During the past year, I had the privilege of collaborating with team of students at the University of Bourgogne in Dijon to re-create a diversophy® game on the topic of Gender and Sexual Identity.Given my ongoing interest in gender issues, and particularly in men's rights, I discovered that there was a lot to learn. Despite the updating I got in the project, I felt like a freshly minted recruit when I saw embedded in a colleague's survey (pictured in the title) the demographic query, "Do you consider yourself Male/Female". Once I saw it, my mind automatically expected category labeled "Other", and was disappointed in not seeing it. I also wondered if future “politically correct” census forms would adopt this personalized version.
I guess t.he question, "Who do you think you are?" has shifted from being an reproach made to someone whom we feel has overstepped their bounds to becoming an inquiry about the inner narratives that we used to confirm ourselves about our identity. Also, the riposte came almost automatically to my mind, "Who do you think I am? Should we debate this?"
From a research point of view, one might ask further, whether the only facts that exist, or really matter, are the attitudes that we bear toward them. Indeed, an epistemological question of great magnitude, whether surveying gender issues or some other topic. Discrepancies between whom society thinks I am and who my self-told tales purport me to be in order to fit in might be very painful perhaps even destructive.
Having recently binge watched an old Star Trek series, I became familiar with the central character, a black woman whose name was Michael (at the left), who played a stellar role in quite a few episodes. This name anomaly echoed in my mind yesterday when I received a Facebook invitation from a person yclept John, but whose picture (not shown here for reasons of propriety) manifested large amounts of distinguishing flesh that seem to suggest that, whether or not s/he might be John, s/he was rather in search of a john like so many other Facebook friend invites I receive.
This stimulated discussion between myself and my interns, wondering whether there was a generational tendency afoot for women to choose what traditionally were male names, a question no one on my talented team was able to resolve, and so I pose it here as well. Have you seen such tendencies?
Our linguistic discussion took into account the fact that in recent times many women have changed their given names from what seemed like dainty appellations to more powerful ones, either by using the full name rather than the nickname, or by simply choosing to re-baptize themselves with a moniker sounding more solid and forceful: Candy becomes Candice, Kitty becomes Caitlin, and Daisy chooses Desdemona.
There are a number of names, both given and nicknames, that are used by both men and women, for example, Lee, Charlie, Bernie. In various languages, many names have both male and female versions. Living in France, I have trained my ear to distinguish between a guy neighbor by the name of Laurent and a woman colleague Laurence. There are also cases in which a name has, over time, mutated from being generally bestowed on one gender to being largely appropriated by another. Some generations ago, Beverly was almost exclusively a man's name, but today is primarily given to women. In slang it has also deteriorated to the point where a Beverly or a Bev is used to label a social butterfly.
As an intercultural trainer, I frequently use an exercise in which I ask people to reflect on and then share the meanings and vicissitudes of both are given names and their family names. I found this to be an excellent way to initiate a session which will examine the power of cultural and personal narratives in defining us and in how we define ourselves. You can find the exercise here.