Category Archives: Identity

My Two Cents on Gender

Gender is a funny thing to talk about these days.  In some circles, it’s practically forbidden – they must adhere to the cultural expectations of our given sex that have been basically the same for the past 200-ish years, up until the 40s or so.  (please don’t quote me on any dates I give: I am by no means a history buff – but I think I’m fairly accurate.)    In other circles, it is talked about exhaustively – the elements of the subject are discussed to death.  And, in still other circles, it’s very much a nonissue and is rarely ever discussed – people just are who they are and have bigger fish to fry. 

Now, I would like to disclaim that, in case it wasn’t clear, the following are my thoughts and opinions only.  I do not claim to fully understand any perspective besides my own, because that is really and truly impossible.  I may generalize, and if I do I beseech that if it offends you to please know that I didn’t mean it that way.  I do not want to be judgmental and at the end of the day, even through ideas and suggestions I am only writing about this subject as it applies to how I live my own life in my own mind and body.
I also talk about male and female body parts, so if the mention of them makes you want to throw up… yeah. 
Gender, to me, is largely cultural.  Gender roles have evolved with the societies in which they operate.  People’s minds and bodies have evolved likewise to function thusly.  Now, I consider myself a follower of Christ, and/but I do not claim to know how the world was created or exactly how man came to be.  The bible illustrates how it happened, yes, but there are so many interpretations and theories even pertaining to a simple creation story that it is clear that wejust don’t know.  So I won’t waste anybody’s time on the miniscule details on how we came to be the evolving creatures we are.     
What I do believe, and what seems apparent by simple biology, is that men and women are made differently physically.  Men have always had penises, testicles, and the corresponding pelvic structure, have never had boobs, have greater muscle mass and ability to build muscle, and have this astounding ability to grow hair on their faces and extra hair where women just… can’t.  Women, on the other hand, have vaginas, uteruses, ovaries, and corresponding pelvises, mammaries that produce milk for the children they can bear, more fat mass, cannot grow hair on their faces, etc.  Not being a huge science buff either (though I really, really try), it mostly seems to come down to hormones (via the sex chromosomes).  Women have more estrogen, men have more testosterone.  These hormones do a lot.
Because of these differences, it has made sense for the men to be the protectors and the breadwinners in the past – let the stronger people defend the land and use their agility and brawn to hunt for food; and the women, who delivered the children and already have a bond forming with them seem most capable of continuing to take care of the children, and do the things that need to be done which do not so much require being super strong. 
This all builds on each other.  Some of you might want to point out that perhaps it was the other way around: the ones with the penises got all brawny because they went to do the hunting, and the ones with the vaginas got more pudgy and motherly (I know it sounds condescending, but remember how I’m not talking about feminism right now?) because of what they were usually doing.  And perhaps that is true, though you could go round and round with this a million times, but to me it seems that if you cannot ever settle something like the nature-nurture debate, then it must come down to both with very blurred lines. And, if that is the case, is the “which came first” question really relevant to us anymore?
The questions that do seem to matter to us now are those of cultural gender versus core gender. 
Cultural gender is what we have learned from the society we live in about what is expected of those who are sexually female and those who are sexually male.  These are mostly made up of stereotypes, such as women who like to cry over romantic movies, or men who like to build business empires.  They, like all stereotypes, have a good measure of truth in them because stereotypes spring up out of truth.  More women like to cry over romantic movies than men.  (I am not one of them.)  More men are business leaders than women.  Men who cry over romantic movies are looked upon as weak and feminine – not strong husband material.  Women who are business leaders are looked upon as tough and a little too masculine – not dutiful wife material. 
Core gender is what we, genetically, are.  This goes back to the primitive societies I was speaking of earlier where the men hunted and the women took care of the children.  The thing is, in Western culture today, we do not operate in a way that necessitates core, genetic gender differences.  The 21st century has such a wide variety of occupations that it does not matter what your physical or mental capabilities are or are not: there is something out there you can do to earn a living.  Brawn, particularly, is becoming less and less essential as more and more machines are invented to do the hard work for us. 
So, what are we left with?
A bunch of people doing things that people do. 
But what about the cultural gender?  What about all those stereotypes we weigh ourselves under each day?
There is no one pat answer for that. 
Some people are not aware that these stereotypes exist, or that they rule their lives – but then you have to question, do the stereotypes really “rule”?  Are these people victims of the box culture has put them in, or are they perfectly happy to live the lives they have being the people they are?   
Some people are too aware of the gender stereotypes – so aware that they are in danger of becoming victimized not by the stereotypes, but by the fear and/or detest of them.  Stereotypes limit them as much as they limit the people who are unconscious of them – because they tend to either live their lives as if they are threatened by people/society attempting to control and limit them, and/or they spend their time trying as hard as possible to not fit into a stereotype, so much so that they are at high risk of not being true to themselves and what they would really want to be doing, despite what gender stereotype it might fit in. 
(Watch “Benny and Joon”; that’s all I have to say.)

These are observations I have made about others and myself.  I never mean to assume that every person is like this: however, I always encourage that you do look at yourself and ask yourself whether you are selling yourself short in life, in any area, but especially by victimizing yourself to some circumstance or another.  I think and talk about self-victimization a lot, so you’ll see more about what I mean in future posts. 

However “aware” you feel, or however important of an “issue” the gender topic is for you, remember that you should never let anybody’s assumptions of you, or your assumptions of anybody else, get in the way of your genuine respect of your authentic self.  And I think that is the best way to put cultural gender stereotypes behind us: to forget them altogether and simply do what we like and be who we are.  If you don’t think and talk about something, it goes away.  The positives and negatives become neutral because actions speak louder than words.  The fact that people are people speaks for itself when we decide we no longer have to.    
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Posted by on April 30, 2012 in Gender, Identity, Sexuality, Soap Box


Black Sheep Femininity

There are sometimes still that I legitimately wish I were a man. Of course, I have been attempting to discover for years what makes me think this, and it is really a lot of things. Sometimes practical little things, like how it would be safer to travel; but I think there are two main reasons that, distinct as they are in my mind, are also very hard to explain.
One is that I think men are easier to relate to now, and if I were a man, it would somehow finalize things. As in, it would not be Jessica plus The Guys. It would be me, a guy, hanging with the guys. (Not the beer and football all the time guys, but the more [I think] masculine creative types, the Gary Snyders and Tim Burtons of the world.)
And that brings me to my other reason, which is to have the subconscious cultured respect for my creative work that is simply not very often granted to women; I don’t even grant it to women very often, unless they are of the tongue-in-cheek variety, calm but authoritative, somewhat brooding but very bright and confident – traits that those men, such as I have mentioned above, possess.
When someone asks me who I admire most, my list is exclusively male; but when it comes to women, the type I just described inspire me more than anybody else, even as I often forget it. Their air far from that of a trying-too-hard feminist, I see myself in them: black sheep of the Gucci-sunglasses-pink-princess flock of girls in western culture. Often awkward when they are young, and beautiful when they’ve finally grown into that full bloom.  By then, though, they hardly care to realize it, much less show it off – somewhat “hiding” under hats and in darker, duller colors, nothing inherently complementing their face or figure, but in truth they look the most beautiful this way, subtly wild and fervent, doing the things they are best at.

They are the Elizabeth Bennets and Jo Marches and Anne Shirleys of the modern, real-life world: they make me proud to be a woman, as mismatched and discomfited and flat-chested as I am. I can’t name most of them, but when I seem them I know who they are in my heart. I don’t smile at them and they don’t smile at me and it is better that way; we don’t say but instead know that a pretentious smile is what it is.  And, in a moment, we smile real smiles, knowing we are kindred spirits.

(One person I can name is my Aunt Susan, and I know she is a huge part of my confidence in myself, whomever I may actually be.)

We have our girly friends and we love them and we have our guy friends and we love them in another way (and of course we have each other), and some of us find someone crazy enough to love us and, indeed, crazy enough for us to love; but I think most of us try romance for a long enough while and eventually find it trivial compared to the other invigorations we have found on this incredible planet.
All in all, these women are inspiring to me because they have embraced who they are, no matter what, without over-thinking what they should be in mind, body, or soul. They remind me that it doesn’t matter, no matter what “it” is, and that nothing further than “it” not mattering needs to be discussed – just get on with things and stop doping around.
Okay, I’m going to stop doping around, wishing I was a man. I don’t have time for this! I’ve got things to write, pictures to draw, animals to play with…
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Posted by on January 15, 2012 in Gender, Identity, Soap Box


As the Writer Writes

There are four perceptions of writers.

1. They are masters of their art, continuously pumping out fantastic works of genius
2. They are looney recluses who should be avoided at all time, if you get a chance to before they go ahead and avoid you
3. They are awesomely quirky and eccentric; wearing their hair in messy buns, donning geeky glasses and fingerless gloves, and possibly smoking pipes
4. They are lazy bums who do nothing but sit at their computer all day moving their fingers as their butts get wider, never bothering to contribute something of worth to the world (the writers, not their butts)

The facts are, each of these stereotypes are quite real, in most senses. And, yes, all at once. Here is the key:

New friends believe stereotype #1:
New Friend: “What’cha doin’?”
Writer: “Just writing a book.”
New Friend: “What, really?? What kind of book?”
Writer: “A novel.”
New Friend: “That is SO COOL! Can I be in it?? Can I read it?? When are you going to PUBLISH IT????
New Friend: “I’ll bet it is amazing. This is so awesome.”
Writer: “Um.”

People who don’t know any writers believe stereotype #2:
Typically, these people are afraid of me and we do not carry on conversations. I also try as hard as I possibly can to affirm their stereotype. That is the extent of our interactions.

People who are very good friends of writers believe stereotype #3 (and will not stop, much to the ego enlargement of those writers):
Old, Dear Friend: “How is your novel coming?”
Writer: “Oh, it’s coming alright. I had a pretty good writing session last night.”
Old, Dear Friend: “Did you write by candlelight?”
Writer: “What? Oh, yes, definitely. Just one, solitary candle. I wrote with my quill pen till the candle had burned down to a mere pool of wax, and even then I kept writing a bit to finish my thoughts for the night, albeit my fingers were terrifyingly cramped and frigid.”
Old, Dear Friend: “Do you not have heating? Or can you not afford coal for the fire this time of the year?”
Writer: “Yes, I am afraid that coal is just too expensive for me; I am already living off of one meal a day of bread and cheese.”
Old, Dear Friend: “Oh, my dear! Here, have my red scarf, that will at least help warm you up a bit. And, there! You look like such an inspirational writer! I wish I was you.”
Writer: “Oh, thank you, my old, dear friend. I don’t know how I will ever repay you for a kind favor for a poor soul such as myself.”
Old, Dear Friend: “Think nothing of it! You live such a tragically romantic life…”

Last, but not least, the family and/or people whom you live with believe stereotype #4:
Writer sleeps late. Writer gets up and fixes coffee. Writer returns to bedroom. Writer emerges an hour later with an empty coffee mug. Writer makes an egg and cheese sandwich and returns to room. Writer emerges with empty plate… scratch that. Writer lets plates and cups pile up on desk and then on bookshelves when the desk is full. Perhaps this is Writer’s monthly Dish Day. Writer tries to sneak out all the dishes and wash them while People of the House are distracted. Succeeds 25% of the time; the other 75%, is ridiculed by People of the House until Writer retreats back to room. Writer emerges at about 4pm to fix some canned soup, which is eaten in room. Writer comes back out half an hour later and, taking laptop, goes down to local coffee joint to eat, drink, and sit in a dark corner and write. Writer returns; People of the House are busy watching television, so do not notice. People of the House offer Writer tea later. Writer accepts absentmindedly; Writer remembers the offer of tea at about 11pm, at which time Writer eats spaghetti at the dining room table while reading a book, and actually puts dishes in the dishwasher. Writer pours cold tea and then goes and drinks it while writing into the night. Repeat.

This is performed with various levels of questions and “constructive criticism” from the People of the House. Writer wonders why the argument, “what if I were a college student??” never works and only seems to anger the People of the House further.

But what does the Writer think of the Writer?

The Writer is intimidated by the Writer who is more accomplished.
The Writer gets higher self-esteem from the Writer who can’t write as well.

But as for the opinion of the Writer: she feels a little bit of all four stereotypes at the same time as well. The Writer feels like what she is writing is frivolously about everyone she has ever met and definitely worth publishing; like she is weird and reclusive; like she is quirky and writerly; like she is a bum. This is somewhat of her own accord, for sure, but 99% influenced by the people who believe in those stereotypes.

Other than that, she doesn’t really think much of herself, actually; more only on what she is doing. Is she producing the thing she intended to? Does it sound right? Is it entertaining? Will others like to read this? When they do like reading it, she wonders, will people like the next thing I write? Can I really write something as good as what I wrote before? What if it’s better? What if it is relatively the worst thing ever? Should I keep writing in this genre? Am I really telling the truth; do I really know what I am talking about?

Why do I like writing again???

And I leave you with that.


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Posted by on December 13, 2010 in Identity, Life Pursuits, Writing


Stranded in the Adirondack Wilderness: Thoughts on Learning

Hello all! In case you were wondering, I do happen to still be alive and well. If you weren’t wondering, too bad, because now you know anyway.

I will hopefully start posting more entries again soon, but at the moment I am short on time. In my previous entry I mentioned I was getting ready to leave Oregon soon for a job as a dishwasher at a summer camp in upstate NY. I have been here for a month now, and boy, what a lifestyle change! Camp Unirondack is situated on Beaver Lake in the Adirondack mountains. We have cabins for campers and counselors, and staff; a big lodge, a kitchen and mess hall, an outdoor pavilion, a shower house, an art shop down on the water’s edge with a boathouse underneath, a waterfront, a campfire circle… it is impossible to be bored here. I do dishes for 110 people 3 times a day and keep the kitchen as squeaky clean as possible; then I devote some more time to continuing to do customer service for my dad; and I am still trucking away at my novel that I started in Ashland.

“STILL working on that novel, Jessica?? I thought you were supposed to finish it way back when.”

Too bad. It’s become a lot more complicated than I originally planned. Novels do that to you sometimes.

Occasionally I feel a bit stagnant here because my job here does not directly coincide with some sort of skill-gaining experience. I am now an expert with steel wool, can run the dish sanitizer by ear, and stack plates like a mad woman. However, at the end of the day I have not learned how to handle a raptor or bandage a seal fin or something that feels more relevant to what I ultimately want to do with my life. It often feels like I am just doing this for the money. Sure, I am surrounded by beauty, inspiration, and great new friends. But why am I here?

It’s interesting how humbling this realization is. “I’m a worldschooler;” I would proudly proclaim not that long ago; “I learn from everything.”

Have I been stumped?

I could blame my surroundings for not being things I could learn from, but is that really fair? I think one can choose to learn from something or not learn from it. Perhaps I have been unintentionally choosing to ignore all the information and experience that is right in front of my face; maybe I am even going so far as to say, “that’s not a learning opportunity, that’s just life stuff.”

Perhaps a good exercise for me would be to stand back, look at my month here so far, and ask myself: what have I learned? What am I currently learning? What am I going to learn for my remaining month?

What have I learned here at Unirondack? I’ve learned all about industrial kitchen sanitation. I’ve learned how to operate a musical theatre workshop. I’ve learned that I can figure out and memorize an entire song from Sweeney Todd on piano in three days. I’ve learned that if I get insufficient amounts of sleep for 3 weeks in a row my body’s immune system all but disappears completely. I’ve learned about loons because they’re all over the place here and very intriguing. I’ve learned that maybe I am a more extraverted person than I thought (which is why I have an issue with getting sufficient amounts of sleep). I’ve learned how to work with the people I live with, and live with the people I work with. I’ve learned about human nature, and how we are all so afraid to be ourselves, or to show that we have souls. I’ve learned how easy it is to fall into temptations of judgement and gossip. I’ve learned more about communication and its importance than I think I ever would have picked up anywhere else. I’ve learned it takes a long walk in the rain, or a day sitting and writing in the woods, or a kayak expedition to really ground me. I’ve learned the importance of ever being grounded and never forgetting myself.

What am I learning? Well, I am still learning a lot of the things I listed as things I’ve learned. I am not sure it’s quite right to say I have fully learned anything, so perhaps the last question should just be this question, but never mind. I am still learning how to love completely, how to not assume anything about anybody; how someone at first sight may seem like someone you never want to get to know; but later, they turn out to be your best friend. I’m learning who my true friends are here; what people build me up and what people tear me down. I am learning how to be a builder-upper and not a tearer-downer. I am learning from example of all my fellow staff members the virtue of perseverance, and I am learning self-control so I can get work done; so I can write; so I can have time alone to recharge; so I can sleep.

What do I want to learn? I want to learn how a summer camp runs and how to communicate with campers. I want to learn how to be a blessing to other people and not a curse. I don’t know if I am a curse, but it’s much better to be a blessing regardless of what I am when I am not being a blessing. I want to learn how to play guitar and write poetry better. I want to learn about different people’s lives by listening to them talk and observing their interactions here. I want to learn about other people’s skills and interests and see what doors have opened and will open for them. I want to learn contentment. I want to learn about more of the animals here; such as the 7,000 different species of moths I see flying around every day, and which half of the staff is unjustifiably frightened of. I want to learn how to dance better. I want to learn how to be the best person I can be so I can go home and show my family how I’ve changed for good.

There really is so much to learn here. It may not be directly “educational”, but maybe the biggest thing I am learning now is that the school of life has a time and place for that. It’s comforting to know.

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Posted by on July 27, 2010 in Identity, Life Pursuits, Unschooling

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