How Gender is Pushed Upon Us

Many years ago, I agreed to meet with someone regarding a mentorship program. I was a Maintenance Management Systems Engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation at the time. The mentee in question walked in and did a double take.

“Oh, I was expecting you to be a man,” he said.

That left me wondering why it made a difference to him. Was he now having to lower his expectations? Was he looking forward to some deep conversations while sharing a urinal? Did he think the extra appendage could be used to an advantage on the job, and now he would be left without someone to demonstrate how? It boggles the mind.

But let’s face it: we all have gender shoved in our faces every single day.

Which restroom do I get to use? I better go into the ladies room, because lord only knows what might happen if I enter the forbidden zone. Mind you, I’ve never once in my life actually watched one of my bathroom mates in the actual act of doing anything more than washing hands, so this whole separation thing seems comical to me. What do you guys do in there? Is there a secret handshake?

It still amuses me when a form asks me to indicate whether I’m Mr. Mrs. Ms. or Miss. Why is it important to reveal my marital status? Am I potential wife material to the receptionist who takes the form? Why don’t men have to reveal their status? And what if you are nonbinary?

And why do we still bother with gender pronouns? I’ve written about this before. Why does it matter the genitalia of the person you are calling intelligent? I wish we’d dump he and she already. It matters not.

Why can’t everyone comfortably buy all the shirts in a particular clothing store? Why is it necessary to designate the gender of a shirt? I even know a few men who refuse to wear pink. Come on, now.

And people often ask the gender of my dog. I always think, “Why? What are your intentions?”

I’m finally getting old enough that people don’t ask me whether I had brothers or sisters. As if knowing the answer to that will give some magical insight into what makes me tick. I just don’t get it.

We even specify the ends of water hoses and the like as “male” or “female”. And don’t get me started about those people who insist on calling boats and cars and any other inanimate object that is forced to do one’s bidding without question a “she”. I’ve blogged about that before, too.

And why does each person in a marriage have to be designated a husband or a wife? Are their roles really that different anymore? Of course they can be. Each person has different strengths and weaknesses. But why is it so important to specify? Why do some people still surrender their last names?

Even if you are attracted to a certain gender, as many of us are, specifying it shouldn’t matter. This is my spouse. This is the person I love. This is my partner. This is my soulmate. Why isn’t that good enough? The only time gender needs to be specified is when and if you are looking for someone with which to naturally breed. Full stop.

The more I think about it, the more I look for signs of it, the more absurd it all becomes to me.

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Why the Need for Gender-Specific Pronouns?

In the sentence, “She is intelligent,” why is it important to know that the person is female?

I have a few friends that prefer that I use the “they” pronouns when referring to them. I respect that completely. I have no problem with doing so. But I admit that after a lifetime of not knowing the value of that act of respect, I sometimes forget.

I hope they don’t take my missteps as a sign of disapproval. I’m sure they get it a lot, too. Not that that’s any excuse. All I can say is that I’m forgetful even on a good day, but I sincerely promise to always do my best.

I was thinking about that on the commute to work this morning, and it suddenly occurred to me to wonder why we have gender specific pronouns in the first place. For example, in the sentence, “She is very intelligent,” why is it important for us to know that the person in question is a female? Why does it matter that his shoes are stylish, or her team won the nationals, or that he has a reputation for always being late? Is the quality of intelligence, style, sportsmanship or promptness somehow different based on one’s orientation or perceived genitalia? The concept seems rather absurd when you look at it that way.

Since only extremely misinformed people think that the English language is rigid and does not evolve over time, I suggest that maybe it’s time that we get rid of gender specific pronouns. I believe that only those who are heavily invested in the patriarchy would object, and while it might feel strange to the rest of us at first, I think that within a generation it would become second nature. Meanwhile, it could be seen as some form of cool slang until it became routine.

Personally, I think it would be refreshing to be talked about as an individual rather than as an entity that can or should be prejudged based on some weird form of team membership. I’m sure that if there are any rational flaws in this concept, someone will point them out in the comments section. But as I sit here on the quiet, sunny day, I can’t help thinking that this is an idea whose time has come, and that some day the way we speak now will seem very quaint, indeed.

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She’s a Beauty

Is she? Really?

It happened again the other day. A captain, in an attempt to compliment my bridge, said, “She’s a real beauty.”

He meant well. And I took it in the spirit in which he intended it. But it still got on my nerves. At least he didn’t go on to say, “She has a hard time getting up when it’s cold, just like my wife,” as another captain has been known to do.

Can someone please give me an example of an inanimate object being referred to as a he? Please? I’m not talking about the gender designations of nouns that some languages use. That’s different.

No, I’m talking about those smarmy, affectionate references to cars, boats, drawbridges, and all things mechanical. Yes, maybe it’s because those objects are, more often than not, worked on by males, and they feel uncomfortable loving these things if they’re not female. Maybe it’s just the average hetero guy’s fear of being considered homosexual. (Heaven forfend.)

But I suspect that if you scratch the surface, what you’ll see is that many men like to play with mindless, passive things that will do their bidding without question. And even if they aren’t from the 19th century, somewhere, in some underground curriculum that we women are generally not privy to, they are all taught the same thing: that all those qualities mean that this thing must therefore be female.

I’m sure that most guys who do this haven’t even given it much thought, but I’m telling you, it’s offensive. It cramps my little lady-brain, just thinking about it. And I find it even more offensive on the rare occasion when a woman does it, because a woman should know better. It’s just one more microaggression in the sea of microaggressions that women have to swim in every single day. So please knock it off.

As a tiny form of resistance, I’ve always given my cars male names. But even then, I can’t bring myself to refer to them as he. My car will always be an it.

Women are not wind up dolls, and your classic car isn’t going to kiss you back. Well… unless you’re an objectophile. Then it’s a whole different ballgame. Read my thoughts on that here.

classic car

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One of the Guys

Most of my life, I’ve toiled in male-dominated fields.

Most of my life, I’ve toiled in male-dominated fields. More than once I’ve been told that a woman should not be (fill in the blank). I know what it’s like to be looked at with suspicion and not taken seriously. I know what it’s like to want to be one of the guys.

I recently witnessed a woman in the earliest stages of trying to fit in under these circumstances. She’s taking the, “I’m every bit as manly as you are,” route. She’s tough. She’s aggressive. She’s territorial. She’s cold as ice. She’s a show off. She’s even condescending to her fellow female coworkers. If this were her natural state, I’d say, “Fine. Go for it. Be your insufferable self.” But it’s so clearly a show that it’s annoying the guys she works with. They find her to be pushy and rude. It’s making her become even more of an outsider.

Don’t get me wrong. I think women have as much right to be pushy and rude as men do. But I think that behaving that way simply because you think it will make you be accepted is the wrong way to go. Nobody likes an obnoxious person, regardless of gender.

Yes, I do things to adapt to my environment. Everyone does. I’m not going to carry a purse up to my bridge, or wear high heels. This is partly because I’d be laughed at, but mostly because these things would be safety issues. I expect to get greasy, and so I dress the part.

I also tend to be a straight shooter. I tell it like it is. But that’s in my nature. I think guys appreciate it, though. They don’t want to waste time having to read between the lines.

I knew I had made it as far in to the inner circle as I ever would when the guys started joking around with me like they do with each other. That is an achievement. I’ll take it.

I never wanted to get so far in there that I had to listen to locker room talk or discuss sports that don’t interest me. They can have that. I don’t want it.

But I think that I crossed my highest hurdle when I came to realize and accept the fact that no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to fit in completely. And that’s okay. Now, instead of feeling like a turd in that punch bowl, I look at myself as an exotic piece of fruit: Never quite blending in, and perhaps unexpected, but adding to the overall flavor in a significant way.

No matter how you look at it, I’m still here. And somewhere along the line, I stopped caring. For the most part, so have they.

Female mechanic

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The View is Different from Venus to Mars

“If I realize I am making someone feel like a shadow, I will move out of the way so they can feel the sun.”

Gender roles and gender differences have always fascinated me. I’ve written about these subjects several times. Most recently, I wrote a post entitled What Do You Do? about the many steps women take to avoid sexual assault. Men rarely have to think about these things.

If you search my blog for posts about gender, or click on my feminism heading, dozens will come up. Some of these include: Sworn Virgins in Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo; Secure in My Manhood; Buying in to Gender Violence Phraseology; and Gender-Specific Jobs? Pffft.

Recently I had the opportunity to have a very interesting conversation with someone who has a unique insight into gender roles. To protect his privacy, we’ll call him Mr. Anonymous. As you will soon see, he has had the opportunity to contemplate this topic even more than the majority of us have. I learned a great deal from this conversation, and so I asked him if he’d be willing to be a guest author for today’s post. He was kind enough to agree. So without further ado, here’s Mr. Anonymous.

_____________________

Today I was in the grocery store looking for this herbal tea that I usually find in health-food stores. As often happens, a woman approached, needing something on a nearby shelf. I was far enough away for her to easily pass me, but she still felt the need to apologize and grab her item quickly. I assured her that she was not in the way. She replied, “That’s good.”

She said it like it was a relief. Here I was, needing a haircut, and I hadn’t shaved in several days, so I looked kind of rough. I felt rough in that store today. Yet this woman, who was about my age, saw a man looking at the items from afar and apologized for getting in my way when she had no reason to.

Not everyone is like that. There are rude types of people in all walks of life. But there is also an obvious pattern of male privilege that I experience every day. I was not born with this privilege, since I am trans person from female to male.

I have gotten some odd vibes from dudes working in hardware stores. As a man, I’m expected to know about tools and such, and I’m not really up to par on these things. So I have learned to do a little online research before I venture outward. Men don’t expect to have to explain things to another man. On the other hand, it’s assumed that a woman would need help. Women are almost treated like children. I find it insulting. I was often insulted before I started passing as a man.

I have seen butch hardcore lesbians more mechanically inclined than I am. Sadly, in the Deep South, there is a great deal of pressure to maintain the stereotypes of men and women. Because of this, I see transmen put on acts to be like the guys. (In other words, work on cars and be an ass.) Well, I think, “Ask Sally, that butch woman. She will help ya out with that transmission.”

I dress masculine and never had an impulse to carry a purse. I remember things I used to do without realizing that they were “what men do”. I was told that I walked like a man when all I was doing, as far as I was concerned, was walking. My sisters wore makeup. I tried against my will to do the female thing, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard with me. Just give me a big loose flannel shirt and some jeans and I am ready to walk out the door.

One of the most alarming things about being on the other side of the rainbow is the fear I create in women just by walking down the sidewalk. If a woman is walking alone in front of me, she picks up her pace. I can feel her fear. I slow down, take detours, or sit down if there are steps or a bench until I feel she is far enough away from me so that she can relax.

A part of me wants to tell her that I know how she feels. I was born female. I know that fear. I was someone who was looked at and hit on by strangers. I felt degraded by people asking to pay me for sexual favors. That was disgusting.

I remember, in my early twenties, riding the bus home from work every day. It wasn’t the best neighborhood. I’d be standing at a bus stop waiting for the bus and several times men stopped, thinking I was a street walker. They would try to get me to go with them. Even after telling them I was only waiting for the bus to go home, they still persisted until the bus showed up.

I remember men asking me if my husband is home when I had no husband. I would reply yes. I would paint the imaginary husband as some rough around the edges redneck that didn’t take any BS. That was my life in Louisiana in my younger years.

I was not brought up and treated as male because I was born female. It’s most heartbreaking to me that women are often raised to be so passive and molded into being the shadow of men. They shouldn’t feel the need to apologize and get out of my way.

On the other hand, when I was seen as a woman, women would treat me quite rudely. I guess it has something to do with the pecking order or something. I don’t know. I never understood it. But wow, those same types of women became passive and apologetic once that they saw me as a man.

People make different assumptions about men and women. As a woman, if I told people I had bought a power-tool, I was always asked why. As a man, I can say the same thing and I get an OK.

As a man, I can add my input to conversations without being contradicted. Women get contradicted no matter how right they are. Many men do not want to be intimidated by the intelligence of women.

I am not a very social person, but I observe and feel compassionate about the issue of gender roles that are forced upon people. How many female geniuses in history, prodigies even, have been passed up and never given the chance? Women are half of humanity, lest we forget.

Evolution seems to be in the favor of men more than women because men are physically stronger. Men use that strength to their advantage. The bad ones belittle women because those women do not have the strength to physically defend themselves. (Although in fairness, some women will rip a dude a new ass. Even after years of my being on hormones, these same strong women could whoop my ass easily.)

Generally speaking, though, that feeling of power can bring out the worst in a man. Because of this, women are conditioned to be less, be passive, obey, and act like perfect good girls.

Sometimes I wonder if I am the shadow or if I am casting the shadow. It can be confusing. I might go to a bar and have a drink or go home and sip on hot tea. Either way, I’d like to be respected as a human first. But if I realize I am making someone feel like a shadow, I will move out of the way so they can feel the sun. That applies to all the women who have apologized to me when they had no reason to.

Everyone should be entitled to simply be respected as a person. It should be that easy. But it’s not.

Venus Mars

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Floating Man Caves

On the day of this writing, I’m working on the South Park Bridge, which spans the Duwamish River from Seattle to Tukwila, Washington. It’s a beautiful day. As locals say, “the mountain is out,” which means I can see Mount Rainier on the horizon. (God, but I love my job.)

It must also be the start of fishing season, because the river is dotted with little boats, mostly occupied by Muckleshoot Indians, one assumes. This is part of their prime fishing grounds. What a pity that their shoreline views are now factories and their associated ugliness.

Other parts of the year, the Mulkleshoot stretch out their salmon nets and I get to watch the harbor seals rob them and boaters desperately try to avoid them. But at this time of the year, I love to watch the fishermen float along with the current in their groups of twos and threes, quietly casting their hooks in hopes of bounty.

I don’t see any women with them. At least not today. Floating man caves is what these are. A chance for some male bonding.

I have a theory about the division of labor along gender lines. I don’t honestly believe, for example, that most Muckleshoot think that women are incapable of fishing. It’s just that sometimes you just want your space. Sometimes you just want to be around people of your own gender identity. It’s like shucking off your work clothes and getting comfortable after a long day. It’s a chance to truly be yourself. Every human needs that, now and then.

I think it has been thus for centuries. The men tended to go one way and the women went the other, for pure sanity’s sake. And after a while it becomes tradition. And then it becomes an unwritten rule. And then it becomes shocking if someone wants to break that rule. That’s when it becomes sad, but also understandable.

Not that I agree with it, as I sit here doing my male-dominated job. I just get it. So have fun fishing, guys. Relax.

Three_men_in_silhouette_against_glassy_water_fishing_from_boat

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Buying in to Gender Violence Phraseology

Wow. I consider myself a feminist, and I’m proud of that. But clearly I have a shocking amount to learn. Recently, a friend showed me this article from Middlebury Magazine, entitled “The Language of Gender Violence”, and it blew me away. I strongly encourage you to read it.

It was discussing women’s issues such as sexual violence and harassment and domestic violence. Cue the record scratch sound effect. Back up. Read that sentence again. It doesn’t seem particularly controversial, does it? But now look at the phrase “women’s issues”. Why are these women’s issues? Because they happen to women? Shouldn’t they be society’s issues? Why do men get a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to this, particularly when they are generally the perpetrators of this violence?

I never thought of that. It never even crossed my mind. By using the language we use, we are perpetuating societal attitudes.

The article went on to discuss the passive voice. It said, “We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many men and boys impregnated teenage girls.”

By using the passive voice, we take men and boys out of the equation entirely. These issues become a problem for women, and men aren’t even the focus anymore. Pretty sneaky. Pretty insidious.

I have no doubt fallen into this verbal trap at least a million times in my life, and I didn’t even realize what I was doing. It never dawned on me that I was playing along. I’m horrified. And it is making me look at the world from a completely different angle.

Food for thought.

gender violence
A truly admirable sentiment. But why not say, “Men against violent men?”

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All in a Huff over Vocabulary Reserved for Women

Recently I had a moral disagreement with someone, so I left. Later he told me that I “stomped out in a huff”. That kind of fascinated me. First of all, I would look rather silly, at the age of 51, if I “stomped” anywhere. And here I thought I was leaving out of respect for the other person. I didn’t want to cause a scene in front of 150 people, and I didn’t want there to be tension for either of us. So I took myself out of the equation.

But it did get me thinking about that phrase. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that a man stomped out in a huff. It even sounds weird. Men might retreat, or leave decisively, or take their exit or deescalate a situation, but they’re never accused of being prone to huffs.

That put me in mind of an article I read recently entitled If Women Wrote Men the Way Men Write Women, by Meg Elison. I highly recommend that you read it. It will really open your eyes to the stereotypes that we all just seem to take for granted. For example, you never hear of men gazing up adoringly at anyone. It just isn’t done.

Here are some more words or phrases that seem to only be applied to “the fairer sex.” (Ugh!)

  • Hysterical
  • Bitchy
  • Irritable
  • Brassy
  • Flaky
  • Airhead
  • Hormonal
  • Emotional
  • Tart
  • Shrill
  • Catty
  • Jail Bait
  • Blonde
  • Brunette
  • Neurotic
  • Not Bad for a Girl
  • Easy
  • Frigid
  • Asking for It
  • Moody
  • Headstrong
  • Plus Sized
  • Cat Fight
  • Gold Digger
  • Intense
  • Gossipy
  • Too Ambitious
  • Slutty
  • Little
  • Irrational
  • Touchy
  • Prude
  • Ball Buster
  • Tease
  • Sensitive
  • Loose
  • Diva
  • Shrew
  • High Strung
  • Ditsy
  • Nag
  • Fishwife
  • Bossy
  • High Maintenance
  • Nasty
  • Fretting
  • Abrasive
  • Breathless
  • Whiny
  • Pushy
  • Mousey
  • Bubbly
  • Illogical

Make no mistake. We live in a sexist society. This didn’t just happen after Trump was elected. The only difference this election made is that now there is no hiding from this fact. The people have spoken. They are okay with a leader who brags about grabbing pussies, and this has caused the scales to fall from our eyes. So now that we have a clear, unobstructed view of the disease, what are we going to do to cure it?

First of all, every woman out there should memorize the words above and strike them from her vocabulary. It’s bad enough when men use them, but it is inexcusable when we use them against each other. We have to stick together if we want to stay strong. And when anyone uses them, we all need to call that person out. We can’t move forward until this type of talk becomes socially unacceptable.

Go forth and conquer gender speech!

Ms._magazine_Cover_-_Spring-Summer_2012.jpg

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Secure in My Manhood

I’m not one who is known for writing jokes, but I did write one several years ago that I’m rather proud of:

The next time a guy tells you that he’s secure in his manhood, say, “Here. Hold my purse.”

Heaven forbid.

I kind of feel sorry for men. Their options are so limited. They are trapped by their own majority status.

There are all sorts of sociological studies that indicate that it’s perfectly acceptable for minority groups to “imitate” majority groups, but when someone from a dominant group imitates a “lesser” group, this is considered taboo. That’s why women can get away with wearing suits and even ties, but if a man is seen in a floral print cocktail dress, it will raise eyebrows. What seems to me to be a shocking transgender backlash of late speaks volumes about this. For the same reason, white rappers are often ridiculed for trying to break into what is considered minority turf.

When my nephew was a teen he used to agonize over his shampoo purchases, because he didn’t want to smell “all flowery”. This was a manifestation of his anxiety over coming out as a young gay male, I’m sure, but it was also all about society in general. Flowers are girly things. Thus decrees society.

I’ve had more than one straight male friend say to me that they can’t tell if another male is good looking. Poppycock. What they mean is, they’d never dare admit that they can tell if another male is good looking. On the other hand, as a straight female, I can call another woman pretty and no one thinks twice about it.

Men are even mortified to ride a woman’s bike. It’s as if that length of reinforcing pole makes all the difference in the world to their image. The world can’t have too many phallic symbols.

And many men wouldn’t be caught dead wearing pink. Lest we forget, pink is an arbitrarily chosen gender color. It could have just as easily been neon green.

I can be secure in my manhood, but men can only acceptably embrace their feminine side as a joke. How sad for them. Their territory is so small.

It’s all so absurd and so limiting. Why can’t we all just do our own thing?

20140321_Dancing_Stars_Conchita_Wurst_4187

Me at My Most Politically Incorrect

I probably shouldn’t be writing this, but hell, I’m thinking it, so why not? I have to say I love working with men. Well, I do now, anyway.

For most of my working life I’ve been in male-dominated jobs; the lone female in the pack, so to speak. At first it can be awkward. Some people, no matter how hard you try, are never going to accept you.

When an entire group of men are uncomfortable with your presence, it can feel pretty awful. They’ll be tense and formal with you, and you’ll get a very strong sense that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that isn’t being shared with you. There’s nothing like a group of disapproving men to make you feel isolated.

But man, when they do accept you, it’s so much fun! They treat you like one of the guys. You get teased and picked on, but that is just further evidence that you’re liked. Once I figured that out, I was golden.

So today when a group of guys came to do the biweekly pumping of our septic tank, rather than knocking on the door and stiffly notifying me that they were on the bridge, one of them unlocked the door and shouted up the stairs, “Hey! Your shitter’s full!” And I responded, “I didn’t do it!”

Oh, yeah. I’ve arrived.

oneoftheguys
[Image credit: theodysseyonline.com]