Online Exclusive: “The Divide” panelists reflect on gender polarization

'Gender is a social construct' Neuhouser said

Bethel Zekariase | The Falcon
Panelists Seattle Pacific University Professor of Sociology Kevin Neuhouser, University of Washington Professor Bettina Judd, University of Washington Professor Priti Ramamurthy and Seattle University Professor Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs sit and discuss the evening’s topics.

Before the audience’s questions were heard, they found themselves questioning their own experiences.

Junior Courtney Perine, STUB’s main coordinator for the “The Divide: Making Sense of Gender in Today’s Polarized World,” gave a series of three directions that aroused a consideration of gender in the audience.

“Please move to the windows if you played with Barbie, Polly Pocket, Bratz or dolls more as a child, and please move to the wall if you played with Hot Wheels, Legos or action figures,” Perine said, giving the first direction.

Most of the female audience members moved to the windows, while most of the male members moved to the wall.

“Please move to the windows if you were allowed or encouraged to wear pink as a child, and please move to the wall if you did not or were not allowed to wear pink as a child,” she said, following up the first.

This time, a mix of male and female audience members moved to the window, while only male audience members moved to the wall.

“Please move to the windows if people have ever questioned your major because of your gender, and please move to the wall if that has not happened,” she said.

This time, there was no gender distinction between the participating members. A mix of all genders moved to both the windows and the wall.

On Thursday, March 2, SPU’s Student Union Board held the event entitled,“The Divide: Making Sense of Gender in Today’s Polarized World.”

Perine explained the exercise and said, “Our goal for that activity was to show gender polarization in action and the ways gender stereotypes have been generalized as we’ve grown up.”

“The Divide” included a panel discussion, where the audience could submit questions via Google, and chosen questions were repeated for the panelists to answer. SPU’s Campus Programs Coordinator and the faculty facilitator for the event, Jacob Arzaga led the panel by reading aloud questions submitted by the audience.

The question-and-answer-style event included four panelists: University of Washington Professor Bettina Judd, Seattle Pacific University Professor of Sociology Kevin Neuhouser, Seattle University Professor Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muh and University of Washington Professor Priti Ramamurthy.

Arzaga asked the first question of the panelists: “How do you define gender polarization?”

Gutiérrez y Muh said, “It is as if, when you are born, you were supposed to come with a narrative of what it meant to be masculine or feminine.”  

Others expanded on the idea that gender polarization relates to societal expectations.

“It makes me think of gender as a line,” Judd said. “At one end is male, and at the other end is female, but it isn’t quite that simple. There are other experiences and social conditions that make life not so polarizing.”

Ramamurthy touched on the biological side of gender polarization. She said, “If we think about sex when it matters, it is during reproduction.”  

She asked, “How many of us in this room are pregnant?”  Her question got a laugh, and she said it showed the audience that sex and biology are not as pertinent as society makes them out to be.

Developing the subject of science and gender, Neuhouser pointed out that biology may declare a person’s sex, but it is not to be confused with determining gender.  

“Gender is a social construct,” he said. “It is a script that culture tries to give you at birth. If [gender] was biological, culture would not have to spend so much time trying to enforce it and reminding you of it.”  

Arzaga also noted that many questions being submitted related to gender fluidity in the Christian church.  He asked the panelists to expand on the dialogue around gender fluidity and the way it is being approached in Christian theology.

Neuhouser recalled the way Jesus is not presented as masculine in the Brazilian culture.

“Latin America culture describes that Jesus was, in many ways, acting feminine,” he said. “He turned the other cheek, he loved his enemies … In [Western culture], we have tried to polarize Jesus in ways that violate the stories we read in the Gospels.”

Judd talked about the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Trinity.  

“The particular manifestation of the Holy Spirit is described as feminine,” she said. “It is very different from the war-like, punitive, masculine sky God.”  

She described how the Holy Spirit is a comforter and exhibits many female traits.

To end the panel, Arzaga asked what the future of gender looked like to the four panelists.

For Neuhouser, the future of gender depends on how generations respond today.  

“The future is not predetermined,” he said. “Gender is implicated with power. Power is always contested, so gender will always be contested. It is up to us to make power liberating or constraining.”

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