Exploring Gender Identities

Zubaida Yasub

Recent discourses about gender identities have become very complex since it involve several other or social categories. Owing to their overlapping effects the discourses about the identities have been very much helpful in understanding different societal issues. Specially, the long ignored or perhaps deliberately overridden category of ‘Gender’.
In the broadest sense, gender identity refers to each person’s own sense of being male or female. We form our gender identities quite naturally. Religion, education, media, cast, family, market, economic situation, culture, institutions, norms, and values are the markers of gender identities. Gender identities are continuously in the process of formation, depending on the situation. We keep on changing our gender identities, either by necessity or by choice.

Like all the other social identities viz cultural, ethnic, racial, religious etc gender identities have also, been a product of our major institutions specially the family (home, and school). In many contexts it is the community which decides what is deemed appropriate for men and women.

The long held differences between the human beings, especially in terms of sex, have been very much penetrated into our minds.

We have not been able to differentiate between the two frequently quoted and misused words, or rather terms now, sex and gender. This is exactly the very point of departure for the whole new discourses about gender and gender identities. It has been believed that the whole foundation for this debate emerges right from the very birth of a ‘child’.

This is where the whole tragic drama gets evolved. We do not even ask about the health of the mother or the child but our very first question is whether it is a boy or a girl. And if it is a boy then the whole family thinks of the celebrations but when it is a girl, we get perplexed even to inform the family and relatives.

But this is not the end, for the other chapter namely “Beyond the pink and blue” awaits. Next comes the clothing issues. We even segregate between the choices for what to wear and what not to. The socialization process starts at birth. Families usually treat newborns differently according to their sex. Certainly they begin to socialize gender roles even in delivery rooms. Boys are dressed in blue and girls are dressed in pink (or other colors that are symbolically attached to gender).

We can analyze gender identities through accounts of one’s personal life experiences which start from the day when a child is born. Majority of the families in general and remote areas in particular express anger on the birth of a girl child. In many cases the mother of the child is considered to be guilty for giving birth to a girl child. The foremost reason behind this biased conduct is the deep rooted patriarchal norms. Which have been set by the male members of the society. For instance the prim concept of giving preference for having a son in relationship to a daughter is closely associated with the notion of “burhapay ka sahara/khandan ka waris” and girls as “paraya dhan”. Boys are taught and expected to become the bread winners and girls in contrary to it are considered as the ones who will have to go to another home, hence they are taught to remain passive and silent.

Next comes the matter of gender roles and responsibilities. Family, community, society and institutions set some specific gender roles for boys and girls. Boys are being socialized to act dominantly, aggressively, and even violently to confirm their masculinity. In contrary to this girls are strictly brought up and trained to set themselves in the “ideal women” image that is based on women ‘inferiority’ and unequal status as a human being. Both boys and girls in many cases get scolded for non-conformity to those specific gender roles by the family members. Girls are expected to perform the womanly chores like cooking, cleaning, serving and washing. In addition there are specified sides in the home for males and female in some areas. That is “right side” is for males and “left side” is for female members of the family. Where they both are not allowed to sit in opposite sides.

Besides these specified gender roles, a girl has to be careful about her conduct, tone and dressings inside the home as well as in the society where she lives. She is not allowed to wear the dresses which are disliked or disproved to be acceptable by the society. She is not allowed to go out of home without seeking permission of a male member and she is not encouraged to go alone, hence can go only if a male member is accompanying her regardless of his age. She cannot interact with opposite sex as a social norm. These are the specified margins fixed for girls to stay in. In contrary to this boys have to follow few rules.

The whole episode turns when it comes to education or rather “schooling” (a very specific term for Pakistani society). There are different and segregated educational institutions for both girls and boys right from the very primary level. This is major point of discussion especially among the gender and education scholars.

In schools the attitude and language becomes further biased towards boys and girls. Educational institutions, curriculum and the behavior of teachers also reinforce and strengthens the stereotypical norms. Also, display material, pictorial representation, illustration and language used in the text book contents is entirely gender insensitive.

Likewise, the optional subjects at grade 5 further promote the specific roles of boys and girls. Boys are supposed to take the subject of drawing and girls have to opt Home economics. In teaching and learning processes boys are being taught and given the leadership roles as monitor of the class. Also they are asked to bring anything quickly from shops etc. Contrary to this girls are being taught with the domestic roles such as, cleaning and fetching water for the washrooms. Girls are even asked for making tea and cook meal for teachers if the peon is absent.

At schooling different behavioral changes about what it means to be a girl or a boy are brought under the guidance from the teachers who have themselves been taught under the same principles.
For example, Engaging boys in co-curricular activities like sport competition, drawing and speech competitions while making girls are not encouraged to take part in co-curricular activities specially sports by the school to comply with society norms. Additionally the sitting arrangement is like; it should be enough distance between the seats of boys and girls. This further encourages the rift and creates a dichotomous social roles where “women and men” “boys and girls” are compelled to behave accordingly.

Shockingly in some areas/societies women have lacked their own identity. Men are not even allowed to address any women by her name. They had invisible identity which is reference to their husband, father, or a son. Women name was not used in genealogical tree. Women were recognized in reference to males, e.g. wife of, daughter of, mother of etc. Their names were not even used in identity cards. Moreover a female in those contexts have to walk a step back to the male. Male will always be in a leading position.

Similarly in some particular areas when a woman passes away there is a one very stereotypical tradition of putting mud on the grave. For instance, if the deceased is a male then a pile of mud is thrown in the direction of the feet whereas, if it is female then the mud is thrown on the face. The justification behind this core act is the concept of word NAQIS (inferior) for women that is why the mud is put on her face. This statement does give clear explanation. However, one can extract meaning from the word NAQIS.

Whenever it comes to the point of professions women are thought to adopt or go for the traditional roles viz Nurses instead of doctors for it is believed or rather argued that men are meant to be Engineers and Doctors while the women are destined to become nurses. However tendency of females are more likely towards medical doctors than of engineers. Furthermore even in medical they are more likely to become gynecologists than of other specialization areas. These special areas have become like specific identities for female professions.

In rural societies, females are considered only suitable for teaching profession only. No other profession is considered suitable for them. And their teaching is also limited to girl’s schools / colleges only.

Another major identical difference in promoting gendered identities is the long perceived differences in the intellectual capabilities. Women have been entitled such as dull, forgetful, idiot, etc. on contrary they are competing males in almost every field of science.

These sort of stereotypical notions not only evolved at home or family but they have been largely reinforced also at school. Girls are trained to be remaining girls and told not to transpose the idea. But in fact it has now been evident through the marvelous performances of women that they can also get a NobelPrize in Natural sciences as well as the social sciences.

Zubaida Yasub is Program Associate at College of Youth Activism and Development

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