Culture as a Device of Change in Gender Performance and the State

Paul Fischer
Anthropology 342
Third Written Assignment

Culture as a Device of Change in Gender Performance and the State

Social norms control the actions of people in thousands of imperceptible ways. Laughing, gossip, other modes of maintaining social norms can be encountered even by ordinary individuals many times in the course of their day. The concept of gender as a member of the host of societal issues affecting people may appear to be inherently limited in scale, to recent waves of various feminist movements, but it is one which permeates our entire range of actions and movements. More importantly, the continuation of these norms by the state and business as society tries to remove them creates a paradox that explains the subjugation of women far better than other attempts such as the gender-application of Freud’s  penis envy. This relationship that is established between men and women is based on the maintenance of unequal norms by various communicative devices, primarily cultural. As these cultural devices change, it is reflected in society.
Women, in a general sense, can only be expected in our society to gain access to money through men. This will be true as long as gender performance exists the way it does today. Their highly stylized gender-performance is focused around an ideal created by men, and perpetuated by fear of losing their access to their livelihood. The fundamental precept that is assumed here is that men have the money. If that were to change, then man would lose the power and be subjugated. This relationship is intrinsically involved with the application of the state in society, and is the primary paradox which has resulted in centuries of feminine exclusion and debasement, in matters of public life and work. The state is a tool man created to protect this power and culture is a device that can slowly implement change. There are other devices, war, rebellion, outside influences, etc. but they are all extremely damaging and costly when they occur.
What happens in a society regulated by the state is that the social norms are set through laws such that they do not reach a point where extremes, such as murder or incest, occur randomly and might be celebrated. In our society, the state has instead turned into a tool of oppression which makes it possible to maintain a relatively constant level of power over women, without suffering consequences. In the same way, it would be conceivable to reverse the power, or financial stability so that men seek to gender-perform in order to survive. Unfortunately, this isn’t particularly better than the status quo; what is needed is the constant maintenance of norms at a moderate level that allows cultural devices and the state to communicate freely and inclusively.
It is possible for the state to be involved harmoniously within an open and nonprejudicial social system. To do this, the gender situation needs to be addressed directly, with clear goals in mind. Making real progress against inequality in gender reaches beyond simple anti-harassment lawsuits or adjusting percentage points on a paycheck, in this case the progress made can only be measured in the slow changes in human perception. As people recognize that different values are being rewarded, other than masculinity, societal norms actually can change. First wave feminism was only the result of quiet, patient work in America by women, dating back to Abigail Adams and earlier, to expand the role of women in public and commercial life. These women used social connections and print methods of communication to slowly change the economics and intellectual thought of and about gender. By the time people’s concept of the female gender moved from the Victorian “angel on a pedestal” ideal to one where women could hold positions in the workplace, rights such as suffrage were afforded to them, and by 1940 women were a part of WWII’s war machines.
That is an oversimplification, perhaps, but it shows how gradual changes in gender norms can impact real change socially and politically. Today we have new problems with women-relations, and entire new groups such as homosexuals that need to be allowed to take part, without prejudice, in our society. For this to happen the maintenance of norms in society need to be constantly adapting in order to ensure that the state, which is fatally reactionary, doesn’t revert backwards, leading to oppression. The tool that provides the link between the maintenance of norms and the state is culture, which operates as a device intended to allow people to relate to one another, normally accompanied by judgement based on previously held traditions. In moving past judgement
The greatest example of modern maintenance of norms is television. With one news story, commercial, or show, producers can effect millions of people at once. To understand the impact of television on each individual, imagine an ordinary male Canadian  reaction to an air freshener commercial. They see a house that is perfectly arranged and kept with cars, good smell, TVs, and of course a wife. The viewer sees this idyllic scenario and wants to have everything in it: house, cars, good smell, TV, and a women. Once, he (or she) might have breathed deep and set out to accomplish and achieve, but now they simply laugh at these outdated ideas of gender roles and personal success. This is an example of how culture can strongly influence the mindset of people in a state society, illustrating a potential tool in attempting to subvert the state and open public life to women. This is not limited to commercials or anything, for a similar example look to sitcoms, which take shows that used to show the perfect or ideal family and make it suitable for the audience to laugh at.
Individually, it can be difficult to change social norms, for the simple reason that even if one person knows what is right and is divinely inspired or such, then they become a laughingstock as long as the rest of society maintains different norms. However, the constant change in these norms earlier discussed, means that it is possible to change the system while conforming outwardly to gender-performance.  This is not hypocritical because even if one rejects all gender performance, they are still performing in that but they simply are at a radical end of the social norm continuum. When dealing with social norms, ultimately, one has to conform and cultural devices to implement change, slowly or quickly depending on technology, because radical pursuit of equality scares away far more people and attracts far less than a sitcom, for example.

Little men, how the oppression of women can destroy a man.

Little men, how the oppression of women can destroy a man.
Paul Fischer
Anth 342

Relationships can be trying and difficult, both at first and after a long time. A six year old boy listening to his parents escalating fight attests to this. As he sits in the driveway in the scorching summer heat salting slugs, the father figure, unemployed, far from home and far overqualified for the odd jobs he finds takes out his frustration on his wife, who struggles to raise children (three including the father) and finish her Medical degree. What little understanding the boy has of the reasons and motives for argument, he is left with an image imprinted in his brain forever.

His parents are silhouetted against the hallway light, father’s hands tightly gripping his mother’s neck. They are fighting each other, the words “daddy, daddy dont kill mommy!” seem to come from someone else’s mouth, but the disgusted father flings the mother at the boy, both of whom in tears. Hours later again in the ER. Months later still trying to work things out. Not until years later, after psychological and physical torture, did the boy, his mom, and his one-year old brother desperately flee that abusive father. The mom claims that what finally ended the delusion of working out the relationship was when the father turned to her and said, entirely sober and serious, “I could really kill you, like if I ever want to.”
For most individuals, when they are put in a situation where they have to make a decision, such as a life or death decision, the blood stream is shunted off to the frontal right cortex. This part of the brain is primarily used in executive function, and encourages cool, calm, collected behavior even in extremely dangerous situations. This is a relatively ineffective biological method of stopping certain feedback loops that, when perpetuated, can lead to homicide. Alternatively, the blood is sometimes diverted to different parts of the brain. In this case, the individual becomes extremely aggressive. Every word or action becomes hostile to them, and provokes uncontrollable responses.
The problem here however was not biological, but social. As will be explained later, the German father had radically different marital norms to the mother, who grew up in Indiana. The stratification that occurred through their relationship was intensified by a sense of futility and poverty. They met in Montreal at a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young concert in the mid-80’s, and quickly fell in love and got married in 1989. Soon after the mother realized that certain parts of being a German “haus-frau” were actually quite barbaric. After asking a psychologist in Nuremberg about what options she had, having just given birth to a child who was beaten in the womb, she was informed that the situation was normal, that she should go home to cook and clean. Her parents were somewhat more sympathetic, but essentially gave the same advice. Instead she decided to finish medical school, and her husband and child came with her.
The misery of those next years are not entirely describable. The enormous stress on a medical student raising a child combined with the frustration of having a fully qualified German CPA and attorney-at-law created a situation in which higher executive function did not come into play. Instead, even minor incidents flared up into fights, with both mother and father unable to control their emotions, verbally and physically abusing each other as, near-by, their child committed genocide against the slug populations of their constantly changing apartments.
For someone the age of that child, not many remember what they were doing when Bill Clinton was caught with the post-girl, but that boy listened to his sobbing mother, little brother, and the AM radio for most of the twelve hour car trip. Somehow, it seemed fitting when his mother explained that father is a criminal, the president of the United States was also in trouble. He did not really understand. He knew they hurt each other. He thought they loved each other as well.
A decade later, he went to Germany and stayed with his Uncle, in order to meet this “lost” family of his. What he found in his father was somewhat shocking. The man was broken, a victim of his own mode of oppression. His entire life had become so caught up with one woman, perhaps it was love in a sort of way, that he had completely self-destructed. Ten years later, he still conducts his law office in cash and works the bare minimum to survive in order to keep childcare payments from her. He claimed to have forgotten her, but obviously had fed feedback loops and perpetuated a cycle that is today as pathetic as it was once vicious.
The ability of the state to impose some limits on these feedback loops, by making murder or rape illegal, for example, is significant. This story shows that it is not enough. That even two highly educated, loving individuals can fight like barbarians when both society and state fails to establish some level of mandatory mutual respect. Usually, it might be said that men oppress, and therefore damage women. What this makes clear, however, is that the damage to men is equally as great, and the establishment and maintenance of social norms to respectful levels is vitally important to both sexes.

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