Butterfly Cauldron

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Gender Pisses Me Off

Everyone's talking about gender lately, which is funny because it was just on my mind. Belle's talking about it and everytime she talks about something, I start thinking and there goes my night, ya know?

So, I'm thinking about what it means to be feminine -- both in regards to myself and in regards to my niece.

Kady turns 3 in March. She's at that age where she's starting to notice differences in things and so, it's time for her to learn that she's a girl. Or so says my family. Me? I'm thinking what's the rush? And the things they're pointing out to her are not the physical differences, but the actions of being female.

Like, for Christmas I was a bad, bad feminist and gave her nailpolish. Because she wanted it and I'm her aunt and how could I say no? So, she got nail polish. And had the best time with it. She painted everyone's nails and toes. And ya know, fingers too. She wanted to paint her grandpa and her daddy's nails too. And this is where the problem came in.

The men in my family, for all their areas of equality, are kinda wigged out by the notion of 'non-manly' behaviour. So, nail polish? Uh. No. My brother (K's Daddy) told her that nail polish was for girls, not boys. (To which I said, "Why?" -- at the same time Kady did.) I also pointed out that, ya know, some boys wear nail polish too. (Like, the kind Aunt Zan wants to ravish. Oh, yes. Ahem.) Anyway, B (my brother) was all like, 'well, not boys in this family."

At which point Kady, bless her adorable soul, looks at her Daddy and says "Then you're a girl."

She was totally going to paint his nails, gender be damned. There was a bit of "no no, Daddy's a boy and Mommy's a girl and you're a girl and Aunt Zan is a girl and Gramma is a girl" and finally, she was distracted by the chance to paint her cousin Kamryn's toes.

But still. I'm concerned about what she's going to learn. While the rest of the family may be quite content with her growing up learning traditional gender roles, I am not. Which is why I tend to buy her non-gendered toys. (She's totally getting a set of bongos for her birthday.) I want her to grow up to know that it's okay for her to play the drums or guitar or paint or write or run a business or run a farm or fix a car or whatever the hell it is that makes her happy, even if it's not 'feminine'.

(Although, to be fair to my family, they're not all about keeping her in the gender roles. She got a guitar for Christmas, because she loves music. She showed it to me, slipping it over her shoulders and plucking on it. "It makes noise" she said. I love that kid.)

So, how do I model behaviour for her when I'm not sure about being 'feminine' myself?

Lately, I've been feeling myself drawn more to a more feminine mode of dressing. I have sudden urges for pretty sundresses and strappy sandals. (No heels though. Goddess save me from heels.) And I can't get enough lip gloss. Really, it's like a sickness. Lip gloss beckons me and I Must. Buy. It. Now. I have more purses than any woman should have and I'm so looking forward to getting the money that's coming to me because it means I can buy furniture. And I've been looking around at furniture stores for days now, just dreaming about what I want. Do you think men do that? (I don't know. Do they? I've been told they don't, but I could be wrong.)

See, in my mind I'm still equating feminine with weak. And I know, in my head, that's not right. I know that. None of the women in my family are weak, and that's where I get my idea of feminine from. But it feels so....traditional. So bowing to culture and giving up my own identity. And I know, of course, that I'm never going to let that happen. But that's how I feel, when I'm actually faced with buying a pretty dress or shoes. It's dumb. I know, when I wear this stuff, that I'm going to get lots of compliments. Which I like, but then I think, so what was wrong with me before? It's just me in a pretty dress. I'm no different. I didn't undergo a sudden personality switch when the silk went over my head, ya know. Same girl. Same brain, same abilities, but now I'm worth noticing when I wasn't before? What's up with that shit?

So, I guess, I'm resentful. I certainly don't dress for compliments. And really, I genuinely like a lot of the clothing I want to wear. So, ya know, it's not like anyone is making me do it.

And really, isn't a skirt just a skirt? Don't we have bigger problems in the world? And yet, here I am, stuck wondering about this shit when there's a war going on and people are dying and there are women and children being beaten and abused in my own damned town. It all seems so stupid and pointless, yet here I go again.

Because I know it doesn't fucking matter what you wear, it matters what you do. It doesn't matter if you never wear dresses or if you always wear them. It doesn't matter if you wear lipstick or chapstick or nothing at all. It doesn't matter if you shave or if you dye your hair or if your skin has never known a damned razor. None of those things make you feminine. None of those things make you a woman and I'm rather pissed that I'm being manipulated into feeling that those things are important.

Maybe I'm just tired of the artificial divisions. Maybe I'm just tired of being told I have to analys every fucking choice I make. Maybe a pretty green sundress is just a pretty green sundress that I'm wearing when I volunteer at the animal shelter or work the suicide prevention line. Who knows? And maybe a man wears eyeliner or nail polish or a fucking dress while he comforts an abused kid or delivers a meal to a homeless person.

Okay. Yeah. That's what I'm feeling about gender -- it pisses me off. Because everyone keeps trying to define it and put it into little boxes so they can mark us all off as X or Y or Z or whatever the fuck they can. And you know what happens when they do that? We stop being human. We stop being individuals who have personalities and quirks and passions and flaws and the power to change the godsdamned world. Putting us in pre-defined boxes strips us of our power.

So, here's what I say: define your gender however the hell you want to and I'll define mine like I want to. Aren't we all tired of dragging around those checklists anyway? "Girls do X, boys do Y, blah, blah, blah." What good do they do us? I guess, if you can check off all the boxes naturally, they work for you. So great. You be a checklist gender. I can't check off all the damned boxes and frankly, I don't want to.

But I want to be able to wear a goddamned dress without feeling like I'm either a bad feminist or turning into my mother.

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posted by Zan at 5:38 PM

11 Comments:

Oh, men fantasize about furniture, believe me.

7:13 PM  

Do they? I'd love to have a boyfriend who was into decorating like I am, so long as our styles didn't clash. Hrm...

7:44 PM  

Oh, no, see... that's the thing. The law of averages says that they will have a vested emotional interest in buying the largest most hideous thing in the store ;)

8:39 PM  

You're right, everyone is talking about...well, I differentiate between gender and gender roles.

I suspect you want to wear dresses and buy lip gloss and carry purses because they make you feel good. And I know "You look good today" sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it's probably true w/ a minor insertion: "You look like you feel good about yourself today." Or even great. I miss dressing up and don't have any fun or formal clothes. (Okay, I do have a cleavage top in two colors.) I can't wear my boot-cut jeans because I don't have proper footwear. Just sneakers, which means straight-leg jeans only. :(

(Maybe I'll order some WW boots when I finish this.)

So if you're doing stuff that misogynists file under "feminine" for yourself mainly - you'll get compliments, but because you look because because you think you look good - that's super. The things I would not consider feminist, like getting married or "taking" your spouses name, disappoint me because they're, often wholly and always in part, about appearances. And the bastards who would condemn you for not doing those things don't deserve your attempts to pacify them.

Kady's so clever!

If it helps, you might mention to the Zanmen that Sir Charles Barkley let his daughter paint his toenails, and I think he went to work w/ the polish on. I was really, really surprised, which is unfair.

I think whatever it's said that (wo)men don't do is just a lie to make us not bother to try.

9:52 PM  

Ooooh, this is a tricky one. I have started to analyse the hell out of all this, and sometimes it just makes my head hurt, to be honest. I have stopped shaving, quite recently, I don't do make up (but then I never did, couldn't be arsed with it), always wear flat shoes (I honestly see heels as masochism), and my hairstyle (guffaws at the idea of it being a style) is of the *get out of bed and shake my head until it settles* variety. But then...oh, I do love skirts. Admittedly they are long swirly skirts, so it's not like they are revealing, but still. I like velvet...oh, I really like velvet, and that is so girly, isn't it? And I love beautiful smelling body balms. Those I simply cannot resist.

And that is before I even consider my daughters. I think (I hope) I am doing a decent job of encouraging them to see that their options do not need to be confined (they feel a bit sorry for boys with their lack of clothing options, and when the elder discovered that the lesbian couple a couple of doors away could not get married even if they wanted to, she was outraged). But still. My younger daughter is sparkly and girly and very traditional, really. And I agonise over whether this is just her, or if it is all just ghastly indoctrination by the patriarchy. Or if it a bit of both. And should I really try to dress her in combat trousers if she wants sequins? As for your neice, being yourself around her (I love the simultaneous "Why?" about the nail polish) will go a long way to ensure she has a good role model, I think.

Ow, head hurts. Also, apologies for the absurdly long comment. Btw, if the green sundress is the one on your blog recently, how can you resist ;)

4:43 AM  

Oh, Kev, feel free to comment as much as you like ;) I've been known to write tomes myself, so ya know ;) No problem here.

I have some of the same problems with Kady. She adores pink. She just loooooves it. Everything must be pink! And I'm like...but but...that's so girly! And yet, I don't think anyone told her she had to like pink. She just does. *sigh* And she adores makeup and shoes and nailpolish and her baby dolls. And I'm like, well if that's genuinely who she is, I don't wanna tell her NOT to be that way. But if she's doing it because she thinks that's what girls are supposed to do? Well. Aunt Zan may have to do a little intervention. But, she's only 3 and shows remarkable signs of not giving a shit what she's supposed to do, so there's much hope that I can warp her into a little punk rock drummer :) Or ya know, guitarist. I'm flexible. And she's already got the guitar.

And yet, that green sundress. I must have it. I have no choice but to buy it when I get my tax return next week. And then, of course, I'll have to go shoe shopping. And since I live in Louisiana, it doesn't matter that it's February,I can still wear it today. Because we don't have real winters here.

Oh, and Kady and I did a number on my dad :) He sillily fell asleep in our presence. So, we pulled the afghan off his feet and Kady painted his toe nails a nice sparkly pink. And she giggled the whole day, telling everyone she saw that she painted Papa's toes while he was sleeping. Seriously, I love that kid. :)

6:48 AM  

Ya know, Veronica, that would be my luck. I'd find a man with my interest in design and decorating and he'd be all ...."Let's go French Colonial!" while I'm much more Southwestern casual....

6:49 AM  

But still. I'm concerned about what she's going to learn. While the rest of the family may be quite content with her growing up learning traditional gender roles, I am not.

And is trying to force gorwn men to conform to metro-bishi effeminate gender roles better than allowing them to express traditional gender roles?

If men don't want their nails painted - why can't you simply accept this?

It seems feminism is more concerned with forcing artificial gender roles and imposing their own social constructs against the natural wishes of people - than fighting against that.

2:57 PM  

Well, the point is not that these individual men did not want their nails painted. Of course, that's their right as well as it's any woman's right not to express traditional gender roles. The problem is that they weren't caging it as "I don't want my nails painted" they were saying "Boys don't get their nails painted." Which is pattenedly untrue since many men do, in fact, paint their nails.

The problem I have is not that some men want to adhere to traditional male roles or that some women do as well. So long as those things are individual choices, more power to ya. My problem is with the teaching that there is only one way to be a man or to be a woman. That the only way to be a man is to not wear nail polish, to conceal your emotions, to be hard, etc., etc. That works fine for some men, but it doesn't work for all men and to deny that is just well, silly.

Same for women. Some women do perfectly well in traditional roles. They make them happy. And that's great for them, but there are a lot of women who do not feel happy or fulfilled in those roles. And I don't want my niece growing up thinking that the only way she'll ever be happy is if she adheres to traditional gender roles.

(And frankly, she's 3. She's not thinking about gender roles. She's thinking that nail polish is pretty and makes her happy and that her grandpa/daddy have nails that she can paint and therefor, she wants to paint them.)

5:42 PM  

Now that I have a niece (not quite 3) I suspect that this will soon begin to irk me too...and that her parents will be very much in favour of the Disney Princess crap. Sigh.
As far as your own dilemma - if you want the dress then buy the dress. Honestly, I'm as aggravated with this argument as you are, and in the end I have to come down in favour of doing what feels right to you. Example - I love heels. I'm going to a metal/industrial show next week, and I will be wearing heels. In the pit. I've done if before, too. If anyone gives me shit, well, you might want to think twice about pissing off the woman wearing weapons on her feet.
It always fascinates me how the byrdboys of this world are so convinced that we're all out to make them wear dresses. Frankly, I don't think he'd make an acceptable bishi. He lacks the charming personality. Plus, I already have one of my own, why would I need any more? Same with the traditional men like your folks. I don't think it was actually Dad not wanting his nails painted you objected to so much as Dad trying to indoctrinate the kid. And that's a valid thing to be concerned about. He can do whatever he wants with his own body, but the kid's mind is another matter entirely.

4:29 AM  

Exactly. What's gonna happen if Kady grows up to love the pretty boys like her Aunt Zan? To this day, I have a hard time bringing home men to meet my dad because the ones I like are soooo not like him, in appearance anyway. Because I feel like I'm failing him somehow, but not being attracted to what he wants me to be. And that's totally not fair.

And I don't wanna see every man in a dress. Some men, they don't look so good in dresses. But I want a man who wants to wear a dress to be able to wear a dress and not have to suffer for it. It's just a dress, after all. It doesn't tell you anything about the person wearing it, except maybe if they have good fashion sense.

Frankly, a man whose too macho or insecure to wear eyeliner really isn't a man for me.

6:42 AM  

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