Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Behold the power of gender

Art courtesy of
 From the kitchen, to world politics,  to the battlefield, gender determines the value of work, the distribution of resources, the divisions of power and violence. 

"Sugar and spice and everything nice -- that's what little girls are made of.  Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails -- that's what little boys are made of."

This seemingly innocent nursery rhyme is one of the ways in which language perpetuates the masculine/feminine dichotomy that begins at infancy.

From then on, our life is shaped by gender expectations and we learn how to adopt "gender-appropriate" behaviors.

We learn what real men do and what real women do.  That is, real men avoid feminized work - be it household chores, child care, clerical duties or other forms of service work.  Yet, it's perfectly fine for women to work to serve others.  That's the way things are.
Art courtesy of

Growing up, little girls are fed a steady diet of the Disney princess fantasy where the prince will come and "rescue" them from a life of drudgery so they can live happily ever after.

Actually, this premise has been acted out on the international scene where imperial governments have justified militarized colonization based on the perception of oppressed women who need to be "rescued."  George W. Bush did it in Afghanistan.

On the international stage, there's danger in these type of dichotomies.  By extension, femininity and masculinity are transferred to concepts, desires, tastes, style and culture that then become less legitimized and unimportant.

It's not enough to simply give little girls frogs and snails to play with.  We must examine the construction and perpetuation of gender -- even as it's conveyed in something as innocent as a nursery rhyme.

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