USA: Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Dixon, E. (2013, May 23). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://blogs.longwood.edu/elenadixon/2013/05/23/practically-perfect-in-every-way/
Fahey, M. (2012, November 30). The Herd Outsider's Guide to the Brony Phenomenon. Kotaku. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://kotaku.com/5964739/the-herd-outsiders-guide-to-the-brony-phenomenon
Wood, J. T. (2013). Gendered lives (11th ed.). Stamford: Cengage Learning.