By J. P. Linstroth, Guest Blogger
Now more than ever, we need working theories of gender and greater understandings about gender identities in our world today. This is evident from media coverage on a variety of topics associated with interpreting gendered identities. As such, intellectuals, especially those who specialize in gender studies, have, in my view, an obligation to convey their knowledge about gender and its social constructions to the public at large. This is obvious for various reasons. Today, for example, there are ongoing public discussions about the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) community concerning such issues as Gay marriage rights and transgendered individuals’ use of public restrooms. Moreover, there are other equality issues in the public sphere about women’s rights, especially those associated with reproductive rights—women’s ownership over their bodies and reproduction—and equal pay—fair income for both women and men.
In my recent book, Marching Against Gender Practice, I provide a theoretical framework for interpreting gender and gendered identities through a cognitive lens. In my findings, I demonstrated how gender might be analyzed from the perspective of it being cognized. In other words, it is important to realize how cognitive processes and what cognitive systems may be included in the cognition of gender through analyses of recent theories. The theories presented in the book are inclusive for representing on the one hand, traditional views about gender in Basque society, and on the other hand, newer views associated with Basque feminism. While the book, Marching Against Gender Practice, is directed at an interpretation of Basque society, and in particular, a local controversy surrounding the wider participation of women in an annual commemorative event, known as the Alarde, the theories it posits may be used universally for other disputes over gendered ontologies.
For instance, in guiding our attention once more to general society in the United States, it is significant, therefore, to expose how varying views about gender identities may be articulated from a broad spectrum of opinions and differing standpoints. Consider those interpretations from the religious right, which are based upon common theological concerns among distinctive denominations in Christianity. From the perspective of many Christians, the sole purpose of marriage should ‘only’ be between a man and a woman and not the same-sex; and/or arguing against varied expressions of sexualities and polyvalent sexual identities, other than ‘so-called’ biological and morphological assignations of women and men for reproductive value, are mostly considered to be abominations against the teachings in the Bible. Whereas in opposition to some prevailing theological assumptions, there are some more inclusive and secular beliefs allowing for difference and a variation of gender expressions such as those derived from the LGBT community. Or, to recognize those views, which support more rights for women in all facets of society, whether, for example, in the home, in the labor market, in the sports arena, in governance, and/or in the military, and beyond. These multitudes of issues represent a broad swath of attitudes and philosophies which are often politically aligned and frequently controversial.
In Marching Against Gender Practice, I explain how cognition may be largely perceived as an internalization of the structures of ideas influenced by the environment which are simultaneously directed by social behaviors familiar to that specific setting and situation. Such a conceptualization may be generally related to ideas about cultures and cognition or the causality of networking and behaviors within and between minds while also not wholly constrained by minds nor perceived without them. Cognitive processes are further limited by divergent bodily practices, distinctive social behaviors, and specific ecological environs, and all of these unique factors act in concert upon minds. It is from these general propositions we may try to interpret how gendered identities and sexualities are forged mentally or cognized.
Generally, my view is varying notions of gender are cognized by mental scripts, schemas, and templates (mental representations of concepts associated with persons, things, events, etc.); are cognized through memories (short-term and long-term); are cognized by cognitive connectionism (representing general and specific knowledge and their categorical connections); are cognized by folk psychology (the act of reading others’ minds); are cognized by meta-representations (representing the self over time, projecting about other minds and worlds, and representing beliefs about one’s environment as true or false); are cognized by mental time travel (thinking about one’s past or forecasting about one’s future); and are cognized by embodied forms of cognition (how the mind is embodied through bodily actions and bodily practices). As such, by analyzing gender in this manner, we may appreciate how mental formations regarding how women and men behave are psychological and social constructions (and partially inherited). These mental formations hence become the means by which the possibilities of personhoods are established on different levels through the mind from diverging cognitive processes.
Thus, femaleness and maleness are formulated by distinctive yet compatible processes and systems of cognition for the conception of individual ontology. These mental processes and systems and the environment in which they are created, embodied, and constrained, are further informed by politics and the specific circumstances of learned behaviors such as those supporters of the Pro-Life position in contrast to supporters of the Pro-Choice position. Marching Against Gender Practice is, therefore, meant to be read not only by specialists, but all those interested in the ways gender may be personally interpreted, talked about in the media, and individually understood from an extensive assortment of meanings.
J. P. Linstroth is an Affiliate Research Professor with Florida Atlantic University and an Adjunct Professor at Barry University. He is the author of the book: Marching Against Gender Practice: Political Imaginings in the Basqueland (2015). He obtained his D.Phil. in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Oxford with several awards for his research concentrating on the Spanish-Basques. Linstroth was a recipient of two travel grants from the Basque government to speak on issues of peace and conflict resolution in the Basque Country (2005 & 2006) and a signatory of the Brussels Declaration for Peace to end ETA violence (2010). He was a co-recipient of an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Grant (2005-2007) to study immigrant populations in South Florida, Cubans, Haitians, with particular emphasis on Guatemalan-Mayan immigrants. Furthermore, he was awarded a J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholar Grant (2008-2009) to study urban Amerindians in Manaus, Brazil and to be a Visiting Professor with the Department of Anthropology at the Universidade Federal do Amazonas (UFAM). His main research interests are: cognition, ethnonationalism, gender, genocide, history, immigrant advocacy, indigeneity, indigenous politics, indigenous rights, memory, peace, peacebuilding, racism, and trauma.