Thursday, February 06, 2014

gender issues: roles and behaviors

let's start this particular installment with the understanding that for now i am talking about cisgendered people, which, if you don't spend a lot of time thinking about gender issues you may not realize is the current term for people whose gender identity matches the body they were born with. i want to stress that even that isn't necessarily strictly a binary construct, but let's just go with the idea that most people find themselves near one end or the other of that continuum.

we have a lot of expectations culturally about what is and is not appropriate behavior and appearance for men and women.

i am not in the least bit ambiguous about my gender identity. i am a little middle aged lady, completely comfortable in my middle aged lady-ness. i have the experience, though, of being both approved of and disapproved of for my appearance or behavior according to gender expectations.

i say the words "what cute little shoes!" completely without irony. i love charming lavender-infused recipes as much as the next person. but also i laugh too loudly and talk too directly, traits i have been told make me "not a proper lady".  i wear clothing for function and comfort and usually not for appearance. i wear my hair and fingernails very short, and i've been told i look very butch.

most people just assume i'm a lesbian. i do not know why perfect strangers feel they can come up to me on the street and inquire about my sexual orientation based on my appearance, but yet they do.


i have friends who have a son who, when he was very young, loved all manner of things with engines and wheels and all kinds of tools to work on things with engines and wheels. he also loved things that were sparkly and pink and the greatest disappointment in his young life was that he couldn't get a pink sparkly dumptruck.

and then he went to preschool, where he learned that boys do not like pink sparkly things. pink sparkly things are for girls, and girls are decidedly not as good as boys. you don't want to be girly, do you?


i have a friend whose grandson likes to paint his nails. his father does not approve. what message does this send?

you are less acceptable if you are girly.

if you want sons who really respect women, try telling them that it would be ok to be "girly".

i have gone dancing at the montpelier grange, and  had the enormous pleasure of being whirled around the room by a stunningly handsome young man who was redheaded and tall and lithe and breathtakingly vital and muscled in the way only young men can be.

he was oh-my-goodness-throw-me-down-and-take-me-now gorgeous, strong and manly and his skirt was nicer than mine.

yes, i know.

but there was nothing remotely girly looking about the way he wore that skirt. young men at the montpelier grange often wear skirts. i have talked with some of them about it. it turns out that these young men think a skirt is cooler to dance in (it's a hot room) and they like the way it feels when they spin.

ladies, you get this, right? those are the reasons *i* wear a skirt when i go dancing. is there a reason that men who want those things can't have them?

real equality for men and women is going to happen when we don't make separate classes of people.

and remember that things are not going to fall apart. if culturally and socially we allow people to express traits that are pleasing and natural to them without categorizing behaviors according to acceptability by gender norms, most people will still fall closer to the norms than not.

that's why they're norms.

but we'd free up people who don't fit exactly into categorical norms, and we'd be a lot closer to gender equality.

a long time ago i was invited, at my workplace, to join a regular "girls' night out" social grouping. i said i thought it was wrong.

i said this at some social cost.

i said that if the men AT OUR WORKPLACE had put together a boys only club, we would be outraged. well, yes, they said, but this is different. because, you know, girly things.

more recently i belonged to a church with a ladies' book discussion group. i got the invitation to the women's group after i had left for another church.

i wrote in to say that i thought this was wrong.

but the books we read are only interesting to women, they said.

well, what about men who like flowers and art and "ladies' things"? isn't it hard enough for those guys to find people to share these interests with? is there a reason to separate and stigmatize men who might like these ideas?

they wrote back to say that they had considered my points and decided that in the future they would simply announce the topics of interest and invite everybody.

if you have a group to talk about things that are typically interesting to women, you'll still get mostly women.

but you'll also make it ok for men to be interested in "women's" things.

think about it.

if men are not stigmatized for "feminine" traits, it elevates both men and women.

and it lets people choose for themselves which traits they wish to express according to their comfort and not to expectations.

resist gender labeling. resist neatly categorizing people as one thing or another. let them be who they are.

5 comments:

Friko said...

flask, are you by any chance not only a little middle lady but also a feminist? Or is that also a label you wish to have no part of?

I think you talk great sense. Although I do find I have to adjust my reaction just a touch when i come across a boy in sparkly pink tights.

And please, tell me what nPK is? And what your comment means? You’ll be a very very good flask if you do.

flask said...

i do not shy from the label feminist, because it describes well the idea that a woman is not a lesser creature than a man.

i'm more of a people-ist, though, because i think gender bias damages both women and men in the long run.

as for nPk, i would 'splain it and sound all smart and stuff, but you should look here: http://www.mathwords.com/p/permutation_formula.htm

flask said...

uh, and about those tights...

i have to temper my reaction if i am confronted by the appearance of anybody over the age of four wearing pink sparkly tights, unless those tights are for the gym or part of a costume or something.

some clothing is not fit for wearing to the grocery, regardless of the gender of the wearer.

Zhoen said...

When I was young, it's not that I wanted to be a boy, but to be allowed what boys were allowed, and not be called a boy. I liked toy cars and trains, but generally not other boyish toys and interests. Hated pink, and only liked skirts for swirling in, not having to sit-ladylike in.

I think these rules are, indeed, about teaching that woman are lesser than, and girls take this in and carve themselves out a place inside this confinement.

I'm definitely female and heterosexual, but socially, I inhabit a middle ground where we all have interests.

At least I've only ever been considered potentially lesbian by other lesbians, which I have to read as being accessible to humanity. Given that they were expressing interest in having a relationship, I figure they had a good reason to ask.

Pixie Blue said...

I loved skirts when i was very young. Before I realized they were "female clothes". Then I felt too horrified and ashamed and stuck to "boy clothes" since then. Except when I had to work hard to pretend that I was a normal female in order to not die.

So complicated and confusing...

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