The Power of the Gendered Body

I’m running with a few different lines of thought in this post. I’ll start with the notion of the body, in particular the gendered body as a site of power. Recently, I participated in an event called the Cat/Rat parade – a long tradition at the school that I am now a proud employee. (In another post I’ll have to talk about the legacy of hazing this tradition carries into the present – an interesting topic in-and-of itself.) Before the event started I was following a few other of my gendered-female co-workers into the room were all the girls were getting ready. One of my co-workers all the sudden turned around and suggested that I wait outside because we had no idea where in the process of putting on their costumes all the girls would be, and I wouldn’t want to walk in on anything inappropriate. I took her suggestion and we both waited outside together. Something she said sparked in me a moment of monologue about the significance of the body which I would like to share now.

The education I received in San Francisco was very attentive to the body. We held classes in somatic therapy, body work, classes that facilitated, in both theory and practice, safe exploration of embodied touch across gender boundaries; we thought critically about the body and the assumptions both genders carry about each other; we used the categories of sex and gender to re-frame our perspectives about self, other, and society. Standing on the side walk that day, I caught myself about to critically engage a hyper sexually repressed Christianity and the power those narratives hold over and against the body. As Michel Foucault might relate in his book Discipline and Punish – those power structures, our very history, defines the body, forces it to act, to repress, control; these forces position it, offer it up for celebration or discipline, acceptance or shame. The body is constituted by these forces, perhaps a great deal more that it acts upon them.

Standing on the sidewalk, I didn’t get that far in my analysis before a line of 6th grade girls dressed as different toys by their “cats” (the seniors), all flowed out of the building: Care Bears, Legos, Toy Story – they were adorable! BUT, if I’d only had a brief bit longer I would have gone into a differing line of interpretation which, now that I can reflect upon it, am grateful that I was interrupted because I was about to enter risky, though thoughtful, territory.

I want to problemitize the assumption that the masculine body is somehow inept, un-useful or worse unsafe/suspected, in the context of an all girls environment or any environment for that matter. These assumptions are, though often unconscious, practically innate and determined from a 5,000 year history of masculine domination, a dominance, which has always been about sexual domination and genital hierarchy. The history of Christianity, along with the deep process of modernization, has sufficiently tamed and confined the sexual body within the institutions of marriage. Deviation from these institutions (divorce, LGBTQIQ relationships, non-monogamous, non-heteronormative relationships) irrupts from the twisted course of sexual repression looking for new formations, meaning and celebration. AND tied closely to the deep confusion sexual “mix-conduct” brings – the shame, guilt, pity, victimization and perpetrator costs – is the very heart of feeling caged in a culture without meaning. In our normal days we are now as valuable as our production rates, our pay, our maximization as consumer and our ability to become a commodity within the market/machine. The result is that sustained healthy expressions of sexually are incredibly rare, as is happiness. But, perhaps I have digressed…

I am happy. And per the invocation of my particular case study…I am at an amazing school and our trust of one another, across gender-lines, is something of a model. It’s hard for meaning to elude teachers, despite their pay.

The interesting thing for me continues to be that I am one gendered masculine person among a sea of women! Often, in any given setting, room, meeting, event, I am the only man. I notice demographics. I didn’t always notice demographics…and for men of my demographic position, it isn’t usually this way. All my life I have occupied a privileged position in society – indeed the most privileged! I occupy every demographic of dominance one could list: White, male, straight, middle class, Christian, American, educated, even athletic, even handsome (right?)! Of course each of these categories resist simplicity; I am far from a “straight” boy, barely identifiable as “Christian” – especially in TN, and my education has proven to be the very weapon that I wield to consciously intervene on my privileges, to see other perspectives, offer hospitality to the stranger, be that one of differing religion, color, or gender.

The point that I’m coming to and must conclude with is that the power of ‘consciousness’ – expressions of felt compassion and awareness built upon the very convictions of experience – liberates us from the confines of repetitious history and confining constitutions, be it gendered, raced, classed, sexed, religious, political or otherwise. My history, the particular formation and performance of my masculinity makes me suitable and valuable to an all girls school. I am quite proud. It’s a gift.

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