Women, men, and people

[Today’s bonus thought: I should really start working on these posts in the mornings instead of trying to cram them into the ~2 hours in between when I get home and go to bed, which are already filled with eating, working out, and showering.]

“Then I learned that 1) Boys are not Proper Humans, and 2) I was supposed to be one of those”, I read in a post largely about compliments and the social norms surrounding them.
Then I sat back and blinked in momentary confusion.

In much of the society and culture I live in, male is the default and female the divergence. Whether it’s politics, medicine, pictograms meant as a stand-in for any person, fictional characters, language (“give a man a fish and you feed him for today, teach him to use gender-neutral language and he’ll feel uncomfortable with many common proverbs”), or whatever other categories currently escape me but fit the pattern: male is the norm, femaleness a marked trait. (Apart from situations surrounding child-rearing and specific forms of work, like housework, that is.)

Yet thinking in terms of humans rather than people made me realize that many of the traits commonly thought of as distinguishing humans from other animals are associated with femaleness rather than maleness.

I suppose it depends on how one thinks about humans in comparison to other animals: emphasizing reason and dominion over the rest of the phylogenetic tree would lead to the usual androcentric perspective, and so might curiosity or ingenuity. But the traits connected to the very word “humane” – compassion, empathy, benevolence, gentleness – , caring for one another, valuing beauty, and even morality itself are considered feminine traits. (Currently, that is; especially morality was definitely not always seen as a female domain.)

This in and of itself is not new – much pedestalization of women has been couched in the language of morality, of women being the “better” people, much abuse of them excused by invoking the animal-like nature of men, and many demands for forgiveness and submission justified through the same. (The contradictions between this view of femaleness and views of women as inferior are staggering.)

But until today, I’ve never connected these views to ideas of the human default. Thinking that women are the better humans is a slightly different issue from thinking that women are the more human humans.

I don’t know if this train of thought will lead anywhere – probably not, considering that I neither view humans as notably different from other animals in any morally relevant way nor women and men as homogeneous and entirely separate groups of people on any axis.

But it was a curious thought, so I made it into a post. (I did warn you they were going to be shitty.)

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