Judith Lorber is Professor Emerita of Sociology and Women’s Studies at The Graduate Center and Brooklyn College of the City, University of New York. She is the author of Breaking the Bowls: Degendering and Feminist Change; Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics; Paradoxes of Gender; Women Physicians: Careers, Status and Power; as well as numerous articles on gender and on women as health care workers and patients. Professor Lorber received the American Sociological Association’s Jessie Bernard Career Award in 1996 for “scholarly work that has enlarged the horizons of sociology to encompass fully the role of women in society.”
Speaking on the occasion of Women’s World Congress (WWC) 2014 organized at the University of Hyderabad (UoH), Prof. Lorber spoke about the binary code of men and women. Drawing a trajectory right from birth till one grows old; individuals are intensely gendered in two categories- masculine and feminine. Institutionalization of gender inequality can be seen in legal and bureaucratic terms in the division of populace into “men” and “women”. Discourses on practical feminism need to be encouraged as they address policies on gender issues, she added.
Areas like lesbian feminism need to be incorporated into mainstream discourse as they too need their own physical space and cultural communities. Voicing her opinion against the idea of gendering, Prof. Lorber said that there is a need to do away with the binary gendering system. She spoke about “utopian feminism” where gender inequality would be eradicated. Legal and bureaucratic degendering must be the ultimate goal of the society. She subtly invoked the concept of revolutionary feminism which would dismantle the matrix of domination embedded in major social statutes such as gender, social class, race, ethnicity and sexual identity.
Emphasizing on degendering, Prof. Lorder said that the idea behind this is to acknowledge the binary system. Degendering attacks the structure and process of gendering – its conscious and unconscious practice and institutionalization. She raised questions like what the world would be like if gender did not segregate populace? What then would determine household chores and childcare roles? According to Prof. Lorber, in this scenario multiple identities would have evolved. This would blur and subvert the traditional hierarchical structures of the society. She alluded to Dr. Tessy Thomas, the missile woman of India, who took up a so called “masculine space” and did wonders in this field. There are numerous examples of men who work as nurses and secretaries. By opting for such roles, they not only subvert the constructed societal norms but also blur gender boundaries.
Prof. Lorber beseeched the audience to stop comparing men and women. For such comparisons are insidious as they suppose essential male and female dispositions. They do not recognize the extent to which masculine and feminine characteristics are situational, interactive or simply stereotypes. She averred that the need of the hour is to degender which does not take physiological differences into consideration. To begin with, degendering ought to start right from home by not assigning tasks according to gender. Next comes schools where degendering can be practiced by not grouping children by gender. Pertinently, degendering can be practiced by not using gender categories in language.
Acknowledging that degendering may not prove to be the best strategy to achieve women’s rights yet it would inculcate gender sensitivity which is necessary to see how seemingly neutral policies are not. It is true that degendering will not do away with wars, hunger and economic disparities. She said that the “hardest thought experiment is imagining a world without gender”.
Prof. Lorber concluded her lecture with the reiteration that women as a sex and gender are two different ideas.
– Saumya Painuli, MA-Communication