The Teach Yourself Sex Ed course continues and this week we are going to think about gender, you, and culture. Start thinking about chocolate bars, mmmmm. Remember, as with everything here, this is for over 14s.
Welcome back to the course, hope you’re doing okay. This is part three: here’s part two, and here’s part one. I’ve already done a few articles about gender and identity and privilege so I’ll be repeating and linking to those.
Before you start, you might want to get some pens and paper if you have them around.
1. Create some characters
As you might have guessed here’s a creative task. I’d like you to create 6 different characters, ideally a mix of different kinds of people with different identities.
You can draw them if you want or just draw stick characters. You could also pick 6 characters from a TV show that you know really well. Like Friends, or Bridgerton (fun fact: both really boring) whichever. Or use your imagination, which is probably more fun.
You could use these drawings as a basis for your characters if you wanted.
The most important thing is that you make each character really interesting. Make them sound like a real person. With each character give them:
How they like to look:
What they do:
Their class background:
How much money they have:
Who they like to hang out with:
Five words to describe them:
Try to have an idea of their back story too. What was life like for them at home, at school, or in their community. Were they treated well by the people around them? Has their relationship with the gender they were assigned at birth changed? How fairly were they treated? What was expected of them? How do they feel about their body?
Spend as much time as you like doing that. If you are pleased with them and want to send them to me, ping them over to my instagram.com/bishsexed. These drawings are for the next bit.
Hang on to these, because you will need them for next week’s lesson too.
2. Masculine and Feminine
In the UK we live in a culture where (sadly) our idea of gender is dominated by two terms. Masculine and Feminine. Your task is to think of what these mean in society. It might not be what you think personally, but what does the culture we live in tell us what these words mean.
In order to be feminine what do you have to be? You have to be [choose at least 5 separate words].
In order to ‘be masculine’ what do you have to be? You have to be [choose at least 5 separate words].
You can do these in any order you like, but come up with at least 5 descriptive words for each. If you like, you could go to the last module of the course and use some of those words. You could also cheat and search them online. Do that now and then come back here. Give yourself at least 10 minutes on this.
How did you get on? Was it easy or tricky? What do you notice about the words? Would you say that the words to describe femininity are similar or different to words used to describe masculinity?
Which order did you choose to do them in? Think of the phrase ‘masculine and feminine’, is it ever ‘feminine and masculine’? Search it and see. Why is it masculine first even though f comes before m in the alphabet? Really, why?
3. Back to the characters
We’re going to use the words that you came up with to describe masculinity and femininity to see how they apply to your characters. Put the words for masculinity on one side and the words for femininity on the other. For each character move them around in between these words to see where they are.
You will probably find that your characters are moving around a lot in between the words you have chosen. Sometimes they might be closer to the feminine words and sometimes they might be closer to the masculine words. Think carefully about each person – remember that they are an interesting well rounded person. You made them that way. You’ll probably be putting a lot of them in the middle or sighing a lot and saying ‘it depends’. Or ‘oh god this is boring’.
Now think about their gender label. If they are a man, are they always being masculine? For the women, are they always feminine? If you have non-binary characters, are they always slap bang in the middle?
Find out more about sex and gender labels
4 . The Rules
In an ideal world, all your characters would be able to move around between all the different words for feminine and masculine and no-one would care or notice. And we do live in an ideal world so that’s okay.
Lol, only joking. As you will probably already know, or have experienced for yourself, there are very strict rules about gender. These rules are in culture, which is everywhere and we can’t step outside of it. Men are supposed to be masculine at all times. Women are supposed to be feminine at all times (and also sometimes to be masculine too, so long as that’s okay with the men).
Remember in the last session when I asked you to think about you and the idea of the individual being in the middle of culture. The messages we receive from culture (or you could say ‘society’) are very very powerful, particularly about gender.
Sometimes the rules are annoying and a bit restrictive, other times they can be really dangerous. Go back to your characters and think about what rules apply to them. Remember that your characters are well rounded: so you might have a man who is disabled and a carer. A black woman in a profession dominated by white men. Maybe a young person who is ‘meh’ about their gender. A woman who is trans, a goth, and really into Derby County.
Think about the rules and then think about where they are between the words you wrote down. What does our culture say about where they are safest and where they are least safe?
Read about privilege and how solidarity not guilt is the way forward.
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5. How the rules are enforced
So as you will have probably worked out, some people get to feel mostly ‘safe’ and accepted being their gender. Other people often don’t feel very safe or accepted at all. The rules about gender, and what you have to do to be able to fit in, are the most difficult thing about gender. Think about how hate speech, or discrimination, or prejudice are used to enforce how people should do their gender. Sexism. Transphobia. Homophobia. Racism. Disablism. Classism.
What do these isms and phobias have in common? Who does them? Which of your characters is most protected from them? Looking back on your words for ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, which of these are most important in society?
Read this about Bullying and how it happens (it’s very much related to these rules)
6. One final silly activity
Here’s a silly game you can play with your friends, or your parents, or anyone you live with or home-school with. Think of all the chocolate bars that you can buy in shops: double deckers, kit kats, crunchies, curly wurlies etc etc. Plot them on a graph, like this.
What does that tell you about what culture is telling us about gender? With each bar think about what it is that is telling us something about the bar. The flavour, the logos, the colours, the advertising, the name, what it says. How much of this is about us and our view of gender? Does it affect what chocolate bars we feel we can buy? Hello again, culture.
Learning how to choose a chocolate bar is also an example of how to do self-consent too.
For further reading about this I’d recommend Meg-John Barker’s Gender A Graphic Guide.
Teach Yourself Sex Ed – Sexualities is the next lesson
Do leave a comment below if you have anything you’d like to add or if you have questions. I moderate all comments before they go live. Click here to ask me a question
© Justin Hancock, 2022
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Find out more about Justin here