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Seeing Is Believing

By May 16, 2015 May 29th, 2019 No Comments

Gender, Sexual Orientation and Race in the Sighted and the Non-Sighted

Welcome to my new blog about the ins and outs of those all so human attributes known as gender, race and sexual orientation.I have been writing about these subjects for several decades, during which time I have authored or edited some thirteen books on these intertwined topics. In this blog, I will discuss new and exciting developments in these ever-expanding fields. I will keep you right at the cutting edge of theory and practice.

But first, let me make sure that you are by my side. In order to map that territory, let me begin here with its discovery-or was it an invention? You may think that questions about gender have always been with us, but that is not the case. In fact, it is a very recent idea. Up until the middle of the 20th century, there was no gender. That is, gender was a linguistic attribute familiar to many students of the romance languages. In the early 1970’s, the term first introduced to describe human behavior by John Money, was widely adopted by feminists to mark a new distinction, that between sex, as it had been known until that time, and gender, which was thought to be the learned behaviors of femininity and masculinity.

Was this newly named gender a discovery or an invention? And what about race; what about sexual orientation? Epistemology asks the question, “How do we know what we know?” In the beginning, there is epistemology, the simple seeming question, “How do we know what we know?” Without words, we cannot formulate our questions. Without vision, we cannot see them.

Recently I was being prepared for a procedure at Stanford University Hospital and the nurse insistently asked me what I do. “I am a psychology professor,” I responded reluctantly. I had other things on my mind, namely the surgery I was about to undergo. But she continued, “What is your specialty?” “Gender,” I offered her another word, hoping she would be satisfied. “Oh, we do that surgery here,” she replied happily.

In my professional lifetime, the construct has gone from a grammatical rule to a bifurcated social role to a medical and psychological choice. How do we know what gender is? The edifice of race, also a long taken for granted genetic characteristic of humans, is built on an equally shaky foundation. As I proceed with this blog, I will name them genderization and racialization and we can together watch them morph and change and possibly dissolve right before our eyes.

Join me on this journey. I will be your guide and much of the initial territory on which I report is based on my years of studying the role of vision in engendering[1] and then working in depth with individuals blind since birth, who have not had access to the basic cues the sighted use to categorize gender and race.[2] I will not confine myself to this territory, but it will be our starting point.

References

[1] Kaschak, E. (1992). Engendered Lives: A New Psychology of Women’s Experience, Basic Books: New York.

[2] Kaschak, E. (2015). Sight Unseen: Gendr and Race through Blind Eyes, Columbia University Press: New York.

This article was originally published in Psychology Today.

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning psychologist, author and teacher. She is well-known as a speaker, workshop leader, human rights advocate and a public intellectual.