First apologies for my neglect of this blog in favour of other writing engagements.
The Classically-minded or masochistic can read my gradually growing report on the Swords, Sorcery, Sandals, and Space: Fantastika and the Classical World Conference here. I am also still writing that godsforsaken article and trying to prep a business plan.
What I want to write about today however is the weirdness of being a woman. Not just that inevitable gripe about female hormonal shifts or a pseudo-feminist rant (which isn’t really my forte) – though both of those will turn up. Rather, what I want to try and express is the sense of disconnection I feel from my gender.
To forestall any questions.. I am perfectly content with the genitalia I was born with and at peace with the physical shape of my body. I have thought long and hard about whether or not I want male parts and male hormones (and yes if you gave me the opportunity I’d love to know what it feels like to have and use a penis) but whilst I’d comfortably give up menstruation I’m not sure I’m ready to give up a clitoris and womb. I think that now the conscious decision I made aged 9 that I want to act/dress/be treated as a man but have no actual desire to change my shape holds even more strongly (I’ve learnt to use my body for fun and quite frankly don’t want to re-learn that stuff).
I also want to point out that my problem is more fundamental than a desire not to be stereotypically ‘feminine’ – Its not just about not wearing make-up very often or the fact I don’t like shoe-shopping or gossiping and waxing or whatever girly girls do with their time. Though let’s be honest that type of femininity is a complete mystery to me. [I’d love to tell you I totally respect women for whom that works but whilst I defend their right to do it, I struggle to have any understanding of it.. sorry].
On the other hand I would be lying if I said it wasn’t, to a certain extent, about all the things that inaccessible to me as a woman.. certain monastic libraries and gentlemen’s clubs are pretty high on my lists of cool places to go.
Really though, I struggle with being female because I feel like someone made up a set of rules about how to do it but didn’t give them to me. Some of that I can recognise as social conditioning – though knowing it to be true does not automatically lessen the sense that one should conform – but some of it feels like being wired differently (even when it might also be social conditioning).
The social and cultural role of a woman isn’t just about material expressions of femininity (like looks and the way you dress) but shows up in the expectation that you are more empathetic and emotional and less aggressive and competitive than men, that you are shy/reserved but form large strong friendship groups amongst your peers, that you will have an instinctive skill with children but that your brain is less analytical… There are even social rules about how to be a lesbian and the way relationships should work. More capable people than me have drawn huge lists of traits, behaviour patterns and pathologies – some patently ridiculous and some undeniably statistically evident.
It feels weird and insidious. Research into how men and women’s brains differ creeps me out, advertising sucks and role models are hard to come by.
The good news is of course that I am personally lucky enough not only to choose to ignore most expectations thrust upon me but also to recognise them as unnecessary. What that doesn’t help with is the process of decoding the behaviour of other women. I can read body language on a basic level (Thankyou Desmond Morris’ Manwatching & Drama lessons) but there seem to be more subtle aspects of people’s behaviour that are based on social understanding of gender roles and I don’t get it.
So where is the manual girls? Is it because I didn’t read Cosmo or watch enough chick flicks? Or does everyone feel like this and not mention it because they are too busy acting out the roles they heard about?