We Matter Media Feature – Gender

This month on We Matter Media, we dare to broach the always contentious issue of gender. It’s bizarre to think that biology – a random happening, really – has the power to affect not only how we see ourselves, but also how we’re seen by the rest of the world. Being female has its own baggage, as does being male. Societal expectations forged over hundreds of years have been ingrained in us and unfortunately, women have consistently come off second best. Even now, when equality is at closer hand than ever before, we still struggle with the concept of removing gender difference from the equation in our professional lives, personal lives and everyday dealings with each other.

In protest of gender stereotyping and discrimination, some are taking extreme measures. In 2011, Toronto-based couple Kathy Witterick and David Stocker chose not to reveal the gender of their child Storm, instead choosing to raise Storm as gender-neutral in the hope of eradicating all the gender-based pressures and expectations imposed on us from birth. Needless to say, this “experiment” prompted a wave of criticism. Dr. Eugene Beresin, director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital claimed raising a child as genderless “sets them up for not knowing who they are”.

“We all have sexual identity,” said Beresin. “The mission to have masculine and feminine traits more equalized and more flexible and not judgmental is awesome in a utopian community. But we take pride in our sexual identity.”

The strength and longevity of the feminist movement in particular suggests that women take pride in their sexual identity – but, of course, it’s complicated. There seems to exist a tug-o-war between wanting to celebrate one’s womanhood and wanting to deny it, naming it inconsequential in regards to ability. Women can do just as men do. There’s a push for equality, but at the same time, a celebration of difference, which can lead to confusion for many people wary of labelling themselves as feminists.

women appliances

Emily Maguire in her Sunday Life article ‘We Can Do It!’ published on February 3rd calls attention to the men who are identifying as feminists, which brings about its own problems. For many, feminism is synonymous with advocating against sexism. However, some feminists are protective of the movement and have concerns about the possibility of its most predominant voices coming to belong to men. According to Michael Flood, senior lecturer at the University of Woolongong, men speaking on women’s issues are generally taken more seriously than their female counterparts because they appear less biased. It’s a convoluted, political minefield.

While most of the discussion about gender centres on women’s issues – women as the oppressed, women as the empowered – men are more than the symbolic representation of a patriarchal system. Being a man is not without its own pressures and expectations. In Australia, men are four times more likely to take their own lives than women – a thought-provoking discrepancy. To what extent is maleness and all that comes with it playing a part in this statistic?

weak men

My hope is that this month We Matter Media will serve as a platform for intelligent debate and discussion on gender matters where we recognise the significant steps that have been taken towards gender equality, as well as the many cultural issues yet to be resolved.

Laura James is the Features Editor at We Matter Media. You can follow her on Twitter @the_prattler.

If you would like to contribute to Gender month on We Matter Media, please forward your pitch to features@wemattermedia.com.