I hate it whenever someone puts me in a box.
It’s usually pretty dark in there and my claustrophobia starts to kick in right quick. If I am lucky, someone poked some air holes in there pre-melissa-insertion.
So when I say “puts me in a box,” I usually mean “makes assumptions about me” or “has rigid expectations of me.” When this happens, The Melissa gets quite angry and ranty, and few topics get my goat worse than when it comes to gender issues and the like.
To be clear, let’s define the word “gender.” Here I will be using the feminist theory definition of gender as a social construction apart from biological sex. Even though it is pretty commonly accepted, the terms sex and gender are not synonymous. Sex refers to a person’s anatomy, chromosomes, etc. Gender refers to the social roles and behaviors we perform. Sex is a physical state while gender is a mental one. An easy and fun way to remember this is that ‘sex is between your legs and gender is between your ears.’ Teehee!
While gender often matches a person’s sex (a biological man often plays the social roles of a male), it does not have to, and is so much more complicated and dynamic than the rigid binary boxes society has created for sex and gender. In actuality, both sex and gender (as well as sexual orientation, but that’s a whole other post) exist on more of a spectrum with there being lots of shades of gray in between. For the time being I wanna focus on gender and all the awesome variations and shades of gray.
Gender is something that we do. Gender is performed, gender is behavior and a way we express ourselves in the world. The most obvious way that we do gender is by how we visually present our bodies with clothing, hair (or lack of hair), nails, makeup (or lack of), accessories, etc. This past week I wore a tie to work. I have worn ties a few times before, but last week I wore my own tie – pretty purple paisleys. I got a variety of reactions, from non-reactions to giggling to compliments to asking me what the tie was for. I think it’s fair to say that most of those reactions imply that me -a lady- wearing a tie -male clothing- does not match the binary categories. To be fair, if I had walked into work wearing a prom dress (a matching sex/gender combo), I might still have gotten the same reactions just because of the variable (in a long list of possible variables) of the office dress code.
I was also invited to a mustache party (nothing kinky, I swear), where mustaches were mandatory, regardless of gender. What a hoot! Both my partner and I were sans mustaches, so I drew one on each of us using my black and brown eyeliners. How’s THAT for genderbending – I used a traditionally-marketed-to-female-gendered product to paint a bio-male thingy on my bio-female face. Woot.
I find it interesting to see how I feel when I test the boundaries of traditional gender categories, depending on what I am doing and how public it is. One of my clinical supervisors encourages us to identify what ways we defy gender norms without even thinking about it – by being ourselves – since who fits into the categories 100% of the time? Answer: no one.
As a lady-person, I get to have lots more safe space in which to play with genderbending than men do, and I think that sucks. We live in a world where I can wear a tie to work and just get some giggles, but if my partner wore a dress to work, he would have much bigger, more serious consequences. That’s called a double standard and I hate it, hate it. What are people doing to defy these stupid, stupid rules??! I want to hear them!
No wonder we genderize things – our use of language demands it so! We have three singular pronouns we use: he, she, and it. We lack any mainstream way of referring to a person whose gender is unknown or outside the binary without dehumanizing that person by saying “it.” How horrible is that? It may not sound like much of a crisis, but I definitely think it informs, fuels, and traps us in these harmful, restricting binaries. On a sidenote – did you know that we have actually do have gender-neutral pronouns? That’s pretty effing awesome! No more using “they” as an awkward singular in term papers.
People get sooooo uncomfortable when they can’t put people/things/COLORS into gender categories. Why is this? Animals and human babies are a good example for this, since they don’t have gender. They simply don’t got it. Animals act instinctively based on their biological sex and that’s it, while humans develop gender gradually as their brain and social skills/world develops. But when we get them as pets and baby humans, we assign them a gender using names and colored collars (you know, baby collars. all the cool moms are doing it). Without these names and collars, we don’t know what pronoun to use and people. go. nuts. If a person doesn’t know a baby/animal’s gender, they usually either ask or refer to it as masculine. Have you or anyone you know been scared that someone would mistake your baby/cat/lizard for the wrong gender? Has anyone mistaken the gender? Did you correct phe? (<—-gender neutral pronoun! How useful!) Why or why not? Why is it important to us that we project gender onto our things? I find the discomfort around this subject absolutely fascinating, and I draw attention to it so that maybe others might get curious about why going against the traditional grain gets us so uncomfortable.
That reminds me, I was wrapping xmas presents yesterday, and my frugal self has two kinds of wrapping paper: a light blue one that says “Happy Holidays” so it can be used for xmas and Hanukkah, and one with assorted yellow and pink stripes to use for all occasions. As I was making decisions about what to wrap in what, I realized I was choosing to wrap presents intended for males in the blue-based paper and females with the pink paper. This will not do. Buuut, my gut reaction to thinking about wrapping against gender norms made me uncomfortable. My actual thought was more about me not wanting to offend any of my male family members (take note that I had no worries about offending the females with this arrangement). Oh dear me. The solution? I said ‘fuck it’ and did it opposite. Now, don’t give me a Nobel Peace Prize. All I am saying is that the simplest damned things like this crop up all the time, and collectively, they mean something. Stop and think about what they might mean.
Ways I defy gender norms by crawling out of my box:
- I hate cooking, I am not good at it, and I don’t wanna cook for you or anyone else. So there.
- I wear ties. With gusto.
- I wrapped xmas presents in paper with pink stripes that are intended for men.
How do you crawl out of your box? (the assumption I am making here is that everyone defies gender norms. booyah.)
For additional reading, check out this awesome blog post about one teacher working to abolish gender binaries by educating her students!! Makes me so excited about life!
Really interesting post! I do think that we all try to conform in one way or another…whatever our definition of “man” or “woman” or “neither” is. Everyone has something they strive to be. It’s human nature.
When I was in junior high kids always insisted I was a lesbian. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but I wasn’t. Because I liked to wear oversize t-shirts and play sports people just assumed I was homosexual. That still really bothers me to this day because it takes away people’s freedom to choose their definitions of themselves.
GREAT ‘stache, by the way.
Thanks. Absolutely agree re: taking away freedom. I mean in that it’s bad. And that people shouldn’t do it. The end.