punk phd / feminism / motherhood

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Age 8 and Wanting a Sex Change

Last night I sat down to watch Age 8 and Wanting a Sex Change, the latest documentary as part of Channel 4's Bodyshock series. The programme followed Josie and Kyla, two eight year old girls who had both been born boys, and discussed their stories surrounding the gender dysphoria they had both been diagnosed as having and what the future held for them both. The programme also featured Chris, a sixteen year old boy who had been born a girl and started testosterone treatment aged 14.

Whilst watching the programme several issues arose for me. Firstly is the continued stress on the gender binary of female and male. During my Women's Studies course I lept on material which discussed the possibility of a third gender, even a third sex. Discussion of this still seems firmly cemented in academic discourse as I felt the programme further promoted the idea that you can either be female or male and this is what it means to be female and this is what it means to be male. A lot of emphasis was placed on the toys the children were playing with - they were either "boys' toys" or "girls' toys", no allowances were made for gender neutral material which could perhaps avoid placing such an importance of such gender stereotypes. And what was the real issue at hand? Throughout the programme the link between sex and gender was explicitly expressed as well as an array of traditional roles. In the case of Josie, it seemed pretty clear that having male genitals was a major concern for her - but why then take this as an opporuntity to reinforce female qualities with her as she clearly retained "boy things" such as stereotypical boy hobbies and interests. Is there no room in medical discourse for the concept of sex dysphoria* - why the need to have 'gender dysphoria' when gender arguably is a social construct?
Overall I did really appreciate the attitude of the families concerning their children's feelings but one worry was the language Josie's mother used with her. Her mother referred to Josie's penis as a 'birth defect', a suggestion which I felt reinforced further Josie's negative feelings towards her genitals (was that really necessary?) as well as raising concepts that perhaps a child of eight would not, and perhaps should not have to, understand. During Feminism in London I attended a workshop about raising children in the age of porn, hoping to glean what we should be informing our children about - how do you address an issue like porn with them? What language do you use? What concepts would they understand? This is relevant here as how do we raise our children to be aware of identities such as transgender, transsexual, or even hermaphrodite?

My last comment is briefly on ethics. Another child featured in the programme (whose name completely escapes me, I am sorry) who was born a girl but living as a boy talked of having girlfriends. His mother acknowledged that yes, he did have girlfriends but at this point (still fairly young) they were not telling his girlfriends about him being born a girl. For me that posed moral issues - should you really be withholding such detail? Is this almost like deceit? Is it right only to disclose such information when those involved are odler and such relationships hint at becoming physical?

Comments, as always, are welcomed.

*If there is literature on this please let me know, I would be most interested!

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Feminism in London 09

Saturday 10th October saw Feminism in London 2009 take place at Conway Hall. Though I cannot speak for the range of panels and workshops on the day, I just wanted to discuss my own experience of the day and welcome discussion/further insights.

Opening speakers this year were Beatrice Campbell and Susie Orbach ('Fat is a Feminist Issue'). This was my first encounter of Beatrice Campbell but I thought she was absolutely marvelous. A real character and what she spoke about really hit home with me. Beatrice spoke of 'neo-patriarchy' and the suggestion that whilst in society we now have knowledge (even acknowledgement) of gender issues, we have seen no change (for instance the gender pay gap still exists though we have increased awareness of this issue). Another example was of the working mother; the fact we can now be included in full-time employment but this is coupled with childcare. Beatrice spoke of the narrative of the 'work-life balance' in society which assigns this problem to us rather than tackling the problem. Beatrice talked also about the link between masculinity and violence which is never tackled as society masks the link under the disguise of youth violence and so forth. I found her talk really interesting and refreshing. It was intriguing that on my way out after, however, I overheard two women commenting that they disliked its complexity and academic nature so it didn't appear to be to everyone's taste.

When Susie Orbach spoke I really felt wanting more. It was a shame that it seemed time ran out, it would have been good to have heard more from her. But again, the issue of violence emerged and she linked the interalisation of women's oppression though body insecurities. I definitly want to read her latest book now to find out more.

During the day I went to a slide show/talk, a workshop and one panel. The slide-show was on anti-porn and namely the pornification of culture and the 'grooming' of young children by such culture. A lot of concepts were covered like the idea of the pseudo-child in pornography, the sexualisation of father-daughter incest, the model of normalization, sexualisation of disney and compliant victimization. It pretty much confirmed feelings I had already regarding the sexualisation of culture and how it targets children but I think it really made clear my thoughts on pornography as a whole. The workshop I attended after followed a similar theme "Raising Children in the Age of Porn". I hoped to come away from this with an idea of maybe strategies for dealing with such an issue but I don't think I got as much from it that I would have liked. One idea positioned by a fellow attendee did really get me thinking though and that was the stress now, it seems, in society on childrens' physical safety (worrying about kidnapping, pregnancy, perhaps even obesity) whilst other areas they aren't as protected (exposure to tv, internet and such).

The panel was 'Motherhood and Poverty' which was good and covered quite a bit of ground. After this was the closing speakers: Mawete vo Teka Sala, Hannana Siddiqui and Finn Mackay. I must admit that by this time my eyes were getting quite droppy (I had had to get up at 4am that morning for my train to London afterall!) so though I enjoyed the first two speakers I did not make any notes nor do I have any further comements. Finn Mackay's closing speech truly perked me back up again with the sheer emotion and enthuasiasm involved, it was such a shame it had to be cut short. But it was an excellent note to close on, especially the comments on the recession and women's part in this state in response to which I ranted to my friend later that evening - "No, we didn't make the decisions that got us where we are! But look at what cost we're paying for someone else's choices!" Food for thought indeed.

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