Gender as a Social Construct: Alumna Claudia Canovai

Claudia Canovai

JCU Alumna Claudia Canovai

Claudia Canovai, Class of 2017, comes from Montecatini Terme, a small town in Tuscany. She graduated with a major in Communications and a minor in Entrepreneurship. Claudia was part of the Ipazia club for gender equality, a delegate at the Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, and one of the organizers of the Beyond Humanism Conference held at JCU. She has recently been accepted to Columbia University in New York City to pursue a Ph.D. in Psychology.

What made you decide to choose JCU and major in Communications?
I have always been fascinated with cinema and philosophy. I would spend every Sunday at the movie theater with my dad, and then we had long discussions about the movies we watched. Despite being a fan of science fiction movies in particular, I quickly came to realize how women were under-represented in this genre.

My first exposure to philosophy came during middle school, when I became intrigued by Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Kierkegaard’s Aut Aut. After spending a year in the U.S. during high school, I decided I wanted to pursue my college degree in the American system, which is why I applied to JCU. Studying Communications seemed the best way to combine my interests in cinema and philosophy and to fathom out how these disciplines intersect.

Congrats on your acceptance to Columbia. Can you tell us a bit about this program? What would you like to focus on?
Thank you! After graduation, I felt the need to transfer theoretical knowledge to the real world and psychology seemed the perfect compromise between theory and practice. For my senior thesis at JCU, I studied the relationship between psychoanalysis, media, and discrimination against women. At Columbia, I will have the opportunity to study how gender differences can be socially constructed and do not necessarily come from nature. According to some scholars, gender categories impose on men and women how they should act and what they should like based on their sex. Masculinity means being strong, powerful, and smart, whereas femininity means being weak, gentle, and naive. The problem with this construction is that it perpetuates discrimination because if specific social behaviors, attitudes, and roles belong only to one category, not conforming is seen as wrong.

The issue of gender equality can also relate to sexual violence. Assuming that men cannot control their natural sexual instincts because of their masculinity is an excuse to perpetuate violence against women. The psychological implications of sexual crimes have to be addressed because there is a lack of research on the issue. The social ramifications of sexual violence are still underestimated, and the psychological profiles of the perpetrators have not been taken into consideration.

I’m aware that it is going to be an intense program, but I think this approach will allow me to do research and to work as a psychotherapist, giving me fundamental tools to pursue my career goal.

What is your career goal?
After pursuing my Ph.D., I would like to work both with victims and perpetrators of sexual violence. Also, I would like to spend time with girls and women in developing countries and attempt to change their perspective on gender issues and their role in society. My experience in India taught me that often women underestimate their value because they have been brought up believing that their only role in society is that of wives and mothers. There are countries where many still believe that sexual assault is not a crime. I strongly believe that this cultural outlook on gender has to be changed in order to improve the quality of women’s lives in the world.

How did JCU shape your career path?
JCU gave me the opportunity to study abroad in Tokyo and Copenhagen where I learned a lot about different cultures and their understanding of gender, which is crucial for my research. Denmark is years ahead on gender equality. A good percentage of women have careers in fields that are usually dominated by men such as sciences or politics. While I was there, I was never sexually harassed or cat called because gender equality has promoted respectful behavior towards women.

Japan has a very confusing view over gender. There are many women that pursue higher education; however, many decide not to work because of cultural pressure. Japan is still a traditionalist country and many still believe that women should not work. On the other hand, in Tokyo, I found many businesswomen and female students with career ambitions.

Recently, you were one of the organizers for the Post-Humanism Conference at JCU.  How did you get involved in this?
I started to explore post- and transhumanism at JCU taking Professor Stefan Sorgner‘s class. I was really interested in the theories that were proposed and, at the end of this class, I was given the opportunity to attend and present my own essay at a conference in Madrid. Later, I wrote a paper on BioArt and post- and transhumanism, and this year I became an organizer for the conference. I presented a paper in which I investigate how technology will affect the traditional gender opposition. Technology can perpetuate traditional gender stereotypes but it also offers opportunities to liberate society from the constraints of patriarchal supremacy. Think of the birth control pill as a tool of liberation. New technologies such as the artificial womb will eliminate gender differences because they eliminate the biological differences that have been used as an excuse to perpetuate dominance.