The Mythology of Gender

“It’s the myth that we live in. . . Every culture is trying to understand itself. Why do we exist? And every culture comes up with its own understanding of life, its own customized version of mythology. Culture is a reaction to nature.”

I know Devdutt Pattanaik discusses a lot of things that may seem unrelated to what I usually write about, but I promise his talk is extremely relevant.  Among other fascinating things, he talks about the difference between “the world” and “my world,”—the difference between objective truth and subjective truth.

“The world” is the natural phenomena of the world. How the sun rises, how we are born, etc. “My world” is the mythologies that give us meaning and purpose and become the makeup of a culture. Why the sun rises, why we are born, etc. Here’s the connection:

Biological sex is “the world” —a natural phenomenon. Gender identity is “my world”—part of our mythology. Without culture we would have no gender. It is a myth.

The fault of American culture (and I focus on American culture because that is what I know) lies in confusing the two—in insisting that “my world” is the same as “the world.” We do not see a separation between the natural and the cultural; we are obsessed with unifying them to create a more absolute, universal, linear “truth.” We think what we have created existed before us.

This bleeds into gender and sexuality conflicts and misunderstandings. Because most people assume that gender is a natural phenomenon, they believe that being transgender (i.e. male who is a woman, female who is a man) is a problem, a dysfunction, a misfiring of neurons. Thankfully, the new term “gender dysphoria” is a much more accurate term than the old “gender identity disorder.” The fact that the field of Psychology now understands it this way is an improvement. Next step: the masses.

Hopefully an understanding of gender’s fluidity will eventually be common knowledge, and with that will come a much needed change in attitudes toward the transgender community.

“Understand that you live in the subjective truth, and so does he. Understand it, and if you understand it, you will discover something spectacular. You will discover that within infinite myths lies the eternal truth.”

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12 responses to “The Mythology of Gender

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  5. Ummm… nope. I am pretty thoroughly certain that I am male, my wife is female, and our kids are either or. Gender is not a myth. “Gender Roles” are also not a myth. Just because you can drive a nail with a screwdriver does not mean that the screwdriver will ever be as suitable for driving nails as a hammer, or that the hammer will ever be as suitable for driving screws as a screw driver. Gender Roles originally adapted to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the genders, and to take advantage of them and amplify them to the extent possible.

    Is that saying that they have never been abused? Certainly not. There is no doubt that the concept of ‘women’s work’ or a ‘man’s world’ are seriously screwed up. However, there are things that men and women physically will excel at more naturally. Note, I did not say that it was impossible, with some very few biological exceptions, for men or women to do equally well at a given task. Just like the fact that you can drive a nail with a screw and or a crow bar does not make the screw or crow bar suitable to doing the others work, just because men and women are capable of doing the same things mean that they are best suited for those tasks.

    That is the point that a lot of people, men and women alike, seem to miss. I do not think for a moment that women or men are incapable because of their gender, far from it. There are things my wife does that I hold her in great esteem for because I simply could not make it work, and she has often related similar expressions to me. We make things work because we understand our strengths, understand our weaknesses, and do our best to compensate for each other.

    • Your analogy is inappropriate because people are not single-purpose tools – we’re more like computers that can be programmed with different software to do a very large variety of tasks. You can browse the web on your laptop. You can also do it on your smartphone, but some webpages won’t render as well. You can make a phone call from your computer but you need to install Skype first and it probably doesn’t have a very good microphone because it wasn’t designed to be a phone primarily. But it’s adaptable, like people are. Our experiences are our programming. We can take a class or read a book or practice a skill to install new software in our brains.

      Also: http://www.flickr.com/photos/plymouths/4833644896/

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