In Sujata Moorti’s classes, we discussed how gender is a construct consisting of gender roles and gender scripts that are culturally conditioned, the intersectionality of gender with the other categories that divide people, and the relational, contextual quality of gender performance.
I have prided myself before in understanding these concepts, but I had actually come to the realization before this course that I was not as enlightened as I thought I was, that I had not made mental space for gender fluidity in other people because I was so clear in categorizing myself as a woman. So I examined my own attitudes during this session, and realized something interesting: even though I agreed that gender roles were fully constructed and not natural or intrinsic to us, I still felt like there was something about me that was intrinsically female! But Sujata’s point was that culturally-conditioned gender roles and norms are all there is in regards to gender – in fact, scientists have been unable to prove that there is anything intrinsically male or intrinsically female. Cultures differ in what we think are appropriate roles for men and women.
I think what my experience illustrates is that gender roles are so deeply ingrained to feel natural to the extent that, even if I reject that having the female sex makes me naturally follow my culture’s female gender roles, I still feel like something about being a women is natural to me. I have long been aware that this is the case, and in fact I have felt relieved by it, thinking how it makes life easier when you feel comfortable in your gender role. Even as I reject notions that being a woman means I must do certain things and not do others, I still fundamentally embrace the notion of gender as intrinsic: I am not really seeing the construct, just trying to change the range of activities acceptable to women so that I will not feel constrained in my role.
A basic realization that emerged from the feminist movement, especially the third wave, is that just because women are female does not mean they have anything in common. It can be convenient to convene women’s groups based on the idea that the people will connect just because they are female, or to claim solidarity with women around the world just because they are also female. But other social categories – race, class, etc. – play a role in dividing people as well.
This realization could be helpful to me by driving home another point Sujata made, which is that women need to be included in community development and peacebuilding process, not because they are intrinsically better at peace but because they are part of the community, and everyone must be included. In fact, I think a fundamental tenet of peacebuilding is that everyone must be included. You cannot build a partial peace. Inequality is often a symptom of structural or cultural violence.