Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Seven things meme: special gender edition!

Adjunct Whore tapped me for this meme, which seems essentially indistinguishable from the "eight things" meme that was going around this summer--so for kicks I've decided to limit my seven bits of personal trivia to matters of gender (if anyone wishes to declare this a new meme, and run with it, be my guest).

1. When I was a child, I believed that all cats were female and all dogs were male. I consider this a revealing autobiographical detail.

2. I spent most of high school and college strongly disliking/being uncomfortable with being female. I wasn't a tomboy, and the majority of my friends have always been women, but I didn't feel that I really knew how to "do" female (and to the extent that I did, I resented it). All my artistic and intellectual heroes were men.

3. My freshman year I shared a suite with five other women, and I think it was then that I consciously began to socialize myself as female. I paid a lot of attention to the way my suitemates spoke and acted and moved through the world--everything from how they dressed and talked about their bodies to how they teased, comforted, and traded confidences with their friends.

4. I was a successful student of such matters. But although I now read as pretty femme--heels and makeup and all that--I consider this an elaborate and rather hilarious ruse. At the same time, the fact that other people don't get the joke makes me wonder who was mastering (or being mastered by) what.

5. Whenever I'm trying to remember where I heard something or whom I told a particular story to (you know: who was it I was talking to about. . . ?) the one detail I'm instantly sure of is my conversation partner's gender. I may have no idea how recently a conversation took place, or where, or any other details, but I always know whether the person I was talking with was male or female.

6. In college I had this bit that I did whenever someone told me a story about his or her romantic trials. "Oh, man," I'd say. "That's totally going in my book. You know, the book I'm writing? Women Are Mean, Men Are Stupid? Yeah. You'll be Chapter Six."

7. I relate to my freshman women who dislike the term "feminist"; who refuse to believe that their opportunities aren't absolutely equal to those of their male peers; who think that suggesting there are structural inequities--or even just problems importantly unique to women--amounts to playing victim or asking for special favors (if they're struggling, it must be because they aren't smart enough or tough enough or good enough). I felt that way for a long time. Sometimes I wish I still did.

12 comments:

JustMe said...

omg, you should totally write that book!

Propter Doc said...

RE No. 7 - I'm glad it isn't just me that feels this. And you should write a book. I want to hear more about the girl cats and boy dogs.

Dance said...

7 is poignant, 6 is hilarious, re 5: in similar situations, I can almost always recall what either I or the person was wearing.

That's an ideal book to write by means of a series of blog posts for later compilation, no?

timna said...

I can never remember what anyone was wearing.
I think I missed the freshman seminar on doing femme.
On the other hand, it's my ws students who are convinced that there are no structural barriers and if each person just tries hard enough, everything is possible.

Flavia said...

Yes, I often think of that book I was supposedly writing--and I think I could still write it today!

The point, of course, isn't that women in some meaningful sense ARE meaner than men, or men stupider than woman, but that those are the ways we tend to characterize each gender when we want to portray it negatively. (And I will freely admit that I make remarks along these lines all the time, about both women and men.)

Think about this romantic situation: your friend has been left by his/her partner for another person. If it's a woman who's done the leaving, the commentary is all about what a bitch she is, and probably how she's trading up or has decided she can do better and must never really have loved your friend to begin with. If it's a man, we might make similar remarks. . . but they're usually couched differently. We may say he's an asshole, sure (the equivalent of calling the woman a bitch), but we focus primarily on things like his not knowing how good he had it; thinking with his dick; not understanding that a relationship takes work, etc. He's an idiot. She's One Cold Bitch.

I don't know precisely why this is--is it because we expect women to be nicer, and therefore are more appalled when they seem not to be? Is it because women are more likely than men to be more attuned to the nuances of a relationship--and certainly to talk about and dissect them--and we perceive the female tendency to criticize and critique as potentially heartless and calculating, while the (at least perceived) lack of such a tendency on the male side suggests cluelessness?

I don't know. I also don't know whether these perceptions map equally well onto homosexual relationships--my sense, from my queer friends, is that they still obtain, but I'm working with a much smaller sample size.

Flavia said...

Oh, yeah, and as for the cat/dog thing: I have no idea how I actually arrived at this misconception--it might have been that the cats and dogs I first encountered were all female/male, respectively--but ever since I've been old enough to reflect on my error I've assumed that it said something meaningful about my early perception of/beliefs about gender and temperament.

And really, one could say that the cat/dog binary aligns in certain ways with mean/stupid. What do people who don't like cats say about them? They're sneaky and unfriendly. What do people who don't like dogs say about them? They're dumb and needy.

(Mind now: I'm not endorsing any of this--not the negative portraits I've drawn of either dogs or cats, nor their alignment with male/female characteristics; if I ever believed any of these things to be true, I certainly don't now.)

c . . . said...

in my phenomenal sample size of one, i find that conversations with same gender friends about same gender partner are always difficult and unsuccessful (in terms of blowing off frustration) in part because those easy stereotypes aren't available... one can't appeal to a shared characteristic with friends in order to highlight the opposite gender-based flaws of the partner...

so maybe those stereotypes, in addition to being a vestige of sexism, are also useful coping mechanisms...

Clio Bluestocking said...

Oh gosh! I thought #1, too, as a kid. Also, I insisted that the Pink Panther, Bugs Bunny, and the Road Runner were girls.

I'm rather releived to find that others felt #7 as well. I read an article by Gloria Steinham, written in the late 1970s, that said roughly the same thing. Feminists are made from experience.

miss d said...

women are mean, men are stupid. that's probably a multi-volume series. i don't know if i would have enough time or shelf space for that. on the other hand, it would probably balance out the proust. and probably be a whole lot more fun to read.

Flavia said...

C...:

I think that's exactly right: these stereotypes are partly coping mechanisms--or maybe more accurately a means of homosocial bonding: us against them.

Renaissance Girl said...

Strange: when *I* was a kid, I was convinced that all animate creatures not explicitly identified as female were male. I still have that, a bit: if I should happen upon a goat, I would later refer to it as "he." This strange habit extends to inanimate things as well: toy animals and even vehicles. And I relate to #2 so much, except that my artistic and intellectual heroes are STILL men, and I've still got lots of issues w/ being female. Clearly, I need to start up a new course of therapy....

Flavia said...

RG: thanks for your comment. It's interesting to me, in light of what you say, that you chose an unambiguously female pseudonym--interesting to me because I'm very aware of having done the same thing, both here and on my previous blog. It wasn't a deliberate choice, or at least not a conscious one, on my part, but I think it was and remains a significant one.