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Gendering, Sexualizing, and Racializing Bodies in Shaw & Lee’s Book Essay

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Updated: Jun 24th, 2021

Summary

The readings in Chapter 2 of Shaw and Lee’s text illustrate societal power dynamics, hierarchal ranking, and privilege and prejudice through a compilation of essays. It considers the normalization of qualities such as white, straight, and middle-class as a practice that fosters oppression (Collins, 2015). Therefore, the hierarchical ranking of race, gender, and class based on differences create systems of privilege and disparity. Inequality fosters domination and subordination, which can take an institutional (workplace), symbolic (society-sanctioned feminine or masculine qualities), or individual (biographic) dimension (Collins, 2015).

Social change would require recognition that power and privilege strain relationships, fostering group solidarity and building empathy. However, intersectionality – a situation where dominant outlooks of subjectivity or rationality obscure the significance of struggles – is the main challenge. White and male privilege grants individuals an unearned power to control others by virtue of race or gender. Other advantaging systems may include age, nationality, religion, and heterosexuality, among others. Modern society also confers cisgender people’s gendered privilege over transgender individuals whose gender identity or role is not consistent with the assigned sexuality. Classism in workplaces and neighborhoods is another system of inequality. Pervasive classist ideologies, such as the American dream, resulting in income disparities and discrimination against migrants, poor minorities, and the disabled, among other groups.

Chapter 3 of the text illustrates how male gender privilege inspires girls to embrace masculine behavior (tomboys) to gain acceptability among boys. It proposes five sexes to capture all forms of human sexuality that have a genetic basis. For example, according to Fausto-Sterling (2015), the congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) gene in a dominant state leads to male genitalia in females. Thus, assigning sex at birth predisposes one to legal constraints and discrimination. Gender is a social construct that results from our interactions. It is done at birth with the aim of creating a dominant male category and perpetuating inequality.

Personal Impression of the Text

I found the readings and an accurate depiction of the oppression against sections of the society, including women, gays, and ethnic minorities, very interesting. It elaborates how categorizations based on sex, socioeconomic status, and race, among others, are meant to create a privileged group that oppresses the other. However, femininity continues to challenge the existing gender privilege that favors men. Another noteworthy point highlighted in the text is that girls behave like boys to gain acceptability among their male peers. However, men would reject anything associated with femininity because of teasing or bullying. Thus, society has created a double standard of sexual behavior that leads to the subordination of women.

Discussion Questions

  1. Masculinity is associated with female subordination. Can femininity be oppressive to women too?
  2. How does the surgical intervention to rectify genital ambiguity perpetuate the binary gender identity?
  3. Do gay men suffer more homophobia than lesbians do? If yes, why is it so?

Additional Information

The text includes a series of experiential writings by different authors. Shaw and Lee compiled it. The two are prolific feminist writers and academics. They teach feminism and gender studies at Oregon State University’s College of Liberal Arts. The particular text reviewed is Women’s Voices/Feminist Visions. The issue at hand is inequality resulting from gender, sexual, and racial classifications that are maintained by societal institutions. The text uses theories on heterosexism, ageism, and classism, among others, to support the main arguments. Various references used in each essay are provided as notes.

References

Collins, P. H. (2015). Towards a new vision. In S. M. Shaw & J. Lee (Eds.), Women’s voices, feminist visions: Classic and contemporary readings (pp. 72-79). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Fausto-Sterling, A. (2015). The five sexes, revisited. In S. M. Shaw & J. Lee (Eds.), Women’s voices, feminist visions: Classic and contemporary readings (pp. 72-79). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

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