In looking over the last few posts, before the posting of the next section of the document (which will take place on Friday), a lot of the discussion centered around how gender is influenced by the society around us and whether gender characteristics are learned or inherent. Also, on whether or not these differences should be highlighted and the danger in highlighting them. These are themes that we will revisit in future posts as well.
Recognizing that differences exist between women and men is not in and of itself detrimental to society. After all, differences exist even if it is just at the most basic physical level. What is important is recognizing that there is more to an individual than the characteristics that make them different. In fact, “the inner reality with which every human being is born, the reflection of the Divine in each of us” is crucial for recognizing the oneness of humanity and it is the recognition of this oneness that allows us to derive joy from the differences rather than use them as a reason for oppression. When placed at the center of our understandings of one another, focusing on these differences can have ruinous consequences.
Many people might be familiar with the recent article from the New York Times regarding the practice in Afghanistan of dressing young girls as boys in order to ease the social stigma a family devoid of male children must face. This article brings to light the superficiality that underlies the oppression of women. Once dressed in pants and sporting short hair, these little girls are capable of doing things just as well as young boys are. They can play soccer and cricket, escort their sisters and earn money for the family. Their capacities haven’t changed, just their physical appearance to the outside world. Yet once they reach a certain age, in most cases, their capacities are once again denied as they return to their status as second class citizens. What has changed in the transition back to being a girl? Their social utility as well as the conceptions of those around them with regards to what they can contribute to the family and what they should and shouldn’t do. What has changed is the understanding of the identity of this young child — she returns to being a female and all the negative associations that go along with that identity.