Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Deviation from the Norm

In an interesting deviation from the lectures I had come to expect to begin class with, we instead participated in a word association activity that consisted of receiving a word or name, to which we had to respond with the first word each of us thought of in reaction. We did the word association for women, Kim Kardashian, Serena Williams, men, Michael Jackson, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. For women, the top results were "strong" and "mother," along with other, mostly positive, words. Kim Kardashian seemed to be objectified, as many of the words were describing superficial qualities while Serena Williams appeared to be seen as masculine due to her status as an athlete. The results for men seemed to be more negative and related to power, although that may be attributed to the 2 to 1 ratio of females to males in our class, as they are more likely to feel marginalized by males. Michael Jackson was largely recognized for his singing, although there were other traits that are typically seen as feminine while in stark contrast, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was primarily associated with muscles and masculinity.

After this word association activity, we were divided into three different groups to discuss different ideas from our reading the previous night and find a way to convey our interpretation to the rest of the class. My group was chosen to define sex, which we distinguished from gender by saying that sex had to do with biology or anatomical parts while gender was a person's self-identification. Eventually, we decided on the definition that sex is the categorization of people based on their presumed reproductive capacities. This definition accounts for people who may be infertile while also establishing a way to separate people into the different categories. We performed our skit, which consisted of a delivery scene where doctors are unable to determine the sex of a child. The child grows to be unsure of their own sex until eventually, they realize that they are mostly treated as a male, so they begin to identify with that sex. After our skit was over, we watched the other two groups perform theirs. The sex categorization group showed how doctors seem to group people based on their characteristics, which are either associated with being a male of being a female. Finally, the gender group showed how gender is more of a how a person identifies, which they showed with some pregame routines, first the one where everyone acted in accordance with societal expectations of their sex, followed by one where they acted out how they thought the other sex would act. The skits were an interesting way of demonstrating these principles to us, and I think that unlike rote memorization, it is much easier to remember what each group did in their skit.

After completing the segment of skits, we moved on to watch a video called "Diagnosing Difference," which demonstrated how transgender people are marginalized, not only by society, but also by police as well as medical professionals, who classified them as people with Gender Identity Disorder, listed in DSM-IV-TR (the current edition of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders). When sent to see therapists or psychologists to try to gain access to hormones to try to change more into the other sex, they were frequently asked questions they felt were not pertinent, and many of the transgenders felt that the medical professionals, despite their education, still did not understand the situation of being transgender. Some doctors even went to the extent of trying to fix the disorder, which consisted of training on how to conform to societal expectations of being a certain sex, but the training did not prove very effective and was offensive to the transgender people, who simply did not associate with the sex they were born with. They often feel the need to justify why they are transgender to people and see no benefits associated with being transgender. Personally, I don't really think it's fair that society discriminates against transgender people, particularly the institutions that are supposed to be helping the people, although it also seems to me that those people conform to societal expectations of the other sex instead. In my opinion, people should be able to express themselves without necessarily having to classify themselves into the image of a gender they associate more with. 

After taking our usual break for lunch, we reconvened with our discussion groups. My group started out by discussing the conference with Valarie Kaur the day before, to which people responded that they now recognized the need to escape the cycle of hate, as well as saying that Valarie was genuine and inspiring, with which I agree. We also talked about the skits and the principles each one revolved around. After establishing our ideas of what each one is, Yun explained to us Goffman's theory that we each put on a "performance" to project a certain image of ourselves. We also discussed the word association activity we had done this morning, as well as the disparity that exists in the workplace between the two sexes. As it turns out, more women are in lower-paying fields, and are also paid less than men at the same positions. As we discussed the video we had watched earlier, I realized that gender and race are actually quite similar. Both are social constructions, and people do not always fit into the image society holds of either their race or their gender, or even both. However, people who do not match the stereotypes or expectations of their race still mostly identify with the race they were born with and are simply regarded as anomalies, whereas transgender people, or people who do not fit the societal expectations of the sex they are born with instead identify with the opposite sex. While the two situations are parallel in many regards, I thought it was interesting and somewhat strange that they are developing differently and separately. When I mentioned this notion to the group, I was met with much confusion, understandably, and some rather stiff opposition to the parallels I was drawing between the two situations, which I was somewhat surprised by. I think the ensuing discussion was one of the most, if not the most, interesting one I've had so far.

We returned to the main room in the McNeil building to hear the guest speaker, Mr. Michael Krasulski, talk about gay neighborhoods, or "gayborhoods." These are communities where LGBT+ people comprise the majority of residents and visitors. He talked about the gay neighborhood and eventually posed to us the question of whether they were still necessary or relevant, as the LGBT movement gathers momentum and people are becoming more accepting of them. He also talked about the gay neighborhood present here in Philadelphia, which makes up a small area and how the institutions in the area are primarily gay. For instance, he mentioned a church in which 75% of the church were gay males, another 10% were lesbians, and the rest were heterosexuals. When asked why they attended, the heterosexual people cited various aspects of the church they were fond of, such as the food, the choir, or the friendliness of the other members of the church. He also stated how the gay neighborhoods tended to be more liberal, as liberals are typically more accepting of the LGBT community. After he reiterated his question of whether these communities are still relevant, most responses were in the affirmative because it makes sense that people want to be around others like themselves so that they would be more easily accepted. When I asked whether the LGBT people would be subject to more discrimination outside of the gay neighborhoods, he responded by saying that there are "welcome parties" in which LGBT all meet up together in a certain part of the city and essentially attempt to force acceptance of their orientations. In my opinion, I think that they are still relevant because they provide safe havens for this community until society is more tolerant of them.

Once we had thanked and applauded for Mr. Krasulski, Mr. Salmanson came to the front to speak. He talked about the model currently held by society of the spectrum of sexuality and how it has changed over time. For example, according to him, the Romans had nine different types of love. He also discussed various ways homosexuality has manifested itself into national media in different forms, including the Village People's YMCA and Herman Melville's Moby Dick. It raised the question of whether people were aware of the latent homosexuality.

At 7 PM, I went to go play basketball with two members of my RC group, Sravan and JC, at the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center, with the plan to work out with Steven, Trisha, Liz, and Serina at 8:00 PM. However, they ended up running late, so I returned to the Quad, where I played volleyball with Liz and some other people from the Summer Discovery program before doing calisthenics for strength training in my room afterwards.
Inside the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center
Basketball courts at the gym
Today's discussion with my section group was really interesting, so I'm glad that we were able to have a sensible debate over it, as it was a fairly complex topic to think about. I was also happy that I got the chance to play basketball at the gym today, and soon, I intend to try out the climbing wall as well.

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