Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Thoughts about Gender

I have been contemplating this post for several days. I can already see my husband's eyes rolling in his head as he reads it. I got into a conversation on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, something that I can't avoid doing from time to time despite the fact that Twitter is a terrible place for any real intellectual discourse. Who can be eloquent and clear in only 144 characters? Most of us seem to have trouble with that with much more space, or at least I do.

An issue related to the term "cisgender" came up, a term I'm not really fond of. It started me thinking about gender roles and concepts in general.

First, I want to clarify my use of terms. I'm sure you are already aware of this distinction, but I want to make sure there is no misunderstanding about what I write next. The words sex and gender are often used interchangeably, but they aren't actually the same thing. A person's sex is their biological male or femaleness, it only describes the reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics that they are born with and develop in puberty. Gender is the societal expectations for each sex. The roles, behaviors, personality traits, and attitudes expected from a person with male or female sexual organs. These concepts are largely stereotypical and puts everyone in nice safe boxes. I can't say the behavior of men and women is totally a concept of society because of the scientific evidence shows that there are physical differences in their brains, this is a product of many years of evolution and our roles eons ago. I don't believe however, that we need to let such things continue to define us in modern society.

I am rather an odd person in many ways, when I think of myself, the first thing that I think isn't that I'm a woman. I know that I am female, but for me it's not a defining aspect of myself as a person. I don't think of myself as a women first. It doesn't define my interests, views, personality, or opinions (most of them at any rate), so for me it is a secondary characteristic though it's one of the first thing other people notice. As an adult, I have frequently questioned my "girl card" points. I have given birth to a child (I look forward to the day that the men who wish to can experience this joy for themselves), so I'm definitely female, but I wonder how "girly" I am.

My "Girl" Points
  • Went through the horse crazy stage as a kid
  • Baking
  • Cross-stitch
  • Liked pink most of my life (not my favorite color now)
  • Blubber like a baby at movies, tv shows, and books
  • Like dancing
My "Not Girl" Points
  • Don't care about shoes
  • Don't like shopping
  • Don't like jewelry
  • Don't like chocolate (want it, maybe, once a year)
  • Don't want flowers as a gift
  • Don't like romance novels (though I had a phase as a teen)
  • Love scifi/fantasy and horror
  • Not overly sentimental
  • Would rather do yard work than housework
  • Don't like make-up (wear it for work so I don't look like a ghost)
  • Was never boy crazy
  • Never did the squeally, screechy girl thing
  • Never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom
  • Don't care about fashion 
  • Bread winner
  • Linear thinker
  • Analytical/logical thinker
I realize a lot of the things listed above are based on stereotypes, that's all that our concepts of gender really are: a series of  societal expectations that have nothing to do with people as individuals. I think this is detrimental to individuals and society. My mother took a test in high school to see what she should do with her life, this was in the 60's, and they added a letter to her name which made it seem she was male. With the male name, she was told she should be a mechanic or engineer. Well, they sent the same test in with her real name and she was told she should be a teacher or nurse. Today, we call this sexist, and it is, but it has to do with these stereotypes society has about men and women. Some of them have eased up, some continue just as strongly.

Men are just as trapped by these stereotypes as women. My husband was a stay-at-home dad for 7 years. I got all kinds of disapproving looks and comments because I was the bread winner and things were tight for us. If he had been the one to work, and I had stayed at home, no one would have questioned it even if finances were tight. I pointed this out to someone once, their comments ceased. The concepts are so endemic that we don't even realize that we hold these views until it's pointed out. People also seem to think that the word sexist only applies to treatment of women. People are sexist against men, too. Men can be incredibly nurturing people and parents, though traditional gender roles express a different opinion. If a man wants to be a nurse, it's been assumed that he's feminine (therefore also gay) or not smart enough to be a doctor. Admittedly, this attitude has lessened in the last few years as more men enter the profession. Men that want to teach young children face this sexism as well, but it's not assumed that they are gay rather that they must be pedophiles.

I am saddened that some in forward thinking communities are still trapped by these concepts of gender roles. I know that some people don't understand why others aren't comfortable with the label "cisgender". I can't speak for all, but I can speak for myself. Just like many don't like the labels that have been applied to them because of the stereotypical concepts that come with that box, the same happens when labels are applies to others. Some have already attached stereotypes to anyone that is "cisgender". I don't believe in "default", I don't believe in "normal"; I just believe in people. Such labels only serve to separate and divide us, because the labels become more important than the fact that we are all human.