So I have always been described as a ‘girly girl’. I like pink, I like flowers, I like pretty dresses and high heels. I don’t have a sense of direction (it’s not just bad, it’s non-existent), I hate watching sport and I don’t like mud.
People around me suggest that I’m the stereotype of ‘feminine’ because I’m highly strung, physically weak and have a tendency to get ditsy and confused on occasion. However I have always been one of those girls who is far more comfortable with men. You see, I’m one of those obnoxious people who rather shamefully likes ‘banter’ (provided it steers away from any misogynist, racist, homophobic or just plain mean lines), I like action movies, I read the finance sections of the newspaper and I find the offside rule really easy to understand. I hate shopping, I would rather have my eyes gouged out than watch a chick flick, I can’t cook, I don’t like wearing make up and I’m the archetypal, anti-romantic ‘Valentine’s Day Denier’.
It’s not that I don’t like women or that women don’t like me. Far from it. I have a lot of close female friends who I love and adore but if I’m walking into a room full of strangers I naturally gravitate towards the male side of the room. A lot of people find this strange. This may be to do with my high school days as a wallflower and the mental scars of too many P.E. classes with the mean girls or spending my early childhood running around sailing in Essex with a group of friends who were mostly boys but I have always felt judged or on edge around women I didn’t know.
When it came to the first AWOT meet up back in December I’ll admit I was a little nervous about being alone in a room with sixty or so women. Thankfully they all turned out to be lovely, friendly women who all accepted my eccentricities without challenge and I have no idea why I even worried. Although the reason we were all there because we had our gender in common (as well as a love of gin and cake), we were not all defined by it. We all came from different walks of life, had different interests and different life stories. We are women yes but that’s not all we are and many of us shared our supposedly unusually ‘male’ traits. None of us fits into the stereotyped ‘feminine’ box.
This got me thinking, why are we defined principally as male and female before most other criteria? Why do women have to like shopping and men have to like sport? A lot of my university course lately has been focusing on gender as social construct and how this has limited our understanding of both women and men. Women are socialised to be ‘weak’ and ‘feminine’ and men are ‘strong’ and ‘masculine’; my enjoyment of male things and male company is somehow ‘not normal’ because it shows commonality with men when in social terms they must remain the distant ‘other’.
Yesterday for instance, is seen as an aberration where women can ‘take the day off’ from fainting, embroidering and doing other meek and mild lady things to suddenly become assertive like men for 24 hours. Doing this full time would be far too taxing for us ‘weak’ womenfolk you see. The idea of a woman proposing marriage to her boyfriend would suggest too much control over her own life and decisions; women do not do the chasing, we are supposed to wait to be caught.
The obsession with putting people and their sexes in boxes is a hangover from the Victorian period when dubious psychological and medical theories abounded about personality and sexuality. One particularly influential one was that homosexuality was the result of a defective ‘third sex’ that was neither male or female which formed part of the moral panic that lead to Oscar Wilde’s obscenity trial in 1895. Homosexuals were victimised during this period, and largely are still now, because they don’t fit into the norms of what is ‘male and what is ‘female’.
The ‘Coalition For Marriage’ discussed in Tuesday’s blog post is based on the assumption that ‘one man’ and ‘one woman’ can be defined and their idea of marriage is based on a strict sexual binary which simply does not exist. I am a woman yes but when I was going back for a double helping of the X chromosome I didn’t miss out on the queue for some of those stereotypically male traits either. I am many, sometimes contradictory, things that make one unique whole and my gender is only a small part of it; I refuse to let it define me nor can it describe anyone else.
Caroline is a student at Birmingham University. She’s also a freelance journalist and blogger, providing insights into political, social, and economic news from around the world. You can follow her on Twitter here, or you can check out her superb blog here.