August 26th, 2006

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Gender

misia posted a poll about gender, and that meshed with stuff I've been thinking about the subject triggered by a remark of redbird's about gender and feminism.

This will be rambly. I'll start by quoting my comment to misia about how I define my gender:
I don't get on well with these kinds of questions, not because my gender identity is terribly complicated but because it's really trivial to me. I do understand that some people are massively upset about there only being two options for gender and want to pick something else, people who are strongly identified with being some form of genderqueer (by whatever term), people whose gender identity doesn't match their physical body. I'm not in any of those categories; I just want to pick "don't care".

I'm definitely female and more or less cisgendered. I don't on the whole get mistaken for male (or butch or any of the male-leaning genders) in person, because I have long hair, prominent breasts and hips and that sort of thing. Online I read either way and that's fine by me.

I'm not feminine or womanly or femme, but I'm not masculine or butch or manly either, and androgynous is silly because of the aforementioned physical characteristics. Plus the word implies partaking of both male and female, and I think I'm more neither than both (apart from the physical body). If I'm not allowed female as a gender as opposed to a sex, and I'm not allowed to opt out, then woman, or possibly girl. Geek doesn't feel like a gender to me, and I'm not sure whether I identify as that anyway. I like some male-related gender words, such as bachelor, gentleman (but I suspect that's partly because spinster and lady are sucky words).

If such a thing exists, I'm pretty much an agendered person in a female body. And being not really at all attached to my gender I'm not bothered that I read as female.
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So far so navel-gazing. The way this connects to feminism is related to this very trenchant comment on gender presentation by papersky.1 One could argue that my not feeling especially female is because I'm rejecting the stereotypes about what female is supposed to mean. And yes, I do pretty much reject those stereotypes. But I do think there's more to it than that, I don't want to regard myself as agendered because I think women are restricted compared to men.

When I was a kid I felt much as papersky does (though if I can express myself as well as Papersky does by the time I'm 100 I shall be delighted, let alone when I was seven; anyway I would have agreed strongly with her comment if I had seen it then). I was something of a tomboy, but I hated being referred to as such, or even worse, being mistaken for a boy (I had short hair, so it happened a lot). I didn't in the least want to be a boy, I wanted to be a girl who liked climbing trees and playing hockey and football and dealing with conflicts by physical fighting.

Now, though, I don't feel nearly so strongly. I absolutely believe that in principle women should be able to be scientists and be career ambitious and live on their own and express themselves confidently and all sorts of stuff that stupid misogynists think women shouldn't be allowed to do. But I no longer care that I personally should be perceived as a woman when I'm acting in ways sometimes classified as masculine. I'm simply a person doing the things I want to do, and my gender is irrelevant to that. Is it feminist to say, as papersky does, This also is a valid way of being a real woman, or is it feminist to say, do what you like, it doesn't matter what gender you are? I have sympathy for both points of view, but lean more towards the second for myself. The question is, can I take that attitude without undermining people like papersky?

Or am I missing the point altogether? It feels to me like feminism has something to do with this, but also that it is giving a lot of unsatisfactory answers. My usual response is to say, well, I don't care about feminism, I'm just doing what I think is right. But on this kind of issue, I don't want to be actively opposing feminism or harming the people who do feel strongly about their gender in whatever direction.

1] I'm trying to display the comment in my journal style because redbird's original post is interesting too and my layout shows individual comments attached to the appropriate posts, but due to the weird way security works with S2, that might not work for you. So here's a link to the post in question.
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