Thoughts on Gender (Non)Conformity

23 Feb

Thoughts on Gender (Non)Conformity
By: Molly Cunningham

Childhood gender nonconformity (noun): a phenomenon in which pre-pubescent children do not conform to expected gender-related sociological or psychological patterns, and/or identify with the opposite gender.

I am going to break from the theme of women and religion this quarter to highlight a news story that prompted quite a bit of discussion in my circle of friends and in GALS.

The story concerns a study released by the Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital Boston, which examined a population studied in the “Growing Up Today Study” of the 1990s. The study aimed to examine the nascent connections between childhood development and the physical and sexual abuse. The study, as reported in the Harvard Gazette, is the, “…first study to use a population-based sample to look at gender nonconformity as a risk factor for abuse.”

The authors claim boys and girls who engage in activities not typically assigned to gender are at greater risk for physical and sexual abuse from adults, particularly parents. This abuse and the negative societal response associated with gender non-conformity result in a higher incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental health disorder developed in response to trauma.

This seems a rather bold claim, considering how shaky the evidence is for the main claim – that gender non-conformity contributes to future ptsd and other physical conditions– has several flaws in my opinion.

The first minor objection concerns the scope of the study. From the details reported by the Harvard Gazette, the study is far too small to make any claims of certainty on this connection. It is a study of, “9,000 young adults,” out of a study, Growing Up Today, of 26,000 contributors. Why did the authors of the study not consider children beyond that study? The authors may have enjoyed the convenience of the study, but the study could have benefitted from a broader cross-section of American society.

On the issue of gender identity, the study appears to only consider gender conformity in favorite childhood “toys and games… and media characters“. It is absurd to link gender identification to these very general characteristics and childhood objects. Does the study mean to imply that if a girl plays with her brother’s toy cars – as I frequently did – she is more likely to identify as “masculine”. If so, it is patently ridiculous to hinge gender identity, a broad and expansive aspect of individual identity, on toys.

Furthermore, does the study truly wish to imply gender identification engenders physical or sexual abuse as a child? Individuals who do not conform within the norms associated with his or her gender may indeed face bullying and harassment from peers. Kids can be cruel. Teachers and parents often compound the isolation of bullying and teasing.  Without cruel intention, these adults in positions of authority can exacerbate these problems by allowing, “kids to be kids” .

Sexual or physical abuse, however, does not discriminate based on gender identity. A rowdy little boy who plays sports can be abused in the same ways a quiet boy who likes his sister’s dolls. Abusers prey on vulnerability, which may be linked to gender identity. Abuse, however, is much more linked to the fact that children instinctively trust the adults in their lives, and abusers prey on that fact.

More importantly, how would this study be translated into a practical solution advocated in the final paragraph? Will school nurses will be asking: “Oh, Johnny (or Susie), you don’t play with GI Joes (or Barbies) at playtime. Does Mommy or Daddy hurt you at home?”

I would guess such a policy would cause a complete uproar amongst children, parents, and anyone with any understanding of mental health! Children may see absolutely nothing wrong with their non-conforming behavior. Should school officials single them out for scrutiny? Parents may also object to the horrifying assumption of this study. Because gender non-conformity is correlated to abuse, should children be questioned without any other probable cause for questioning like physical injury?

My greatest hesitation with the study is the connection between mental health disorders like PTSD and gender non-conformity. Mental health disorders, including PTSD, are related to a myriad of causal stimuli. It cannot be necessarily attributed solely to instances of childhood abuse or trauma. It is related to many smaller events within the varied life of a human being.

My objections should not be understood as a complete dismissal of the study. The study does offer crucial insight into a vulnerable population of children, boys and girls who do not align perfectly with the modern conception of gender. Children who are different often suffer bullying and teasing from their classmates and from their peers. Children who do not fit inside the boxes society set for them can suffer horrific abuse from the adults they trust implicitly.

There are also children who color outside the lines of their gender who face challenges with determination and resolve. These are the children who refuse to be cowed and bullied because they are different from everyone. I would hate to stifle the expression and the fun of these children because of one study. Society must engage fully in this discussion on gender to provide safety to the children who dare to defy gender.

Molly Cunningham is the Editor in Chief of Galatea and a third year Philosophy major in the College. You may contact her with any questions.  


Women in Religion: Confessions of a Lapsed Catholic

29 Jan

Confessions of a Lapsed Catholic 
By Molly Cunningham  

Forgive me Father for I have wandered and sinned. It has been too long since I have felt welcome in the Catholic Church.

I am a twenty-something woman, raised in an Irish-Catholic family. My family has been Catholic since the turn of time. I grew up with an immense appreciation for the Catholic Church and its doctrines. I was taught dear lessons, including  the fact that women play an integral role in the formation and  flourishing of the Catholic Church. My devotional is to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ and the holiest woman throughout the history of the Catholic Church. My patron saint, Catherine of Siena, was a Doctor in the Church. My family has women in religious orders.

As I grew older, however, I began to doubt. Catholicism has a soft spot for doubters; for example, the Catholic Vulgate Bible gives “Doubting Thomas” a prominent place within the post-Ascension miracles of Jesus. My doubts revolved around two prominent issues of gender, which I shall share in this forum for gender discussion:

First, I have profound disagreements with the barring women from serving in “clerical offices,” like the priesthood.

Female disciplines worshipped Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church since its origins in Bethlehem. Historically, however, women have not consistently served as priests within the Catholic Church. The sacraments associated with the priesthood explicitly exclude women as officiants. As successors of the all-male cast of the Apostles, priests are men. The Vatican with its doctrinally infallible leader has always barred women (and married men) from the priesthood. In short, the Catholic Church argues men and women are equal despite the ban on women from the priesthood.  

I cannot agree with the interpretation that women engage equally in the Catholic Church without an option to serve in the priesthood. If a women, a human being created in the image of God, wishes to serve the Catholic Church, why should the Catholic Church bar women from serving. There is no explicit mention from Jesus Christ banning women from serving his message. If the Catholic Church truly wishes to engage in the message of Jesus Christ that we must love one another as we love ourselves, then the Catholic Church must act in this manner when addressing the issue of women and the priesthood.  

Second, I have profound disagreements with the position of the Catholic Church on homosexuality. I believe if God created heterosexual human beings, then God created homosexual human beings. I also firmly believe in the message of loving others as myself regardless of race, creed, or sexuality.  When I discuss this within my family, it prompts reactions of disbelief and shock. Although the Church does not condemn homosexuals as harshly as its Protestant counterparts, homosexuality in the Catholic Church is forbidden as an action.

I also cannot agree with the Catholic Church on homosexuality. The passages in the Old and New Testaments on homosexuality require a contextual reading, which condemn homosexuality for cultural reasons, not for religious purposes. More importantly, Jesus does not mention homosexuality at all within the Gospels. He does not condemn the act or the practice. Jesus teaches the immense and the profound message: love your enemies as yourself. How can a church following this message  make such hurtful doctrines against children of God?  

I understand the position of the Catholic Church on women in the priesthood and on homosexuality. I understand the history of these positions. Despite my understanding of these positions, I cannot accept them as the word of God. It is the word of fallible human leadership. With that perspective in mind, I will serve as a critic of the Catholic Church on its gender positions. The rational, thinking perspective of my mind will not accept exclusion from a Church that claims to be “universal”, the true meaning of the word “Catholic”.

I believe there is a greater presence within the universe. I understand that presence to be a divine presence. I believe this “God” is loving, accepting, and merciful figure. For now, the Catholic Church does not accept this perspective, and I cannot accept the Catholic Church as a woman.  

I pray for a world without gender distinctions. I pray for a world without gender discrimination. I pray the Catholic Church someday will help in achieving this world.  

Molly Cunningham is a third year in the College and is the Editor in Chief for Galatea. You can contact her here.  

Women in Religion

29 Jan

Welcome back to Winter Quarter, GALS readers! 

Our theme for this quarter is women in religion — a contentious but interesting theme for any discussion.

This topic certainly poses awkward questions from across the political, economic, and social spectrum. For example:

Does religion oppress women?

Is religion good for women?

Why are women more religious?

Does religion lie about women?  

(And on, and on, and on…) 

GALS, (Gender, Activism, Leadership and Service) will be examining these difficult questions about women in religion week by week. We shall consider various religious traditions week by week, and we shall consider the role of women in such traditions:







We shall even consider the evolving role of women in religion over time and throughout history. We shall host discussions on the subject. We shall host speakers from across the academic spectrum. We shall host religious and secular speakers. We shall screen movies. We shall host dinners. We will create and host art. 

Regardless of the medium of conversation, we want to consider the power, prestige, and problems faced by women in religion and outside of religion. 

Welcome to Winter Quarter! This should be interesting!  

Women in Leadership: Fed. Up. With No Shave November

24 Nov

Women in Leadership: Fed. Up. With No Shave November
Chana Messinger




“Get away from me”.

What could the Internet have found so revolting? You’d think the subject matter of the Twitter universe latest target was a new sex tape that involved both necrophilia and bestiality and was thus finally shocking enough to horrify the mainstream judgment cloud that is Twitter (until the next trending topic came up, of course). Perhaps, it was an “Actual Bad Thing” like a celebrity domestic abuser.

Ah, me, no. The grossest thing the Internet could imagine was a woman somewhere out there in the world, not applying sharp metal blades or hot melted wax to her skin. The horror!

We, the reasonable majority, might start to think about the women that we know, how in particular, they are not one unshaven day away from causing us to vomit every time they walk into a room. We might start to think that a twitter storm implying such a thing might start to make women put down, self-conscious and shamed. We might come to believe that sentiments expressed with such internet behavior are foolish and harmful, and that we need to push back. And we would be right.

The Occasion: No Shave November. Also known as “Movember”, or “Novembeard”, NSN is a yearly tradition in which people don’t shave for a month, in an effort to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer research. As you may be able to tell from the latter naming options, it has traditionally been focused on men.


I don’t really have a problem with that. I understand that cancer research and awareness can be best served by snazzy, hip campaigns that appeal to people’s self-interest and sense of identity. This tactic can go terribly wrong, of course, as we’ve seen in the ‘Pinkification’ of breast cancer. But in general, it’s fine for Movember to involve mainly men and market the idea mainly to men and even to emphasize the manliness of beards in order to do it.

But. But! When a phenomenon like No Shave November goes viral, it becomes so decentralized as to lack any organization that could alter the event to be more inclusive. This has obvious benefits, since it’s supposed to be, in some ways, something that people (read: men) just do because it’s fun and silly and exciting and yes, also because it’s for a good cause.

Unfortunately, this means that the public face of No Shave November, as analyzed through Twitter, becomes a cesspool of male privilege and pan-gendered body shaming.

For example:
“No shave November does not apply to females… I repeat: No shave November DOES NOT apply to females. That is all”

“Just Witnessed A Female Who C L E A R L Y Started -No Shave November-. Ughhhh. Nasty AF”

“No shave November doesn’t apply to women. That’s disgusting.

“No Shave November is meant for men, NOT women!!!”

And I could go on and on and on and on…(Author’s note: These comments came from all genders).

Has women’s body hair been killing people? Engaging in public urination? Eating people’s hamsters without justifiable cause?


It’s just existing on women’s bodies in a totally sanitary and natural way in the same way it does on men’s bodies. That is apparently enough to provoke an onslaught of self-indulgent narcissistic personal preference sharing tweeting, all of it entirely oblivious to the vast social and political consequences of such an overwhelming condemnation of women who do not shave their bodies.

I, for one, am fed up! I am fed up with the silliness of caring so much about what other people look like, even when it doesn’t affect you. I am fed up with the totally unfair beauty standards to which women are held and shamed if they do not. I am fed up with the internet helping to create a society where it’s ok to make a perfectly normal preteen girl feel like she’s less of a woman if she doesn’t pull out the razors immediately on her twelfth birthday. I am most fed up with a culture that focuses more on the fact that women aren’t shaving than on the fact that they’re fighting prostate cancer.

What is to be done? The internet is a devastatingly unappealing place at times, but it would be politically lazy to therefore do nothing. We have the choice to let the internet conquer feminism, or to make feminism conquer the internet.

Sexists may be all over the internet for now, but remember: their public forums are ours as well. We can use the same tools and turn their awful messages on their heads. We can call out sexism where we see it. We can spread supportive, healthy messages to the entire Internet community.

And we already are! The feminist blogosphere exists, of course, but even just in this case, check out this woman, who is calling out sexism. And this guy was really happy we, the anti-sexists, existed. Sure I received some unpleasant replies to my requests for a saner, less misogynistic world, but again, if the sexists can use Twitter as a public forum, so can we.

We can say things like, “Stop shaming women for their personal choices, especially if they’re trying to fight prostate cancer”

We can even change some minds. We can hopefully reach many who may be made hopeful by the sheer existence of those willing to question the assumption that women must naturally have a higher standard of beauty inconvenience.

A woman who doesn’t shave her legs does not harbor the seeds of destruction of a civilized and hygienic society, and one who does it in the name of raising money for prostate cancer research is praiseworthy, not disgusting, and she should be lauded, not shamed. This is worth saying over and over again, in conversation and on the internet. It may be saddening or disturbing that it has to be said at all, but that is no excuse for inaction on our parts. If feminism has done anything, it has given us a voice. Let’s use it to make a more equal society, 140 characters at a time.


Women in Leadership: An Evening with Catharine MacKinnon

24 Nov

Women in Leadership: An Evening with Catharine MacKinnon

Emmaline Campbell
GALS President

On November 14, the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality hosted Catharine MacKinnon for an on campus lecture. Ms. MacKinnon is renowned for her work internationally on sex trafficking and pornography. Her speech, entitled “Trafficking, Prostitution, and Inequality,” addressed the debate about whether prostitution can be good for women. Her answer to this question is an emphatic “no.”

Ms. MacKinnon argues that prostitution is a denial of human rights, a cycle of sexual abuse, and the ultimate oppression of women.

Prostitutes are overwhelmingly poor, and typically are members of disadvantaged classes. Prostitutes usually begin at a young age, sometimes as young as 10. Prostitutes tend to have been sexually abused during their childhood.

Ms. MacKinnon argues that none of these factors lend towards the argument that anyone can become a prostitute, and that prostitutes are knowingly giving consent. Gender, social class, and sexual abuse history define prostitution. It is a fact of circumstance, not a conscious employment choice.

There is a class structure within the sex trade, and it does not benefit the prostitutes: it benefits the pimps, who often keep women working through threats and violence. A recent study found that 89% of prostitutes want to leave the industry, but are unable to.

Prostitution carries serious health risks.  In Calcutta, prostitutes typically serve 20-30 men per day. The women risk a higher chance for prostitutes to contract a sexually transmitted disease.

Prostitutes are much more likely to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (ptsd) than the general population. The disorder is a response to an amount of trauma that exceeds what a person is capable of tolerating.

For these reasons, Ms. MacKinnon argues we must seek to end prostitution. She does not, however, believe that criminalization of prostitution is the best answer. Instead, Ms. MacKinnon advocates for the Swedish Model, which she and Andrea Dworkin helped to develop. The Swedish Model is as follows:

–       Decriminalizing prostitution for the prostitutes.
–       Criminalizing buyers of prostitution
–       Criminalizing third party profiteers of prostitution.

All in all, Ms. MacKinnon presents a very compelling argument for prostitution as a violation of human rights and dignity. I’ll be interested to see how other countries’ views on prostitution continue to evolve.Emmaline Campbell is the President of GALS.

Women in Leadership: To the Modern Day Peripatetic

14 Nov

Women in Leadership: To the Modern Day Peripatetic

Ash Mayo
GALS Member

Choose your major early. Graduate early. Go to law school or medical school. No, don’t take time off—you’ll never get back in.  Don’t bother with a job if it’s any less than (insert your family’s favorite number here).

This is the truncated transcription of my Sunday phone call with my family. I call my parents every Sunday, and they catch me up on family gossip. They tell me to get a haircut, eat better, and then, generally, let me go on my way. However, this week “specialize” was rhythm and melody of the conversation.

What do I mean by “specialize”? This word arose in academia from the desperate situation of the economy. There is an emphasis on the academic disciplines most likely to earn high salaries after a college education. The sciences, the art of business, mathematics and computer science – any major or area outside the social sciences and humanities – are the darlings of the “specialize” crowd.

Specialize – this has become the mantra of many in America. My friends in college and beyond hear it. MSNBC writes of it. There is growing skepticism towards the traditional liberal arts education. More than that, it has come at the expense of the facts. The GALS Speaker, Ms. Julia Stasch, for our seventh week sought to challenge this call to “specialize”. Stasch, Vice-President of the MacArthur Foundation, spoke to a group of thirty UChicago students. She is, by every measure, a success. Her life, however, is the sort that would scare my parents out of sleep.

In her second year of Antioch College, Ms. Stasch dropped out “to find [herself]”. She taught with VISTA on a Native American reservation. She also taught history on the South Side of Chicago at Harlan Community Academy. In 1977, she helped found Stein & Company, a real estate development firm. She then became President and CEO of Shorebank Chicago Companies for a year. All the while, she was slowly gaining a college degree. The culmination of which would be her graduating summa cum laude from Loyola University. In 1997, Ms. Stasch served in the Clinton administration as the Deputy Administrator of the General Services Administration. Ms. Stasch stayed in Washington for only a few years before returning to Chicago to work for Mayor Daley first as the Commission of the Housing Department, and later as his Chief of Staff. Finally, the MacArthur Foundation hired Ms. Stasch for her current job of vice president.

Ms. Stasch’s life is the life of a peripatetic, and she attributed much of her success to this. She didn’t “cloak [herself] in an identity”. She stayed open to every opportunity.

Her speech was peppered with amusing anecdotes and relatable advice. When discussing her job history, Stasch admitted she had never run a real estate company or a bank despite her employer tasking her with these executive position.   The thought “oh my god, how am I going to do that?” did cross her mind.

After some reflection, however, she simply said, “I can do that.” Thankfully for our narrative, she succeeded with flying colors and with unwavering resolve. If she “specialized” in anything, it was resourcefulness, not a high-paying major.

Thank you again, Ms. Stasch, for coming to calm the fears of those (and their parents) who don’t yet know the direction their lives will take.
Below is Ms. Stasch’s list of leadership do’s and Don’ts for those of you who are interested:

1)   Do be confident. “Every woman has a core which lacks self-confidence, but you cannot let it define you.”

2)   Do be optimistic. “You cannot draw others without it.”

3)   Do be “comfortable with ambiguity”. Be able to shape your role and make the most of it.

4)  Do be funny. “It’s unexpected from a woman.” So crack a joke every once in a while.

5)   Do be tough skinned. As Mayor Daley told Ms. Stasch, “Not everybody is your friend.”

6)  Do take a seat at the table. If you don’t think it, no one else will.

7)   Don’t be afraid to interrupt. Respect others, but do not tolerate getting cut out of the conversation.

8)   Don’t let others take your credit. “Remind people of what you’ve done.”

9)   Do know when to pull back. “Ask for help when you need it.”

10)  Don’t “see your success at the expense of men,” because the world needs all of us.

Ash Mayo is a member of GALS. Her interests include gender equality and discussions on the role of sexuality in modern feminist discourse.

Women in Leadership: A Letter to Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin

14 Nov

Women in Leadership
Molly Cunningham
Editor in Chief



In a previous iteration of this blog, more creative pieces of work on gender issues became a series called “Letters from a Girl”. These epistles from my imagination are respectful, but the tone does occasionally verge on the sarcastic or the amused. These pieces are intended to question and to challenge the imagined recipients. I enjoy the letter format, and I hope the audience enjoys them as much as I enjoy writing them!

This is companion letter to the letter to Hillary Clinton. Since I covered the more liberal perspective, I must now address Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and all conservative women. Without further ado:

Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin Are Feminists…
Whether They Like It or Not!


A Letter from a Girl

To the Conservative Women of America,

There is a strange phobia infecting the conservative women of the United States. If we narrow our media consumption to the more conservative programming of Fox News, the Washington Post, and other publications to the right, the problem becomes somewhat evident. However, there is a debate between more liberal and more conservative publication about this fear

This phobia? The phobia of feminism. Or more, accurately, there is a fear amongst conservative women of being labeled “feminist”.

Feminism, succinctly, is a collection of movements devoted to the equal rights of women in society, in politics, and in the economy. Historically, the movements are associated with other movements for equality, including civil rights movements and gay rights movements. Feminist theory supports the movements through academic explanation of inequality. Between the movements and the theory, feminists are credited with ensuring reproductive rights of women worldwide, creating universal female suffrage in the Western Hemisphere, and advocating for equal pay for women.

A movement dedicated to female equality seems an odd target for women. So, why are you, conservative women who exemplify many of the values of female equality, afraid of being called feminists?

Some of this fear is understandable in context. The conflation of feminism with liberalism could make any conservative woman nervous about adopting the label. Social conservatives like Paul Gottfried argue that more liberal forms of feminism “… has been a social disaster that continues to take its toll on the family”.  The emphasis of social conservative ideology in the modern Republican Party has institutionalized the fear of liberal ideologies demanding equality. Feminism has become a victim of partisan politics within the United States.     

Paul Gottfried

But what does this mean for conservative women? Approximately forty-two percent (42%) of Americans consider themselves “conservative” according to Gallup Polling. However, polling also indicates there are more men than women in the conservative movement and in the modern Republican Party. Despite the prominence of Republican women within Congress and within state and municipal politics, men continue to dominate the political, economic, and social scenes frequented by conservatives. Women in the social conservative movement quietly preach the deference to men in defense of “tradition”, “values”, and “the family”. 

Could conservative women be under siege from their male counterparts to oppose feminism?

Unfortunately for that argument, conservative women appear to be expressing distaste for feminism independent of men like Paul Gottfried. No two figures have exemplified this trend more than former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin and current Minnesota Congresswoman and Republican Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. To quote Ms. Bachmann and Ms. Palin on feminism is to see the apparent phobia towards the identification “feminist” despite being the beneficiaries of feminism. 

In Going Rogue, Ms. Palin claims to disdain from “…the radical mantras of that early feminist era, but reasoned arguments for equal opportunity definitely resonated with me.”

Sarah Palin in Going Rogue

In speeches, Michele Bachmann has drawn from Scripture to command women to be “submissive” to their husbands.

Michele Bachmann and Her Husband Marcus Bachmann

Both women claim a disdain for feminism. Both women, however, are beneficiaries of female suffrage, a crucial goal of early feminist theory and early feminist movements. Ms. Palin and Ms. Bachmann receive the same benefits of their male counterparts in politics, largely because of gender equality movements and legislation.

The source of this fear and this disdain for feminism appears to come both from the conflation of feminism with liberal causes and from the rise of social conservatives and Christian conservatives within the modern Republican Party. Feminism in its original form as a message for female equality and gender equality has lost conservatives in its socio-political message.

Thankfully for conservative women Ms. Palin, and Ms. Bachmann, feminism is listening.

It would be reasonable to conclude that conservative women are feminists, concerned with equal opportunity and female empowerment. Instead of complaining and distancing themselves from feminism, conservative women should embrace their status as beneficiaries of feminism. Perhaps, in the future, conservative women could serve as critics for the contemporary movement?

So, my conservative sisters, there is room within the movement for female equality in society, in politics, and in the economy. Meghan Daum succinctly welcomes conservative women into the feminist fold. Any conservative women who”…has the guts to call herself a feminist, then she’s entitled to be accepted as one.”

Meghan Daum

As for Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin, the leaders of this female conservative awakening?  Ms. Bachmann and Ms. Palin, you’re feminists whether you like it or not!

A Girl