In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.
~ Thomas Jefferson ~
Social cues about masculinity and femininity may not intentionally steer us into dark, bigoted corners of the psyche. Those sometimes almost-invisible prompts do it, nonetheless. Both insinuation and exhortation prompt us to develop attitudes that, in my view, poison our judgment and advance the causes of misogyny and misandry. Collectively, we claim we have contempt for the idiocy that suggests “real men” don’t cry and “real women” should behave like delicate flowers, but our behaviors say otherwise. We offer both verbal and unspoken rewards for identifying stereotypical male behavior and stereotypical female behavior. We equate stereotypically masculine traits like emotional toughness, assertiveness, physical stamina, and ruthlessness with “real” men. And we inflict the same judgments on women by supporting the idea that the “ideal” woman is the accommodating, emotional, weak, submissive, and soft counterpart to her male friends or partners.
Gender stereotypes have, as long as I can remember, just pissed me off. They are so obviously unhealthy that I find it hard to understand why we accept them and engage in behaviors that reward them. But we all do. I do, must to my chagrin. We do it because that is what we are taught to do. Even when we know better, the social indoctrination we undergo from the moment we emerge from the womb is damn near impossible to successfully counter. The fact that it begins so early and is woven so tightly into the fabric of nearly all cultures suggests those wrong-headed ideas may, in fact, be hard-wired into us. Yet innate behaviors or beliefs are not necessarily correct behaviors or beliefs. When we notice the harm they do to ourselves and those around us, one would think we would strive to correct whatever “natural” tendency we have toward embracing them. But observation of the world around me tells me we tend to ignore actual experience in favor of buying into idiotic tales that worship the falsehoods of “proper” gender roles.
Men who submit to and/or display their emotions are deemed weak, soft…feminine, in other words. Women who are assertive, display emotional resilience and so forth are…masculine. I have seen men who possess “feminine” traits respond by hiding those aspects of their personalities and bolstering the more traditional masculine behaviors; becoming artificially hyper-masculine in the process. I have seen the same reaction in women, who respond by hiding their “masculine” sides and presenting über-feminine. But I’ve also seen the opposites: men who seem to completely reject socially-acceptable masculinity in favor of embracing femininity in the extreme and women who discard feminine behaviors and replace them with pseudo-masculinity. Maybe those reactions to society and to their own feelings about gender are healthy and natural, but I suspect they may be angry, reactive responses to what amounts to flat-out bigotry.
From a personal perspective, I have never been able to “control” my emotional side; I possess both deep sensitivity that leads easily to tears and innate responsive anger that leads too easily to fierce displays of its fury. I find it much easier to control anger than to turn off the spigot of emotional tears. But in both cases, I think I should control the emotions because, in the case of anger, it is too hyper-masculine and, in the case of emotionality leading to tears, it is too feminine. Both intellectual/emotional reactions to emotions are stereotypical. And wrong, in my view.
I’ll include a quotation at the end of this post, a reminder to myself that I can avoid much disappointment if only I’ll adjust to life as it is, not as I want it to be.
I started out writing the masculinity/femininity paragraphs above with a different objective than they finally took. The thesis I intended to address is far too involved to cover in one blog post, especially since it would require more stamina than I have this morning. Suffice it to say that I am tired of witnessing society treating the natural display of emotions and behaviors as “right” or “wrong” depending on the gender of the actor. In my opinion, all of us should adopt a life-long mantra of “live and let live.” I only wish I could really embrace that wished-for attitude, in place of the one I too often embrace. My bigotry against hyper-masculine redneck hillbillies does not fit into my dream culture. But I’m working on it. “It” being myself, not the dream culture.
The poetry readings at church yesterday were impressive. Our church is peopled with some very talented folks. But my reading was, as usual, a little choppy. I stumbled over words and syllables. And I read too fast. At one point in the past, I thought I had gotten over my tendency to speed through my words, but yesterday I demonstrated that I had not. A few people said they liked what I wrote, but that I delivered the poems too fast. And I knew that. Yesterday, in my defense, I wanted to keep within my five-minute limit; some other readers apparently were not as concerned with the time restrictions they were asked to live within. If I had slowed my reading by twenty-five percent, I would have spent less time than several others did, but my delivery would have been better. Such is life. I read some “old” poems yesterday because I am not satisfied with any of my more recent poetry; it’s all too dark to be suited to a Sunday morning “church” serve. Whereas others might write about butterflies and newborn fawns, my stuff is more likely to deal with personal demons and intolerable loss. My readings may be better suited to a bookstore than to a church.
You’ll always be disappointed when you expect people to act as you would.
~ Anonymous ~
Oh, how very, very true.