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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Having Something to Say

It occurred to me recently that before you can be a writer, you must first have something to say. You have to have opinions and thoughts and ideas. You have to be good at explaining and/or describing things. You can’t be hesitant to speak your mind.

I’ve always had something to say. No doubt about it. Even when I would take those tests at school that are supposed to help you decide what career path to take, mine would always come out “writer” and nothing else. I mean, seriously, while my friends would have 5 or 6 suggested career paths, all I’d have was writer. (I strongly suspect bridgetenders are not even on the list of careers for those tests. Most people don’t even know we exist.)

My whole life I’ve been told that I have very strong opinions. But that was meant as an insult. As in, “Shut up, female, and leave the thinking to the rest of us.” People rarely accuse men of having strong opinions. And I would get that criticism from men and women alike, because a lot of women don’t realize how complicit we can be in our own oppression.

Well, I thank God for my strong opinions. Without them, this blog wouldn’t exist. And I’d be a heck of a lot less interesting.

Fortunately, I’m not the kind of person who expects everyone to share my opinions. People like that are insufferable (in my opinion). I don’t think I’m very good at pointing that out, though. It’s definitely something I need to work on. It never occurs to me that some people view opinions as coercion.

I don’t see opinions that way. I also don’t think of them as being right or wrong. Opinions are simply points of view. No two people will see things from the same angle. The world might be easier to live in if we did, but it would sure be monotonous.

If you want to be a writer, I urge you to get out there and experience life, and, yes, form opinions about those experiences. Listen and learn as much as you can. Be open to unique people, places and things. And most of all, don’t be afraid to express yourself, even if the whole world tries to shut you up.


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A Few Thoughts on International Women’s Day

First of all, happy International Women’s Day! It’s nice to be recognized and celebrated. I’m glad that organizations throughout the world will be using this as an opportunity to speak out about equal rights. I’m thrilled that this will open up dialogues that many people wouldn’t otherwise have thought to have.

But at the same time, it frustrates me that we still need a day like this. Aren’t we women every day of the year? Don’t we deserve basic human rights all year round?

Recently I was sitting at a table with 15 other women, so I took an informal survey.

  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever been touched inappropriately without your permission.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever been cat called.
  • Raise your hand if anyone has ever discussed your breasts, behind, or legs without your initiating that conversation.
  • Raise your hand if your opinion has been dismissed as trivial.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve heard a man singing the words “bitch” “slut” or “ho” along with the radio.
  • Raise your hand if you yourself have been called a bitch, slut, or ho.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve seen nude women calendars in public places.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been interrupted by a man who insists on explaining something to you that you already know.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been treated like an idiot by a mechanic.
  • Raise your hand if men have assumed that you’re not intelligent.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been rejected based on your weight, age, or shape.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized because of something you were wearing.
  • Raise your hand if people have assumed you need to ask a man’s permission to do something or go somewhere.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of not being feminine enough.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of being too girly.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been told you do something good, “for a girl.”
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for not having children.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for having children.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for working.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been criticized for not working.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to drive behind a truck with naked women mud flaps.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been paid less than a male counterpart.
  • Raise your hand if men that you’ve trained have been promoted above you.
  • Raise your hand if a man assumed you needed his protection when you didn’t.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been told something was women’s work.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been accused of being emotional or hysterical.
  • Raise your hand if you’ve been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused.

Try giving this survey the next time you’re with female friends. It probably comes as no surprise to anyone reading this that in the vast majority of cases, every woman at the table raised her hand. And that’s probably the most outrageous part of all – that it comes as no surprise.

The only reason that this happens is that we are not in the exclusive group of humans who sports a penis. That simple fact makes “us” not “them”. As far as I can tell, that appendage does not endow people with superior abilities of any kind. It just means we get to be easily identified as being on the other team. And society has arbitrarily decided that our team gets to be the losing team. It’s not rational. It’s not just. And it’s not acceptable.

I for one am sick and tired of being treated to micro-aggressions every single day. Case in point, I looked at my supply of Graphicstock pictures to see which one to use for this blog entry. This, below, is their idea of a good image for Women’s Day. Because we all should be depicted as naked, sexy, thin, with long flowing hair and luscious lips, arching our backs while floating with our heads in a flowery cloud.

Happy Women’s Day, indeed.


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Post Surgery, You’re Still You

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog entry entitled, “Where are YOU Located?” In it I talked about how I basically think of myself as residing somewhere behind my eyes, and that my body is kind of the vehicle I ride around in. I still think that way the vast majority of the time.

But there are some exceptions. Prior to my hysterectomy, I wondered if I’d still feel like a woman afterward. Would I still be me? Or would I feel as though an important part of who I am was now missing?

This is actually a common anxiety. I’ve heard women express it just before having a mastectomy, too. After all, as women, we are taught to reduce ourselves to the sum of our body parts.

And during that horrible window of anxiety, many of us can’t or won’t discuss these fears with our loved ones, because we feel they wouldn’t understand, or the subject would make them uncomfortable. How could a man get it? Or an adult child?

But believe me, your family is worried about the procedure too. And they will be just as relieved to see you come out the other side. So try to talk to them about it. It will help all concerned.

If you’re needing reassurance, I can tell you that every woman I’ve talked to about this subject agrees that after the fact, much to our relief, we still feel like ourselves. We all learn that “we” are not our body parts. When that pound (or more) of flesh gets removed, we still exist. We still have our personalities, our thought processes, our character. We still live and love and laugh.

“We” survive. We survive. And you will, too. I promise.


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?


Ignorance is NOT Bliss

There are few things in life that annoy me as much as an intelligent female who acts stupid because she thinks it’s cute or expected of her. There are women in this world who think people will like them more if they avoid being seen as the smartest people in the room, which indicates to me that they probably aren’t the smartest people in the first place.

I suppose this behavior bugs me because I prize intelligence over just about anything else, and I can’t imagine giving that away. I also can’t imagine wanting to be in the company of someone who would prefer that I be less than who I truly am. And I would have a hard time respecting someone who would actually fall for an intelligent person who is dumbing herself down.

Ladies, there are plenty of people out there who are going to assume we’re not very bright just by virtue of your gender. If you doubt this, walk into 9 out of 10 mechanic’s garages and ask a question and see what happens. There’s no point in taking part in the reinforcement of that categorization by acting the fool.

If anything, being a strong, independent, intellectual woman means that you shoulder quite a bit of responsibility. Just by being in this world and interacting with others, you are setting an example of what women are capable of, and how they should be perceived and treated. Each day you are making a small impact, and chipping away at a stereotype. Future generations will benefit from the impression you make every single day. Whether you know it or not, you are blazing a trail. For God’s sake, do it with pride, dignity, and intelligence.


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Jeannette Rankin: A Woman Who Stood Alone

Recently I watched a program about the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and in it they mentioned in passing that after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt went to congress to ask them to declare war on Japan and there was only one vote against it. Think about that for a minute. That had to take guts. We all remember how much patriotic pressure there was after 9/11. Most of us alive today can only imagine how intense it was after Pearl Harbor.

The resolution passed the Senate 82-0, and in Congress it passed 388-1. Who would have the courage to stand up against 470 of his fellow politicians and overwhelming public sentiment, and say, rightly or wrongly, on public record for all eternity, “I disagree”? There was hissing in the gallery when that vote was cast, and an angry mob pursued the voter after the fact. I had to find out more about this person.

And what an interesting person she turned out to be. Yes, she. Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican, was the first woman ever elected to the United States Congress, and ironically this occurred in 1917, when not all women in this country had the right to vote. She was for women’s suffrage, of course, and against child labor, and a devout pacifist her entire life. She voted against the war in Germany in World War I, and she led 5,000 marchers to Washington to protest the war in Vietnam. When she cast that single dissenting vote during World War II, she said, “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”

She also never married, despite many proposals, and she was highly educated. Those were two things that were extremely rare for her generation. Her first degree was in biology, and science is a field that is still underrepresented by women to this day, so you you can imagine what a good ol’ boy network it must have been in 1902.

Jeannette Rankin was a woman who bucked the tide. I never thought I’d say this about a Republican, especially a Republican woman, but I have nothing but admiration for the life she led. If you’d like to learn more about her, start here.


10 Quotes That Should Piss Off Any Woman With Sense

What breaks my heart is that this blog entry could practically write itself.

  • “The fact is the Republicans don’t have a war on women, they have a war for women, to empower them to be something other than victims of their gender.” –Republican Mike Huckabee (Gee thanks, Mike. It sure has been no fun being a victim of my gender up to this point.)
  • “If I was a woman over 50, I wouldn’t need gynecological services.” –Republican Allan Rothlisberg (So, Allan, can I assume your prostate disappeared at the same time my vagina did?)
  • “Legitimate rape rarely, if ever, results in pregnancy.” –Republican Todd Akin. (Oh, where to begin.)
  • “You know how to stop abortion? Require that each one occur with a gun.” –Rush Limbaugh (Now let’s figure out how to stop you from talking.)
  • “Do your husbands like you working full time?” — Democrat Joe Biden on a visit to Japan (What is this, 1950?)
  • “The women in my family are doing great. That’s what I see in all the statistics coming out. I have, you know, young women in my office that are the leading intellectual lights of our office. So I don’t really see this, that there’s some sort of war on women that’s, you know, keeping women down.” –Republican Rand Paul (SUCH a relief that your family is a valid statistical sample for the rest of the country, Rand. It makes life so much easier.)
  • “Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was.” — Failed Virginia Republican candidate for lieutenant governor E.W. Jackson (Really?)
  • “If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president. It’s kind of a pipe dream, it’s a personal fantasy of mine, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women. It also makes the point, it is kind of embarrassing, the Democratic Party ought to be hanging its head in shame, that it has so much difficulty getting men to vote for it. I mean, you do see it’s the party of women and ‘We’ll pay for health care and tuition and day care — and here, what else can we give you, soccer moms?’” – Ann Coulter (There’s nothing more idiotic than a women-hating woman.)
  • Liberal women “have been neutering American men and bringing us to the point of this incredible weakness — to let them know that we are not going to have our men become subservient. That’s what we need you to do. Because if you don’t, then the debt will continue to grow…deficits will continue to grow.” –Republican Allen West. (Sounds like time to invest in cast iron cod pieces. Do it for the economy.)
  • Birth control is “not okay.” “It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” –Republican Rick Santorum (Sounds like you really have your finger on the pulse of how things are supposed to be, Rick.)

This is 2014, isn’t it? Keep reminding me. It’s easy to forget.


[Image credit:]

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Sworn Virgins in Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo

In the isolated areas of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo, the gender roles have traditionally been extremely restrictive for women. They could not inherit, own land, vote, work outside of the home, choose their own spouses, smoke, drink, wear pants or watches, sing or dance, interact with men, or own businesses. They weren’t even supposed to enter homes first. That was the man’s privilege. In an area dominated by blood feuds, killing a woman only gave you half the credit that you would get if you killed a man. And once a marriage was arranged for a woman, often when she was still a child, she went from her lifelong home to being a subordinate in the home of her husband’s family. If they decided to beat her, she had no recourse.

So what was a woman to do if she was promised to a man she despised, or if all the men in her family died in war or blood feuds? What if she didn’t want to ever marry, or simply wanted the freedom to take charge of her own life?

The answer for many women was to cut off her hair, don men’s clothing, and take an oath in front of the village elders to become a sworn virgin. She then, for all intents and purposes, became a man. She had all the rights of a man, all the respect of a man, and suddenly her world expanded. She could do anything that a man could do. But to gain these privileges, she had to promise to remain chaste for life. She could never have children or take a life partner.

I came across this tradition today, and it brings up very mixed emotions in me. In reading about this, I see Americans, over and over again, trying to view this through our own cultural lens. We often assume that these women must surely have been lesbians, and this was the only way they could live the life they were meant to live, so good for them! But this apparently was quite frequently not the case. These were women who sacrificed a great part of their lives in order to keep their homes and families together, and to be able to make a living and support themselves without becoming the equivalent of a barnyard animal with no rights and no choices. They were doing what they had to do to survive.

And here’s where the American cultural lens comes in again. Learning about this, we tend to feel sorry for them. And yes, it must be a very lonely and difficult choice to make, but it does not appear that these women feel sorry for themselves. They are respected in their communities, and they have chosen to do what they needed to do to survive.

And ironically enough, once they’ve taken on this role, many of them strictly enforce the gender inequality of their culture just as any man does. They are outraged when women enter a home first. They participate in blood feuds. They look at the young girls of today with disgust as they see them running around in their short skirts, talking to men and marrying for love.

And as the modern world gets closer and closer to their doorsteps, these sworn virgins are becoming a dying breed. In 2008, there were less than 40 left, and most of them were quite advanced in age.

I am glad women in that region no longer feel the need to alter their lives so irrevocably in order to have the rights that every human deserves. But on the other hand, I do not begrudge these sworn virgins their choices. I admire people who do what they feel they have to do and make no apologies for it. Perhaps in other cultures they would have become nuns or joined the military. It’s hard to say. But the fact that some women have been willing to practically twist themselves into knots in order to have basic human rights just shows you how valuable those rights truly are.


An Albanian Sworn Virgin

Who’s the Pig in this Scenario?

So, the other day I bent down to retrieve something, and heard “Look at the HAM HOCKS on this woman! Woo hoo!” Honestly. I know I have more than my fair share of junk in the trunk, but in what universe would anyone want their posterior compared to that of a pig? It was meant to be a lighthearted tease, apparently, and he was genuinely befuddled that I took it badly, but these things tend to stay with you, you know?

And less than 24 hours later I was at work and there were two electricians tearing out wires in the engine room below my feet with the hatch wide open, and I was treated to this conversation: “The problem with marrying young is that they’ll get this woman fat, you know? And then you don’t know WHAT you’re going to be stuck with.” “Well, I lucked out. My woman is like a fine wine. She only gets better with age.” I suspect this pair had never been in the same room with fine wine, and if they had been, they’d surely not have the self restraint to let it age.

Yup, women just love to be talked about as if we’re horseflesh. And the thing is, they knew I could hear them. Which makes you wonder what they’d have said if I weren’t there.

Through the years I have been treated to whistles and cat calls at construction sites, I’ve been called a “nice piece of a**”, and one time a doctor, while performing a breast exam on me, told me I reminded him of his girlfriend in college. I was 16 years old. The exam went from clinical to creepy in the space of a sentence. I never went back to that doctor again. Had I been older and more self-assured, the consequences for him would have been much more dire.

Don’t get me wrong. Women pile on, too. I’ve been told I’d be cute if only I’d do x, y or z. And when I learned my mother had cancer, within hours my face erupted in acne so severe I looked like pepperoni, and one of my coworkers said in front of a large crowd, “My God, you look horrible. What are you going to do about it?” What do you say to that? “Gee, I don’t know. Chop my head off?”

I suppose I could go off on a rant about how the media trains us all to objectify each other, but we’ve heard enough of that, frankly, and while I tend to agree, I think targeting the media is like chipping away at the tip of the iceberg, and I suspect this iceberg will be bobbing in our collective cultural sea for a long time to come.

So here’s a concept. Think before you speak.

thinking cap

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