Teachers are often unaware of the gender distribution of talk in their classrooms. They usually consider that they give equal amounts of attention to girls and boys, and it is only when they make a tape recording that they realize that boys are dominating the interactions. Dale Spender, an Australian feminist who has been a strong advocate of female rights in this area, noted that teachers who tried to restore the balance by deliberately ‘favouring’ the girls were astounded to find that despite their efforts they continued to devote more time to the boys in their classrooms. Another study reported that a male science teacher who managed to create an atmosphere in which girls and boys contributed more equally to discussion felt that he was devoting 90 per cent of his attention to the girls. And so did his male pupils. They complained vociferously that the girls were getting too much talking time.
In other public contexts, too, such as seminars and debates, when women and men are deliberately given an equal amount of the highly valued talking time, there is often a perception that they are getting more than their fair share. Dale Spender explains this as follows:
“The talkativeness of women has been gauged in comparison not with men but with silence. Women have not been judged on the grounds of whether they talk more than men, but of whether they talk more than silent women.”
In other words, if women talk at all, this may be perceived as ‘too much’ by men who expect them to provide a silent, decorative background in many social contexts."
One of the reasons I identify as genderqueer is that I naturally have a communication style most often found in/attributed to men. I still have some of the reticence and self-censorship that’s beaten into most women, but by and large, I learned how to communicate like my (big, loudmouth) dad instead of my (submissive) mom. I say what I think, I stand my ground in arguments, I speak up for myself and others who get shit, etc. I don’t—won’t—shut up unless I’m listening to or learning from someone who has earned my respect.
What’s fascinating to me is that I’ve actually gotten more blowback for this from women than from men. Maybe it’s because I read male or at least tomboy in other ways that many men eventually just think of me as one of them and don’t punish me for crossing lines? I’m butch and ugly—definitely not potential fuck or girlfriend material—so men don’t read me as a woman that way; I’m not a potential conquest they need to subdue. I also don’t usually push their mom/mother-in-law buttons, so they don’t read me that way, either. Of course, plenty still hate me for having the audacity not to be sexually attractive and therefore available to them, or at least to bake them cookies and wash their drawers like Dear Old Mum. Some also hate me for not being easy to categorize—quelle horreur! However, many also just mentally categorize me as “dude with tits” if they can’t make me fit any prefab “chick” mold in their brains. Queer and queer-friendly guys, of course, just slip me into a dyke and/or fag-hag space, and I fit nicely there. (TBH, I kind of am a classic dyke. I just prefer pretty boys over pretty girls.)
Many women, on the other hand, react much more poorly. Some can slip me into a “Dude Lite” category and deal with me just fine, but those who still see me as a cis woman interpret my personality as pushy, domineering, unwilling to work toward consensus or even downright violent. I once got accused of making a threat because I asked a colleague if we could take our argument somewhere else, to avoid further disrupting the meeting we were in! Here I was trying to calm things down and it got interpreted as a call to fight! Women—even many queer and feminist ones—are used to a certain type of verbal and physical rhythm with other women, and I don’t easily harmonize with them like that. I’ve tried to change—I’ve made a lot of effort toward being more gentle and deferent—but I feel like I’m in a cage if I do too much of that. I also feel like I’m being a passive-aggressive bullshit artist, and I hate that. I pride myself on being honest and straightforward, and I won’t gut that just to act how a woman is “supposed” to—even if it’s other women giving me that pressure. I try my best not to be actually hostile or domineering, but just being plain-spoken instead of soft-selling everything gets read as being aggressive, because many women simply don’t expect that from other women. (And don’t get me started on essentialists who think I’m actually the enemy because I don’t fit their paradigm. Bleh.)
To be clear, I’m not saying that women are the cause of this issue—that’s sexism, which is rooted in wannabe alpha males trying to dominate everyone else. However, I think it would be a lot easier for us to get what we all need if we weren’t enforcing sexist gender norms on each other, too. I am not a sexist just because I don’t hobble myself the same way many women have been violently coerced into doing. Speaking up for myself doesn’t mean that I’m speaking over everyone else. Don’t do actual sexists’ dirty work for them by beating up others for not meeting sexism-created standards, yeah?
I really wish we had more diverse media examples of confident women’s sexuality. Women who don’t look, act, or dress like a Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog have great sex every day, but we almost never see it.
The net result is that millions of young women come to believe that if they want to get laid, that’s what they should be, even if that bears absolutely no resemblance to who they are outside of their sexuality. Out of bed, women come in millions of different flavors, but once sex comes into the picture, suddenly almost everyone is trying to be the same thing, or at least as close to it as they can get. Needless to say, this tends to lead to lousy sex.
Sex itself does not begin and end with a busty, blonde 22-year-old in a push-up bra, so why is that almost all we see for symbolic representations of it? Even if one aspect of the archetype changes—age, race, or body type, for instance—everything else stays the same. Boring!
Folks, you don’t have to do the boobies-heels-and-minidress thing to convey that you’re interested in sex. Just be yourself, and directly ask the person you’re interested in. I can pretty much guarantee that any sex that results from this approach is going to be a thousand percent better than what you’ll attract the other way, because your partner will be wanting to have sex with you, not the person you’re trying to be.
Digging through some old docs and ran across this kind of dorktastic analogy for gender and the problematic aspects thereof:
- Houses are constructed, not organic. (They’re real things, but humans build them, and can change how they build them to suit changes in culture or individual needs)
- Wood-burning fireplaces are common parts of houses, but not essential to being considered a house.
- At one time, they were necessary—in colder climates—but that time has passed.
- Some people still need fireplaces in their houses to survive. That’s OK, but …
- Fireplaces do contribute to pollution.
- Therefore, bricking up a fireplace, installing one that burns cleanly, or not installing one at all is a good choice to make.
Where “house” = gender and “fireplace” = potentially problematic aspect.
For example: Sexual aggressiveness is a problematic aspect of masculine gender, but it isn’t an organic part of anyone’s being, much less essential to masculinity itself. Choosing to build one’s “house” of masculinity without that “fireplace” of sexual aggressiveness is therefore not only possible but important to do to avoid the “pollution” that “fireplace” causes. Make sense, even with as silly as the analogy is?
The trick, of course, is convincing people that yes, gender is actually constructed, and something we have enough active control over to be able to edit as needed. Too many people believe that not only positive traits/behaviors but negative ones are intrinsic parts of gender, and therefore there’s no getting around them (see: boys will be boys.) Gendering behavior and traits in and of itself is wholly constructed and arbitrary, however (there’s nothing inherently feminine about cooking, for instance), and therefore there’s no such thing as a single behavior or trait that is absolutely essential to a given gender. That means that yes, we CAN throw out the bad stuff without dismantling gender identity itself.
A rare few people might insist that their own gender identity requires $badthing, but, well, they’re full of shit. Gender is more like a religion than anything else: both scripture and doctrines can vary while still being under the same general umbrella. It ain’t like Catholics and UCCers both have the same rules about sex, yet they’re both Christian. And just like we can pressure religions to stop doing rotten shit in the name of God, and amazingly they still manage to remain the same religion (I’m looking at you, Mormons), we can do the same for gender. If we do, eventually everyone will have a “house” they can truly call home.
As I just mentioned on Twitter: I think the solution to my ongoing problem is to start telling people that my gender identity is Alan Cumming.
Well, if Alan Cumming looked like a less-hairy Thorin with boobs.
"Bisexual theatre queen" fits me pretty darn well, actually.
A Tangerine’s Dream
Having gender issues lately, and lit upon a dorky, but kinda fun way to explain why I feel so alienated right now. Click the cut to watch as I torture a metaphor to death! Whee!
Genderqueer is a reasonably useful label for me, but I think it’s more accurate to say I’m a gender atheist. Fair enough if others want to follow a faith that speaks to them, but to me, it’s kind of all just silly, pointless ritual and I have better things to do with my time/energy. I’d also really rather people didn’t proselytize in my face, much less try to pressure or even force me into joining their church. I cant force myself into a belief I simply don’t have.
Unfortunately, being an atheist when most folks are at least nominal believers is very isolating, and it doesn’t help that many of my fellow atheists are really kind of assholes about it.
holy shit there is a name for it
I identify as neither ace nor aro and I get this sometimes.
Oh my gosh there’s finally a word for “I don’t always feel it but when I do I don’t want it”!!!!
THIS FUCKING CHANGES EVERYTHING
I like gay porn, but I don’t want to interrupt. This is what I’m doing
I like gay porn, but I don’t want to interrupt.
This is very interesting. I’m definitely not asexual, but surprisingly, I can relate to this feeling pretty easily.
I was very sexually active in my teens and 20s and I still have plenty of attraction and interest, but over the years, the idea of my actual meatspace self being involved in it with anyone but my husband and a rare few others has just seemed … silly? Incongruous? Definitely unsexy, at any rate.
I’m very adept at getting inside others’ heads and living vicariously through their experiences (hi: writer), so I definitely enjoy watching or reading about others getting it on. I would just feel out of place if I was actually directly involved.
I suspect that for me, this is based in gender/body issues rather than any genuine disinterest in sex, though. My libido has faded a bit as I’ve aged, but the interest is still there. The problem is that however much I might want to be involved in a hot-person sandwich, the body I have just wouldn’t fit in with what I—or they, in most cases—would want from the situation. My body is already not usually most people’s cup of tea because I’m built like a Tolkien dwarf (short, round, and furry.) Then add in the fact that I’m somewhat butch, and primarily a top/active, but don’t have the physical equipment most people prefer from tops, and I’m basically kind of useless to most people, especially the queer guys and tomboys to whom I’m most attracted. The only reason it works with my husband is because I know he enjoys my body as-is and reads me as more-or-less male regardless of its configuration. I would have to be very certain that anyone else I was with felt the same in order to relax and enjoy myself, and I already know from experience that people who are attracted to my unusual combo of body and gender are very rare.
So, yeah. I think the biggest reason this feeling makes sense to me is just because I can’t fathom most of the people I’m attracted to actually being attracted back enough to enjoy themselves if we were naked and horizontal. I’d rather just watch people who actually are enjoying themselves.
That whole gender-nonconforming thing also applies to those who identify as men. There is enormous pressure on men—including transmasculine folks—to meet an artificial ideal of masculinity, and those who don’t conform are often violently punished for it.
Pop-culture representations for non-conforming men are somewhat more robust, however, because of the new “geek” category of acceptable masculinity. Geek men still don’t have the same social power as men who exhibit more traditional forms of masculinity, but because of the financial benefits of being good in STEM fields, they at least get a bit of a pass now that they didn’t get a generation ago. Non-conforming men outside of that archetype, however, and especially men whose professions or interests fall into things (artificially) labeled as feminine, still have very little representation beyond the odd raging-queen caricature.
I love playing Brienne of Tarth because, when I was growing up, I didn’t really see people on television that I felt that I could identify with. Women all looked kind of a particular way, women characters that were popular, anyway. And when I had the opportunity to play this part, it made me explore the parts of myself I had hidden from. I had very long hair. I wanted to look very feminine, really tall. (x)
Nut, meet shell.
I think a lot of us whose bodies don’t fit what women are “supposed” to look like try to make up for it by going uber-femme. We think that we can file off all our rough edges and paint over the unpretty parts and we’ll finally fit in. If we just pluck our thick eyebrows, redden our thin lips, and cinch in our broad waists, maybe the other girls will stop mocking and abusing us, and the boys will finally want to date us (regardless of whether we really want to date them; we still crave the approval of straight guys because of how much power they have.) Sometimes, we keep banging our heads against that wall until there’s nothing of our real selves left. Sometimes, we even attack others who aren’t playing the game, because we want to believe that what we’re doing to ourselves is normal and worth the pain and actually working as intended.
But sometimes we come to realize that none of that is going to make any difference. We realize that we’re spending huge amounts of time and money, and causing ourselves a lot of pain, in an utterly vain pursuit of an ideal of womanhood that we’re never going to reach. We realize that we are never, no matter what we do, going to be pretty enough. So we stop. We might still wear skirts and lipstick or otherwise play dress-up from time to time, but we stop feeling compelled to do those things out of a gnawing fear of being seen for who we really are. At first, it’s terrifying. Sometimes the abuse comes raging back, and it’s often even worse than before, because we aren’t just failing to meet the standard but openly rejecting it. But eventually, we discover that there is life beyond the hamster wheel. Sometimes, for those of us assigned female at birth, we decide that transitioning or at least identifying as male is the right path. Sometimes, we decide that neither side of the binary fits (hi!) Sometimes, we call ourselves tomboys or butches or bois. And sometimes, we just boldly identify as a woman who simply refuses to change her body or waste her precious time and energy to fit what her culture expects women to be. It’s a hard life, yes—we face both sexism and cissexism—but in many ways, it’s easier, because at least we’re not constantly afraid that our masks will slip, and people will see the ugly girls we really are. It’s very much like coming out of the closet, this openly living as an non-conforming person, and though the social costs are also as dear, the psychological benefits are tremendous.
I love Brienne and Arya and Sin and Starbuck and Poussey and Boo and the small handful of other women characters who are non-femme, whether they are warriors or no, because they are some of the few representatives of what is actually a very large group of us. Gender diversity in pop culture isn’t just about including more women. It’s about acknowledging that humans aren’t just either GI Joe or Barbie, and that those of us who don’t naturally conform to those ideals shouldn’t have to go through hell trying to meet them.
I really wish we could stop using gender labels to describe interests, traits, and behaviors. It’s essentialist bullshit, and it denies the gender identity of people who don’t have certain specific traits/behaviors assigned to their gender, or who have them, but have a gender identity that’s different from the label.
I especially hate these terms being used in discussions of sexism and gender justice. If you’re defending wearing makeup or enjoying raising children, then say that in so many words. Don’t say that you’re defending “femininity.” When you use that word, you’re implying that a woman who doesn’t wear makeup or want to be a parent is somehow less of a woman than those who do. You’re also implying that a man who enjoys makeup or parenting is less of a man.
The gender labels on these things are entirely arbitrary, and in many cases exist as a way of propping up a sexist status quo. It shouldn’t be surprising that many consider economic self-sufficiency a “masculine” thing, for instance. It’s easier to keep women dependent on men if you imply that it’s unfeminine for them to earn their own way. Likewise, framing parenting as inherently feminine is a good way to keep men working long hours to line someone else’s pockets instead of developing relationships with their kids.
Everyone’s gender identity is a personal thing, and it shouldn’t be subject to bean-counting tallies of exactly how many boxes they check off in column M or column F, because those columns are bullshit to begin with. If a woman’s traits, behaviors, and interests fall almost entirely in column M, but she still identifies as a woman, then she’s a woman, and no less of one than someone with a lot of Fs.
Singer of classical stuffs.
Shameless fanthing.Queer/Genderqueer. Feminist. Progressive. Gen X. Northwest snob. Journalist and media-deconstruction nerd. Happily married and an adoptive parent of a most excellent little boy. Endless pontificator on topics both sublime and ridiculous. Expect both breathless pop-culture squee and wordy rageflails about social justice.
My "home" fandom is Primeval, but these days I'm most heavily into Vikings, Game of Thrones and Arrow. Check my fandoms masterlist to see the other stuff I usually post about. If it has a kickass chick, a charming rogue, and/or an adorkable nerd in it, I probably like it.
I'm an incurable OT3 shipper, particularly of the alpha male/beta male/alpha female flavor, but I ship some pairs, too (het, slash and femslash.) See my ship list for details.
I don't have much time to make fanworks these days, but I have a few fics up on AO3 and some vids on YouTube (under Talea100.)
Fun fact: I had crushes on both C-3P0 and Data.