Thursday, May 27, 2010


From examining international gender relations and sexualities through the global looking glasses of law and discrimination, marriage and relationships, the third gender and religion, we have discovered that gender is an illusive concept that adapts over time and is shaped by social, cultural and religious movements, theories and laws. However, due to the increasing rate of globalization, in the future these cultural specific views on gender relations and sexualities may become obsolete and a homogenized and predominantly western opinion of these topics may be prevalent.


Most religions are male dominated due to the general inequality between men and women throughout history. This is why women have not been given high positions of power in the religious hierarchy. Religion is one of the main barriers preventing the full liberation of women; many strict branches of religion have resisted the changing of some traditions, as they believe they are the will of God.


“Particular criticism has been directed at the tendency to depict gender relations in terms of a simplistic dichotomy, associating men with the public space and therefore power and authority, and women with their private sphere and therefore relative powerlessness in society and to assume that it can be applied worldwide. By imposing western social categories onto the social experience on non-western societies, there has been a failure to recognize that the social construction of gender is subject to a complexity of factors affecting women’s status in diver cultural areas.” (El-Solh, Camilla Fawzi, Mabro, Judy 1994: 14)


The veil has numerous symbolic meanings, parallel to the numerous interpretations of Islam. As we explore ideals closely related to the subjects surrounding the stereotypical Muslim woman, we must remember that this has been both true in the past and true in the present only for certain Muslim societies. There are many examples of contemporary Muslim women who do not fit this general stereotype. Followers of Islamic fundamentalism understand Islam to be a social order and therefore an unchangeable way of life, resulting in a closed-minded approach to new ideals concerning gender equality. In the context of Islamic fundamentalists, “The Veil” is a device for visual segregation between male and female and symbolic of sexual hierarchy, providing an armor between the female’s physical attributes and the eyes of men outside of the woman’s kin. However, contemporary Muslims have utilized the veil as a symbol for protest and rejection of ‘western culture imperialism’. Many associate wearing such garments with a connectedness with their religious identity, arguing it provides a sense of spiritual liberation. Others suggest that veiling enables them to assert themselves in the presence of males in the public arena due to its ability to separate women from sexualisation; ‘The veil may also be an expression of a feminist position ‘supportive of female autonomy and equality articulated in terms totally different from the language of the west’ (Ahmed, 1992: 226)” (El-Solh, Camilla Fawzi, Mabro, Judy 1994: 11)


This practice has not been evident in the Qu’ran for neither gender, however it is practiced in Egypt, Oman, Yemen, Somalia, Indonesia and Malaysia. It is also practiced outside of Muslim countries, mostly in Christian African countries such as Ethiopia and parts of sub-Saharan African. Essentially, this promotes a need to hold social and sexual control over women as women are incapable of controlling their own sexual urges, (El-Solh, Camilla Fawzi, Mabro, Judy 1994: 13) furthermore it is directly promoting gender equality through the denying of female right for sexual gratification.


The kaffiyeh is a traditional headdress worn in the middle east with immense cultural and religious meaning, in particular it began to represent alliance with Palestinian Nationalism. In the mid 2000’s it became a fashion statement amongst both male and female hipsters and various other ‘alternative’ sub culture groups, in The US, Canada, Europe and Australia with designers such as Galliano and stores such as Urban Outfitters and TopShop promoting and capitalizing from the scarf. The fashioning and trivializing of such a symbolic and political article of clothing caused a large out cry amongst the public. The controversy was about the meaning of the garment; did it symbolize political alignment with Palestinian forces or a pro terrorist mentality?


no author, Religion Facts, accessed May 2010,

Dunk'n Donuts Ad Controversy About Rachael Ray Arabic Scarf posted by elmisticco June 02 2008

No author, 2009, “Muslim group calls for burka ban”, CBC News, 08/10/09, viewed 05/10

Engineer, Asghar Ali 1996, The Rights of Women in Islam, C. Hurst & Co. Ltd, UK

El-Solh, Camilla Fawzi, Mabro, Judy 1994, Muslim Women’s Choices: Religious Belief and Social Reality, Berg Publishers, UK

Saliba, Therese Allen, Carolyn and Howard, Judith A. 2002, Gender, Politics and Islam, The University of Chicago, US

Meredith, Susan 1995, The Usborne Bok of World Religions, Usborne Publishing Ltd, London


The purpose of religion has been to set out the morals and values by which we live our lives by. The problem is that morals and values are abstract notions reflecting the intellectual environment of the time. As our intellectual environment changes, our personal morals and values adapt. Does this mean that we are ignoring and disobeying religious writings?


The topic of homosexuality as dictated by religious teaching is hazy, mostly due to the absence of the topic in religious documents. Traditionally homosexuality has been highly discouraged by most religions, in some cases punishable. What did the religious figures have against homosexuality? Condemning of homosexuality could be the product of fear. Sex can be a tool for empowerment; a way to dominate, typically, women. By banning homosexuality, men would not be fearful of being overpowered, they would always be dominant. It could also just be a bi-product of the way religion sought to confine people into a social order; defining society by roles to maintain law and order. This can be understood by the following equation:

Sex = procreation + marriage

…therefore implying heterosexuality.

Today homosexuality is more accepted (comparatively) and people are reconsidering their beliefs regarding same sex relationships. However, it is still seen as an ‘alternative’ way of life and not as a minority orientation.


In Ancient Greece, homosexual relationships were common, the most common form being pederasty. This was a mutually beneficial relationship between an older (20-30 year old) male and a young boy, where the older male would act as a role model for the younger boy educating, protecting and loving him and the young boy would provide youth, beauty and admiration. This form of homosexuality was ideal as the relationship did not interfere with the older man’s status in society; if both partners were older men, the one who is passive looses respect therefore the passive role was played only by women, slaves and young boys. According to the CIA World Factbook, as of May 2010 98% of people living in Greece are Greek Orthodox. The Greek Orthodox Church has a strong standpoint against homosexuality.


Views of

Homosexual Orientation

View of

Homosexual Acts



Varies: Unnatural (Dalai Lama), a karmic punishment (SE Asian countries), an alternative. Not generally condemned in itself.

Unlawful for monks, who must be celibate regardless of orientation. For other Buddhists, "sexual misconduct" is prohibited under the Third Precept, which depends on the circumstances and the results.

"Where there is mutual consent, where adultery is not involved and where the sexual act is an expression of love, respect, loyalty and warmth, it would not be breaking the third Precept." -BuddhaNet


Not generally considered sinful in itself, though some see it as a purposeful perversion. Some accept it as a natural alternative, while others regard it as a non-chosen disorder akin to alcoholism.

Traditionally considered sinful. Many Christians and denominations continue to uphold this belief, while others have reconsidered it or in the process of doing so.

"Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion." -Romans 1:27


Not generally condemned in itself. Some ancient texts and temples depict it as one of many sexual inclinations, while Vedanta discourages homosexual desires as lustful and/or distracting.

Condemned by most Hindu cultures, though not often for religious reasons. The teachings of Vedanta, which emphasize liberation from the material world to the spiritual, allow only heterosexual sex, within marriage and for purposes of procreation.

" all things connected with love, everybody should act according to the custom of his country and his own inclination." Kama Sutra IX

"O son of Kunti, the pleasures that are born out of sensory contacts are sources of pain. They certainly are transient, having a beginning and an end. The intelligent man is wise enough not to indulge in them." (Bhagavad Gita 5.22)


Not generally condemned.

Sinful and punishable under Islamic law.

"We also sent Lut: He said to his people: Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds." -Qur'an 7:80-81


Orthodox: Condemned as rebellion against God.

Conservative: Neither condemned nor affirmed.

Reform: Generally accepted as alternative.

Orthodox: Strongly condemned.

Conservative: Violation of Jewish law, disqualifies from Jewish marriage and religious leadership. Reform: Approved in context of committed relationship; civil marriage supported, but generally not religious marriage.

"A man shall not lie with another man as with a woman; it is an abomination." -Leviticus 18:22

Reference: no author, Religion Facts, accessed May 2010,

unedited intro!

Gender and sexualities are fluid, ambiguous and constantly change through time. In this regard, gender and sexual stereotypes are fast becoming obsolete.

It is difficult to give only one definition of gender and sexuality. The varied discourses arise because of different social, cultural and political contexts. Its ambiguous nature is due to fluidity of time and the communication between cultures and sub-cultures in many spaces.

The biological model is the default model for many western societies, but is becoming increasingly outdated. The biological model determines that their are two sexes, male and female, which informs two genders of man and woman and their characteristics of respective masculinity and femininity.

Freud’s model centres around the oedipal stage, where a girl sees a mother and herself without phallic power and finds this power through male relationships. The boy sees the mother and father and feels a threat of castration, believing the mother can destroy his phallic power so represses his love for her and the desire is transferred to other women. Freud explains female homosexuality as a refusal to accept castration and male castration as identifying with the mother instead of the father.

The socialisation theory, including feminist theory, explains how genders and sexualities are socially constructed and informed by culture. The punishment/reward conditioning system helps to shape genders, and desires are learnt.

Finally, the queer theory. Queer theorists believe that gender and sexualities are undefinable and there are multiple. They wish to prevent totalising labels and focus more on subjectivity.

Emma will speak first about marriage and family, the gender roles they produce and sexualities they exclude.

Dorothy will speak about something

April will speak about the third gender or something

And finally, Steff will speak about the relationship between religion and sexuality or something

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

3rd Gender: Gender Performitivity

!!! Gender Trouble !!! – 3rd Genders and Sex


Image: Judith Butler, author of Gender Trouble. Established theory of gender performitivity.

“behave like a lady!”

“be a man!”

We might say, one is not born a woman, one becomes one; but further, one is not born female, one becomes female; but even more radically, one can, if one chooses, become neither female nor male, man nor woman

(Butler, J. 1999 2nd Ed, pp. 179) (italics present in original)

In society we are conditioned and brought up in a binary system. For example, good versus bad, right versus wrong, culture versus nature and one of the biggest dichotomies, man versus women, masculinity versus femininity. Before heading into any discourse of sexual dichotomies, it must be established that there is a difference between sex and gender. There so far exists, or is accepted to be (at least in the western society), “two sexes (male and female) or genders (masculine and feminine)” (Herdt, G. 1994 pp.22) Sex is the male genital or female genitalia one is born with. Gender is the masculine and feminine identity in which the individual takes on. In western society, the idea that is generally held is that gender identity comes from the sex assignment of male or female. Hence, we are taught from birth what to wear, how to act, according to our sex. These mannerisms (how we talk, walk, dress) that we take on are part of a performance. In other words, gender is a performance (Butler, J. 1991). However, I will not be focusing on the masculine and feminine genders but the genders that fall in between. These are called the 3rd gender. It will be shown how in countries such as India, Thailand and North AlbaniardHijras in India and the Katheoys, or LadyBoys, in Thailand. My research will show how different individuals have different motivations for taking part in 3rd gender. how gender is fluid. These 3rd genders in their societies are accepted with tolerance absent from many western countries. I will explore the

!!! Hijras in India !!!

Who are the Hijras?

Hijras are a huge part of India’s unique culture. Hijra is a masculine noun that sometimes imply “woman”. They are men who are infertile and have to traditionally go through emasculation. Because of their inability to reproduce they are not seen as a man. They are instead asked by religion (Hinduism) and society to dress and act like women. According to Hinduism there are 4 types of Hijras, the “waterless” male who has no testicles, the “testicle voided” male who has undergone castration, the hermaphrodite and the “not woman”, the female eunuch or the woman that does not menstruate. The “not woman”, however, is rarely seen within the Hijra community. The Hijras have their own culture, their own god (Bahuchara Mata), their own caste and their own place in society. They often dance and perform rituals during weddings and when a male child is born into the family (a massive celebration in India). They are believed by society to contain magical powers to bless and to curse. They bless newly wed couples to be fertile. However, should one offend a Hijra, the ultimate curse would be a Hijra showing the offender her mutilated genitals. However, many now, not of choice, succumb to prostitution as traditions fade.

Hijra Gender Identity

So how are Hijras the 3rd gender if they take on the feminine identity? Although many factors contribute to the individual’s degree of masculinity and femininity (terms used for a known lucid degree of measurement), it has to be emphasised how usually, particularly in western countries, gender is prescribed according to the sex of an individual. What is not acknowledged is a mixed-gender, ambiguous role/identity… a gender identity that is fluid and able to change over one’s life span. (Herdt, G 1994 pp. 396) Returning to Butler’s idea that one can choose to be neither man nor women, this is where the Hijra’s sit. They are not naturally feminine, in a bid to cover their masculinity, they are often aggressively feminine. Herdt notices that “their feminine dress and manners are often exaggerations… and indeed are designed to contrast with the normative submissive demeanour of ordinary women”.

(more coming soon)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Discrimination & Law

International Law

International law originates as a social promise or understanding that is not legally binding. It is then put into force through formalities such as:

- Protocols
- Treaties
- Covenants
- Conventions
- International customs

But it is up to signatory nations to ratify these laws by enacting it into domestic law before there is any true force.

Gender Discrimination


Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 2:

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex ... or other status.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

This convention aims to put an end to sex-based discrimination, which is defined as:

"Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field."

Green = signed and ratified
Yellow = only signed
Red = not signed


In Guatemala, there are not many laws that restrict women's rights per se - there are no restrictions to women's rights in relation to inheritance, land ownership, or finance. In 2002, the Penal Code was amended to criminalise discrimination against women.

However, in reality, women's rights are subjugated by the culture and mindset of Guatemalan people. The rate of crimes against women in Guatemala are extremely high, and women are commonly being kidnapped, sexually abused, tortured and murdered brutally simply because they are women. Over 700 women and girls a year have been reported to have been murdered, and the government and authorities are doing very little to bring about justice and truth. Culprits or suspects of the murders are rarely detained, police and forensic investigations are lax, statistics are often distorted, and state-employed officials such as police have also been attributed to the crimes.

This is because Guatemala has suffered civil unrest for over 35 years. Men commonly possess weapons and arms, and have thus grown accustomed to violence and power. Coupled with this is the cultural notion that women are inferior to men.

Examples of how the law curtails women's rights:

- Violence against women is prohibited by law, but violence is not punishable by prison sentences
- Domestic violence can only lead to legal proceedings if visible traces of abuse remain on the victim for at least 10 days
- Rapists are exempt from prosecution if they are married to their victim
- The Penal Code states that a woman must be "honest" to be considered a victim of sexual assault