Hello again, reader.
I’ve found another social issue that I’d like to explore in this conversational piece of thought. The topic at hand is something that I’ve been challenged by all of my life. Its omnipresent, not only in my world, but in the everyday events of our global system. And recently I’ve built a lot of identity around one term that could wrap up this entire post:
That term is gender-bender. And this writing is all about attacking gender roles.
If you’ve followed my thoughts since I started writing them on this little website, you’ll know that I had a pretty influential anthropology class at the end of my junior year in college. The infinitely bright professor of the lecture had much to say and didn’t fear the voice of his own opinion, which I respected and valued as a student (because it’s nice to have somebody with a spine in control of the podium for a while, don’tcha think?). One of Dr. Van Gerven’s main reference points was a dear friend of his called Mickey who thought herself to be completely female despite the nature of her physical body (i.e. Mickey was transgender). As he told his stories about his friend, I found myself growing more and more frustrated by the way these folk are outcasted for a seemingly hollow reason. After all, we stress the whole “I was born this way” mantra, yet the gaping holes in that preaching are constantly exposed when we can’t accept people because of their “sinful choices” (i.e. being gay, or dressing as a woman).
Then Dr. Van Gerven started to talk about the formation of the fetus in the body, and since then, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about my role as an ‘XY’.
You see, in the first stages after an egg is fertilized and the body starts to grow, it doesn’t know gender at all. Days pass as the little human begins to take shape until a critical moment weeks into development when one’s sex is determined. Interestingly enough, we all start as female, because it’s the default setting before that switch. Once that moment passes, the reproductive organs begin forming. The penis, after all, is just an oversized clitoris. The labia are a re-organized scrotum, and we all know about the location and pain associated with eggs and testicles. Basically, once your junk is formed, the powder blue / tickle-me-pink paint is ordered from Home Depot and Samuel / Samantha is printed on all the baby shower invites.
It’s that exact moment when your entire life as a person on Earth is essentially determined.
Granted, we’ve come a long way in this civilization with regards to the male/female dichotomy. But in my eyes there is still an ocean between my progressive view on being a boy/girl and the point from which we operate today.
Departing from the notion that our private parts are the determining factor of our lives, I couldn’t help but think about how ridiculous that idea really is. I noticed these arbitrary behavior systems that we constructed around this philosophy start to pop up everywhere almost immediately after leaving that lecture. Girls wearing nail polish. Boys jogging without shirts. Girls having long hair. Boys having body hair. Girls kissing girls. Boys afraid to hug boys. Girly drinks at bars. Manly food commercials. The list goes on and on.
Slowly, however, I started to get a bit pissed off by all these things I noticed, because they’re all-exclusive and ever-limiting.
If you know me, you know I’m nothing close to being a ‘manly-man’. I’m not the big and bulky Bradley. I’ll never wear a mustache. I can’t tell you every team in every division in the NFL, and I certainly have never been uncomfortable with showing my other dude friends some TLC (I tend to be a sloth around the people I love). Oh, and I’m also not afraid to tell them that I love them. Basically, I’m no Spartan and I know it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m super comfortable with the way I view myself, but it hasn’t always been that way.
I grew up around women, almost exclusively. And because of that, I never really learned the things that one would learn from their fathers, like changing the oil, and the sweet spot for taking down a 13-point buck from 50 yards out. But I can clean the heck out of a house, and I know when to shut up because you’re on your period. In short, I’m a purebred momma’s boy. Since I swam in the sea of estrogen for eighteen years, I understandably came out kinda ‘girly’. Then, once I went to college, I noticed just how manly I wasn’t. It took some time to accept that. My freshman and sophomore year were filled with frustration, lots of self-doubt, self-consciousness for being the thin geeky dude and a major dose of the ‘I’m-gonna-die-alone’ cocktail. Then one summer I just started smiling and girls started liking me again.
As of last August, however, that frustration has manifested once more, and that twenty-something rebel inside me has been itching for a fight. So let’s break down the gender roles that we all play like oscar-winning Hollywooders every day. And then I hope you kinda just shit on at least one of these silly behaviors for the rest of your life.
Scene one: Your naked body and the inside of the armoir
Welcome to the first thing you do after the first things you do every morning: dress-up. Take a peek at the average male’s closet and you’ll see a sloppy pile of blue jeans and an array of tees and tanks. There’s probably a collared button-up somewhere wrinkled into the mix, but for the most part, a boy’s closet is a slew of socks, shirts and trousers. Now a lady’s wardrobe is vastly different, always evolving, and filled to the brim with thousands of colors, styles and accessories. At first glance, a woman’s closet is a madhouse. But after further investigation, you’ll realize that inside the chaos lies something remarkably beautiful: variety. A woman has ten purses, fifty five bracelets and neckpieces, earrings, hairpins, scarves, socks, shirts, blouses, skirts, cocktail dresses, sun dresses, dressy dresses and casual ones too, hats, beanies, tennis shoes, running shoes, heels, flats, glads, boots, leggings, belts, headbands, sports bras, old bras, push-up bras, new bras, lingerie, and just about every other thing that us guys love to see you in.
What the fuck kinda shit is that?!
To be real honest, the ‘girl’ inside me is pretty jealous about all these things. We, as men, are limited to what we’re allowed to wear, and girls get to have all of the fun. Of course my reference point is that of an American youngster living in the 21st century and other parts of the world seem to blur this division a little better (or stretch it further). Nonetheless, I still find a massive gap between what girls wear and what boys wear. And I can’t figure out why.
I’ll be honest again: I’ve grown infatuated with the color pink. More specifically, colored jeans are pretty ‘in’ right now, and I’m a sucker for chicks that wear light pink denim. Man, it kills me. At the same time, I’d absolutely love wearing some of my own. I’ve grown a collection of dyed bottoms myself, but there will always be a few shades that are tougher to rock than others, if not impossible. Question: why are we still operating under the difference between red and pink? Why can’t I wear pink pants? Why?
But someday soon I will. And I’ll challenge my own discomfort every time I put ’em on. My best friend Zach has a family friend from Holland that wears all types of colors. His reason: “because I like them”.
So fuck color roles and stuff.
Scene two: Your fancy dinner and a movie (and any first kiss)
You’re primping for a date. If you’re a chick, that means an hour of prep, a natural shade of make-up and a not-so-revealing top that will still accentuate some of your assets. If you’re a dude, that means a couple quick glances in the mirror and a spritz of the cologne that you’ve had since high school. Once any two people have agreed to a night on the town, everything we’ve seen in movies suddenly strikes down upon the evening.
Step one: the boy must drive. Always. So he goes and picks her up from her house.
Step two: the boy holds the door. He also pays. This is courtly love and respectful kinda stuff, which shows you’re a gentleman, and I’m not too upset about it.
Step three: the boy makes the first move. Always. Until then, the girl will wait and flicker her eyelashes and flip her hair and do all the other things that us guys go crazy for.
I’ve been here before. I hope you have, too. Truthfully, I don’t have too many problems with the roles of the first date, because they’re fun to play. It’s what comes later that bothers me to heck.
Recently, a girl told me that I was being the ‘girl’ in the relationship, and that she was the ‘boy’, and that sometimes she just wasn’t into it. And because of my complacency I brushed the comment off and didn’t think too much of it. Later on, it kept coming back to me, and now those words boil my blood. What she really should have said was: “you’re an emotional person and I’m not, and sometimes that is overwhelming.” Instead, I was called a ‘girl’ because I felt things.
This is the kinda stuff that I’d like to debunk now.
Girls: stop believing in the image of what it means to be a man. In reference to my Spartan comment earlier, crying and feeling strong emotions used to be considered extremely masculine. Now, we’ve taken all of that away and have proposed that men must be statues. Because of this, I’ve lost my ability to cry. I’m not allowed to. And if you’re reading this and you’re a cryer, I hope you can understand the frustration of not being able to discharge some sadness via the waterworks. Recently I cried and I had to write about it because it was so rare. But it felt so good.
Boys: stop promoting rape culture. What I mean is, stop holding girls to physical expectations. Enough with the perverted pig attitude and pursuing the ass and tits. Stop it. Now.
Girls: stop waiting. So much of my frustration in gender roles spurs from the fact that girls are typically obsessed with waiting for him to make the move. This goes for the first kiss as well as anything before that, like being approached at a bar. Being such a go-getter myself, I can’t understand the mentality of not pursuing what you want. If you’re out to talk to some boys, then talk to them. If you want him to kiss you, just kiss him first. If you want something, get it. Stop waiting.
Boys: in the dating world, we’re forced into a highly competitive environment. This will work wonders with our testosterone. Now, what we must do is stop disabling each other. This is not the Serengeti. This is Boulder, Colorado. So let’s start being a little more respectful out there in the field and start encouraging our homies to talk to the chicas. Don’t be the big douche that comes flying into a group of friends and stealing the chick from our circle. This makes you look like a fool. I promise that she’s not into it either. So mind your business and cool your jets.
There is much more to comment on with regards to our interactions. How about you tell me what gender roles you find in your love life endeavors that just seem so boggling?
Scene three: The rest of your life
Since we’re pretty much stuck with what’s between our legs, it’s time we start changing the things outside of our bodies. On the daily, I find something that we’re forced to believe in just because of our gender and sexuality, and like I said before, it’s oppressive. Just as much as race, we do not choose what we look like. Being male is not a choice. But it is an imposed lifestyle, and I’m doing my best to warp those boundaries. Here is a rapid-fire series of thoughts that relate to the subject of gender-bending:
-I grew my hair out recently to challenge the male image. Then I cut it for other reasons. But in that time when my locks were long, I felt empowered by the idea that I was doing something that less than 10% of males do. I was also frustrated when my trip to Target supplied me with only two different shampoo/conditioner hybrids and zero choices of wide-tooth combs. Did you know that the only piece of human information that we can’t gather from an anonymous strand of hair is the owner’s gender? Why do we associate gender and hair follicles? Why?
-I have a hard time understanding anybody that says they’ve felt love and disagrees with universal marriage rights. If you really have embraced and felt so strongly for somebody, you’ll realize that it’s so far out of your control. Being homosexual is not a choice, just like being heterosexual isn’t either. Gender roles in loving somebody cannot continue to apply; stop with the Adam and Steve excuse. If anything, your sexuality is another one of those limiting factors. Can you imagine the freedom and lightness of being attracted to anybody? What of the opportunities of setting sexuality aside and pursuing people and not pussy?
-I’m gonna try to stop saying ‘manly’ and ‘girly’. It’s not productive.
-Sometimes I imagine what my life in this exact moment would have been if I hadn’t grown up as a dude. It’s almost an impossible thought, when it really shouldn’t be.
-I think men forget just how easy their lives are. No periods. No pregnancy. No worrying about walking home at night. And all of those things are pretty fucked to forget about. On the flip side, I think women have taken advantage of their roles as peacocks. Help a guy out and stop thinking you’re worth the entire world, won’t you? We’re all people. So let’s give each other a helping hand.
-The list, like most of my lists, goes on and on. I really hope you do your homework and tell me some of your thoughts on the subject.
To leave you, my dear reader, I’d like to do a little bit of shameless art promotion. Here’s a piece I finished yesterday that I’d love to share (and that intentionally carries the same title as this post) :
The idea was inspired by these two beautiful people that I cut in half and merged into one:
The notion is simply this: what if you played the other role? What would that change?