Gender is weird. Coming from a sociological background I’m obligated to say it’s also a construct more than it’s a black-and-white, tangible thing. For the most part, my personal experiences with gender have to do with appreciating the woman parts of me and hopefully lifting up other folks who identify as such. They’re about rejecting misogyny and weeding out how patriarchal forces make life harder than it has to be.
Occasionally, they are about negotiating what parts of femininity and masculinity I accept and reject; it feels healthy to ask myself what influences my actions. Because really, a good 40% of the time when I think or am told “You can’t do that” it has something to do with my gender, and when I dissect those rules or limits it almost always boils down to an outside entity trying to control/harass/oppress/quiet/overpower women. For example, when women tell me they would never carry a condom on a night out, my response is usually, “Well, who made that rule and be beholden to their authority?” It’s worthwhile, a lot of the time, to just trace those preferences back to the source and realize, “God damnit, I only get these bumps and nicks and shit because some ad whiz in the 20’s decided to publicly shame women’s furry legs in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar.”
Why don’t I stop shaving my legs? Why do I wear makeup? Why do I let my hair grow long? Why don’t I challenge my classmates and teachers more? Why did I order that girly drink? Why do I feel self-conscious if my midriff shows? Why is the way I carry myself boy-ish one day and girl-ish another? Why did I let that person buy dinner on our first date? Why didn’t I just flirt back? Why do I buy women’s razors and underwear and toiletries and socks? And so on.
That being said, the Don Drapers and regular old Joes of history have undoubtedly done a number on the masculinity front too.
I’ve gotten a feel for what masculinity means when I’ve had to play the “man of the house.” Note: I am not at all trying to claim I know what it likes to be assigned male at birth, or to identify as a man some or all of the time. This is only a sort of insight from the outside.
Since my parents divorced several years ago and my dad moved out, I would say I became the de facto “man of the house” at least when I was home from university. That’s not to say my mom and sister didn’t do housework that is traditionally men’s (taking out the garbage, household maintenance, etc.) but I was the go-to for such tasks, especially in earlier years. Fishing a lizard out of our dog’s mouth, pumping gas, preparing emergency kits, dealing with electronics, doing repairs on our cabinets, painting rooms, checking the circuit breaker, replacing windshield wiper fluid, changing lightbulbs, and so on. It was interesting that a man exiting the house (despite remaining in our lives) created a vacuum.
So it’s hit me in bits over the years, it must be a lot of pressure to be expected to fill those roles. Generally, in my experience if I don’t know how to do a woman’s “duty” (how to make a sandwich hur hur, iron clothes, change a baby’s diaper, sew, etc.) I don’t get all that much blowback from my peers and family. I make it a point to know how to do a lot of these things at least enough to get by – otherwise I’d be spending a lot more $$ replacing holey sweaters and tights – and I don’t read a whole lot of Cosmo or Harper’s Bazaar, so maybe that helps. But I have witnessed and heard of so many instances when men were called out or ridiculed for not knowing how to do something, where their whole gender and identity was called into question.
If I don’t know how to iron, nobody tells me I’m not who I think I am. Alternately, if say a dude is out at a park playing with his own child, at best it’s accepted without comment but just as likely someone treats it as an aberration (“Mom’s day off, huh?”) or calls the cops. If my friend is a man who can’t change a tire, he’s apparently let his whole gender down.
While writing this, a Google search turned up articles like, “5 Super-Sneaky Ways To Get Your Man To Do Actual Housework,” “36 Household Chores Men Don’t Bother to Do,” and “Ending the Chore Wars: How to Get Your Mate to Help on the Home Front.” Granted, household work should probably be balanced between partners and that’s not always the case (exacerbated by policies that punish parenthood). But the above titles make ugly presumptions about men, and dynamics like this probably make a weird time of it for single parents, or gay couples – or honestly just for every person in a household.
Recently, I went to the hardware store and told the guy at the counter I was looking for some material for a screen door. His response: “What, you’re going to replace it yourself?” I grinned cheerfully and said, “Yup” and said it again when he asked if I had the other supplies I’d need. I wasn’t offended, but that’s probably because I’ve had my fair share of moments when I was the only woman at the car service desk or the hardware store.
It did make me curious about the dynamics around that exchange, though. I highly doubt a man would be asked the same thing in the same way, but it’d be awful to come into that exchange as a dude who wasn’t omniscient about household repair.
Again, I want to emphasize how much I don’t think I know what it feels like for a boy~ in this world. It’s just intriguing to get insights into how masculinity is perpetuated. I’m not all that phased if someone assumes because I’m a woman I can’t do x, y, and z because they’re just being sexist; however, if someone told me I wasn’t valid as a woman because I lacked some knowledge or skill I think I’d be insecure and pissed. Guaranteed that sort of thing happens to everyone of all genders, so thank God I don’t hear it much personally or it would do my head in.
This is me trying for empathy, and wondering at the bizarreness of how tasks are gendered. They just need doing, sometimes they’re fun and sometimes they’re not. It’s nice when everyone shares the work load and even nicer when no matter your gender, you can walk into a Home Depot without feeling scrutinized from all sides.
I welcome discussion about what I’ve said here! Should we resent being expected to fulfill certain responsibilities? Have you ever felt out of place or invalidated while you were just trying to get stuff done?