I sorted through some old browser bookmarks today and found this exchange, in which a user on tumblr challenged others to to name and prove male privileges. Another user responded with the following list of 47 items (slightly edited for easier reading) :
[Going back to writing a post a day regardless of quality, because apparently everything else just gets me stuck not writing anything.]
My mother has big feet.
She used to jokingly refer to her shoes as “children’s coffins” (and probably still does). Few stores or catalogues or even online shops carried women’s shoes that fit her, and the models they had were often very unflattering: drab and clunky, or impractical, or both. Any time she found shoes that fit her and that she actually liked, she got super excited, and made sure to remember the brand and check out more of their models and/or come back to it when she needed new ones.
A while ago, I came across some recommendations for where to buy shoes as a trans woman – a list of stores and brands offering shoes in big sizes. Amidst the many excited comments by women happy to finally find shoes in their size, there was one that said something along the lines of “Women’s shoes in your size don’t exist because actual women don’t need them.”
A classmate of mine in high school was a passionate basketball player.
And she was worried about that. She already had a crooked nose, a narrow, angular face, and a broad chin: all attributes more commonly associated with male than with female faces. If playing more and more basketball, throwing herself into it, and becoming better at it now also gave her a more athletic, muscular build, would she look “too masculine”? Would she look “like a man”? What if everybody else thought so? What if the guys she was into found her too unfeminine, too manly? We reassured her as best as we could, but her concerns persisted.
Last fall, H&M released an ad featuring (among many others) a trans woman. Conservative Christian group One Million Moms was outraged at “what appears to be a man dressed as a woman” and called for boycotts.
The woman they were up in arms about was Fatima Pinto, a muscular, broad-shouldered Muay Thai fighter. Who also happens to be cis.
It’s easier for me. Strange, considering that maleness is culturally largely considered “better”, but somehow being unmanly does not seem to make one automatically womanly: people might scoff or sneer at my more feminine features, but they consider me a failed man rather than a woman, and often not even that: the only time someone offhandedly mentioned my face being feminine in my presence, his wife was quick to assure me that “girls like that anyway”.
But it’s fucked up.
Muscles are not male or female, they just are. Feet and hands and hips and eyebrows and skin and hair and livers and erythrozytes and cerebella are never male or female. Even by the (simplified, incomplete) tales told by biology textbooks, these are not sexual characteristics, neither primary nor secondary. (Well, some hair is: beards are a male secondary sexual characteristic according to textbooks, so bearded women could be said to have some male characteristics. It probably shouldn’t be, though – it would serve no purpose and very likely be deeply annoying to bearded women at best and hurtful at worst.)
Many human features, height, shoe size, hip circumference, and others among them, are roughly normally distributed. (Very roughly, actually: a true normal distribution extends limitless into both directions, but a person cannot have a height of less than zero. But modelling it as a normal distribution still yields pretty good predictions for the distribution of actual data, so this flaw is usually just kind of ignored.)
Modelling them separately for men and women yields slightly different distributions with slightly different means. So does modelling them separately for people of different countries, people of different colors, people of different ages (duh), and many other characteristics. If you just gather data from enough people of any two categories, it’s even likely that all of these differences will be statistically significant.
A woman who is 1.90 m tall is statistically less likely than a man who is 1.90 m tall. An Asian woman of that height would be less likely than a white one. However, a white man with achondroplasia, despite being white and male, would be much less likely than the Asian woman to be this tall. (And a 1.90 m tall three-year-old, regardless of gender, is nigh impossible – so much so that I’m quite confident such an individual has never existed.)
But for fuck’s sake, people, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for a woman to be 1.90 m tall, or that being 1.90 m tall means you can’t be a woman. There are women who are 1.90 m tall. There are women with big feet, and big muscles, and narrow hips, and angular jawlines. No matter how unlikely something is given statistical distributions, if it exists, it exists anyway. Data must follow reality, not the other way around.
And I want to write this sentence on a pool noodle and use it to bump the heads of everybody who ever uses statistical distributions to deny someone’s womanhood, to make her feel like she has to fit herself to the data, like her body is wrong just because it’s statistically unlikely. (And the same goes for manhood and nonbinary-hood.)
When I was little (probably five or six; must have been at least five, because we had already moved out of the flat I had been born in), I had ballet classes. Here’s what I remember about them:
I had a plain pink tutu, sensibly made of cotton and machine-washable. Some of the other girls had tutus with the skirt part made of that meshy plastic stuff that feels really nice when you rub it between two fingers, and one had a tutu made of some stretchy material that glittered. I was jealous.
We once had a show for parents and such in which we danced a robo-dance kind of thing, all edgy, isolated movements. (In hindsight, it doesn’t seem very ballet-y. I don’t know why we had a robo-dance.) My grandparents came to watch and later said that I was the only one who had occasionally paused to listen to the music and get back into the rhythm. I was very proud of that (and still kind of am).
I don’t remember a lot of what we actually did in class. I only remember one exercise that had us curl up really small on the floor, imagining we were flower seeds, and then growing upwards veeeery sloooooowly. It was boring as hell.
Once, my grandmother walked me to ballet class, and we passed a traffic sign I recognized as prohiting cars from parking, and lots of cars were parked behind it, and I made some horribly embarrassing pseudo-adult comment how typical that was, and she asked me to read what it said beneath the sign. It said “end”. But it said “end” in German, which is “Ende”, and I thought it said “Ente”, which means duck. My grandmother did not realize I had read “duck” and considered the matter settled. I did not understand what this had to do with cars and was very confused about it for the rest of the walk. This is not really related to ballet class, I’m just still embarrassed about it twenty years later and think of it in shame every time I think back to that ballet class.
Writing yesterday’s post got me thinking about what it means to identify as something. (Not for the first time, but that’s how it always is with thinking about big issues: you do it a little at a time, and when you feel like you’ve travelled down all available paths, you let it rest for a while and return back later to find new angles and corners to explore.)
[Guess who once again did not start writing today’s blog post in the morning? Me!]
For a long time, I thought that everyone would choose to be male if they were given a choice, and the only reason anyone would ever say differently was because it was a wrong thing to want and therefore a shameful thing to admit. Whether because it was in accordance with God’s plan or because one’s body was part of some “true” self, both my religious upbringing and more secular worldviews strongly pushed the idea that genuine happiness and peace could only come from accepting one’s body (and also the gender assigned on its basis).
Once, when I was a teenager (maybe fourteen, or fifteen) I stood with a group of teenage girls, and one of them actually asked whether we would rather be men. One after the other shook her head, looking to all the world like they really, truly meant it, maybe even slightly puzzled, as if they’d never had even a second of doubt and longing about the question.
When they looked at me expectantly, I quickly bit my tongue and shook my head. I had learned quite a while ago that outing oneself as a freak was not a good idea, and now this desire – one I’d considered ubiquitous, if taboo – was one more thing making me one.
(Strangely, I never had the same issues with being attracted to women. Despite a staunchly heteronormative religious community, I had no trouble at all with accepting the idea that people could fall in love with others regardless of their gender, and when I wondered about my own attractions, I didn’t feel like they made me a freak in the slightest.)
It was not until I started reading blogs written by trans women years later that I started honestly considering that some people liked feminine-coded things not just despite their association with femininity, but in some cases and to some degree even because of it. That some people actually liked being female. That for some people, their femaleness was not something they had to grit their teeth to bear, but something they valued and wanted recognized and seen.
That someone could feel like maleness was a burden pressed upon them as much as I felt like femaleness was a burden pressed upon me.
It’s still not something I can genuinely understand without putting it through at least one layer of abstraction (by comparing it to my own feelings about gender, for example). And it’s not about the feminine-coded things themselves – I don’t have trouble understanding how people could like swooshy skirts, or dangling earrings, or colorfully painted nails, or eyes emphasized by eyeliner, or lips made shiny by gloss. I don’t have trouble understanding how someone could like feeling graceful, or being kind.
But the idea of myself as a woman in a swooshy skirt, rather than a man? A woman with artfully painted nails? A woman moving gracefully, or being kind?
Does not compute. Feels wrong, in an unnatural, stilted, awkward way, like trying to artificially construct an image of gracefulness or kindness or me in a swooshy skirt around a hollow core.
This is what I mean when I say I am male. There is a core part of me that clicks with maleness, and fails to do so with femaleness. All the frustratingly vague and uninformative definitions or explanations of what the term “gender identity” means are trying to get at this core, and yet there doesn’t seem to be a really good way to explain it.
Maybe try to frame it in a different way than by thinking about your gender – you might be so used to taking your gender for granted you can’t tell what it even is, or you might not have a very strong gender identity (or any gender identity at all). Imagine it’s you-but-not-you, imagine you’re wearing a mask that looks really very much like your face but is still off, imagine that feeling most people get sometimes when they leave their house that there’s something – some indefinable thing – they forgot, imagine a familiar music piece with the rhythm or the instruments or the tune just sounding wrong and strange without you being able to name what exactly is wrong. Maybe there’s some aspect of yourself you consider fundamental to who you are, a certain way of thinking, certain preferences, a certain way of viewing or interacting with the world: imagine one of those gone, or strangely foggy and murky and unreachable or hard to remember.
Does that make sense to anyone out there? I don’t know.
Even if it does, it might not make sense to you to that one of those fundamental aspects should be someone’s gender. It doesn’t make sense to me either. It seems weird that there should be an aspect of my identity that somehow naturally lines up with this very specific cultural concept.
On the other hand, there are parts of me I consider rather essential that don’t have words to describe them. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that this one happens to be one there’s a word for. (And it’s even arguable that there is a word for it – after all, maleness means quite different things to different people.)
Every now and then, someone makes a statement like “men are socialized to not listen to women”, or “men feel entitled to women’s time”, or “men constantly cross women’s boundaries”, and almost inevitably someone chimes in with “not all men” – not all men are like that, not all men feel like that, not all men do that, etc.
[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.)