Thursday, 20 January, 2022

Unlearn and Relearn Gender

Jainab Tabassum Banu Sonali

Unlearn and Relearn Gender
Jainab Tabassum Banu Sonali

The sex/gender debate is an essential part of the discourse in the second wave feminism. Though much has already been said and written about it, people still need to know the clarified implications of these two concepts. One of the key figures of the second wave feminism Simone de Beauvoir wrote the following line in the beginning of her most acknowledged book The Second Sex: “One is not born rather becomes a woman”. This very line is enough for us to understand that the notion “gender” takes its full form in the process of “becoming”. It does not offer anyone a state of being! One may be born a female; she is expected to become a woman by going through a long socio-cultural process. And in that process, the inevitable gender discrimination begins.

Gender disparity is something that is intentionally and unintentionally, consciously and unconsciously done by the society in which almost half of the population is women. In fact, gender-based discrimination and gender specific planning are made in a family before a child is born. When a woman conceives a baby, people along with herself dream of the baby in a very gendered way. They wait for 20 weeks or so in order to know more about the “gender” of the baby than about the anomaly report of the fetus. The biological feature determines the “sex” of the fetus. Still culturally, we use the term “gender revealed”. In fact, nowadays, many solvent families throw gender reveal parties based on two prominent themes: blue for a baby boy and pink for a baby girl!

I am not at all against this celebration or baby shower. Anything that brings the family members happily together is definitely embraceable! Nonetheless, as soon as sex is revealed, gender is specified. The gender reveal occasion, thus, causes an infantile fixation in our thought process as the discrimination starts right from then on. In most cases, these discriminatory practices take place in our discursive formation. Gautama Buddha said, “We are what we think, all that we are arises with our thoughts, with our thoughts we make the world”. The gender we think and talk, the gender we do in our everyday life. Since it is a part of the thought process, the concept can be unlearned and then relearned in a completely different, yet positive way.

First of all, it is to be admitted with a wide heart and clear mind that gender is not a concept of feminism only. It should be studied from socio-cultural and also from a linguistic point of view. In another word, gender is an anthropological discourse. However, society has its own way to liquidize and then navigate the idea in people’s mindset. This is how the gender-based roles are defined which raises the questions of stereotypes and oppression. Since the honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sets the SDGs in which women empowerment and gender equality are two most vital agendas, we, from the ground levels, also should start deconstructing gender binary and remapping the way gender exists in the society.

For example, instead of looking for the brightness in the complexion of a baby girl, we can dream of letting her build a brighter future for herself and her surroundings. As soon as a baby girl is born, people become over concerned with her skin tone because after all she has to be married off to a suitable suitor. They conventionally think that the fairer the baby is, the better the chances are for her to get a richer groom. This sort of mindset keeps us inside the box of stereotypes which severely causes many damages in the growth of a nation at large.

Similarly, we should never treat boys as the hardest nut to crack by saying, “Men do not cry”! Boys have emotions too. They can shed tears like any normal human being. Crying should be normalized for both genders. It is a humanly expression, not a feminine one. Similarly, a boy may prefer pink to blue. A girl may want to play with cars instead of dolls. Young men may choose to study literature and ladies may go for engineering. These are all matters of choices which should not be shacked with the idea of gender.

Moreover, besides gender binary, the concept of gender should also be unlearned and relearned within the same gender dialectics. A woman goes through hundreds of stereotypical comments in her everyday life! If she wears a dark red lipstick, she is called a slut. If she does a 9 to 5 job keeping a toddler at home, she is called a monstrous mother. If she wants to lose weight, she is called an attention seeker. If she does not want to lose weight and feels comfortable in her own body, she is called lazy! The angle/whore debate lies in the same gender.

Similarly, men are also given a lot of corny and clichéd stigmas. When a man cries out of depression, he is called weak. When he shares household chores with his wife, he is called a wife’s pet. When he wears pink or purple, he is called feminine and sometimes gay! When he takes care of his own baby, he is compared to the mother. Why on earth is this important to compare a father to a mother? Parenting is a shared job! There are many other stereotypes for both men and women. These aforementioned points are just the tip of the iceberg.

Therefore, it is high time we studied gender differently. We need to learn about the gender of our own and the other to confess that both genders are normal. Deborah Tanen came up with a theory called “Genderlect theory” which proposes that men and women use language separately based on their genders. The study also shows how gender ideology shapes a woman and a man linguistically. In a society, the way these two genders speak tells a lot about the society itself. When a woman’s voice is silenced and subalternized and her opinions are not taken, the growth of the society will remain static.

Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that a woman’s opinion is important as much as that of a man. Since language is a powerful tool to shape and reshape human ideology, we should use it wisely. We should be inclusive in our use of language in terms of gender. Cultural activities are another way of igniting the ungendered spirit in people’s minds. Banhishikha—unlearn gender, a non-profit organization, has been trying to deconstruct the conventional idea of gender, aiming at establishing gender equality and bridging the gap between people, through their theatrical activities since 2010. A wide and huge round of applause for their initiative!

Banhishikha has been doing their job to unlearn gender from a socio-cultural level. The ungendering process should be done from all levels, starting from the personal to professional. We should give equal privileges to our sons and daughters and treat them not on the basis of the sex organ they have in their bodies, but on the basis of the cerebral capacity they have in their brain and humanitarian qualities they carry in their minds.


The writer is a Lecturer, Department of English Language and Literature, Premier University Chittagong