Personal Reflection- by Sadaf Chaudhry
When I first signed up for this course, I was skeptical of whether I would truly enjoy this course as I had never taken a course like this before. Notwithstanding, presently toward the finish of the semester, I can without a doubt say that this course has really improved my insight into gender identity, gender stereotypes, transgender history and other significant themes related with sexual orientation. Regardless of whether it was about the historical significance of the struggles of transgender community in this country or the very meaning of the word “feminism” or the role of black women in initiating the fight for women’s rights. I had consistently believed myself to be a “feminist” yet I knew nothing about what it precisely intended to be feminist. I acquired so much new knowledge and learned about the experiences of some of the most influential figures that I had never learned about. For instance, learning about Marsha P. Jonhson and Sylvia Rivera’s background and how it impacted their role in the fight for trans rights. Angela Davis’s book Women, Race & Class, not only exposed me to the very realness of slavery in influencing the lives of African Americans but how damaging it was for black women specifically. In one of the chapters, she writes about white women being at the forefront of the First Feminist Wave while completely disregarding the struggles of black women and their contributions to the movement. This was such an educational experience because it not only reflected on the grounds of racism rooted in white supremacy and how intersectionality is enabled to threaten the rights of women of color. White women were simply battling sexism while women of color needed to challenge the presence of racial oppression and sexism within their communities as well. Through Davis’s book, I also found out about Sojourner Truth and one her most remarkable speeches in which she greatly emphasized on “Ain’t I a Women” in a response to the discriminatory behavior against women of color in the fight against liberation.
Furthermore, Butler’s article on gender performativity was the set-off point, it not only enlightened me about how we all collectively perform gender and how easily gender identity can be challenged but also made me question the durability of other social constructs such as race or even time. The overall class discussion tackled so many important social issues; whether it was about men wearing dresses/nail polish, or other stereotypes surrounding gender roles (e.g., gender-based toys, colors association with gender) or the concept of gender reveal parties. These discussions revealed the very essence of the whole class being engaged in serious conversations that would normally go unnoticed. For instance, I felt comfortable talking about the traditional norms and how fragile masculinity is but if I were to have the same conversation in my home, it would not go so well. So, the class environment was completely different than that of a traditional classroom where we only go to acquire knowledge for testing rather it focused more on the learning aspect through our personal experiences along with the assigned course work. It was not just about learning but living it as well. Among all the concepts we focused on in the class, one of my favorite activities was the gender text collection. This is mainly because it was something completely new to me and it made me challenge my critical thinking skills. It was so interesting to learn about how I and my peers were able to find topics that challenged the traditional norms for gender.
The course not only opened routes for new ideas but also made use of our critical thinking skills. The very first assignment was so exciting, I remember talking to my physical therapist about the different ideas I had in mind for this specific assignment. I had never written a public post, the thrill, and anxiety of knowing that anyone can access my work made me want to write something I was passionate about. I decided to write about the hijra communities of South Asia. One of the many reasons why I chose to write about this topic was the ability to tell people about the struggles of hijras and spread awareness about their existence. This is because I remember having an encounter with hijras as a child and the treatment of our elders towards them truly made me question the concept of humanity as a 7-year-old. I wondered why they were being treated differently when we’re all human. Hence, the title for my blog post is “Are They Any Less Human?” The blog post was like a mini-research assignment with the freedom of choosing whichever topic for research. Through my research. I was exposed to so many aspects of their lives and how truly heartbreaking it is for them to live in such conservative societies. The research urged me to watch a documentary about this topic; it was so informational as it shed light on the seriousness of the conditions they are living through. The lack of employment opportunities, being exploited by the members of their community because of money, the inability to have relationships with their own families, inability to fulfill their dreams, risking damage to their bodies to fulfill basic needs, and many more. This assignment was more than just about writing but it was more about experiencing reality and enlightening myself with the privileges I have and the accessibility to spread awareness about something that my people go through every day.
In addition, the blog post assignment was not just centered around me being able to expose my ideas but also retrieving new information through other public posts of my peers. I read a few of their posts and it truly gave an insight on an important issue that I had never given much thought about before taking this course. For instance, one of the posts talked about the institution of marriage, while another post that triggered my personal interest was Housework: The idea that it’s just a “woman’s” job by Syedah. Partially because it reflects on the very trueness of how normalized it is for women to be considered the caretakers for the home and do outside jobs as well. Syedah not only tackles the stereotypical association of housework being a woman’s job but you can tell the frustration in her voice as she seeks to validate that a woman should be more than a caretaker for her husband or children. Syedah also reflects on her background influencing her to challenge this kind of mindset and I can completely relate to this as a reader.
Lastly, the group project was another assignment that I truly enjoyed because of the way my group structured the layout. Focusing on the specific job professions and how gender stereotypes have been enforced in these professions is something we rarely talk about. For example, when I first started looking into research journalism, there were only limited resources where I could obtain valuable input. This is why I decided to focus on politics instead. It was not as easy to access the research either as many of the articles focused on one thing which was the underrepresentation of women being influenced by voter behavior. This is true however I was certain that there are many other reasons for such underrepresentation. Through my research, I found out that women are expected to behave a certain way to appeal to voters and to be even considered a fit for the job. This is because politics is considered to fall under the domain of masculine professions and for women to prove their “worth,” they have to act in ways that their male counterparts are exempt from. For example, I talked about this in my presentation, women dressing a certain way has been an issue for as long as women have been part of the political settings. Whether they wear a dress, boots, heels, or even pantsuit, they will receive harsh judgment regardless. Sometimes their political beliefs will be questioned for dressing a certain way. I was also able to talk about Irving and her research in which she writes how women are expected to portray both feminine and masculine traits to be considered qualifiable yet they are also expected to maintain the traditional characteristics of a woman who should be kind, affectionate, and responsible, unlike men who can be aggressive, authoritative, and challenging. Over the semester, our group met a few times but the fact that we had assigned each person their duties, it was not as hard to communicate. Everyone was respectful of one another’s ideas and this was evident when we decided to change the presentation template yet no one was bothered. Regarding the presentation, we all performed well but I believe that I could have expressed my thoughts better because my anxiety got the best of me. Therefore, the project helped strengthen my social and analytical skills through communication/research.