THE VERB OF GENDER & OTHER THREE DOLLAR BILLS
By Alix Dobkin
From Chicago OUTLINES Nov 11, 1998
Ghandi is supposed to have said, "First they ignore us, then they ridicule us, then they attack us, then we win." If Ghandi had lived long enough he might have added "then they confuse us" to his list of oppressive tactics.
Tyrants know and fear the power of speaking the truth, and Ghandi might have noticed that shortly after Feminism began speaking Truth to Patriarchal Power, "Truth" became unintelligible, and "Power" became unrecognizeable. For as "Gender" disables "Women" in the Academy, so does "Queer" virtually erase "Lesbian" in the streets. Together they have distracted, diverted and muddied their way through Patriarchy's worst enemy, Lesbian feminism.
What really irritates me is that sorority of fifty-plus- year-old tenured academics leading the forced march away from feminist analysis which they dismiss with intimidating jargon like "cultural feminism" and "identity politics". These people actually think "gender" is a verb. They "do" gender, "perform" gender, and make mush out of the genuine life-changing, radical feminism of yesteryear, which is how some of us still recognize sex-roles and power-over systems of male dominance.
Instead of obliterating women, the proper study of gender would lay bare how men do what, and to whom, confront men's institutional bad behavior and help them become less self- referential, obnoxious and destructive.
The good news is that some men are actually beginning to see through and discard toxic "manliness" to become human. The bad news is that pathetically little of this takes place in the Academy.
In addition to exposing male dominance, educating students about gender would reveal that decorative display represented as "feminine" is, in fact, rip-roaringly "masculine". For evidence we have only to refer to the animal or bird "kingdom", where males are normally far more beautifully turned out than females. Restricting "dressing up" to females contradicts mother nature. Who, after all, invented and administers it? I have often remarked that any second-rate drag queen can easily outdress Elizabeth Taylor. (They'd have a harder time outdoing Dolly Parton to whom drag is a disguise and a meal ticket rather than an inner imperative.)
"So why", you might ask, "are women exclusively assigned the duties and image so naturally suited to men?"
Now we're getting into DOMINANCE and SUBMISSION, the heart and soul of Patriarchy, where "masculinity" denotes dominance and "femininity" signals submission. It's as simple as that. And as complicated. For in a world run by bullies, true individual human natures must be wrenched into distorted roles demanding falsisfied appearances, behaviors, expectations, etc, ad nauseum.
Because men are removed from the creation of life in the terrifying real world, they construct a fake world where men MUST dominate, and women MUST submit. But since this is so UNNATURAL, deviations pop up like pimples on a teen. Therefore, Patriarchy needs monitoring the way teenagers need pimple cream.
Male display in the natural world serves to attract the indifferent female of the species. In the unnatural world of Patriarchy, men dress mainly to better position themselves in hierarchies which are easily read, conformed to and enforced. In this way men distinguish who they boss and who bosses them. Reliable, familiar pecking orders, like the military, help them feel comfortably secure and push fear away. And when it comes to dress coded sex-roles, men are likely to become extremely touchy. After all, they murdered Joan of Arc not for hearing voices, but for wearing men's clothing.
Furthermore, although actively heterosexual, most cross dressers, like J. Edgar Hoover, must dress up in secret so as not to get beaten up by men too fearful to wear dresses themselves. Many women appear to like male drag too, but in Patriarchy it's impossible to know what's authentic. Would women choose to wear men's dresses, their lipstick, their high heels and their cleavage outside Patriarchy? Or are they are merely trying to avoid disapproval? No one living in our unnatural world can know for sure.
The recent popularity of "Drag King" events for women speak more about superficial efforts to resolve power imbalances than it does about female display. It also demonstrates who young Dykes have been hanging out with, whose sensibility they've been absorbing, and to whom they have been looking for their identity. Which brings us back to "Queer," where a generation of young Lesbians has been schooled, where the ideas and passions of Lesbian Feminists often seem foreign, to whom the experience of women-only space appears alien, and for whom Dyke consciousness has faded into men of all "genders" and "Queers" of all nations.