The study of gender is one of the most proliferated disciplines. This is perhaps because the subject has occupied the human society as long as men and women existed. In order to understand gender, there is a need to explore the social roles that are assigned to both men and women on the basis of their biological differences. In other words, gender refers to roles that are culturally assigned to men and women in society. However, it has been realized that in almost all societies, women are universally looked down upon. Therefore, in a bid to create the necessary awareness, gender studies mostly focus on women issues. The statement ‘gender is inscribed in the body’ simply refers to the fact that the roles that men and women are given in society, though socially determined, are based on their anatomical differences. However, studies have shown that while men are generally stronger than women, there performance in public sphere cannot be underestimated. Gender studies insist that all relationships between men and women should be based on equality in dignity for all sexes. Unfortunately, the society prescribes deferential ways in which men and women should look like, behave or even dress. As a result, the feminine gender suffers from discrimination.
In learning gender, it is important to elaborate that feminism is not purely a women affair. In fact, men are also feminists. According to Hooks (79), conservative women are trained that they should not be sexually active. As a result, they do not satisfy their husbands who later become feminists pushing for the liberation of women.
Since the time immemorial, the question of human sexuality has been on central importance in the liberation for women. Paludi (82) defines sexuality as that which entails sexual orientation, eroticism, gender roles, gender identities and sex. It is expressed in fantasy, attitudes, practices and beliefs about women’s reproduction. In this light, there is no doubt that the ability of women to be in control of their reproduction is a necessary prerequisite in their liberation. However, this has always caused immense debate on who actually should determine women’s decisions on reproduction. The debate has also sought to entrench reproductive rights as human rights. As a result, there have been two divides: the pro-choice and the pro-life. The latter is more conservative while the former is more liberal thus feminist. In the feminist perspective, women should have a right to make important decisions about their reproduction as well as about their health. My thoughts are that since women are human beings, women rights should be treated as human rights.
In her “‘Public Women’ and Sexual Politics during the American Civil War”, Clinton (62) explores the way prostitution was done during the Civil War. Due to poor wages, some women used to supply multiple partners with sexual favors thus becoming ‘public women’. Moreover, the main concern was the connection between their behavior and the spread of venereal diseases to Confederate soldiers. In the light of radical feminism, women should not be stigmatized once they decide to sell their bodies. In his Feminism is for Everybody, Hooks (67) observes that the study of sexuality shifted from a mere ‘being-against-men’ to a more objective fight against patriarchy and sexism. However, he notes that the pre-Civil War conception of sexuality as ‘being proud’ of women’s identities was not changed.
Gendering the Body
Women have been subjected to violence for long time. During the Civil War, women suffered the most due to their vulnerability to physical stress. In explaining the situation, most authorities cite economic disempowerment as the main reason as to why women were mostly suppressed. This was as a result of ages-long system of patriarchy and male dominance that put women at an economic disadvantage; they were seen only as objects of sex. This usually led to massive cases of rape and assault. Although gender studies should ideally focus on issues facing both genders, more often than not they tend to become women studies thus feministic discourses. The reason is obvious: women have been living in societies that are pro-violence and anti-peace. Moreover, after the Civil War, historians and other scholars have contented that it is possible to create a violence free society in which women are respected. This can be done through change of mindsets and attitudes towards women.
In their book, Women’s Voices Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings, Shaw and Lee portray the importance of the protection of women rights by the law. According to Smith (120), there have been great efforts, especially after September 11, 2001, to entrench the protection of women in various legal structures of the country. The author acknowledges that rape is a reality that must be dealt with by law. However, although present-day efforts are well consolidated, Civil War efforts to liberate women were somewhat scattered. According to Leonard (104) (Cited in Clinton and Silber), women studies for this period of time focused on the roles that women played in advancing the recognition of their rights.
There exist many areas of intersection between gender and health. Due to the duties and roles that men and women take up in society, they are predisposed to different environments which could make them ill. With regard to the women sphere, there is a likelihood that they would get diseases that are found in or emanate from kitchen or washing areas. For instance, more women could get more malaria than men because they are mostly washing: mosquitoes breed in areas with stagnant water. On the other hand, since men are expected to be tough, gender studies have established that men have a very poor health-seeking behavior. Instead of presenting symptoms of a disease, they may decide to ‘battle’ it or assume that it is an insignificant ailment. In order to offer an integrated solution to the gender problem, there is a need to undertake a holistic approach to solving health problems emanating from gender dichotomies. It is proposed that the overall improvement in health for women can only be achieved if the underlying gender division of roles is addressed.
Although it is apparent that gender-based health problems exist, some authorities deny such a thing. According to Deborah Rhode, custodians of culture deny that it predisposes women and men to ailments. They claim that culture perpetuates harmony and equality. During the Civil War, Downs (79) observes that many women became sick such as the Orangeburg woman found suffering from rheumatic fever.
The family is considered to be the basic unit of the society. However, family is not just a unit but a collection of different personalities. Although the conventional family should be composed of a man, a woman and children, feministic thinking more often than not seeks to overturn this perception. Feminists propose more rational family size that parents can take care of: they are concerned with quality of life but not quantity of children. In addition, a couple could be made up people from different ethnicities or races that are free to choose any place of marital residence. There has also been a great shift in property ownership laws. This has led to men feeling somewhat embattled. They feel that instead of women being followers of decisions made by men, they are competing with them in the family.
The Civil War was characterized by the dwindling of men and the rising of women. According to Stauffer (121), men’s literacy went down while women began to express themselves through writing. Perhaps this was as a result of the fact that war did not only disorganize, (men) but also organized (women). This same degree of confidence in the midst of women was also reflected in the family especially in terms of decision making and other roles that were differentially assigned to both men and women on the basis of their biological make up. This was like a deviation from the tradition affinities that were arranged in terms of kinship laws that were created by men thus disintegrating women from the centre of decision making. However, this shift was only possible after the Civil War. Shaw and Lee cite Eleanor Cooney’s classification of family systems as evidence of the role of culture in family establishment.
Gender and Work
Gender issues cut across all spheres of social, political, cultural and economic spheres. One of the most studied areas is the intersection between gender, work and economic participation. It has been established that due to the origin of gender, socialization, workplace is no different from the family set up. This is augmented by the fact that gender stereotyping is a mental affair and is replicated in the workplace. Personally, I have discovered that work is distributed in terms sex of the person. At the national level, it is also assumed that men are more economically active which is not always true.
During the Civil War, women and children were greatly oppressed. This oppression did not only happen during the Civil War but also decades after it ended. According to Downs (78), women remained destitute even after the war ended. In terms of economics, these women were forced to offer free labor in the hope that the workplace would be better. To entrench this, there were several government reports that presented women as unqualified to take up professional work in the various circles of the government. According to Mainard cited in Shaw and Lee, household chores constituted work that needed to be recognized.