Sunday, 1 February 2009

The Pope's views on gender

Ok, I know this is about two months late, but I did not know about it until I read the article on A Sceptical I.

Basically, the loveable guy which is Pope Benedict XVI claims that "blurring distinctions between male and female could lead to the "self-destruction" of the human race." (see here for full story). The BBC article seems to focus on the implications for homosexual and transgender individuals, but when I first read it I immediately thought of the implications for all women and men. Presumably the Pope believes that men should be men and women should be women (i.e. men or women who have sex changes are a corrupting influence on God's creation); but what about men who shun traditional notions of masculinity and women who shun femininity. The Pope seems to have rolled the word 'gender' into meaning 'sex', and the implication is that individuals who are physically women should behave in a feminine way because if they did not they would not be 'true' women.

Surely one of the Pope's personal advisers (I assume he has some) could have advised him against making such ridiculous claims. He is perpetuating the notion of there being a strict gender divide between males and females and then justifying it with the name of religion. This gender divide is something which needs to be addressed, because during the past couple of months I have been seeing the perpetuation of it everywhere. Perhaps this is a bit of an inane, innocuous example, but there is a new style of coat out for women - it is deemed to be a 'military' style, and from the front it looks a bit Russian or German. When I first saw it, from the front, I thought "That's quite nice", because for a woman's coat it looked quite non-feminine - it gave a rather assertive appearance. But then I saw the back. At the bottom it had been made into frills, and the description on the label of the coat said 'military style women's coat with feminine accents'. I kid you not. It was almost as if without those frills the coat would have been deemed too masculine for a woman to comfortably wear - women must not look assertive. And we cannot have a woman looking overly masculine, can we? Because then that would not be attractive. Since seeing that coat in a catalogue I have actually seen women wearing it, and it looks ridiculous with those frills on the back. It is so incongruous with the style of the rest of the coat that they may have well put a big pink bow on the back!

Even though that is a bit of an innocuous example, it shows that the gender divide is being perpetuated in even the smallest of things. On a field trip I went on in my computer course last week, we were given a talk by a young man who told us all about the different methods of target setting they use within the company (interesting stuff *cough*). Afterwards, the women in my class were debating whether he was attractive, and the majority said that he was too "feminine-looking" to be attractive. Interested in this, I asked what they meant, and they said that they preferred men who looked like men. So I thought back to the talk he had given us - he was soft-spoken and a little nervous - and it dawned on me that those qualities are not traditionally male. Perhaps if he'd had a beard that would have made all the difference. But this suggests a gender divide as well - there is a standard of attractiveness for men (although not quite as strongly perpetuated as that for women) as well as women, and it is not only men interested in keeping that gender divide intact. I got stared at like I was a leper when I said the other day to my 'class mates' that I have no interest in having children.

So the Pope's comments are not one-off occurences by a religious nutter, although the BBC article would have you think so. It is not surprising that the BBC would give this impression - women are supposed to believe that they are equal to men so they think that the world we currently live in is the best possible world for them. I am not suggesting that the BBC are purposely trying to quell a women's uprising, but what I am saying is that anyone who suggests vehemently that women are subjugated in our society is treated as a nutter on par with the Pope. Sexism and the gender divide is so deeply ingrained within the structure of society that it is going to be difficult to tear apart.

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