When I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to have toy cars, GI Joes, short hair or a room that wasn’t pink, because I was a girl. I had to wear pretty things and play with dolls and act like a little lady. This despite the fact that my mother had served in the military, refused to wear a dress and was all in all a terrible role model for traditional femininity. The pressure to be girly abated somewhat as I grew older. This was possibly due to her dawning realization that years of encouraging my Barbie fetish was placing her in real danger of having a little fashionista to support. I think she was secretly relieved when I embraced heavy metal, ripped jeans and band t-shirts in junior high. She didn’t express her gratitude very well however, and went around drawing crosses through all my pentagrams.
I also wasn’t allowed to phone boys, despite one of my best friends being one. I was supposed to wait demurely for him to call, even if I had an important question to ask about an assignment we were working on together. I eventually won that battle when I pointed out that my bad grades would be all her fault, and get with the times already, Mom!
If these things seemed really stupid back then, they seem straight up absurd to me now. Why was she telling me that I had to like pink and ruffles and shit “because you’re a girl” when she clearly didn’t? Why couldn’t I have toy soldiers “because they’re boy toys” when she used to wear combat boots? Why in fuck’s name was a boy supposed to read my mind and call me when I wanted to talk? Why was she equipping me for a future she herself had rejected?
Because she made some assumptions about my potential based on my gender, assumptions instilled in her as a little girl being forced to wear pink ribbons, and for a long time retained them even in the face of contrary evidence. And we all do it, all the time, and we need to be aware of this. Some of us have worked hard to root out our assumptions, but I think it isn’t possible for most of us to entirely escape the habit. When you are daily barraged by deeply ingrained social thinking habits, it’s really hard not to take them on. And when you don’t happen to fit the mold, it’s really hard not to get pissed about it. And guys? Very few of us fit the mold.
In case you’re thinking this is me going off on a feminist rant, I’m about to go to bat for the dudes too. My aforementioned boy-bestie stopped playing with me for a week one time because of the merciless teasing of the other boys after they caught us playing with my dolls. The fact that we were drowning the dolls in a puddle in the schoolyard while pretending to be badass evil giants didn’t change this a bit, and he got humiliated for it. So we switched to pet rocks that we drew faces on, and he built an entire house for them out of cardboard which he delighted in decorating. And it didn’t stop there. By puberty he had developed a great love for Madonna and made a series of videos called MaJohnna: The John Ambition Tour, in really bad drag. And now he’s a gay rights activist who successfully sued the pants off a preacher for gay-bashing in the church newsletter. Which I suppose goes to show that if rotten little third-grade bullies call you gay, they might be right. And that’s fine. So why do they have to be jerks about it?
More than once I’ve been told that sexism and gender-based privilege/disadvantage is mostly in my head. Oh yeah? Tell that to the trans folks of Reddit. It occurred to me that the only people who would have a really clear understanding of the way gender is perceived in society are people who’ve lived both sides of the question, so I asked. And yes I used Reddit. Don’t judge me.
The answers I got were a pretty insightful look at the specific issues each gender faces. The men said that they had an easier time finding work in engineering and mechanical fields than they had previously, as well as better service in places like auto parts stores. One guy said he had a gender neutral first name and as soon as he started referring to himself as Mr. Kelly Smith (as opposed to just Kelly Smith) on his resume he got a lot more callbacks regardless of the type of job he applied for. However they also found that people were less friendly to them in general and that they felt under a lot more pressure at work. One guy who worked in call centers both pre and post transition said that angry customers held back on him a lot less as a man.
The women who answered said they felt validated and frustrated at the same time. Validated because the guys holding doors open for them and helping carry their stuff was proof that the world now regarded them as female. Frustrated because they were treated like children, taken less seriously, talked over in conversations and objectified in a way they’d never imagined.
So yeah, this is a problem. A big, ugly, widespread, universal problem that gets reinforced every time someone says, “Man up, pussy.” Take a look at that phrase and see it as the insidious and telling statement that it is. Man UP, because you are acting like a clearly inferior person of the sort that has a vagina. Elevate yourself above that weak and emotional vagina having-like state and be a man, which is clearly a better, stronger, smarter thing to be. Bro.
Truth. Also truth? Betty White never said this.
The more trans people come out, the more I realize that gender isn’t a binary, it’s a spectrum, and it really has fuck all to do with what’s in your pants. Much like intelligence, competence, strength and aptitude has fuck all to do with what’s in your pants. So get your mind out of my goddamn pants! When the same person with the same qualities, same intelligence, same skill, same mind and same soul gets suddenly treated as inferior because she grew a pair of tits, we as a society have a very long way to go.
So let’s go there. Don’t shame men for “feminine” traits like feelings. Don’t call assertive women bossy. Don’t make your son feel weird if he happens to like playing with dolls, and if you don’t want your daughter to grow up with a deep suspicion of things mechanical and a crippling phobia of driving that persists into adulthood, maybe just let her play with the damn toy car. Maybe we can evolve into a society of well-adjusted persons who aren’t limited by our genitalia.
Yeah, that’d be nice.