i) Normative Narrative
A normative narrative is a story that we repeat to ourselves so often that it becomes true. I wrote a blog post featuring the normative narrative of gender binary. I specifically focused on the phrase often used to justify harmful actions and keep the gender specific roles and characteristics in place, boys will be boys and girls will be girls. This belief limits opportunity and creates a frustrating box of expectation that many struggle to fit in. This is in part due to “social positionality (such as your race, class, gender, sexuality, ability-status)” (Radical Pedagogy). Social positionality includes the gender binary, and the obstacles many face when their personality or actions collide with the expected gender roles. I have written my own experience with the gender binary when acting outside of the expectations that society has for young women, specifically regarding my lack of makeup use. The normative narrative that boys will be boys and girls will be girls is a platitude which is a trite, simplistic, and meaningless statement, often presented as if it were significant and original and has harmful effects on society (Feminist Glossary). In connection with my classmates blog posts, I will be exploring how the gender binary harms people in different aspects of life.
In Hyominecs’s blog post ‘Writing the Self 4: Why Our Responsibility’ she shares her personal runin with her school’s dress code. “I notice that every desk has a blanket taped to their front legs…. so we don’t need to think about putting our knees together all the time.” This was because the girls were made to wear skirts as part of their uniform. This points to the expectations of the gender binary because it normalizes the disrespectful behaviour that boys will be distracted by a girls body, and instills the tradition that girls must accommodate for others. This clear binary discourages any kind of crossover behaviour for fear of acting with feminine or masculine characteristics. I find myself relating to Hyominecs’s post because there are people in my life who struggle to accept the fact that my beauty is not for them. What really fascinates me is that the approach to fixing this issue is to tell the girls, who are being sexualized, that they are at fault. Whereas a more sustainable solution would be to address the boys and their misunderstanding of the purpose of the female body.
In Flemintrblog’s post ‘Boys Shouldn’t be That Way’ he talks about his passion for activities typically reserved for girls. “My love of the colour purple, how I painted my nails, my interest in makeup, how I preferred to practice piano over playing sports.” He highlights the many debates that he has with his mother over his feminine preferences. His mother has a strict idea of what it means for a boy to be a boy and for a girl to be a girl, and Femintrblog struggles to balance between the two. This causes him to become “hyper-aware of all of [his] actions and interests as being out of place.” In my own blog post on the gender binary, I too am confronted with an opposing figure in my life, who disagrees with my less than feminine approaches to beauty. These similar stories are rooted in a societal view that gender is binary, and not a fluid scale. This ingrains an idea that to be normal, you must fit into either category. The perceived gender roles fit into traditional colonial worldview, and in order to change these traditions, a new understanding of gender will have to take place.
ii) Creating Counter-Stories: Disrupting Normative Narratives
The gender binary is a largely accepted normative narrative that encourages gender roles and approves inappropriate actions on the grounds that specific genders and races can act in a specific manner. So far, my classmates have discussed their personal stories about times that they experienced the gender binary, but trombonedom expresses his experience disrupting the myth. During his teen years he was “introduced to some new trombone players that were females.” He was also introduced to the social stigma against females playing brass instruments such as trombone. He then overheard a close friend of his making rude comments about these new female brass players. Unlike the stories of my classmates I mentioned above, trombondom was not the person being gendered, and was not in a position where he had to stand up for himself. He took the initiative and stood up for the girls who were in a socially vulnerable position.
Despite getting into trouble for starting such a ruckus during practice, he persisted that what he had done was right. Trombonedom was not the person being pushed out his gender roles, yet he used his privilege in that situation as an outsider to chose to disrupt the normative narrative. This put him into a vulnerable position outside of his expected gender roles. His fresh perspective on the narrative identifies the power of the bystander. All too often, the gender binary is challenged by those who already do not fit within the myth, and are therefore on the outside. Trombonedom’s story highlights the dangers of telling a single type of story which features an outcast character challenging the narrative. He gives bystanders a responsibility to stand up against the harmful normative narrative.
While reading Tombonedom’s story I was moved by his willingness to stand up for the female trombone players. His dedication to disrupting the stigma that he identified made me very happy. Although it may be read as a small gesture to a small problem restricted to female brass players, I believe that the problem exists as part of a larger part of the gender binary. His story allows me to read my own post using a different perspective, that I do not need to challenge socially constructed gender biases alone. I hope to be able to learn more about the effect of bystanders, and just how dependant one can be on them.
The gender binary is not a new topic in western culture, and we keep learning new ways in which the framework of gender ingrains expectations of what it means to be a specific gender. It continues to take hard work on all sides of the gender binary, including the ones challenging the stereotypes and the ones who fit within the binary. When I hear people claim to not know where to start in the process of deconstructing the gender binary but wish for a solution to the issues at hand, I think back to this quote in the book Is Everyone Really Equal: “The desire to jump to the “end” or to the answers can be a way to avoid the hard work of self-reflection and reeducation that is required of us.” (Sensoy and DiAngelo, 2012, p. 143). The progress in minimizing the impact of gender binary moves at a snail paced rate in part to those who do not want to participate in the hard work, and only look towards a future of harmony and inclusivity. Before we get to that point, there is much ground work to be done to deconstruct the normative narrative of the gender binary.
Sensory, O., & DiAngelo, R. (2012). Is Everyone Really Equal. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.