Male or Female: What Does it Matter?

By Lonneke de Klerk
Staff Writer

On Wednesday, August 28, 2013, the 2013-2014 academic year was officially opened during the annual convocation ceremony in the Nieuwe Kerk. Dr. Nancy Mykoff gave the opening address, entitled ‘Gender Matters’. Mykoff studied American History at New York University and she currently teaches History and Gender Studies at University College Roosevelt. Even though Dr. Mykoff promotes the importance of gender, the enrollment for Gender Studies was lower than ever this year. How come? And why does gender matter?

Answering that question is a task that Dr. Mykoff did not find easy: “When Barbara Oomen asked me to hold the opening address this year, I first said no”, she confirms. “It takes my students at least three months to understand the importance of gender. How can I ever explain it in 15 minutes?” The importance of gender may indeed be a difficult subject to explain in such a short time. However, Dr. Mykoff helped the audience a great deal by using close-to-home examples.

“In the Netherlands, students often ride to and from school by bicycle. If a woman and man only have one bicycle, more often than not, she will sit on the back of the bike, even though A) she’s the owner of the bike, B) she weighs more than him and C) he has a bad back.” This illustrates the way in which gender and its differentiation unconsciously rule our lives. Biology was often used to justify differences in gender, but it is fairly obvious that there is no gene that women have that men don’t, that makes women sit on the back of bikes.

Gender Matters B
Picture by Emma Overmaat

According to Dr. Mykoff, gender is a socially constructed idea that is integrated in our society. This means that we behave according to the rules of gender, like in the example above. This sitting on the back of the bike example might be innocent, but this gendered behavior can have much more serious effects.

One of those serious effects is a situation that occurred in Florida last year, when an off-duty neighborhood watch shot Trayvon Martin because he simply thought Martin was acting ‘suspicious’. The jury decided he was not guilty of murder, as he perceived the man as a life-threatening situation.

That same month, also in Florida, Marissa Alexander shot at her abusive husband as he chased her down the street. She received 21 years in jail for attempted murder. “Why?”, asks Dr. Mykoff, “Because of the social constructions of gender: women aren’t expected to be violent”.

So, in contrast to what is believed by many, Gender Studies is not just about women; it’s about men too. Still, the students in Gender Studies classes are predominantly female. According to Dr. Mykoff, male students are afraid to take the course, “because they think it’s about feminism and burning bras. I don’t burn my bra, I don’t burn anything except for my food sometimes”.

Dr. Mykoff agrees that changing the name of the Gender Studies track would be a good start to change the flawed image it currently has. Hopefully, this will result in more students taking these classes, both male and female and every other gender that exists. Why? Because gender matters.

Lonneke de Klerk, class of 2015, is a Literature and Linguistics major from Middelburg, the Netherlands.

3 thoughts on “Male or Female: What Does it Matter?

  1. Dear Jelle and PvdB,
    You’re absolutely right that there are biological differences between men and women. It’s called sex. Not gender. The way that men and women interact with each other is, of course, partially based on biology, but the ideas about gender have an enormous impact on our behavior.
    To justify gendered behavior merely with biology is naive. Gendered behavior often has absolutely nothing to do with the biological differences between men and women. If we would cycle somewhere together, do you think I have a specific gene that tells me to sit on the back even though I’m heavier than you and maybe even a better cyclist?
    Gender is not the same as sex.

    As to what was said about the gender studies track, I highly doubt that Dr. Mykoff said that her class is about ‘smashing patriarchy and blaming men for women’s problems’. In her class, she tries to open the eyes and minds of her students to see gendered behavior and that it might not be right. In many countries, it’s still the case that a male and a female with the same profession don’t earn the same. The female earns less. How can you justify that with biology? You can’t. And that doesn’t mean that it’s all the fault of men. It simply means that it needs to be changed.

  2. I completely agree with Jelle. To think that gender is merely a social construct, is a ridiculous idea. It amazes me time and again how postmodernist thinkers fail to see the obvious (biological, physiological) differences between men and women, that even a 3 year-old can spot.

  3. “The greatest danger I see to us right now, is that in our desperation to bend over and give women everything they want and everything they say they need, we’ve unbalanced society to the point where we’re just in danger of seriously toppling over. And really, the only difference I see between the traditional role and the new one for men with respect to disposability, is that maleness/manhood used to be celebrated, it used to be admired, and it used to be rewarded, because it was really necessary and because the personal cost of it to individual men was so incredibly high. But now, now we still expect men to put women first and we still expect society to put women first and we still expect men to not complain about coming in dead last every single time, but men don’t even get our admiration anymore. All they get in return is to hear about what assholes they are.” karen straughan,

    For a tribe to survive (i.e. reproduce), you do not need one male for every female. If suddenly all the men would die, the tribe would perish. Since one man can impregnate multiple women, it more efficient to save the women rather than the men.

    I do not believe this concept is invented along the way to ruin women’s life. I am very interested in the gender studies course, but I am afraid, as Dr. Mykoff said, the study is about ‘smashing patriarchy’ and blaming men and patriarchy for all women’s problems. I will speak with Mykoff this or next week.

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