“I’m getting in touch with my feminine side,” I quipped to my mother in regard to my growing long hair.
This had been some time after my mother cared for me while I was bed ridden for three months. This included helping me bathe and use the bathroom. When I said this, she looked back at me matter-of-fact.
“I bathed you,” she said. “You have no feminine side.”
I was prompted to again think through my own experience with sex, gender and sexuality by a post written by my friend JEREMIAH OSBORNE-GOWEY entitled “Recovering the masculine heart“. From years teaching on the subject as well as from my own research and reflection, I long ago departed from thinking that we’re all just men or women, each worlds apart. It’s not that simple. Neither is it as simple as just being socio-culturally constructed. There is nature and nurture with our identity caught in the milieu.
We’re all grown up enough to know women have vaginas and men have penises. We should be scientifically and medically aware enough to know that our genotype carries potential for variation in between. This includes not only our anatomical sex but also the physiological influences on our “sexuality” (our sex behavior) and our “gender” (the roles we ascribe to each other based on sex and sexuality). Physiology, behavior and gender is also far more diverse than a simple Mars or Venus astrology sign can account for. Category never accounts for the experience of the whole. So masculinity and femininity cannot be simply defined. They are the “mash up” of what society expects, what each of us feel, and what is actually possible.
I was raised and continue to surround myself with strong women. I had few male role models in my life, and I defined my own masculinity based on how I really feel about myself. I had that freedom. Not everyone does.
I think of Edward Abbey, as I usually do, who railed against all forms of feminism and what he also saw as “androgyny”. For instance…
How do I feel about The War Between The Sexes? I love it. I’m in favor of it. Women and men must share everything eventually, including a common fate; but meanwhile, it is the poignant difference between them which creates the tension and the delight. There is nothing that bores me so much as androgyny–manlike women and womanlike men. (in a response to the MIT student newspaper, Postcards from Ed: 258)
Ours is not a social fear of having to not be maculine or feminine. Abbey’s quote belies our true social fear of “androgyny”: that humans may be created in any other than male and female. In fact, we are. Science shows male and female to be only bookends of our sex and sexual possibilities. But Abbey also represents a different kind of tension, that of the conflicts that grind within ourselves, and hesitant comprehension of the real issue at hand.
Suzi’s second grade teacher is indoctrinating her kids with Mizz Magazine dogma, but I suppose that’s alright. At least for the girls, I personally do not think it a good idea to tell little boys they can grow up to be nurses or cocktail waitresses. Equality, yes; but identity, no. That’s my theory of the sexes. Equal but separate. (from a letter to William Eastlake, Postcards from Ed: 50)
In regard to his daughter, Abbey retreated before some benefit he felt his daughter would receive from the feminist fight for equality, though he would not give quarter to what he saw as a masculine need in his sons.
I hear about this “androgynization” of the sexes, and think that I’ve never personally witnessed pressure to be neither male nor female. I’m not even sure what that would look like. I have witnessed pressure to be nothing other than male and female as society defines them. (The Society Pages just published another great example here.) This includes men shouldn’t be nurses, women shouldn’t be given equal pay for equal responsibility, and we should kill the gays for the Bible tells me so. Read: unequal.
I don’t hear anyone saying men shouldn’t be men and women shouldn’t be women. I do hear people saying men shouldn’t be paid $1 while a woman is paid 75¢ for the same job. I do hear people saying that not everyone is as attracted to the opposite sex as you are and that shouldn’t deny them the same rights in a free nation. I hear people saying that government should not be dictating what a woman does consensually with her own body. And I’m one of them.
About a year ago–ordained as I happen to be–I conducted the marriage ceremony of my favorite same-sex couple. It was interesting that during the bridal waltz, nobody knew what to do, so everyone just awkwardly watched. Answer: you do the same thing that you do during any other bridal waltz; shortly after the couple starts dancing, everyone else joins in. What this suggested to me is that the real issue with redefining masculinity and femininity is that we’re not sure where to go from here. So we’re scared we might lose something.
I’m more concerned that my children might lose something: their authentic self. I hate to think that my sons and daughter or anyone’s sons and daughters pressured against being cocktail servers, nurses or in true love just because most people are uncomfortable with it.
I was confronted by this not long ago when I heard my son telling my daughter that “girls can’t be _”. There’s no doubt that he got such an idea from something I may have unintentionally represented. Or from any litany of social input that he’s now privy to. But our response was, “Ian, girls and boys can be whatever they want to be.”
Androgyny is not the threat.
Living a lie is.
My friend quotes John Eldredge, “Let people feel the weight of who you are, and let them deal with it.” An inspiring quote.
So be a “man’s man”. That’s who I am in many respects. I believe in drinkin’, smokin’, swearin’ and flirtin’ with the girls who are darin’. But I also like to cook and rock my baby to sleep. And I’ll have something to say with anyone who tells my girl she can’t wear camo or my boy he can’t play with babydolls.