Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Gender Pisses Me Off
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.