How does Gender Define us?

I’ve recently been reflecting the whole on male vs. female thing, largely in part because I’ve been reading and watching a lot about it.

I just finished Kathleen Winter’s novel “Annabel” – a brilliantly written story about a hermaphrodite in Labrador, Canada. The writing itself was stunning – I couldn’t put the book down. Acclamations aside, the book is about the struggles of someone caught between two worlds: of being neither male nor female. Often the book referenced the character’s fascination with symmetry and bridges, and in particular the Ponte Vecchio in Italy – a bridge that people actually LIVE on. I thought it was such a beautiful way to represent Wayne/Annabel as a character, as s/he is truly living on the bridge between “maleness” and “femaleness.”

Another notable (if you can really call it that) event in my life is that I just finished watching the entire four seasons of Mad Men. I have been completely and utterly enamored with this show since starting from the beginning just a few months ago. The depiction of life in Manhattan – the most interesting city in the world – in the 60s – the most interesting era of our history – had me eating out of the palm of its hand. But what really got me was the distinction between men and women and how men treated women. I really started to reflect on how my gender has shaped my career and began asking myself – has it really mattered that I am a woman?

There is one scene from season two (aptly named “Who Am I”) where Joan says to Peggy: “You’re in their country now. Learn to speak their language.” Here we are with this whole “us” vs. “them” scenario. Although I like to think that in the year 2011, we’ve progressed past this, but have we really? Are women traveling to the country? Are they even making their passport application? The idealistic side of me says yes, and this is shaped by the many inspiring and strong women I meet all the time….but I’m still wondering – maybe women have simply colonized their own country now?

But on the flip side, can a woman be too strong? I was talking with some fellow colleagues (women) the other day, and was introduced to the “Queen Bee” concept – where a woman will destroy all other women around her and surround herself with men. I was pretty horrified at the thought of this – isn’t it about people? Does gender really matter? What about Brokeback Mountain – wasn’t the point of the movie that love is blind to gender and it’s just “all about humanity, MAN?” (to quote one of my most favorite and colorful colleagues).

I must say, I don’t really know the answer to any of this – I’m bound and blinded by society’s view of gender and my place, as a woman, within it.

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