Identity Crisis: Locating Gender in the Current Scheme of Things

John Aldrich Telebrico and Daniel Sandino Concepcion

The Fundamental Dualism of Gender and Sex

It is a common mistake to equate gender with sex. It used to happen that an individual’s social roles are equated with one’s sexual organs. Men are expected to engage themselves with manual work, to enjoy the privilege of attending school, and to participate in policy-making activities of the public realm. Women, on the other hand, were expected to attend to domestic chores, and to refrain themselves from interfering with public issues.

True to the nature versus nurture dualism of man, social thinkers have attributed these roles to two polar forces. One camp says that such gender differences are rooted in biological differences. Working on the assumption that gender roles are common among society, the naturalists claim that the hormonal and neurological activity, and its variation between the sexes, determines one’s place in society. The other claims that such differences are products of interpretation and internalization of norms that have been transmitted socially. Eventually, the latter challenges the absoluteness and implacability of such gender constructs grounded in biological terms. The discourse paved the way for the understanding of patriarchy and its reaction, feminism.

Patriarchy gave birth to the antagonistic separation of the social world between the public space ruled by masculine intellect, and the private, domestic realm ruled by emotions associated with femininity. The so-called movements to an egalitarian society gave rise with the influence of the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication on the Rights of Women during the late 18th century, and other texts that promote equality. Three centuries have passed but are we currently living in a society that makes a huge deal out of gender differences?

Consumption of Identity

Gender identity, one’s notions of maleness or femaleness, is certainly an important facet of identity. Psychologist Albert Bandura claims that people obtain this through socialization. By observing and interacting with the environment, the child internalizes expectations and roles that his or her environment presents. This process of gender typing precedes a conscious understanding of the construct. Hence, as early as infancy, children would have started picking up generalizations and norms that define the gender. And the environment is rich with models to provide stereotypes: from one’s family to the peers to the media.

The constitution of gender is influenced by the current scheme of things. One’s concept of the self seems to rest in a template in which its elements will be filled upon using the available objects in the market. While it seems that a universal standard for becoming a man or a woman is nonexistent, the presentation of an ideal individual through media and advertising inevitably offers the spectator “suggestions” on how to define masculinity or femininity.

Manliness as presented in popular media can be possible through hygiene, machismo, slim and proportionate body: all of which is used to gain recognition and appreciation of the spectators. The modern woman, on the other hand, is depicted in popular media as confident, smart and independent. Looking at popular images of the modern woman in magazines, we can pay our last respect to the stereotyped conservative, mahinhin and malumanay Filipina. Now, she is the aggressive partner in a condom advertisement, the androgynous career-driven woman on her way to work, and the superficial fashionista who needs to buy all the latest cosmetic products. Beauty pageants and other similar engagements may set the trend in establishing tentative standards of beauty and knowledge. Different manifestations of the empowered woman as presented in a variety of forms, unfortunately, works in favour of the satisfaction of the eternal need for consumption.

Who is the Man? the Woman?

Those who do not fit the mold of the ideal man or woman as presented in popular media need not fret. It is still possible to present one’s self in blouse and skirt, while remaining a man vis-a-vis wear a tuxedo and remain a woman. The possibilities for self-expression are infinite- the creation of the self is a never-ending project yet cannot be satisfied in one’s lifetime. Individual identities may be created using the available templates provided by the market. Zygmunt Bauman would agree that consumption is evidence that freedom is possible, but only those who have the economic and cultural resources can enjoy the rewards that come with the package.