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The Caricature of Feminine Irrationality

By: Sheyenne White

For my project, I wish to challenge the false dichotomy between theory and practice. Given that academic theory is designed to be inaccessible through its abstract, dense, and jargonistic composition, I will mitigate its elitist exclusivity by applying it to the raw authenticity inherent of situated testimonies. For the sake of parsimony,  I have limited my interviews to three heterosexual, cisgender female UC Davis students.

  • Have you ever felt that you have carried the emotional weight during a relationship?

“Women are constantly being seen as fragile but when I don’t show any emotion, I’m seen as emotionless and less of a woman. In all of my romantic relationships, I’m always expected to be the motherfucker’s therapist, mother, maid, and caregiver. Anytime that something happens,  I can expect them to lash out and I have to walk them through their feelings. It’s on me. He wants me to fix it but I can’t always fix it.”

. . .

“Ooo my daddy issues. My dad didn’t go to therapy and he projects his unresolved trauma on my mother, sisters, and I. He has created a toxic cycle of transgenerational trauma. I may not be able to choose my trauma but I can choose how I react and respond to it. I understand this so why can’t he?”

. . .

“Men will very much ghost a girl if she gets too sensitive or attached but they’ll unload their trauma on any girl that they fuck. They’re not our boyfriends but we find ourselves acting like their mother or therapist. I don’t like it. As women, we learn to deal with this shit. We learn to award men for doing the bare minimum.”  

. . .

In her work, Alison Jagger reflects on the socially constructed dichotomy between emotionality and rationality. In her article, Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology, she disparages the Western derogatory attitiude towards emotion, and instead stresses its critical role in the construction of knowledge.
The emotionality of women is both a familiar cultural stereotype and an axiom of Western tradition. The ongoing and persisting subjugation of women can be traced back to the traditional tie between masculinity and reason within philosophy, in which rationality, morality, and emotionality are positioned as gendered pursuits. Masculine bias continues to be a pervasive thread that runs through Western thought and is maintained through hierarchical dualisms: like man-woman, masculinity-femininity, and rationality-emotionality. Such binary oppositions reinforce the gendered division that values the masculine and devalues the feminine. 

Although both men and women are held to norms of appropriate emotional expression, women’s perceived emotionality comes under greater scrutiny relative to their male counterparts. As interviewee one alluded to, women are expected to succumb to emotions and therefore, emotionally inexpressive women are deemed gender-deviant. As if, emotional expressivity alone constitutes womanhood. While the link between emotional expressivity and the lack of women in leadership roles is readily acknowledged, the extent of its overarching influence in banal and trivial encounters cannot be understated. Along these lines, heteropatriarchal accounts of emotion remain problematic insofar as they fail to explain the paradox between their caricatures of irrational, hormonal women and their need for emotional nurturance.

While some degree of codependency in any given relationship is to be expected, women take on the lion’s share of the emotional labor. As funny as it may be to refer to emotional labor as comparable to the work of a therapist, mother or maid, interviewee one’s experiences sheds light on the dangers of women’s warm, maternal, and communal roles within society. Under an androcentric patriarchy, “men’s emotional development is relatively rudimentary,” which in turn, leads to “moral rigidity and insensitivity” (Jagger, 10). It’s important to note that this phenomena is not incidental but a direct byproduct of toxic masculinity. Considering that male emotional expressivity has become a ill-equipped marker of homosexuality, the question arises, is it really homosexuality that is the fear or is it the loss of heteronormative masculinity? The concept of toxic masculinity can be interpreted as an embodiment of Western ideals: violence, aggression, status, and sex. When a society overemphasizes gender, it must grapple with the consequences. Unfortunately, those consequences manifest themselves in the form of destructive and unaccommodating gender stereotypes.

As interviewee two noted, men’s limited emotional development extends beyond the scope of romantic entanglements and seeps into family dynamics. Nothing quite sums up the way women are burdened with the responsibility of emotional labor quite like the notion of  ‘daddy issues.’ Despite its visage of frivolity, the expression is weaponized as a cruel joke against women, designed to humiliate and mock their mistreatment they suffered on behalf of their father. Interestingly, the expression is utilized in the same fashion when women experience the same mistreatment in their romantic relationships. As if, the issue resides within the woman, and not the emotionally stunted men. Thus, the concept behind ‘daddy issues’ is pernicious in its perpetuation of a victim-blaming culture that once again asks women to shoulder the emotional trauma of the men in their life in addition to their own. 

After conducting my interviews, I could not help but recall interviewee three’s sophisticated articulation that women “learn to award men for doing the bare minimum.” When we applaud men for merely unloading their emotional trauma, we encourage their complacency. After all, the emotional labor is not often reciprocated for the woman. The flawed association of masculinity with reason and femininity with feeling, fails to consider the intrinsic and instrumental value of emotion as well as its potential epistemic value. Women’s experience in emotional nurturance allows us to cultivate the adept ability to identify and recognize emotions. Upon examining the social construction of emotions under an androcentric, heteropatriarchal ideology, “all of our human faculties — rationality, morality, and emotionality — reflect an aspect of human knowledge inseparable from the other aspects” (Jagger, 15). Only by reconciling emotionality with our rationality and morality, may we create a nonhierarchical and antifoundationalist mode of knowledge production, that is both sustainable and durable. For now, women must take advantage of their epistemic advantage by working to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Works Cited:

Alison M. Jaggar (1989) Love and knowledge: Emotion in feminist epistemology, Inquiry, 32:2, 151-176

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Honey, I Shrunk My Tits: My Experience with Breast Reduction Surgery

By: Sai Siddhaye

In December of 2020, I underwent breast reduction surgery. After years of loathing my body and desperately wishing to change it, the tipping point came at the beginning of quarantine, when having no distractions from my body became overwhelming. My bra size was a 32F, which–as those educated in bra sizes will know–is uncomfortably large. My intense back pain, abysmal posture, and painful marks in my skin left by bras, which were constants in my life for so long, became unbearable. 

On top of all this, my already unhealthy body image was worsening in isolation. I had always resented my big chest, viewing it as something keeping me from achieving dainty femininity, but being quarantined and not having to perform gender made me realize how much I disliked having to cosplay femininity at all. It became clear to me that I was simply wearing inauthentic femininity as a façade to fulfill my expected social role, rather than acknowledging my inherent androgyny. Letting go of my gender performance revealed that the disconnect between my hyperfeminine curves and my authentic gender presentation was the source of many of my bodily insecurities. With even more discomfort and distress focused on my chest, I fantasized endlessly about getting breast reduction surgery, believing it was a faraway dream only accessible to celebrities and the like.

Remarkably, it was TikTok that came to my rescue. I happened upon a video of an ordinary woman describing her breast reduction and waxing poetic about all the good it did her, laying out the process and encouraging others to look into it. She spoke about her experience without the judgement that usually surrounds cosmetic surgery. What had seemed so out of my reach suddenly became much closer to me. 

I am very privileged to have access to health insurance, which made my process much easier than it would have been otherwise. After consulting my doctor and discussing the pros and cons of reduction mammoplasty, I was sent to a surgeon to iron out the details. The process of getting an insurance claim for my surgery was, as expected, a series of rather expensive hoops to jump through. My surgeon was very helpful in helping me game the system, so to speak; she recommended that I appeal to my insurance company from the angle of alleviating physical pain rather than body dysmorphic disorder to get the best possible insurance claim, and made the process simple and stress-free. After getting referrals from specialists and attending physical therapy sessions to ensure that mammoplasty was the best course of action, I was ready for surgery. 

My surgery took about 6 hours, and after an overnight stay at the hospital, I returned home sans-breasts. For the first few days, I did nothing but sleep and eat, sluggish as I was from the pain medication and residual anesthesia. This was probably for the best, as the swelling following the surgery was remedied by drains hung from my bandages like grotesque chains, which were just as distasteful as they were medically useful. This was probably the most unpleasant part of my recovery process. Though I began to heal surprisingly quickly, my incision scars were raw and painful for many weeks. In fact, the first time I was allowed to shower after the surgery, the sight of myself stitched up like Frankenstein’s monster–combined with my low blood pressure–was enough to make me faint right onto the bathroom floor. 

I’m now approximately two months post-op, and since I hit the one-month mark it has been smooth sailing. My incisions are still sore, but I can move normally and don’t have to wear gauze anymore. It has also been a year since I took my first steps towards my breast reduction, and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Taking control over my body has been an empowering experience that I strongly encourage everyone to experiment with.

My experience with cosmetic surgery has taught me two big lessons: repairing your body image requires more than changing your appearance, but making the choice to change your body should absolutely not be stigmatized. I am so much happier with the size of my chest now; I have far less back pain, moving around has become easier, and looking in the mirror is far less unpleasant. But changing my body has not fixed my issues with gender and body image. That is something I have to work on every day, and takes much more time and effort than surgery does. Regardless, if it weren’t for the stigma surrounding cosmetic surgery (especially mammoplasty), taking these steps to feel more comfortable in my body would have been so much easier. It is worth analyzing why our culture vilifies body modification, because unpacking it will give countless people the freedom to heal. 

To anyone considering breast reduction surgery: my experience has been overwhelmingly positive, and I am immensely grateful that I was able to have this experience. I strongly encourage you to speak with a medical professional and see if it is the right step for you too.

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A Word Or Two On Gender

By: Wyatt Wagoner

I had a conversation with an older female mentor the other day. We talked about gender and how we both felt about it.

One notable thing she said was, “I never had to think about that stuff when I was your age.” (That stuff being gender) “It’s so confusing for you kids. I never had to question if I was non binary or if I was a guy. I just was who I was.”

I’m paraphrasing, but what stuck out to me about what she said was, “I was who I was.”

I think that’s the beautiful thing about gender. It’s a social construct, but it is one that helps us define how we feel on the inside.

So I often ask myself, what’s my gender?

The conclusion I have come to is that I don’t have one, but here’s where it gets confusing.

I like gendered terms along the female spectrum. I like my partner to call me his girlfriend and my mom often lovingly calls me her girl, which I don’t mind.

So this makes me question my gender all over again. Am I really a girl? Am I faking being non binary for attention?

The conclusion I have come to down boils down to two things.

  1. I am still new to my gender, and I am so used to being called girl and girlfriend that it doesn’t bother me to be called those terms.

The way I came to this conclusion is that my partner, James, has been calling me his partner, despite me expressing I am comfortable with partner and girlfriend. It’s almost like he knew more about my gender than I did, because the more he calls me partner, the weirder it feels on the rare occasion my mom refers to me as his girlfriend or his friends refer to me as such. 

  1. I am still aligned with my biological sex as a female.

I am very feminine presenting. If you saw me on the street you would probably not guess that I was non binary. And up until 2020, I did not even realize I wasn’t a girl. I would proclaim myself as a strong woman, and while I am still biologically a woman, it feels odd to declare that. I would rather declare myself to be a strong person, but at the same time I feel like declaring myself as a strong woman is somewhat accurate. Because I still get harassed on the street. I still have to worry about getting a lesser paycheck than a man does. While gender is a societal construct, my gender does not define all of my societal experiences, and unfortunately, I still face the discrimination that biological women do.

So maybe that is why every once in a while I find myself wanting to declare myself a strong, independent woman, because even though I am not a woman at heart, I am still taking on the adversity faced by women.

So I find myself questioning my own feelings as a non binary person. Am I not non binary because I feel attached to my experiences as a biological woman? Am I not non binary if I feel ok being referred to as a girlfriend?

I don’t know if I’m being honest with you. Every day I question whether my experiences and emotions are valid. Because I look at a feminine presenting biological woman and wonder if I want to be her. I love putting on wigs and looking like what society considers a woman. But the day I chopped my hair off, I felt so seen by myself and I felt so validated. I felt like I was myself. So if I feel like myself while feminine presenting, even though I also feel like myself when I’m presenting androgynously, am I really non binary?

But sometimes I remember how cis people look at gender. I don’t think a cis person has ever looked at Stitch from Lilo and Stitch and envied how much androgyny the little gremlin has. I don’t think cis people feel the way I do when my partner stopped saying, “Ladies first,” and jokingly started saying, “Enbies first.” It was such a simple gesture and I don’t know if he knows how much it meant to me, and how validated it makes me feel.

In the end, I think it boils down to this: I just am who I am. It’s like my mentor said. I was born a woman and I have faced the adversity a woman has faced, and I cannot change that. I am biologically predisposed to some diseases because of my sex, and I cannot change that. But I also cannot change the way my brain feels when I look in the mirror and perceive myself as androgynous. I cannot change the way I feel when my friends use they pronouns for me (even though I use she as well.) The one thing I can change is how I show myself to the world, and how I tell the world about myself. I am here to tell the world I am non binary, no matter what my self doubt says sometimes, and no matter what the world says sometimes.