A Note on Sex and Gender (Part 2)

Parallel to my formal studies, I have, over the years, investigated into the nature of sex and gender with regard to both romantic and sexual attraction. As I pointed out in the first part of this article, the construal of both sex and gender depends, on the one hand, upon the interrelationship between these two terms and the respective concepts associated with them, and, on the other hand, upon the overall framework of society. Thus, a patriarchally structured society as ours derives from more or less factual biological and physiological differences between that which is deemed male and that which is deemed female a hierarchy generally ranking males above females as to all aspects of life. Not only are males considered to be physically superior to females, but also the former are considered to be superior to the latter mentally, that is to say, concerning intelligence as well as morality (where morality is still deemed a matter of reason alone). Traditionally, females are thought to be weak, not only regarding their physical condition but also their mental life, since the latter is firmly believed to be driven by the unstable tides of emotion. Males, in contrast, are thought to be strong, not only regarding their physical condition but also their mental life, since the latter is firmly believed to be based upon the stable work of reason. Yet although even a superficial enquiry soon reveals this artificially engendered dichotomy as not only inaccurate but false, the very same dichotomy continues to determine to a high degree what males and females are expected to be like, which, in turn, heavily bears upon what triggers romantic and sexual attraction.
One of the most important observations I have made in these concerns is that society’s gender-specific behavioural expectations, including the styling of one’s outer appearance, which are closely tied to sex, are reinforced not only by the media in general, but also and distinctly by television series the main audience of which is children and, foremost, teenagers. Any conduct diverging from the main outlines of societal gender-role tied expectations is severely punished by both all kinds of peer pressure, such as ridicule, threat, instilment of fear, or exclusion from social life, and meta-peer pressure – external groups or individuals –, such as authorities (parents, teachers, coaches), relatives (grandparents, siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts, in-laws), (presumed) role models (celebrities, successful people in general), and so forth.
Let me give you two epitomic examples. The television channel Nickelodeon broadcasts the two series Life with Boys and iCarly upon a regular basis. The former series entails an episode in which the protagonist, Tess Foster, a fourteen-year-old girl, who lives in a house with her father, Jack Foster, and her three brothers, Gabe (sixteen years old), Sam (fourteen years old and her twin), and Spencer (eight years old), aspires to join her school’s wrestling team. The first one to oppose her idea is Jack, her father, who happens to be the coach of the aforementioned wrestling team. He argues that since the team entirely consists of boys, it would be too dangerous for her to join the team, as the boys might easily injure her. To his astonishment, Tess dominates, nay destroys the entire team, leaving him with no choice but to accept her as a team member.
Having defied the odds, Tess soon finds herself in the awkward situation of alienating everyone around her, however. In fact, all the members of her team, as well as every other boy at her school, fear her: no one wants to fight her, no one wants to go out with her. As though this were not enough, her best friend, Allie Brooks, a cliché of a girl, who loves chearleeding, shopping, make-up, cloths, and so on, urges her to leave the wrestling team – simply because it is not considered a female thing to do –, and instils in her the fear of never getting to go out with a boy who has romantic interest in her again. Her father again intervenes by soliciting her not to continue to dominate the boys in the wrestling team, as this would destroy their confidence – whereas his own daughter’s confidence does not matter at all, as it seems. As a female, Tess is ‘naturally’ supposed to comply with everything everyone asks her for.
As concerns the other series, iCarly, there is an episode in which the protagonist, Caroline ‘Carly’ Shay, who lives in an appartment with her older brother Spencer, an artist who mainly produces sculptures, and regularly stars with her friend Samantha ‘Sam’ Puckett in the webcast ‘iCarly’ which the two produce with the technical assisstance of their friend and Carly’s neighbour Fredward ‘Freddie’ Benson, falls in love with a boy who has just arrived in the neighbourhood. He is the cliché of a young man, being tall, slightly muscular, with brown hair and brown eyes, just the right tan, and dominant in his behaviour. The whole episode revolves about Carly and this very boy attempting to spend time together, while Carly’s brother Spencer has qualms about allowing this, since he thinks the two could have – indeed, were going to have – sexual intercourse, as soon as he leaves them alone; as we all know, males generally have this and only this in mind.
When Carly and said boy finally succeed and establish a partnership, all appears happy and perfect – until the young man reveals to her his only ‘weakness’. I put the term in quotation marks for the very reason that it can be interpreted as a weakness only in terms of the male-female dichotomy which ties sex, gender, and basic characteristics uncompromisingly to one another. Without any fears or qualms, the young man introduces Carly to his favourite hobby: he collects small penguin figures made of plush belonging to a specific series (the name of which I cannot remember). Having been completely intrigued by him before, Carly suddenly finds her attraction to him extremely diminished by this and only this very fact. When all her attempts of making him replace his ‘girlish’ hobby by a ‘boyish’ one have failed, she eventually decides to end the partnership.
Obviously, there is only one lesson for young people to be drawn from these and other examples: unless you fit a certain stereotype relating to your sex, you will not be accepted by society, let alone be successful with respect to partnership and sexuality. You can either do what you are expected to do, or fail completely.

One thought on “A Note on Sex and Gender (Part 2)

  1. I find these examples to be especially troubling given the intended audience. What better way to further impress the gender dichotomy than through popular American television aimed at young audiences. Sadly this is counterproductive in the move toward equality, and further sanctions arbitrary gender roles & expectations.

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