W5 Blog – Caitlyn Jenner and How We See Gender – Claire Walker

Question:  Using any combination of articles/videos listed above and below answer these questions: What visual cues do we use to determine someone’s race or gender? And, what has shaped your ideas of race and gender that inform how you perceive someone’s racial or gender identity?

Humans use sight as their most important sense to explain the world around them. In a world that can be an absolute mess society is obsessed with labeling everything, nothing can be left unnamed. In our label obsessed world, vision is obviously are most trusted way of telling who is black, white, Arabic, male, or female. When it comes to race, the very first thing a person sees is skin colour. The problem is that colour often does not actually say much about a person’s race; secondly we start looking for facial features, eye colour, height and all the other physical characteristics you can see. Sometimes race can be very obvious and other times it can be a little more convoluted. With close white hair, green eyes and practically translucent skin it is very obvious that I am Caucasian. For some people, it is even obvious that I am of German and Scandinavian decent. Even Caitlyn Jenner, who has had reconstructive facial surgery, it is fairly obvious that he is white. That is not as easily said about the rest of Kardasian family; Kim could pass for Hispanic, White, or even Middle Eastern.

When it comes to gender, we have the same obsession with labeling and we go about labeling by what we see. When it comes to the visual cues of gender one of the first things we look at is a person’s body. Do they have breasts or not, do they have the wider hips of a woman or the hairy legs of a man. Vanity Fair said that Caitlyn Jenner went through a procedure called a tracheal shave; a tracheal shave is the procedure to get rid of the predominantly male Adam’s apple. An Adam’s apple would be a dead give away that Caitlyn was male at birth. There are a lot of other visual cues people look for, men tend to be taller and have larger hands and feet. Men have wider shoulders and hairy legs along with facial hair and short hair cuts. There are things like women wear makeup and dresses, men tend to wear looser cloths, and women tend to try harder on their hair. We also look at movement, women are supposed to be more graceful and move smoothly (I wish I fit into that) and women move there hips more when they walk. After all the physical things we look for there are certain personality traits we tend to look for. Men are often perceived as harder, while women are softer and more nurturing.

The problem is we are trying to fit seven billion people into two boxes and specific preordained races. As neuroscientist Gina Rippon stated, you cannot pick up a human brain and say this is a man and this is a woman (Burkett 2015). I am aware that my life has been very privileged, I have seen a large portion of the world, met people with views completely out in left field, and never had to struggle with my sexual or gender identity. For me personally, all the places I have lived and travelled to have definitely shaped by ideas of gender and race. I lived in South Africa and England that have very different views on race. Two black South Africans can have two completely different racial identities. These ideas that I have grown up with have shown me to not bring up even really think about a person’s race until they bring it up. Also growing up in a multiracial family has made race a very background idea for me. Six of my siblings are not only biologically unrelated to me but are Ethiopian Americans. I am closer with these siblings then I am to some of my biological siblings. Race is a very complicated idea that is harder to understand than just looking at someone or ticking a box, I have been taught to wait for the topic to be brought up by someone else before approaching the subject. My years living in South Africa and England have also shaped how I view gender. In the shantytowns of Cape Town there is a tribe with three genders and gender roles are completely different to American ideals. Also living in England, where gender fluidity is much more acceptable, I realized that figuring out whether a person is a man or a woman is not a big deal. I am not some super human who has left all biases behind, I am still human and mean and judgmental. But seeing how the rest of the worldviews ideas such as race and gender have shaped in a particular way that almost makes the ideas seem mundane. Short hair doesn’t make a woman manly, and a dress doesn’t make a man feminine. It simply makes them who they are meant to be.

Burkett, Elinor. 2015. What Makes a Woman? The New York Times.

Bissinger, Buzz. “Caitlyn Jenner: The Full Story.” Vanity Fair. July 1, 2015. Accessed August 7, 2015.

“Gender Animatic.” Youtube. November 22, 2011. Accessed August 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xu5B58OWTaA.

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