Performing Gender

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Every day, all around us, we see the consequences of silence manifest themselves in the form of discrimination, violence, genocide and war. In the classroom, I challenge my students to explore the silences in their own lives through poetry. We work together to fill those spaces, to recognize them, to name them, to understand that they don’t have to be sources of shame. In an effort to create a culture within my classroom where students feel safe sharing the intimacies of their own silences, I have four core principles posted on the board that sits in the front of my class, which every student signs at the beginning of the year: read critically, write consciously, speak clearly, tell your truth.
— Clint Smith


I have been teaching since before I could legally take a drink, and I have consistently encouraged my students to read critically, write consciously, speak clearly, and tell their truths.

Of course, I haven’t always spoken mine.

I am better at sharing the words of others.

Which I will do again, today.

Julia Serano describes oppositional sexism as the assumption that:

masculinity is strong,

femininity is weak,

masculinity is tough,

femininity is fragile,

masculinity is rational,

femininity is irrational,

masculinity is serious,

femininity is frivolous,

masculinity is functional,

femininity is ornamental,

masculinity is natural,

femininity is artificial,

masculinity is sincere,

femininity is manipulative.

We often don’t recognize that all of these are human traits, and they exist, to varying degrees, in all of us, regardless of where we fall on the gender spectrum.

I am a cis woman, and have benefitted from various privileges endemic to heteronormativity. This has not been a conscious choice, but the knowledge of the enormity of my privilege makes me responsible for engaging in intersectional discourse, as well as for widening my circle.

I am working on this.

I am also working on re-defining my relationship to the performance of femininity, the male gaze, the murdered goddess, and the not-so-veiled threat of desire. I am strong, serious, functional, tough, receptive, resilient, sincere, and cracked open, purple like a bruise.

Both, and.

I have worked my whole life at inventing new ways of saying no.

For the first time, I am asking myself what it means to say yes.



Michelle Dowd