How do we deconstruct sexism ingrained within “cultural woman value?”
In a quest to understand my own past, my curious choices, mistakes, fears, and self-doubt, I look to psychology and neuroscience for insight. Historically, the disciplines of neuroscience and psychology have assigned value to women and men based on difference, and this difference, in turn, has resulted in a feminine devaluation. In the book Delusions of Gender: How our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference (2010), psychologist Cordelia Fine analyzes the sensational aspect of difference. Contrast is newsworthy. Congruence is not. Fine critiques and debunks widely reported findings of Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen. He reinforces the difference between genders by claiming that the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy in direct opposition to the male brain which he claims is predominantly hard-wired for designing building systems. Fine insists there is no scientific basis for such a statement. Dividing the sexes between empathizing and systemizing has historic precedence and continues to perpetuate culture’s misguided view of a binary-based value system.
Inside the empathy gender gap, critical observation reveals how alleged hardwiring is in fact an intuitive alteration of self to the expectations hiding in the social context.
Fine refers to this intuitive alteration as the “stereotype threat.” She explains that subtle triggers for stereotype threat might be more harmful than obvious signals, suggesting that stereotype threat may be more of an issue for women now than it was decades ago. Neuroscientist Lise Eliot came to a similar conclusion and wrote about it in her 2010 book, Pink Brain, Blue Brain. After exhaustive research into the difference between male and female brains, Eliot determined there was no grounds for substantiating a neurological gender binary.
So, why is it that women and men end up so different?
Neuroscientist Lise Eliot attributes gender differences to “plasticity” of the brain. Plasticity describes the phenomenon of how the brain actually changes in response to its own experience. The brain is far more plastic in childhood than it is in adulthood. Every task which an individual spends time on (especially in children) reinforces active brain circuits at the expense of other inactive brain circuits. Girls approach their vulnerable phase around puberty—when plasticity takes hold. During this time, they are highly susceptible to assimilating cultural woman value. If girls follows social cues, plasticity will reinforce those brain circuits indulging in the social construct of femininity at the expense of brain circuits that would otherwise have indulged her original, natural interests.
In the doctorate thesis Pretty in Punk: Girls’ Gender Resistance in a Boys’ Subculture (1999), author Lauraine Leblanc elaborates on how these early socialization processes steer plasticity into the gender binary. The young girl judges herself as others judge her, against that impossible feminine ideal—cultural woman value. Self confidence yields to self-consciousness. She loses her sense of self as subject. She senses that she is now “other” and therefore becomes an object in the male world. Despite the efforts of various women’s movements to challenge these damaging gender ideologies, sociocultural expectations of girls have remained constant.
Because of plasticity and sociocultural expectations, the gender binary remains steadfast. The literal and metaphorical notion of plasticity operates harmoniously in art made from plastic materials. Using plastic materials in service to the superficiality demanded in cultural woman value and in reference to plasticity of the brain, they hold the potential to invert cultural association.
With such strong male-coding, variations of the neck tie offer ample exploration into the gender binary. Made from recycled denim, plastic grip textile, and burlap, Gender Ties (2015) reads neither masculine nor feminine—challenging the gender binary.