I guess now I’ve opened my mind to something new, I find myself needing to write yet another gender-related post. Just like the last one, I’ve gone through several drafts and re-writes before actually settling on something. The last draft theorised about whether the gender binary was actually obsolete and unimportant, until I watched this TEDx talk by Rikki Arundel about how gender is important. Watching it reinforced some of the points I was making, but also showed me how I was writing from a personal perspective. I’m still learning about gender identities and gender politics, yet Rikki actually lives it. On my website, I’ve sounded out theories and adopted points of view based on what I knew at the time of writing, but I’m always willing to listen to and learn from other people’s experiences.
Although, on paper, our headlines would appear to be at odds with each other, I was actually approaching my post from a different angle so the two were complementary: gender is important emotionally, but it shouldn’t be important socially.
Coupled with a post I read on Paging Dr. Nerdlove about defining modern masculinity, the video highlighted just how little flexibility the male sex has in terms of their gender identity and expression and how aggressively it’s policed. Rikki demonstrated this by showing that, in terms of clothing, Women can buy their clothes from Burton’s (a UK Menswear store) and very few would even notice. If a man shopped next door at Dorothy Perkins, he’s putting himself at risk of hatred, humiliation and even violence for breaking the unwritten “rules” of masculinity. Male culture is beset with bullying and fear as a means of policing conformity; fear is also used to maintain the masculine trait of fearlessness – just think of the effects words like “wuss”, “chicken” and “pansy” have.
We’re afraid of appearing afraid, so we overcompensate by ramping up the “bravery” (I use inverted commas as this so-called bravery likely involves reckless stupidity) and putting ourselves at far greater risk just to prove a point.These “brave” men are really just so insecure and fragile in their identity, they cannot stand up for themselves against even mild peer pressure.
When I opined about the unimportance of gender, I overlooked something important. When you’re locked into a culture where gender is so aggressively policed and you’re not strong enough to give it the finger, your gender expression is a means of survival. I can’t begin to understand what trans people have to go through just to feel comfortable with themselves, something cis people take for granted, but with the personal, social and political turmoil they’d have to face, I can understand why some would become so emotionally attached and protective of the gender identity they’ve worked so hard for.
But despite our emotional attachment to gender, the social attachment should be minuscule at most. This week, I have to do a compliance course for my new employer, and the handbook I was given in advance had a whole section on conduct and discrimination. It was likely the most thorough anti-discrimination policy I’ve ever read. To put it simply, if I openly discriminate against anyone on the grounds of race, colour, sex, age, nationality, religion, sexuality, gender identity or gender expression… I stand a very good chance of getting sacked. This is coming from a major, global organisation. It’s not a radical policy either – every organisation I’ve worked for, whether it be local, national or global, has had a pretty strict anti-discrimination policy. This is why I feel gender should not be important socially – at work, we are required to collaborate and cooperate with each other, so one’s gender is of less importance than one’s skills, abilities, personality and behaviour.
If that’s how we’re expected to behave inside work, what’s so different about behaving that way outside work? What’s so difficult about respecting one’s individuality, or just simply leaving them alone?
I feel Dr. Nerdlove is correct when they say that some men need to calm down, work on their insecurities and become stronger in a more constructive way though being less quick to anger. While I’m not exactly a prime example of manliness on the outside, I am probably stronger in myself than some of the more “alpha” males. I’m not frightened of or threatened by people who are different to me – at worst, I’m respectfully curious. I’m not concerned about other people’s opinions of me – an opinion is not a fact, and is more reflective of the person making it than it is of me. Most importantly, words are just words. Call me whatever you like – even seemingly insulting names like “lady boy” or “batty man” – just please excuse me if I completely ignore you.
That’s my brand of strength and bravery: brave enough to break the norm, and strong enough to handle the criticism that follows.