Guest Blogger

Women, Gender Stereotypes and Gay Men

Filed By Guest Blogger | March 19, 2013 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay stereotypes, gender stereotypes, women

A gay male perspective on the Commission on the Status of Women

Editor's Note: Andreas Schwarz is executive assistant for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. He can be reached at aschwarz@iglhrc.org.

Each year, Women's History Month is celebrated in the United States. It is a month dedicated to recognizing the contributions and historical events by women that have shaped society as well as the ongoing challenges that women face. It seems appropriate that the Commission on the Status of Women - a hectic, dynamic, two weeks of high-end meetings, conferences, fora and panels at the United Nations - would fall in March this year, focusing on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.

While the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) engaged at the conference, I grasped at the opportunity to explore how women's rights, or the lack thereof, affected the gay male community. Beyond espousing inclusiveness for protection from violence against lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, I was eager to understand how I, a gay male, warranted a presence at an event that ostensibly appeared exclusively for women and those fighting for women's rights. As the weeks progressed, my work took me closer to the preparation and planning for the conference: making arrangements for activists to travel from Asia - Japan, Philippines and Sri Lanka - to the U.S. and who would be speaking at IGLHRC-sponsored panels, organizing large group planning meetings at our office, tracking the events at which our staff would be speaking as well as the panels we were to attend and organizing the details of the staff and visiting human rights defenders' myriad conference-related activities.

As we moved toward the convening, and I absorbed the themes to be dealt with at the conference, my focus shifted from women to a broader examination of gender. It fueled memories of past events in my life that were supported by the panelists' discussions and ensuing challenges to the concept of gender binaries. Unquestionably we live in a deeply patriarchal society; but as a male, do I inadvertently enable this systemic foundation? Or do I suffer its effects as well?

My first recognition at the Commission on the Status of Women was the clear principle that to discuss women's rights, we need to dissect gender rights and inevitably, gender norms. While we can converse on how to advance the lives of women and deter all forms of violence, it's clear that economic disadvantages, religion and traditions are significant culprits in engendering violence and mistreatment of women. However, if we are able to grasp why through history and tradition women have been marginalized in the first place, we can create space to scrutinize and decipher these often times hypocritical - and sometimes lethal - ideas of gender.

When we investigate gender roles in society, we begin to see its impact on the gay community. For example, it's not uncommon for two male partners to emulate a husband and wife within their relationship. It seems to occur almost instinctively, and if unaware amongst the men in the relationship, it's certainly being discussed amongst peers and acquaintances. Gay men's speech, attitudes and manners are filled with these permissive gender-binary constructs that ultimately affect not only our relationships, but also our very being in society.

"Feminine men need not apply," although not in those exact words, is commonplace and used not only in the straight world, but also amongst the gay community to disparage those that do not fit within the framework of being male. As gay men, we are sensitive to gender identity; yet once we come out, we immediately conform to conventional masculine standards, and force those who do not into niches that reflect their sexual desires, locution, dress, attitudes and so on.

While attending a panel on "Culture, Religion, Tradition and Human Rights," I acutely recalled a personal memory that presented not only gay men's conformity to traditional masculine principles, but also the consequences. This time last year, I was dating a man who was born and raised in a deeply patriarchal nation - a world steeped in traditional values. We often strolled around the city and I never noticed our placement when walking on the sidewalk. It wasn't until one evening while we were out for a leisurely stroll that he stopped and deliberately repositioned himself, explaining that in his country, it was customary for the male to walk on the outside of the sidewalk. My reaction was a flood of confusion and a set of instant internal questions that left me nonplussed. If the male walks on the outside of the sidewalk, what does that make me? Was this a superfluous tradition that I should just disregard, or is this a deeper implication of society's punitive gender construct? As my companion took the outside position did he feel protective? Superior? More comfortable in his "right" place? I silently questioned his motives for a few days, and eventually let it go. However, when I reflect on his rigid sense of masculinity now, it becomes clear that when we examine femininity and women's rights, we must examine our beliefs about masculinity as well. When we examine and grapple with women's rights, I too am directly affected as a man.

As I try to grasp a greater understanding of women's rights and where I could fit in as a male, I want in no way to minimize the very reality of femicide, lack of women's rights and the continuously resilient battle against marginalization and egregious violations perpetrated against women across the globe. Notwithstanding, my participation at the Commission on the Status of Women fostered a nascent awareness of women's rights and, subsequently, the realization that to end violations against women and girls, we must start with societal barriers of gender norms. When we examine women's rights and successively dissect gender identity, we will undoubtedly affirm that women's rights encompass everybody, including men.


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