Occupy Gender!

Many opponents of the Occupy Wall Street movement who wish to protect the outsized power and wealth of the 1% complain that the protesters in New York and around the globe are against capitalism.  Sure, some are.  But for the vast majority, nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, most of the Americans — left, right and middle — protesting corporate greed believe passionately in capitalism, so much so that they’re willing to fight to make it work as it’s intended. 

I realized the same is true of evolving, progressive attitudes about gender.

Most of us who support marriage equality, who believe that women are equal to men, not inferior or submissive, who favor the increasing dissolution of borders between male and female, masculinity and femininity, are not against gender.  Sure, some are.  But for the vast majority, especially among the younger generation, the desire to see gender boundaries and hierarchies matter less and less in our personal and public lives does not equate with a desire to overthrow or abandon gender. 

Have you been to a gay bar lately filled with 20-somethings?  The crowd most likely includes flamboyant boys in pink, beard-and-plaid-wearing hipster dudes, some lesbians in suit jackets and skinny ties and others in frilly skirts with their hair done up.  They aren’t rejecting gender, they’re diving into, wrapping themselves in, playing with and reimagining gender — like a valuable jewel in modern art piece, incorporated into the present not tossed aside. 

When I teach my three-year-old about gender, I don’t tell her gender doesn’t exist or is evil.  At this point, I mostly tell her that girls can do anything boys can and the differences between boys and girls really don’t matter.  I want her to command and mold her gender to her goals and dreams, not be bound by it (as she would have been two generations ago).  But that also means raising her to be conscious of and proud that she’s a girl — in other words, helping her see gender not reject it. 

By the same token, when I took my daughter to the Occupy Wall Street protests, I told her that the people out on Zuccatti Park are proud Americans who want to fix our economy so it works better for ordinary people.  They don’t want to tear down the system.  In fact, the very fact of their protest is a sign that they believe in our economic system so much they’re confident it can be reformed and are staking their bodies on that faith. 

Adam Smith wrote, “The subjects of every state ought to contribute toward the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.”  Even the man who arguably founded capitalism argued it wasn’t perfect and should be balanced with government and a social safety net.  And Simone de Beauvoir wore dresses.  In other words, even the most ardent capitalists appreciate the flaws of capitalism, just as the most ardent gender deconstructionists hew to some norms themselves now and then.  The result is neither communism nor a gender-free society.

Capitalism can take the form of a socially-conscious free market economy that creates opportunity for all.  Our understanding of gender can stretch to appreciate the full spectrum of human self-expression.  Those who accuse reformers of wanting to abolish capitalism and gender are, for the most part, merely afraid that the positive evolution of these notions is not only unavoidable but may leave them and their ways behind.   

Sally Kohn is a political commentator and grassroots strategist.  You can find her writing at http://movementvision.org

Photo credit _PaulS_/Flickr

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