Gender is merely one aspect of a person

After five years at this university, I've finally taken a women's studies class. And only now has it ventured into the stereotypical male-bashing mode.

It was interesting to see men's reactions as the class discussed whether or not an author's gender affects interpretation of literature. Some students agreed, others didn't and others misinterpreted the question.

It all went downhill, however, when someone said that men could never understand women's dual roles in society, in the bedroom or anywhere else. And since men couldn't understand the struggle inherent to our lives, they could never write truthfully or perceptively about women.

As discussion took this turn, I watched as the men sat up in their chairs, folded their arms across their chest and looked like they were being yelled at by their parents. Some looked like they would rather be anywhere but in that discussion.

I don't blame them. It's never fun to be attacked for who or what you are. Beliefs and ideas can be discussed, but someone's gender is (usually) not alterable. Just as the foundation of a person's ethnicity or race cannot be changed, neither can their gender.

Gender is not the same as biological sex, however. Sex is female and male, gender is woman and man. Penises, testicles, vaginas and uteruses make up males and females; socialization, role models, nurturing and experiences make up women and men. Men are more than their penis, and women are more than their uterus.

It is true that women and men have different perspectives on life and living. It is also true that any two people will have different perspectives. Background does count in a person's point of view, and it is reflected in their art.

The class discussion turned toward maternity and motherhood, and all that is expected of women, historically and today. Someone posited that girls today are still indoctrinated with the belief that a woman's main job is to make babies and be mothers, even if they have careers.

Historically, women were encouraged to have large families to either provide hands on the farms, or to supply a steady stream of workers of soldiers. Now, however, it seems women are encouraged to focus on their careers and motherhood comes secondary.

Motherhood and careers are viewed as opposites, that doing both with any degree of quality is virtually impossible. Good mothers can, and do, work busy schedules and handle both jobs with grace and competence.

To assume that balancing motherhood and a career is a Herculean feat is almost demeaning. I know some women who are insulted when men are amazed that they can go to school, work and raise a child especially if they are single.

Admiration for a person who accomplishes what others consider a difficult task is natural, and should not automatically be labeled as an insult. However, there seems to be an underlying feeling of patting the woman on the head, saying "what a big, brave girl you are."

That is insulting.

Men shouldn't condescend to women who are "doing it all," and women shouldn't have the gall to tell other women that their decision to have a child is selling out to the male-manipulated gender roles assigned to us since birth. Women who chose to stay home with children are no less valued members of society than are those who have careers, with or without children.

Gender is an important facet of how a person's point of view skews experience. Objectivity has no place in art, from the artist or the viewer. Art, including literature, is a lesson in seeing through a different person's eyes. An artist is not bound to her own experience in her work, and part of the artistic experience is stretching beyond your world.

Knowing an artist's gender puts a spin on her work, because there is a set of assumptions that goes along with a name. Some women authors take on men's names to avoid the weight and pre-judgment of those assumptions, and some artists simply use initials. This adds an air of mystery to the work, and also allows the work to be judged on its own merits, instead of the preconceived notions that men can't write about women, women can't write authentically about men, and on and on.

Yet it is also misleading, because a point of reference is missing. Gender is part of who a person is, but only a part. We must see a person for who they are a person.

Sarah Garrecht is Wildcat editor in chief and a journalism senior.

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