“Sex is between your legs, gender is between your ears,’’ according to LGBT activist professor Robyn Ochs, who told a March 11 CCBC Dundalk audience about gender barriers and how society shapes individuals’ views of their role within it.
Ochs, a retired Harvard professor, contended that all people should be free to feel comfortable within society no matter their sexual orientation and that people should be tolerant of individuals’ choices. Part of the current problem in accepting people’s gender choices is that society tends to focus on a person’s biological sex, she said, However, that does not have to define who they are and people should be able to represent themselves however they want if they are male, female, or transgender, she added.
Ochs also told the audience of over 90 students, faculty and staff that gender rules act like an “invisible electric fence.” Dealing with gender rules imposed by society can be difficult because people, “often don’t know they have broken the rules until they receive the `shock,’ the negative push back of society when we wander outside of accepted gender norms,’’ she added.
Ochs went on to speak about how society forces us into our respective gender role from birth. She gave an example of the impossibility of buying gender-neutral clothing for infants and toddlers. She related her own experience in buying a gift for a friend’s baby. The salesperson repeatedly kept asking, “is it a boy or girl?’’ Ochs noted that she refused to answer and waited until the salesperson showed her gender-neutral items.
Ochs added that people even hold babies differently based on their perceived gender: being more cautious holding a baby girl and being more playful with a baby boy. Our interests in education and play are positively or negatively reinforced based upon gender. Ochs added. She went on to ask if things might be different if this type of gender conditioning did not take place.
“Gender is a performance, a costume, that we are all forced to wear from birth throughout our entire lives,” she told the Dundalk audience.
By the end of the event everyone in attendance had gotten up and talked to other people in the room about their experiences with gender barriers and how there may be things that people do not even notice at times, and how we treat others based on those barriers.
Ochs began by having the diverse crowd of students, faculty, and community members form two concentric circles around the perimeter of room 100 of the Roy Staten building on the Dundalk campus. Ochs then lead a roleplaying exercise exposing the culturally engrained stereotypes surrounding gender in modern U.S. society. The way our specific gender is expected to behave, dress, play, and focus our interest, were brought to light by the audience. Ochs had the audience demonstrate that regardless of how we may feel about the rules, we all know exactly the rules are there.
Steve Kendzejeski contributed to this article
*Articles reflect the views of the author and or those quoted and do not necessarily represent the views of CCBC or the CCBC Connection.
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