On the misappropriation of 'masculine' and 'feminine'.

Still struggling with my artwork and creative motivation.  In the meantime, I've decided to write about something that has bothered me since I was just a wee childling.  That is...gender, and how it's characterised!

As a child, I was what is commonly referred to as a "tomboy".  I liked dinosaurs and dragons, hiking and getting muddy, running about and playing outside.  I hated dresses, and as of 3rd grade began refusing to wear them entirely.  I would not wear pink, make-up and purses held no fascination for me. 
For a long time, people thought this meant that I did not want to be a girl.  Hell, even I was convinced of that for a while.  But what has come more and more apparent to me over time is that being a girl is never what bothered me.  It was (and is) the false set of roles and restrictions that are handed to every child upon determination of their biological sex at birth.  Restrictions that are, inarguably, a lot more restrictive to the development of individuality in girls than they are to boys. 

Not only that, but our culture has a habit of frequently disparaging any and all of the things women are supposed to be interested in.  As a kid, this is very confusing-- on the one hand, there's a huge push to be interested in pink ponies, barbies, and make-up.  On the other hand, everywhere you turn there's someone implying that women's things (and by extension, women) are silly or stupid, and that men should rather be caught dead than in association with any of  these things. 
So as a girl, you get a choice-- subsume any individual interests and complexity you might actually have and evince interest in only "girly" things, thereby gaining acceptance among your female peers who have done the same (not to mention the adult society, which sees gender and meaning in every decision you make, and has vested interest in you bowing to the status quo).  Or reject all of these things, forcefully, and try making it in boy culture, which will allow for more diversity in what you can do, but no less condescension-- boys will still be mean to you and imply that you're less-than, you'll get to be the 'love interest' in every game they play, whether you want to or not, and at some stage  in development  they'll likely reject you entirely because girls "aren't allowed to play like that" once they hit puberty, apparently.  This was my experience, anyhow.
Now, I am not implying that my interests were entirely driven by rejection of gender roles either.  I was the oldest child, and my parents really started off on the right (non-gender specific) foot with me.  Later on they started pushing gender stereotypes on me more, which I think had more to do with the advent of my brother (I no longer got to be the "son they never had", now that they had a son).  But prior to that, most of my toys were dinosaurs, dragons, toy castles, and toy cars, planes, and helicopters.  I had a big toy castle, populated by knights and ghosts-- no princesses to be saved, all the girls were knights too, or wizards.  I received a microscope and a college textbook on human anatomy for my 5th birthday.

Where am I going with this?  I want to talk about how the concepts of "feminity" and "masculinity" are entirely socially constructed, and how incorrectly those terms are used anyhow.  I've just gotten done talking about how children feel immense societal pressure to perform gender based on the way adults conceive of it, and how adults conceive of gender in a way that's overall very bad for girls' self-esteem and individuality.  Now, I want to argue against the way we use the terms "girly", "boyish", "feminine", and "masculine".
I want to argue that I, as a child who loved science and dinosaurs, who refused dresses and the colour pink, who loved spending my time running around in the forest, was entirely feminine.  I also want to argue that I, as a woman with a shaved head, who doesn't wear make-up and loved to hike and run around outside, who is still interested in science and dinosaurs-- am also 100% feminine.  Because I identify as a woman.

Get that?  The fact that gender is far more complex than the either/or, binary concept that society is currently operating on is a topic for another post.  But what I'm saying here is that everything any self-identified woman does and is, is feminine.  And everything any self-identified man does and is, is masculine.  Because that is what those two terms mean. 

I am sick to death of hearing the word feminine used to shame men who do not fit the very artificial construct of what society deems men should be like.  And I am also sick to death of hearing women shamed with the term masculine, for being any of the things that men are privileged for being (assertive, muscular, loud, etc).  Pink dresses and ponies are not feminine, because they actually have nothing at all to do with girls or women.  Being interested in them or not has absolutely nothing at all to do with being female, and so the application of the label 'feminine' is entirely a false one.  Such an application of that label also leads to people extending the disdain they feel for such items* to women and girls-- something nobody deserves to have done to them.  If we're going to achieve complete equality, it's going to have to start with scrubbing hate from all of the obvious channels.  This includes language, and how we exercise it.

*Though the disdain felt for these items probably has a lot to do with the fact that they are associated with women and girls.  So what we need to do is stop creating this false dichotomy between interests-- that some things are "for girls", and some things are "for boys".

No comments: