When I was about five years old my family and I were on summer vacation. We were staying at a “camp” (which to all of those outside of Maine is a summer house on a lake) with a big porch off one side of it.
One morning, I decided the porch must be swept. But I didn’t just want to sweep, I wanted to really maximize the moment. So what did I do? I dressed myself up in a long skirt and a bandana crafted out of a kitchen towel. Only then was I truly ready to pursue my goal for the morning. I remember being SO proud as I swept that porch clean, nearly dancing through the movements in a happy rendition of some 1800s peasant scene I had conjured in my mind. So proud was I that I even asked my parents to capture the precious moment with a photo, a request to which they happily obliged.
A few years and many dress-up episodes later, we were all back at this same camp. This time I decided to beautify my brother and dress him as a girl. I put him in a spaghetti-strap tank top, gelled up his hair, and masked his face in cheap child’s make-up. I thought he looked great! My parents, however, were not pleased with my artwork. Essentially, I was shaming him; certainly this was not appropriate play for a seven-year-old boy.
Now are we seeing a gender binary or what? Of course it’s okay for a little girl to emulate an older woman cleaning. But god forbid a little boy is put to express his potential feminine side.
My little anecdotes here are certainly not new experiences to most, but I do think they’re quite illustrative of what our society so fears today: misplaced femininity.
We fear so much to be called a sissy, a pussy, or god forbid, a girl. We fear to show weakness through our feelings (because only females have feelings, and therefore feelings are for the weak, obviously). We fear to have children and lose the race against male dictated capitalist success. And we absolutely fear to be “crazy”.
Society is so fearful of not just female-connoted weaknesses, but especially of male enactments of femininity, that we actually teach females to enact a super femininity. As long as females stay feminine (emotional, weak, and beautified with particular clothes and make-up), we will never truly challenge nor confuse masculinity for anything other than strength, logic, and innate correctness (as it is indicated with masculine bodies and behaviors).
Okay that’s a rather loaded paragraph. What I mean to say is this: in order for men to be as manly as they are, they need women to remain super feminine. As long as we women enact our gender with skirts and craziness (ahem, emotions), it’s going to be near impossible to redefine society’s concepts of strength and wisdom, because those are traits connected to everything masculine.
For a while now I’ve been thinking, why is it that I wear make-up every day? Why do I like to wear such feminine clothing? And why the heck do I bother to shave my legs all the time? Sometimes I actually tell myself its because I choose these styles because I feel powerful when I look my best. But then I think, this power it absolutely connoted with a male-dominated society where female enactments at least garner me mainstream acceptance.
Yet, I’m not ready to chop off my hair and ditch the skirt I’m currently wearing. I like being a female. I like the way I look (if for no other reason than the fact that after 10 years of wearing mascara every day my face looks much more familiar this way). Being a woman can be and is normally great (which should and will be another post in itself).
Perhaps rather than asking females to continue emulating males in their pursuits for success in modern day life, we should teach/encourage/push/ask males to be more “feminine”. Maybe we don’t need to dress them up with spaghetti-strap tank tops, but we could open up a space for men to be more emotional and more aware of other forms of strength.
A couple of weeks ago I was in my gender and diversity class, and we had a guest speaker for the day. This particular man spoke to us about a group of males of which he was a part. This group encourages men to not just combat gender violence, but to open up themselves to one another in authentic conversations about emotions and life experiences (how “girly”/awesome does that sound?!) He described to us a different type of masculinity, one in which maleness was expressed and valued, but in non-violent, non-dominating ways. Rather, the guys in his group support each other with male-defined peace, caring, and equality.
Now, how difficult is it to digest that sentence… that males can might want the same things as women are traditionally made to want? (If you think I’m generalizing about gender-based values (which I admittedly am), I am doing so with consideration to only what I have lived and learned. Just consider that the most typical phrase associated with the ultimate feminine embodiment, the beauty pageant contestant, which is of course: “I want world peace”. Now I’ve never heard a male contestant of any sort exclaim that his number one goal is “world peace”, unless of course world peace includes a few more bombs along the way.
So rather than trying to call myself a feminist and try to be as strong as a dude, maybe I should call myself a maleist and seek a world where males work to embrace female-associated expressions strength and wisdom, because yes, peace, care, and equality are all wise, powerful choices we can all make.