Deconstructing and Renouncing the Conditioned Identities of Gender and Nationality in Modern Society
2020, Vol. 12 No. 11 | pg. 1/1
IN THIS ARTICLE
This paper investigates the convoluted societal processes to which the individual is exposed from an early age in order to form and acquire their sense of identity, and aims at dismantling these very processes by exhibiting their flimsy and unsubstantiated underpinning rationale. The compelling role of gender has often been excluded from deliberations and studies regarding the issue of national identity and nationalism as culturally constructed forms of identity and "imaginary" figments of historical unity (Rodó-Zárate, n.d.). In this light, the scope of this paper is threefold; firstly, to investigate the idea of identity under the prism of gender and explore the correlation of national identity with that of the gender identity; secondly, to consider the significance of intersectionality in the formation processes of identification and identity; thirdly, to discuss vulnerability in terms of social positions by providing a brief illustration of the current Greek political landscape in order to associate the socially and culturally enforced identification as vulnerable bodies imposed upon certain individuals as an impediment in their living livable lives. In this essay, national identities are perceived as another form of oppression functioning in tandem with patriarchal notions and the normativities asserted by white male hegemony. In other words, national identities, as well as gender identities are conceptualized as conditioned identities that are socially and politically constructed.
In this globalised era, with human mobility from one place to another being all the more facilitated alongside with the advent of technology , individuals are exposed to various stimuli and can obtain the means to question the didactics of patriotism and nationalism enforced upon them. However, the question of belonging and the politics of belonging remain some of the most intricate issues that seek to be addressed. As Hedetoff and Hjort (2002, p.5) pinpoint that "today belonging constitutes a political and cultural field of global contestation, anywhere between ascriptions of belonging and self-constructed definitions of new spaces of culture, freedom and identity". Although their "today" is almost two decades ago, their claim remains to be true.
One would expect that with the emergence of multicultural and multilingual communities people would finally come to terms with each others' differences and find a way to conviviality. Unfortunately, globalization has not led to the forfeit of extreme nationalist ideologies. Within these first two decades of the 21st century we have become witnesses to an intensification of racism and sexism, an “unrelenting march of global capitalism,” the “increasing militarization of various nation spaces,” the break out of wars, the rise of fundamentalism leading to violent displacements and a vast flow of refugees (Shome,2016,
p.347); phenomena that bear as their aftermath the decline of the state allowing the authoritative powers to employ oppressive measures to manage citizens' strikes and protests and violate basic human rights as they do so. Islamophobia in Europe, with Greece's case in particular -where the in power right wing party orders the evacuation of refugee shelters on a daily basis, while having the support of the country's overwhelming majority of the population-, multiple rape cases of protesters in Chile by law enforcement officers, the concentration camps in China, and the maltreatment of Black bodies by the police in the US are only a few instances were nonconformity is met with violence. As acutely noted by Shome (2016) “dissent challenges the conformity required by the neoliberal privatization of the nation” (p. 347). Therefore, discussions on issues of national identities and the nation as an apparatus for oppression are now more critical than ever.
When considering how we become ourselves one cannot help but wonder: who would I be if I were stripped off from all the socially embellished characterizations and forms of identification I was ascribed? Is it the “I” that needs and longs for an identification in order to operate as a productive member of the capitalist society or is it the capitalist society that needs its members to be properly identified? And what does it really mean to belong to an externally defined and specified category such as nationality and gender? What implications does this sense of belonging bear for the individual's psychic? What is the role of women1 in the process of building the nation?
The questions posed above evince that the process of analyzing and capturing the essence and nuances of identity is a manifold endeavor. In a more simple way of viewing this issue, and yet aptly conceptualized, Nura Yuval-Davis (2011) considers identities to be “narratives, stories people tell themselves and others about who they are (and who they are not)” (p.20). In accordance with the latter, the concepts of nation and gender will be examined in tandem on the basis of identity narratives. The primary aim of this paper is to broach the matter of identification and table questions prompting the reader to reconsider their own beliefs with regards to the sphere of belonging and reconceptualize their place within societal norms.
Gendered Bodies as Signifiers of Identity
The voyage of obtaining and forming an identity initiates involuntarily from the very beginning of the individual's life while still being an embryo in their mother's womb. With the advent of ultrasound development, future parents are able to know the sex of their child and can proceed into choosing among names, painting the nursery room in “suitable” colors and visualizing the role models they want to become for their daughter or son. Very few must have been the cases of parents who have not delved into this learned binary distinction of human entities and who have not found themselves in the grip of social conventions. Therefore, from the very beginning of one's life the individual is ascribed an identity; they can be either female or male. This categorization, which is grounded upon the individual's genitalia and external anatomy, inaugurates the construction of their gender identity (Lorber,1994).
Of course, the case of sex assignment and as an extension gender assignment is not always free of complications. The medical field has long debated on the issue of sex assignment with regards to the intersexed individuals. It is in those cases where the all-pervasive role of gender in social and medical institutions can be saliently visible. Although, medical scientists purport in the name of science, truth, and objectivity that there are inherent differences between male and female bodies, their studies prove to be but objective. Anne Fausto -Sterling in Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men (1985) manages with dexterity to deconstruct these alleged truths and to expose the way biological investigators use the “irregular” to highlight the “regular” based on biased presumptions.
The criteria for deciding whether the intersexed individual will be raised as a female or male is strongly contingent upon the notion that the female is defective or incomplete by nature, therefore, if the child does not exhibit the potential to become an impeccable demonstration of masculinity, it is then preferable to become an “imperfect female” (Fausto-Sterling,1997, p.221). More specifically, the general indication for physicians to reach a verdict is that “genetic females should always be raised as females, preserving reproductive potential , regardless of how severely the patients are virilized. In the genetic male, however, the gender of assignment is based on the infant's anatomy, predominantly the size of the phallus” (Donahue et al. , 1991,p.527 cited in Fausto-Sterling,1997). In other words, a female can serve as such, if their reproductive potential is intact, whereas for the male to be considered one, it all comes down to their phallic size. Therefore, the deeply gendered institution of the medical system renders from the very beginning of the individual's life their masculinity or femininity as a matter of social construction and dimension. Money and his associates in observing cases ,where infants born with masculine genitalia were subjected to extensive surgeries to become feminized because they did not fit the “perfect male” description, came to the conclusion that such individuals often have trouble coming to terms with their “femininity” (Money &Dalery,1976;Money, Schwartz, &Lewis,1984).
What is of great interest is how the aforementioned scientists define femininity, thus, providing a crystal clear account of their problematic criteria for defining female or male societal roles. In particular, the issues that might emerge are for the individual's tendencies to “engage in rough-and tumble play, hit more often than other toddler girls, think more about having a carrier, and fantasize less about marriage than other adolescent girls [emphasis added]; and have lesbian relationships as an adolescent and young adult” ( cited in Fausto-Sterling, 1997,p. 222). It becomes rather evident from the above that the medical system views the notions of having professional aspirations and exhibiting signs of aggression as inherent masculine attributes whereas wanting to engage in marriage and eventually have children as an inherent feminine desire. Furthermore, it is exhibited that they view the aforementioned individuals' sexuality as a troublesome dimension in their feminization process deriving from their previous to surgery sex organs.
The latter observations are to be complemented by various cases of people who wish to change their ascribed gender and sex. More often than not, people who wish to transgress their ascribed male gender and have surgery to be able to identify legally as females are treated as neurotic and disturbed by the medical system - after all, why would one long to become the "lesser" gender unless they suffer from a form of paranoia? In contrast, when originally female people exhibit their intention to undergo surgery and become legally male, are not similarly viewed as “disturbed.” On the contrary, their desire to alter their gender is perceived as a sign of aspiration to escalate on the social ladder. Furthermore, and more disturbingly so, the medical gatekeepers -as Julia Serano (2007) refers to the authoritative parties responsible for granting permission for the gender alteration surgery and hormonal treatment to initiate- exert their power to impose gendered biased stereotypical behaviors upon their patients.
More specifically, the gatekeepers assert the public, in an attempt to attenuate their media inflicted fears and preconceptions, that only those people who would be able to successfully “pass” as “normal men and women” in society's terms, would be granted legal access to hormones and sex reassignment procedures ( ibid, p. 119). This statement, if scrutinized to its root, reveals among others how the medical system obliges the transsexuals who are in the process of transitioning to “conform to oppositional sexist ideals regarding gender” (Serano,2007,p. 122). Additionally, evidence of sexual desire towards the same gender with the one the individual aimed to transition to, thus perceived as homosexual desire, was not to be tolerated and patients were denied the transitioning procedure (ibid).
Gender “versus” Sex
Even in cases where gender dysphoria is not evident., the individual is from an early age manipulated or obliged into conforming with the expected normative behaviors based on their ascribed gender. The sense of self evolves in aligning with or deviating from the established norms. It has been widely postulated and acclaimed by scholars that gender does not comprise an objective reality rather than a figment of social construction (Coser,1986; West and Zimmerman,1987,1990; Butler,1990; 2004; Lorber,1994) and as such, firstly pinpointed by liberal feminists, individual biological characteristics cannot be ascribed as a variable in its definition (Kanter;1977, Eisenstein, 1981;Epstein, 1988; Reskin and Patricia,1990).Therefore, examining the concept of gender through these lens, it is extrapolated that the sense of “belonging” to a specific gender category is directly contingent upon a cohort of ideals set upon the individual by the prevailing social norms and regulations.
Before proceeding into a more in-depth cogitation of the term gender within the sphere of the social milieu, it proves to be a necessity to refer to the often interchangeably misused term of “sex.” The terms gender and sex overlapping can be attributed both to linguistic terms, in Greek for example there is no linguistic differentiation between the two concepts, and the need of disciplines such as physiology for concordance in terminology to address phenomena (Torgrimson & Minson,2005). Over the years, there have been many attempts on behalf of scholars for the distinction between the two terms. Sex, therefore, is now used to refer to anatomical and biological characteristics namely the pair of chromosomes “that contain the instructions for the development of male or female sex characteristics – those characteristics that distinguish males from females” (Carlson et al., 2010,p. 86). These characteristics are substantiated by the presence of sex hormones, the internal reproductive anatomy and the external genitalia. In biological terms, people whose anatomy does not comply with the characteristics of the binary sex model, that is they exhibit mixed sex characteristics are labeled as intersex according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2015). In Irigaray' s (1985) point of view, however, sex is not only distinguished from the plexus of the social sphere, but it also escapes the biological categorization. It is, hence, a linguistic category functioning as the intermediate between the notions of biological and social by virtue of language being “a process of cultural artifice that both distances and defines nature” and encapsulates the bodily (Gilbert & Gubar,1985,p.515) . Butler (2004) argues that the attempt to extirpate the binary categorization of gender that dichotomizes people into the roles of either male or female, led to a quadruplication of gender; the latter upheaval of the system is, however, found to be equally posing the problem of gender “quantification” (ibid, p. 43). It is, hence, maintained that “sex” cannot be reduced to the normative persistence of “either- or.”
Gender as a Social Construction
Drawing upon the aforementioned distinction, the notion of gender can be further elaborated and discussed. Gender is, therefore, perceived as a sense of self-identity that is separated by one’s biological sex. One may fall under the categorization of male with regards to their external appearance, but identify as a female regardless of their sexual orientation. However, the issue of gender and the social implications that lead to its definition is not resolved by admitting to the existence of many more genders, as pinpointed by Butler( 2004).In discussing gender as a social construction, it becomes unraveled that the forces exerted by the society’s norms and institutions are of great magnitude. Prior to the acceptance that gender can exceed the binary system of male/female and that one can expand it by attributing to it the non-binary element, thus coining the term “transgender,” people were confined into an oppressive system dominated by heterosexual normativity. The characteristics imputed to each gender lie deep within our society’s belief and value system that is inextricably linked to patriarchal structures and institutions. The way gender is perceived is a rather complicated issue that needs excessive analysis to be fully understood.
So far, the distinction has been made between sex and gender. Sex is admitted to be associated with the external factors of anatomy and biology, whereas gender lies in the internal; the identity presumed by the individual and their self-portrayal to the world. Taking a step back, though, one should consider what it means to belong or not to either of these categories. What is it like to feel male but being considered by the world as female and vice versa? An essential question is the manner in which the masculine and feminine genders assume their diverse characteristics; what the reasons are for people to be confined in these roles and expected to live by them and by whom these regulations as Butler (2004) calls them are defined.
For the purposes of this discussion, let us take the genders of male and female and delve into what each one entails. Over the course of years, the roles each gender occupies within a society has been deeply affected by the hegemony of the patriarchal status quo. In these societies, the male is attributed to more robust characteristics whereas the female is relegated to a subsidiary role. The inhabitants of a male body are expected to depict the features of decisiveness, strength and courage and are entitled to success whereas female bodies are expected to show signs of weakness, hysteria and when they reach success they are demonized and their success is even degraded or viewed as the exception to the rule. The use of the term “rule” is very crucial at this point, because it gives rise to the issue of standardization and normativity. Social, political and religious institutions have developed a phony sense of what normal is and strive to maintain it by preordaining individuals’ thoughts with respect to what their self-identity and purpose in the society as a whole is. In Lorber’ s prolific work “The Social Construction of Gender” (1994) she exemplifies articulately the psychological and social processes individuals undergo instantaneously from the minute of their birth and how they are nurtured into becoming “proper” men and women.
The “nurturity” of gender leads us to another key concept coined by Butler, which is gender performativity (1993). Individuals are not their gender, but rather they exercise it or else perform it or as stated by West and Zimmerman (1987) they do gender. Gender performativity sets forth the self -identification and self -actualization of the individual as a praxis of execution and presentation. In other words, the individual affected by societal and institutionalized belief systems, more often than not, are raised to comply with the permissive -but not indigenous - characteristics projected by the prevalent norms.
In my view, the notion that gender is not an inherent quality but a conditioned and acquired set of principles and ideologies is particularly liberating; such an acclaim allows the individuals to break the confinements imposed upon them and begin a journey of self- exploration and re-identification. Along with the sentiment of liberation, though, it also brings upon the sense of responsibility. One should assume responsibility and be fully aware when they “do gender.” For should we realize the implications of doing gender, we will also be in the position of “undoing” or “redoing” it and become agents of social change (Conell,2010).
Jurik and Siemsen (2009) identify West and Zimmerman's conceptualization of the doing gender theory to be foundational, pervasive and venerable, thus, eligible for achieving a canonical status within the discipline of sociology of gender. In observing how gender is performed through social interactions the ways in which gender oppression functions ,as well as, the forces that sustain it become visible; it is, then ,rendered possible to dismantle gender inequality by “undoing” gender (Deutsch,2007) or as West and Zimmerman (1987;1990) claim by “redoing” it, since in the latter's viewpoint gender cannot be completely effaced, but may be meliorated to serve equality and administer social justice among genders. Conell (2010) supports the view that the undoing or redoing of gender can constitute an agent for change “as doing gender has emerged as the hegemonic theoretical framework for understanding gender inequality, feminist scholars have begun to interrogate the theory's ability to account for social change” (p.31).
So far, it has been established that gender is socially constructed and entrenched in social institutions. The latter mark gender differentiations and expectations and are structured in forms of gender hierarchies. This means that institutions delineate the expected roles one is to assume within society based on their attributed gender. The notion of gendered institution signifies that “entire institutions are patterned by gender” (Andersen &Taylor, 2012, p.314). In their book Sociology: Understanding a Diverse Society (2012), Andersen and Taylor provide some examples of gendered institutions such as schools, military academies and workplaces. For anyone to understand whether an institution is gendered, one simply needs to look for the expected roles a cis man or a cis woman are supposed to encompass within this institution, how and why they differ, what the institution's belief system is comprised of and what may occur when someone attempts to defy or oppose to these putative gender borders. A parallel line is also drawn between gender as a social construction and class and race as being all structural aspects of society (ibid).
When considering gender and its relation to race and class it is identified that gender permeates society beyond the societal norms existing in socialization. In other words, stereotypes based on gender are often being realized through socialization processes, however it is the gendered institutions that perpetuate the stereotypical behavior by creating disanalogous opportunity frameworks for male and female bodies. In this light, the inequality in gender demonstration is evident in the mundane; girls are being accused of throwing tantrums or being hysteric when speaking openly about their feelings and demanding attention or respect, while boys are being taunted when exhibiting the slightest shred of emotion with the argument of them being weak. Drawing upon Lorber' s (1994) view, the above instance is exemplified as the outcome of gender as a process responsible for concocting the social disparities that delineate the roles women and men allegedly should have in our -not so modern after all- society.
The false encapsulation into gender-stereotyped roles and the prevalence of the binary view of gender is further supported by the fact that it consists a culture specific phenomenon rather than a ubiquitous truth. In various cultures the fluidity of gender comprises the norm and as Roscoe claims (1995) the adoption of the "multiple gender paradigm" was a necessity for the facilitation of his research on Native American two-spirits or “berdaches” leading to the conclusion that the “berdache phenomenon proves that not all cultures recognize the same anatomical markers or see them as “natural” as western discourse does” (Saunders & Foblets, 2002, p. 145). The aforementioned example brings to the forefront the necessity for feminist scholars to avoid approaching the Western gender paradigm as an omnipresent phenomenon.
Identification as a Praxis of Alliance
As mentioned earlier, the medical system has contributed greatly in the dissemination of stereotyped archetypes. However, the perseverance on drawing medical conclusions based on predetermined biases is not apparent only within the sphere of gender construction, but also within the sphere of race. Gould (1981,1986) set out to investigate how different scientists throughout the course of human history unsuccessfully, but not feebly, attempted to prove the white heterosexual male's supremacy against males of other races and of course, against women in general. It is , hence, illuminated how the purported as scientific truths often constitute bigotry in disguise. It is noteworthy, though, that it is not only the medical and social institutions that have neglected to objectively address the issue of race; white feminist discourse during
The issue of race should not be excluded in feminist discourse of any kind. It is of great importance to acknowledge that white privilege is not constrained only to white male bodies but also to white female bodies -feminists or otherwise. As pinpointed by Dill (1987) “our analysis must include critical accounts of women’s situation in every race, class, and culture—we must work to provide resources so that every woman can define problematics, generate concepts and theories” (p. 97). As coined by Crenshaw (1989), the term “intersectionality” aims at stressing that gender is not the only face of oppression but instead people experience oppression on various and different degrees dependent upon other aspects of their status quo.
The latter recognition ignites another significant issue of identification. Carastathis (2016) in the preface of their book Origins, Contestations, Horizons provides an attentive and well thought account of their embarking to a seeking identity journey where citizenship, origin, race, culture and language comprise different variables within the same equation : the self. Having been born by immigrant parents of different origins, being queer, looking neither quite Greek, Canadian or American nor quite European nor quite Black, made the issue of belonging to one category of identification all the more perplexed. In their own words,
Similarly, the latter observation and feeling of not belonging because of their skin color gives rise to ponder over what it means to belong to a national identity. For instance, the Greek identity has been established upon four pillars: common religion and language , an elevated national pride and the institution of family as a heteronormative institution. So, if one is an atheist, a plurilingualist, a queer, who does not take pride in the past accomplishments of “their” nation, then, does the assumption of the latter identities deprive them of their national identity? I will go
out on a limb and suggest that the sense of belonging to a nation is fraudulent and aims at filling a lacuna in the individual's need to belong to a collective in order to surpass individual deficiencies. Despite my personal convictions though , the journey for self-identification is seen to be a complex process that is different for each individual.
Carastathis (2016), also, voices the issue of white responsibility and its evasion as crucial point in white feminist approaches. Crenshaw (1989), employs the succinct metaphor of a “basement,” to demonstrate the relegation of Black women to the lowest scale of the hierarchy where antidiscrimination law operates as yet another oppressive mechanism for the sustenance of the established hierarchy and the reproduction of white male privilege (p.149).
It should be stressed that, although I find conditioned identities to serve as the basis for oppression and a means to foster potential sentiment of fear and hate towards the otherwise identified , identity can also serve as the political premise on which social change can occur provided that the various identity categories are formed and brought forth as “coalitions” (Crenshaw,1991,p. 1299). In other words, should identity categories not operate as a signifier for similarity but as a signifier for mutual difference, or else as “alliances” (Carastathis,2016, p. 163) founded on differences , only then can they bear the potentiality to comprise a useful tool for intersectional analysis and change.
The identity of Nations as States of Exception
Agamben (2005) drawing upon Schmidt's (1922) notorious conceptualization of sovereignty2 as a form of monopolizing the use of violence ( Vaughan-Williams 2008,p. 329) develops the theory of the state of exception, which in his own words has come to be “the dominant paradigm of government in contemporary politics.” The state of exception refers to governments that extend their power beyond the dictations of constitutional law, diminishing human rights under the pretense of alleged crisis in order to augment their authority and power either internally or externally (Agamben,2005). To use Agamben' s (2005) own words “In every case, the state of exception marks a threshold at which logic and praxis blur with each other and a pure violence without logos claims to realize an enunciation without any real reference” (p. 40). The state of exception has often been associated with Germany's Nazi party, but in modern world it seems to be the other side of a universal totalitarianism justifying and facilitating “a legal civil war that allows for the physical elimination not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be integrated into the political system” (Agamben, p. 2). According to Agamben (1998) the Aristotelian distinction between bios (the public life) and zoe (the private life) is no longer valid due to the fact that the boundaries between the two are blurred by the sovereign state in order for it to succeed the instauration of its increasing authority and domination over its citizens. Agamben (1998) calls this mode of being as “bare life” and the individual living it as homo sacer, indicating that the authority exerted upon the individual is not restricted to their role as citizens of a state but encroaches upon their natural life abasing their right to live livable lives.
In this light, this section inquires the formation of nations as states of exception though the prism of gender along with the manner in which they are formulated through national processes of identification. The constituents that make up a national identity will be discussed with consciousness of the importance of the role of gender within society. Another significant parameter to be addressed is the issue of vulnerability and precarity in relation to how bodies assume the identity of being “vulnerable” and how they are depicted through the lens of nationalism.
Nation, nationalism and patriotism as structures of oppression
Giddens (1989) defines a nation as “a political apparatus, recognized to have sovereign rights within the borders of a demarcated territorial area, able to back its claims to sovereignty by control of military power, many of whose citizens have positive feelings of commitment to its national identity” (p.303). Drawing from the above definition, it is exemplified that the citizens' favorable predisposition towards the assumption of a national identity is crucial to the perseverance and prosperity of a nation. For such a positive demeanor to exist, national identities are cultivated in the individuals' minds from an early age in various forms and through various institutions such as the institutions of education, religion, the military and the media. The entity of a nation is, thus, contrived and comprises as Anderson (2006) puts it an imaginary community that relies on “invented traditions” (Hobsbawn,1983), “foundational fictions” (Sommer,1990) and identity narratives (Bhabha,1990). Further on, a nation as a concept aims at establishing and maintaining sovereignty within its nucleus with regards to its citizens, but also peripherally with regards to its foreign affairs and as such it subjugates its citizens to a state of constant subordination. Anderson (2006) further suggests that the members of such an imagined community generally fail to perceive this community as a devised entity and are inclined - or implored as I would suggest- to view their bonds to the nation as “natural” (p. 143).
I contest the aforementioned notion that individuals are naturally inclined to develop feelings of love towards a nation and consider instead that they are implored to do so by the means of subjugation and extensive exposure to processes that aim at naturalizing race, nationality and gender. In other words, through this process of naturalization, the concept of nation similarly to that of gender is being naturalized as a signifier of identity. Anderson (2006) unilaterally- in my view-, contends that
He then proceeds into justifying the sentiment of political love as natural by utilizing the linguistic symbols used to denote it. More specifically, drawing upon the lexical items used to refer to one's country -“motherland, Vaterland, patria” (ibid, p.143)- infers the existence of a natural and “unchosen” bond as an undeniable variable that derives from the notion of ancestry, neglecting , however, to acknowledge that language and its products such as poetry, fiction and art , is yet another human construction and highly dependent upon the dominant social and individual belief systems. By providing as an example a poem written by Rizal (1861) while waiting to be executed, he seeks validation to his claims by interpreting it as solid proof of an immanent love for the nation, since Rizal makes no reference to the “nationality of tyrants” that is responsible for his imminent death and his “passionate patriotism is expressed superbly in “their” language” (p. 143).
The notions of patriotism come across in parallel with the concept of heroism and the imposed and imagined obligation for self-sacrifice. To die in the name of the nation is to live eternally praised through the art of folklore. Heroism, however, in not but another fable reiterated and adapted to serve the individual’s separation from one’s self and to deprive them of the right and need for self-determination. It is my stance, that patriotism is indissolubly germane to nationalism, for it cultivates the illusion of belonging and proclaims the demonstration of certain behaviors that forgo the needs of the individual, thus functioning as another imperialistic apparatus for subservience and compliance with the dictated norms; another facet of patriotism- nationalism is the systematic fabrication of a nation's superiority against another's. To put it differently, the love for a nation is ultimately reflected in the sentiment of hate towards another. As Liah Greenfeld (1992, p.7) succinctly claims “different nationalisms share little except that all members of all nations, no matter what their class positions are, will think that as a result of their membership of that specific nation, they can ‘partake in its superior, elite quality. And thus, in some ways, all peoples are the ‘chosen people’.”
Furthermore, it becomes rather clear that Anderson (2006) associates the love of a land, as a geographical region, with the love of the nation, viewing the two notions as indistinguishable, and disassociates nationalism from racism. As a matter of fact, he postulates in a monomeric manner that “the dreams of racism actually have their origin in ideologies of class, rather than in those of nation” (p. 149) failing to make reference to the rise of nationalist- fascist parties that exercise their hate towards the “other” in the name of their nation disregarding their own ,as well as their objects' of hatred, economic class. Another dimension, failed to be addressed, is the patriarchal roots that pervade both the linguistic and organizational structure of a nation. Historically speaking, lands were owned and conquered by men and a nation's narratives of identity and patriotism were contrived to serve the existent hierarchies.
Given, therefore ,that nations arise from a system of oppression they cannot be perceived as natural. Nonetheless, the question remains yet unanswered: what makes an individual develop the essence of belonging to a specific nationality? Is it a geographical region, a religion, the customs of a community, the language spoken by the members of the community, the granted citizenship that make up one's national identity? While Foucault (1969,1977) views nationalism as a “discursive formation” , that is the rhetoric used to formulate self- awareness, Gellner (1983, p.1) defines it as a “theory of political legitimacy which requires that ethnic boundaries should not cut across political ones.” Nevertheless, many an instance are exhibited throughout history of states that have not been nationalized (Yuval-Davis,2011) as it is the case with the Roma people, who ,although they do not occupy “a nation-state of their own , have claimed the right to be called a nation in order to obtain collective rights in the governing of Europe and the UN” (ibid, p.2).
Craig Calhoun (1997) in his book Nationalism provides a more comprehensive list of attributes that pertain the rhetoric of a nation which are delineated as following:
The demonstration of homogeneity, therefore, surfaces as one of the primary characteristics underlying the structure of a nation. It is noteworthy though, that the desideratum of homogeneity is in its virtue a problematic constant, for it leaves no room for the individual to exist outside of the demarcated norms
At this point of the discussion, it is of quintessential importance that a distinction be drawn between the terms identity and identification. Balibar (2002), from a transnational perspective, indicates that there are not contrived identities, solely ascribed forms of identification and proceeds into explaining that these formations of identity are the direct product of specific hegemonic formations with the most prominent and dominant ones being those of religion and nationalism.
The sense of being a patriot is inextricably linked with the idea of a shared destiny with the other members of the nation and the sense of responsibility to pass the national narratives from one generation to another in order for the “nation's dream” to be substantiated. The nation, hence, takes the shape of a “transcendent community” that disseminates the notion of obligation to a “transhistorical mission” (Balibar, 2002, p.68). Such views on destiny have their roots in colonialist and post-colonialist ideologies aimed at validating the colonial fantasy (Marshall,2008). Calhoun (1997) identifies nationalism as not only a political and cultural issue, but also as a matter of “personal identity” and attributes its granted “emotional power” to the fact that it “helps to make us who we are” (p.3).
In renouncing conditioned identities, it could be argued that an act of diidentification takes place, which Muñoz characterizes as “descriptive of the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship” (p.4). The praxis of disidentification emerges as a theoretical tool to further our understanding of identity foundations with regards to gender and sexuality (see Butler, 1993; Muñoz, 1999; Medina, 2003) and to address the political dimensions that arise from the cohabitation of diverse feminist approaches (see Dean, 2008; Henry, 2004; Scharff, 2011; Tuin,2011) Jose ́Esteban Muñoz further perceives disidentification to be a “third mode of dealing with dominant ideology, one that neither opts to assimilate within such a structure nor strictly opposes it; rather, disidentification is a strategy that works on and against dominant ideology” (1999,p.11).
Gender and Nation
Discussions on the issues of nationalism and nation are prone to exclude the aspects of gender, feminist approaches and women's role and experiences (see for instance Gellner, 1983; Greenfeld, 1992; Hobsbawm, 1983; Kedourie, 1960; Smith, 1971;1979) , in spite of women being "key agents in national construction" (Rodó-Zárate,nd, p.1).
One of the reasons underlying women's exclusion from national political discourse is the fact that nationhood as a social construction more often than not embroils presupposed conceptions of “womanhood” and “manhood” ( Yuval-Davis,1997). The theorization of society into two distinct domains- the private and the public- has historically placed the female gender within the sphere of the private domain, rendering them politically irrelevant (Pateman,1988), with their locus outside of the political realm being further justified by the rhetoric utilized to attribute the human trajectory from nature to civilized societies to the ability obtained by men for both aggression and reason (Grant,1991). The land -referred to as Motherland- to be protected in periods of war is feminized, thus, naturalizing both the nation and the subsidiary role of female bodies as vulnerable bodies that need to be protected by the invaders who are presented as men of other nationalities.
The roles assumed by female bodies are directly related to and affected by the processes of the naturalization of nation. Their role as child bearers and ,therefore, as generators of the future members of a nation, has long been characterized as natural, with the role of motherhood being a life-fulfilling purpose that is preordained by nature -as also indicated in the above section with regards to the medical institutions. The alleged duty of women to partake in the reproduction of the ethnos and the assumed identity of upbringers of the members of the national “collective” nullifies their freedom and reproductive rights (Yuval-Davis,1997). When contemplating the origin of the construction process of a national identity, one can verify that it is a fixed and closed collectivity that one is born into. It is the aforementioned aspect of nationalism that grants a fundamental significance to women's reproductive roles (ibid) and threatens their emancipation. It has often been under the pretense of one's nation's culture, religion and tradition that women's reproductive rights are being impinged upon, concealing the fact that it is the interference with the women's role as biological reproducers that agitates the established patriarchal hierarchy. As stated by Tsagarousianou (1995), forbidding the right to abortion, alongside with regulating other reproductive rights of women, renders women a property of the nation. Women are perpetually positioned as the “others” within the nation since they are exemplified as both the “subject” that honors and unifies the collective and the “object” that is precluded from the political discourse. Nagel (2003) extrapolates that feminism, female sexuality that is divergent from the patriarchal heteronormative paradigm, and male/female homosexuality function as ruptures to the nation's decorum and order, as understood by the dictations deriving from male heteronormativity. The issue of gender is not, of course, restricted to female versus male bodies, but it is through the lens of a nations' building that such binary a distinction is propagated.
Identity grouping in relation to nationalism does not involve only the differentiation of identities tethered to races and ethnicities. With regards to gender nationalism, the theories of muscular nationalism (Banerjee,2012), queer nationalism (Berlant&Freeman,1992; Stychin,1997;Hayes,2000;Rankin,2000),homonationalism(Puar,2007;Morgensen,2010; Murray, 2014; McCaskell,2016) and femonationalism (Farris,2012; 2017) emerge. The above nationalist ideologies although ostensibly different are not diametrically opposite in that they share a common belief in a profoundly xenophobic political doctrine that cultivates fear and hate towards the “other” whoever that may be , thus, exhibiting how these nationalist ideologies are interrelated with international politics.
Although the context in which national identities are addressed has changed in comparison to 20th century discourse, the entity of the nation is still appurtenant to issues of identity in the 21st century. Yuval -Davis (2009) remarks that “It’s not so much a question of whether nations are more or less important in the new global order, but of what kind of nation, who is in the nations and what are the systems of regulations that constrain nations ” (p. 133).
The Nation as an Organization of Hate Against Vulnerable Bodies
The nation as a state of exception is strictly related to the Foucault's concept of biopower4 and sovereignty (Mbembe,2003). Drawing upon the argument that the entity of nation functions as an oppressive mechanism to infiltrate fear and hate towards the “other,” it is attempted to explore how it can be viewed as an organization of hate. The demonstration of hate is examined in its expression towards certain “vulnerable individuals.” However, what counts as a vulnerable body within the nexus of the nation?
For the purposes of this inquiry, I will focus on the Greek nation's and its government's current actions towards refugees that have sought asylum and shelter within the Greek territory ,as well as, towards its own citizens under the pretext of “otherness.” The purpose of this conjunction is to illustrate the multifaceted dimensions of vulnerability within the nation. Refugees are perceived as “others” based on their being “non-native” - that is not having being born into the nation- whereas certain Greek citizens are viewed as “others” based on their ideologies, sexuality and/or class and ,thus, as internal forces that disturb the national order and norm.
Refugees have often been illustrated as resilient bodies , bodies that are capable of enduring, and even as hostile bodies by the prevalent conservative government and media. Following the recent events in Greece, it is detected a propagation of the view that the country is being at war against foreign dissemination, perceiving refugees to be the enemy that has come to invade and occupy the land threatening the nation's stability and culture. It is in this base, that the authority of police forces has increased, with police officers stifling citizens' demonstrations, banning mass gatherings and harassing -verbally and sexually-, arresting and detaining protestors and other so called suspects without the issue of any formal charges infringing on the constitutional laws .
Refugees' placement in overcrowded camps exemplifies Agamben' s (1998) notion of “bare life” where concentration camps function as the locus where political and human rights are abnegated. It is noteworthy that the Greek media, highly controlled by the government, abstain from depicting the hard reality experienced by thousands of refugees, as well as, the limitless police arbitrariness exhibited on a daily basis and function as a propagandistic tool to support the authority of the state. It has been mainly through personal accounts on social media that actual video inputs can reach the public eye along with foreign media covering the situation in Greece. One instance is the case of BBC news (https://www.bbc.com/news), where one can find published video-articles bearing the following titles: “Lesbos migrant camp children 'say they want to die'” (2019), “Greece: Police fire tear gas in refugee camp” (2019), “Moria camp: 'We live in fear of violence'” (2018), “Lesbos migrants living in a 'wasteland'” (2015), “Clashes at Lesbos migrant camp” (2016), “Protest against migrants' detention on Lesbos” (2016) . When searching for articles in a self-purportedly independent Greek newspaper, with the key element being the word “refugees,” several articles emerge exposing right wing politicians' xenophobic rhetoric. Some indicative recent titles (translated from Greek to English) are: “Δεν πρέπει να περνούν καλά εδώ οι μετανάστες”[Immigrants should not have it easy here] (Dionelis,2019), “Ξενοφοβικός λόγος από τον Στεφανή προς τους δημάρχους της Κρήτης” [Xenophobic discourse on behalf of Stephanis when discussing with Crete's mayors] (Dionelis, 2019), “Ρατσιστική επιχείρηση κατά προσφύγων με τον δήμαρχο Αν. Σάμου πρωταγωνιστή [βίντεο]” [Racist operation towards refugees with the mayor of East Samos being the protagonist: Video] (2019), “Στις φλόγες αποθήκη ΜΚΟ με ρούχα για πρόσφυγες, στη Σάμο” [NGO warehouse containing clothes for refugees gone up in flames in Samos] (2019), “Ρατσιστική επίθεση σε δομή φιλοξενίας ανήλικων, ασυνόδευτων προσφύγων στα Ιωάννινα” [Racist attack against unaccompanied underage refugees in Ioannina] (2019), “Τραγωδία στη Μόρια: Νεκρό 5χρονο αγοράκι που έπαιζε με χαρτόκουτα” [Tragedy in Moria: Five-year old child dead - hit by a truck while playing with a carton box]( 2019).
On the other side of the coin, lie the comments of citizens that espouse the nationalist ideology. To provide a thorough and complete account of such comments would exceed the scope and length of this essay; however, let me recite one of them, that in my opinion serves as a distinct conceptualization of hate towards the “other.” According to a public Facebook page (KyriakatikoSxoleio Metanastwn,2019) ,under an online published article stating that a five-year old refugee from Afghanistan found tragic death, a Greek kindergarten teacher, whose name will for salient purposes remain unidentified, , publicly commented using their personal Facebook account : “Ένας από αυτούς λιγότερος....όλα καλά”[one fewer of them...all good].5 The use of the word “them” is distinctive when considering how the national rhetoric attempts to separate, mainly ethnographically, the individuals. As long as, it is not “us” then it does not matter. “Their” lives do not matter the same with the life of one of “ours.” Insofar, it has been established how the “we” is formulated in the nation. Paradoxically, though, the collective “we” does not exist, or better yet seizes to exist as a unified national structure the minute its subjects start to question its authority and challenge its foundational norms. The lives of refugees are reduced the moment they enter the “foreign land.” Their “otherness” is held to be self evidential based on their “other” provenance, despite of their personal beliefs, ideologies and idiosyncrasies. However, within the sphere of the nation the same dislocation of “otherness” stands for the “us,” its citizens, as well.
Police arbitrariness has become a normal paradigm within the Greek reality. The recipients of violence are not only the so called "foreigners", but also Greek citizens. The “otherness” variable in this case changes; the protestors, the anarchists, the homosexuals, the oppositionists, the squatters, the precariats, the atheists: they are now the ones encapsulating the “other” and characterized as being preoccupied by an anti-Greek sentiment . Their maltreatment and torture is justified by the state , hence, perceived as a state of exception. Their ideologies and lifestyle does not match that of the “exemplary citizen” as delineated by the nation's aspirations. Within this sphere everyone living their life negating to conform with the religious heteronormative paradigm is potentially vulnerable. In leaving nonconformity aside for a while as a factor influencing vulnerability, let us take a look at some other events that took place in December, 2019. Police officers broke into a family's house by force without the former issue of a warrant, battered a father with his two sons and arrested them without any official charges (Lampridi,2019). The issue spread widely because the owner and resident of the house happens to be a renowned director. No apologies have yet been made, on the contrary the government condones the police officers' actions proclaiming that “this is their job.” A woman with disabilities was tortured in front of a police station in the center of Athens by police officers outside of the station (Triantis,2019). The video of the incident was released on social media platforms and was made known without succeeding, however, the culprits' conviction.
With regards to women's right to abortion, the Minister of Development sent a letter to condone and applaud a sports newspaper initiative to publicly deplore women’s right to abortion (“Γεωργιάδης: Οι εκτρώσεις γεννούν θέματα επιβίωσης του έθνους μας” [Georgiadis: Abortions bring about issues of our nation’s survival], 2019). More specifically, he stated that abortions constitute a direct threat to the nation’s survival, thus stipulating that the role of women within the nation is reduced to that of reproductive machines. He mustered his supporters to engage in a “democratic” discourse on the matter by not only invoking a pseudo ethical argumentation, but also a deeply racist and nationalist view of the citizens' duty to not let the nation be “contaminated” by foreign blood.
The above tragic events illustrate that within the national nexus vulnerability and precarity- that is the individual's existence as vulnerable, precarious and deprived of security- is a constant possibility, especially when the pride for one's national identity possesses the prominent form of identification and sense of the self for “in such instances, power (and not necessarily state power) continuously refers and appeals to exception, emergency, and a fictionalized notion of the enemy” (Mbembé,2003,p.16). As aptly put by Ahmed (2001) “it is a common theme within so-called hate groups to declare themselves as organisations of love” (p. 345). In the name of this alleged love for one's nation, it is that hate is exercised towards those who are seen to threaten the nation's sovereignty ,thus, hindering individuals leading not only livable lives, but also lives that matter.
This essay attempted to demonstrate how the instilled identities of gender and nationality impede the individuals' freedom and right to exist outside of demarcated dogmas and identities. Among other institutions, the medical system partakes not only in “doing” and “undoing” the human body, but also in doing and performing gender and imposing gender stereotypes and norms upon their, so to be called, patients. It is my experience that many turn to science and scientific facts as they mistakenly hold the belief that these facts are exempted from social imprints and conceptions.
The medical field, however, rarely has proven to be an ally to egalitarianism and feminism. As Shiebinger (1989) pinpoints that during the Enlightenment period “though feminists grounded their call for equal rights in nature, they rarely appealed to medicine for evidence, and for good reason: there was little in the new anatomical texts that upheld the notion of social equality for women” (p.227). Society has come a long way since the Enlightenment period, but the claims of fundamental inequalities between female and male bodies are yet to be universally disputed. The medical institutions, as gendered institutions, continue to contribute to the patriarchal ideals by solidifying and securing the cisgender heteronormative ideals of “normality.”
Gender is practiced on a daily basis, and even people who hold instrumental positions within central institutions, such as in education, are somewhat oblivious of these gender stratification practices and even reinforce them through their imposed regulations and rhetoric. In epilogue, the need for further education on the issues of gender is crucial for the dismantling of oppressive stereotypical gender-biased behavior. It would be expected that in modern multicultural societies people be more receptive of the “otherness.” However, such an argument stresses even more the issue of the norm and how ideologies acquire their standardized status. In capitalist white heterosexual patriarchal hegemonies the “otherness” is expressed in the view of being anything or anyone that disturbs the enforced dogmas. Being a feminist in today’s world is being a revolutionist combating “ordinariness.”
Nonetheless, it should be stressed that the issue off gender does not stand alone and in its discursive analysis; it should be discussed in parallel fashion with other social constructed variables such as sexuality, class, race, nationality etc. As coined by Crenshaw (1989) the term “intersectionality” aims at stressing that gender is not the only face of oppression but instead people experience oppression on various and different degrees dependent upon other aspects of their status quo.
The issue of national identities emerges as yet another pivotal parameter in determining the individual's externally determined “purpose” and “place” in the world. In this essay, it has been illustrated how the notions of patriotism and national identities can serve as a means to subjugate the individual into combating imperialistic causes under the pretense of serving one's country. In the cases where the nation operates as a state of exception , violence becomes a justifiable means for oppression and every citizen bears the possibility of becoming a vulnerable body based on the dictations of the nation's idea of prosperity. In deconstructing the conditioned identities of gender and nationality, one can realize that the identification processes the individuals are exposed to are profoundly complex. Renouncing those pre- ascribed identities might not necessarily lead to a renovated conceptualization of the self, but it surely will set the ground for a more conscious contemplation of the external forces that shape our inner states of mind.
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Kyriakatiko Sxoleio Metanastwn (2019, September 28). Η "κυρία" Λίτσα που προκάλεσε τις ψυχικές μας αντοχές με το περιβόητο πλέον μετά την αναπαραγωγή του σχόλιό της για μικρό 5χρονο Αφγανό " Ένας από αυτούς λιγότερος όλα καλά", είναι νηπιαγωγός και έχει μεγάλη
προϊστορία ρητορικής μίσους και προτροπής σε βία στα σόσιαλ. Το είναι νηπιαγωγός μην ξεχάσετε![Ms. Litsa who challenged our mental stamina with the notorious comment about the young boy from Afghanistan “One fewer of them. all good” is a kindergarten teacher and has a long history in engaging in hatred rhetoric and incitement to violence in social media. Don’t forget that she’s a kindergarten teacher!] [Facebook photo upload].Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/kyriakatikosxoleiometanastwn/photos/a.10151411409755951/10156 336258195951/?type=3&theater
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1.) The terms “men” and “women” are used in this essay to refer to cis-men and cis-women accordingly.
2.) Carl Schmidt (1922/2005) in Politische Theologie (translated in English as Political Theology) begins by stating that “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception”( p.5).
3.) The English translation of the Jose Rizal’s poem Mi Ultimo Adios is included in Appendix A.
4.) Michel Foucault (1976/1978) coined the term biopower and conceptualized it as the power exerted by modern nation states towards their subjects, with the era of biopower initiating with “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations (p.140).
5.) The original comment was made at the public page www.karditsalive.net (2019) but was soon erased. It was further detected in the public page Kyriakatiko Sxoleio Metanastwn (2019) in the comment section, under a posted screenshot of another racist comment made by the aforementioned person .The screenshot with the accompanying translation is provided in Appendix B.
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