“Actioni contrariam semper et æqualem esse reactionem: sive corporum duorum actiones in se mutuo semper esse æquales et in partes contrarias dirigi.” (“To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.”)
— Isaac Newton, Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica
Gender is basically a social construct (as distinguished from sex which is biological). It is traditionally defined by a classification of certain assigned roles to people in a social formation. In this sense, masculine roles are sharply distinguished from those of the feminine. Through time we have seen how this situation has been institutionalized with the fabrication of an impregnable frontier that separates one gender from the other. There are tasks socially assigned to exclusively cover the range of a gender’s conduct. In other words, none of a particular gender’s traditional roles may be assigned to and thus performed by those who belong to the other gender. Along with this is the standardization of an imbalance between genders where one is considered to be more superior than the other.
We’ve even witnessed how a wedge is stuck between genders to segregate skills and professions and in the process consider some of them more distinguished over the others. Though more equitable societies generally found in the West have levelled off the gender playing field, so to speak, the spectre of the traditional past still lingers in some localities. There may really be some changes in different areas of concern where we have seen the frontier being traversed both ways. Yet, when it comes to the issue of one gender dominant over the other, quantitative/statiscal records still show the persistence of the traditional perception which is actually embedded in the people’s collective consciousness. This whole scenario affirms the notion that old habits are really hard to die (as a line of an old song goes).
Though we’ve already seen an increase in the number of males in the nursing profession, it is still predominated by women and hence remains to be considered as a feminine career. However, there are certainly positive indications that sooner or later, a balance in terms of gender will be achieved. The same is true among the professional practitioners in the fields of construction and transportation (air, land and sea) which are yet considered as masculine arenas despite the entry of women in trickles. We can enumerate more employment areas where gender classification is yet particularly stressed.
What I consider as seriously odious on the issue of gender distinction is the privileging of one over the other which in the traditional context is the masculine over the feminine. We could have seen some superficial instances where there seems to be a progress towards equality but a closer analysis reveals that underneath still remains the vestiges of the old patterns. We can sense here the protracted ramification of medieval religiosity which exalts the social prioritization bestowed on the male species. It only shows that despite the trend that veers away from the religious and moves onward to secularization, a considerable amount of certain values, behaviors and attitudes still reflect the clout of male-domination in religion that continues to exert a lasting influence even in the cultural apparatus of the modern western human being.
The ghost of patriarchy is very much alive and felt in many traditionalist societies even in the contemporary post-modern era. Male-dominated societies which give more emphasis on the exceptionality of sex roles than gender roles (the fact that these societies are said to be dominated by males) continually thrive as denizens in these societies are yet incapable to disentangle and distinguish sex roles from gender roles. Worse still, women remain subservient to the wishes and biddings of men who are regarded as physically stronger (which is a matter of sex and hence biological) and therefore more stable, more decisive, more purposeful and more determined (which are matters of gender and hence cultural). But a closer look at this equation reveals the faulty association because physical strength is not the precondition of stability, decisiveness, purposefulness and determination. In other words, over and beyond the physical and the biological, these personal qualities of cultural importance may be present and therefore further enhanced in both masculine and feminine genders. (1)
However, on a positive note, we have likewise acknowledged the fact that there are unrelenting forces amidst us that continue to sustain the struggle towards gender equality with remarkable achievements along the way. In highlighting this matter, we could even conjecture that the whole event is constitutive of an evolutionary process that will ultimately lead to the desired objective. In other words, there isn’t even a need to aggressively pursue the battle plan for like a railway track, every movement on it inevitably leads to where it is destined to end. Nevertheless, we are realistic that the whole process will surely take a longer period of time until the arrow finally and fully hits the target.
This whole culture of gender orientation and gender role performance is in general an issue of personal choice that does not have any necessary bi-conditional bearing with female or male sexuality. The state of affairs wherein certain roles are assigned exclusively by a traditionally patriarchal social orientation to one gender instead of to the other—which still relatively dominates many societies nowadays—has been undergoing a dramatic transformation. We are therefore heading towards the full flowering of a socio-cultural landscape where social roles become flexible and are not preconditioned by sexuality and strict gender role demarcation. (2)
(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 23 September 2015
(1) “On Sex and Gender” . . . https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/on-sex-and-gender/