Gender Shock: Exploding the Myths of Male and Female

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9780385477178: Gender Shock: Exploding the Myths of Male and Female

At a time when men are staying at home to parent and women are leaving to practice law, medicine, and politics, America is confused and anxious about what differences truly exist between the sexes. To question one's gender role is to invite chaos, the flux of identity, yet the question persists: In a world of evolving roles for both sexes, how are "masculine" and "feminine" defined?  If women and men are created equal, how then do gender differences emerge?

In Gender Shock, Phyllis Burke explodes the many myths surrounding our rigid gender system of male and female by looking through three lenses of gender identity: Behavior, Appearance, and Science. Combining the latest research in psychology, genetics, neurology, and sociology, Burke finds that gender (or behavior) is not the result of one's biological sex (the body itself); that gender and sexuality are separate elements of the self; that there are more variations within each sex than there are between the two; and finally, based on world-class biologist Dr. Fausto-Sterling's theory of the five sexes, perhaps the most surprising myth of all is that there are only two kinds of bodies: the male and the female.

The most shocking practice Burke encounters is the increasingly popular diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder, in which children, as young as three years old, undergo "therapy" both at home and at school for not adhering to accepted notions of "girl" and "boy" behavior. Rather than punishing children and adults who do not conform to gender expectations, Burke urges the rejection of our rigid male-female system and the embrace of a "gender independent" culture, in which individuals adopt the best traits of both sexes, e.g. strong and nurturing, rational and  emotional.

An artful combination of investigative journalism, personal stories, and cultural criticism, Gender Shock, will forever redefine our understanding of gender.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Calling for ``gender independence,'' freedom from the tyranny of masculine and feminine stereotypes, Burke (Family Values: Two Moms and Their Son, 1993; Atomic Candy, 1989) relies more on anecdote and example than on theory and sustained argument, thereby giving current discussions on gender a human face--and a wider audience. Worried that growing up in a man-free household could condemn a boy to Robert Bly's ``father-hunger,'' Burke, who adopted her lesbian partner's son, decided to learn what she could about gender roles so as to do a better job in her role as mother. She divides her findings into categories: behavior, appearance, and science. ``Behavior'' takes a chilling look at some psychologists' and psychiatrists' efforts over recent decades to use behavior modification techniques, and even drugs, to make children conform to gender stereotypes. The most worrying people in these case studies are the researchers themselves, notably the male scientist who describes a four-year-old boy as having ``slovenly seductive eyes.'' Burke maintains that although over time the rhetoric of such studies has become less sexist and homophobic, the ``assessment and treatment'' of children is essentially unchanged. The book's next section deflates the idea that the body's appearance somehow reflects its true nature. Here Burke makes her case not only with studies but with light-hearted looks at two shrewd and empathic experts in creative cross-dressing: Diane King, who lets women experience ``male authority and territory and entitlement,'' and Miss Vera, who sees feminine clothes as ``props'' bringing men in touch with a hidden side of themselves. The section on science briefly addresses physical differences between genders. After touching on topics such as the brain (no convincing gender difference) and testosterone (which doesn't cause aggression), Burke quotes Dr. David Schwartz, who asks if it isn't ``time to admit that the search for biological determinants of gender has met with failure.'' Thought-provoking reading on the creation of gender identity for anyone who has a child or has ever been one. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

Burke, who adheres to the school of thought that gender is a social construct rather than a natural characteristic, argues that Gender Identity Disorder (GID) should be abolished as a diagnostic category. Very young children and preadolescents whose behavior is deemed gender-inappropriate?"tomboyish" girls, "effeminate" boys?are forced by their parents, school psychologists and psychiatrists to undergo therapy for GID. Treatment can include behaviorism, drugs, psychoanalysis, close monitoring of voice, posture, gait and activities, even hospitalization. Burke presents numerous case histories to illustrate the damaging emotional effects such therapy can have on children who are straitjacketed by rigid gender stereotypes. In support of her thesis that masculine and feminine identities are artificial social constructs, Burke marshals studies of perceived physical attractiveness, then takes us inside workshops for male and female cross-dressers. She not only maintains that gender, sex and sexuality are three distinct domains but also asserts that "gender independent" individuals, people free from society's sexist stereotyping, are more flexible, and more accepting of their masculine and feminine components.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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