Posted by: Karen (Betty Bear) | June 9, 2014

gender identity

I know, it’s been a while. Sorry. But now the thoughts inside my head have gotten loud enough I need to let some of them out, so here goes:


Girl child is an ardent feminist and a staunch believer in LGBTQIA rights. (If I didn’t get the acronym quite correct, let me know, I have trouble remembering ALL the letters.)  And so, she and I have many interesting and fervent discussions about such. Some of these take place at the dinner table for the edification and bemusement of Boy Child and Husband. Some take place in the car or wherever we happen to find ourselves. We’ve been having an ongoing discussion about gender identity and the difference between sex and gender and what it all means.

I have always thought of sex, as in what is your biological sex, basically the same as gender. I am learning that current thought on gender identity says it ain’t so. I refer you here: Breaking Through the Binary for a good article on it. However, I have a bit of an issue with the gender expression part of it. If you don’t want to go to the link and read, briefly gender expression is about how you demonstrate gender through what you wear, say, how you act, etc. I get that society or culture assigns behaviors toward one gender or the other quite often and also that we use someone’s gender expression to determine what pronoun to use for them.

But here’s where it breaks down for me. I identify myself as female. My biology says I’m female. I self-identify as a woman and because of my biology and my self identity I am a cisgendered female.  In terms of my thinking of my own identity, everything I do and say and wear comes from that female identity. For instance, I may be aggressive in a situation but I don’t perceive that trait as masculine, I perceive the trait as a simple descriptor of behavior. I may be passive in a situation, but, again, I don’t perceive that trait as feminine. I feel like assigning gender to behaviors creates more of a dichotomy between, or among, the genders than truly exists. Example: studies have shown that women have a better sense of smell than men. However, and this is important, the overlapping group of men and women is far, far greater than the few outliers of women with keen senses of smell and men with abysmal senses of smell. And so it is for almost all traits. I was trying to find a nice Venn diagram as illustration, but you’ll just have to imagine it.

But whatever the trait or behavior, for me, because it’s mine, it’s womanly even if someone else would deem it a manly behavior.

I get that these discussions are important and that they are needful out in the world given the lack of acceptance for people who don’t fall into neatly assigned gender roles. But I feel like too much definition can end up creating even more rigid boundaries and dichotomies.

I’m open to discussion on this, so comment away, but be nice or you’ll be gone.

Posted by: Karen (Betty Bear) | April 21, 2013

playing victim

Yesterday morning, Boy Child and I spent about 4 hours at the fire house playing victim for the final training exercise of a local CERT, Community Emergency Response Team. It was both really interesting and kind of boring. A CERT is a group of people who get trained in basic emergency response. The idea seems to be that in an emergency – our group was using a hurricane as our emergency scenario since we all vividly remember Hurricane Sandy from last fall – the first responders (fire, first aid squad, police) may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of emergencies and/or they may not be able to get to the emergencies if roads are flooded or blocked or something. So that leaves just the people who are there to be able to help out. And people certainly do help out. Look at some of those pictures from last week in Boston to see people, just regular people, running toward the explosion to help the injured. The CERT training just gives us regular people some training in how to respond appropriately in an emergency.

So there we were, lying on the floor in various positions, tables overturned, chairs overturned, fake burns on both of my hands, the lights out and the scenario started. The first go around, only the adults really yelled and tried to act like it was real with varying degrees of believability. By the fourth and final go around, the kids were screaming, the adults were yelling for their kids, some people were resisting being helped, others were being obstructive to the CERTs; it was very chaotic. There were open wounds, there were broken bones, there were head injuries, there were people stuck under stacks of plywood. It was a mess. At one point I had been triaged and put in a chair in the triage area but since I was being left alone, I decided to faint, throwing the triage person into a tizzy since they were dealing with a heart attack and a back injury at the same time.

Here are some of the things I found most interesting about the whole exercise:

1. how stressful it was – the combination of the noise, the cries for help, plus the fact that it made the Boston bombing feel that much more immediate.

2. how hard it was not to help others. I felt that with the injuries I had – the palms of both hands badly burned – there was really no way that I would be able to help with anything, but I found it incredibly frustrating not to be able to.

3. how hard it is for a lay person to triage injured people correctly. The coding is green=minor injuries, yellow=more severe but not immediately life-threatening, red=life-threatening injury or condition, and black=deceased. I was coded yellow twice, green once and red once, when really burns like that would be yellow.

It certainly did get me thinking about how one does respond in an emergency.

Posted by: Karen (Betty Bear) | April 12, 2013


Now there’s a loaded term, isn’t there? Girl child was reading the book Blink for school and came upon a mention of the IAT, the Implicit Association Tests. These are tests developed by a number of universities researching implicit social cognition, basically the immediate unconscious assumptions people make about other people. You can go to the website to read all about how it works and why it works and if you click on the participate button, you too can take tests to find out your prejudice about various groups of people. There are tests about gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and more.

Anyway, GC came home and told me about it and her results on some of the tests and I decided to try it out to see what happened. I took the light skinned/dark skinned test, the European American/African American test and the straight/gay test. The results are given as:

strong preference for group A

moderate preference for group A

slight preference for group A


slight preference for group B

moderate preference for group B

strong preference for group B

My results for the light or dark skinned and for the European American/African American both came out with a slight preference for light skin and European American. Given the culture in which I live and that I have lived most of my life in predominately white neighborhoods I wasn’t surprised and was actually pleased that I hadn’t come out even stronger toward whites. It seems that even for the majority of African Americans that they come out with a slight to moderate preference for light skinned, European Americans. Cultural influences run deep, y’all.

I got started thinking about the difference between prejudice and racism (or ageism, homophobia, etc.). Prejudice is not, of itself, inherently bad. Prejudice is the immediate judgement,  the pre-judgement, we make about a person or group without actually knowing them. Evolutionarily it is protective. It was to our benefit to be able to make very, very quick and accurate decisions as to whether or not a situation was dangerous. So picture yourself in an empty street, no one there, dark or dimly lit. Now picture a group of 3 people coming toward you. Does your feeling of being more or less safe change if those three people are elderly white women? What if they are late teen, early 20’s black men? Have your feelings changed? What if they are dressed in suits and carrying briefcases? Do you see how these different scenarios change your feelings? That is prejudice at work in your life.

So prejudice is not altogether a bad thing. Statistically speaking, you are more likely to be in danger from a group of hoodie-wearing young men than you are from a group of elderly women so you should be more on guard. The problem lies when prejudice becomes racism, when your prejudice starts influencing your actions. Mostly we can, if we understand our prejudices, be on guard against them and work to accept people as we get to know them. Unfortunately, our prejudices can create unconscious expectations which can then affect others. For instance, there have been studies done on teachers’ unconscious expectations about student achievement which can have profound effects on actual student achievement. If a teacher somehow believes that boys do better than girls at math, the boys in that teacher’s class generally will do better than the girls in math. When there is a systemic belief that white kids do better than black kids, that black kids aren’t really cut out for academic achievement, then there becomes an entire population that believes they aren’t as smart because of the color of their skin.

Knowing whether or not you have those unconscious assumptions about different groups can help you counteract them and that is where the worth of those tests lie for the individual.


You may have noticed I didn’t give the results of the straight/gay test. Here it is and here is my explanation: I showed a moderate preference for gays. I had expected to be neutral and was surprised to have as much as a moderate preference. After thinking it over, though, this is what I decided. Most of my encounters with people are with straight people and while I have and have had gay friends, I have had more straight friends. But, almost all of my encounters with gays have been either positive or neutral. I have had numerous encounters with straights, mostly men, that have been negative. So it’s the cumulative effect of all of those encounters, positive, negative and neutral, that have tipped the scales over to a preference for gays.

I’ll probably go back and take a few more; I’m interested in the gender and religion, particularly.

Posted by: Karen (Betty Bear) | April 8, 2013

Trampled dirt

So there is my (former) flower garden on either side of the paving stones, looking not very different at all from the stones. It has been trampled and driven on by trucks and equipment, men with boots and more equipment. It is littered with dried bits of dead plants and rocks. It is hard and dry and lifeless.

There are times in all of our lives when we feel like this, battered and trampled and lifeless. We feel very much that we are in fact clay, heavy and inert, incapable of doing much of anything at all. It may be illness or depression or it may just be the unceasing demands of our lives draining us of energy.

We are like my (former) (future) garden. If given no help, no nurture, nothing much will grow beyond weeds. It is possible that a lovely weed may eventually root, that something beautiful will grow, but more than likely it will be dandelions and crabgrass. This is an extended metaphor to say that we all need care and tending to grow beautiful in whatever way we were intended to grow beautiful. Do not think that you have to do it all on your own. Find what fertilizes you. Find the seeds you want to see growing in your soul and plant them. Ask for others to help nurture and encourage you. Bloom.

And then sometimes, even without the nurture and fertilizer and seeds and help, sometimes something unexpected and lovely pops up out of the most unlikely looking soil. This is what happened in my poor battered, trampled (former) (future) garden:IMG_1037 Two hyacinths survived and are coming up.

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