SF Talking Points: Gender Confines

White House To Host Meeting With Transgender Activists: After the harrowing attack Chrissy Lee Polis suffered last week at a Maryland McDonald’s, the very real dangers that threaten the daily lives of transgender people seem to be finally nearing the forefront of American concerns. The White House Office of Public Engagement is planning, now, to host the first ever meeting to focus solely on trans issues. Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, was quoted in a Washington Blade article:

“This is the first president who has allowed trans people — really allowed LGBT people — to bring forward problems and then advocate for them,” Keisling said. “In the Bush administration, we couldn’t even do that. They wouldn’t even listen to us. They didn’t care what our problems were. In fact, they were making most of our problems.”

While, according to the article, it remains unclear what issues will be prioritized, the implementation of federal employment non-discrimination protections is up there on the list for the transgender community.

Still, Texas wants no part of the transgender rights movement, as it were. Even though it was only two years ago that they passed legislation to allow a trans person to obtain a marriage license (with proof of the sex reassignment surgery), Republicans, the taker-backers that they are, have been trying to undo these monumental strides. “The Texas Constitution,” Sen. Tommy Williams said, “clearly defines marriage between one man and one woman.” Furthermore, transgender advocates are worried that this proposal may end up nullifying current transgender marriages.

According to ABC News, Williams claims to understand that gender is not always easily determinable when people are born, and that’s the reason some people later have an operation to change their assigned gender: to have their outward appearance match the gender they inwardly identify with. He said, clearly missing the point, “It is an emotional issue. I can appreciate that.” But he just feels it is necessary to take away transgender marriage rights in order to simplify marriage licensing for the clerks who are having trouble balancing the 2009 law with the 1999 appeals court ruling. Oh, the poor clerks. Let’s just ruin people’s lives so that the clerks won’t have to work too hard, shall we?

What Williams, and those certain politicians who refuse to see things in anything but black and white (or simply accept that other people are capable of doing so) don’t understand is that it’s not an emotional issue. An emotional issue is when your mom can’t make it to your wedding. A serious issue is when you’re not allowed to have one, when you’re not considered a person enough to have the right to marry your partner.

Geena Davis on Gender Equality in Children’s Entertainment: In a recent WSJ article, Academy Award-winner Geena Davis talks about how women and girls are portrayed specifically in TV in and movies catered to kids–and how it needs to be changed. Now the founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, she recalls how and when this became an urgent project for her.

“Being in the business and having the experiences I had where some movies I did resonated with women or girls—like ‘A League of Their Own’—I had a heightened sense about women’s roles in the media. Then when my daughter—she’s 8 now—when she was about 2, I started watching G-rated videos and preschool programs with her.

And I was absolutely floored to see the same kind of gender bias and gender gap in what we’re showing little kids. She’d be on my lap and I’d be counting the characters on my fingers and thinking, ‘This is just not right.’

I didn’t intend to turn it into a whole institute or a whole new life for myself. But I started mentioning it around Hollywood. If I had a meeting with a studio executive or a producer, I’d say, ‘Hey, have you ever noticed how few female characters there seem to be in G-rated movies and things for kids?’ And they pretty much across the board would say, ‘No. No, that’s not true anymore. That’s been fixed.’”

From there, she put some money into doing hard research, so she would have more than just her own impression to convince people that it wasn’t, in fact, fixed.

“What we found was that in G-rated movies, for every one female character, there were three male characters. If it was a group scene, it would change to five to one, male to female.

Of the female characters that existed, the majority are highly stereotyped and/or hypersexualized. To me, the most disturbing thing was that the female characters in G-rated movies wear the same amount of sexually revealing clothing as the female characters in R-rated movies.

And then we looked at aspirations and occupations and things like that. Pretty much the only aspiration for female characters was finding romance, whereas there are practically no male characters whose ultimate goal is finding romance. The No. 1 occupation was royalty. Nice gig, if you can get it.”

She also found that most of the female characters had bodies that could not physically exist in real life, which is reminiscent of the life-size Barbie a Hamilton College student and HuffPost blogger created recently, based on Barbie’s real dimensions–and how freakish it ended up coming out.

After reading Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter, it became much more real to me what kind of constructs are perpetuated by the media, especially the media that is fed to kids, under the guise that “it’s fixed now” or “it’s what kids want”. But the “it’s what kids want” argument is like the chicken-or-the-egg question, only more easily answerable: do they want it because the media tells them they want it, or do they say they want it so the media gives it to them? (Hint: It’s the former.)

Speaking of gender barriers…

Conservatives Criticize J. Crew Ad For “Pushing Transgender Propaganda”: After this ad came out, featuring J. Crew Creative Director Jenna Lyons and her young son wearing pink toenail polish, with the caption “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon”, Fox and the Media Research Center pounced right on it. In a Fox News Health Column, psychiatrist Keith Ablow wrote, “it may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid — and maybe a little for others who’ll be affected by your ‘innocent’ pleasure”, and called it a “dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity.” It’s (almost) funny when Fox people state things that are great as though they are bad. Look at your own words, Ablow: “trappings” of gender identity. Why would anyone want to be trapped by their gender identity? How is promoting gender limits more healthy than letting a little boy decide what he likes for himself?

Also check out: these word clouds based on the words that appeared most in transcriptions of boys’ and girls’ toy ads. It’s quite unsettling, albeit unsurprising. (Words used most for girls include: love, magic, fun, party, hair, mommy, babies, fashion, girl, and cute; for boys: battle, power, ultimate, action, heroes, fire, mission, attack, transform, rapid).


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