Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Privileged Sex (from Emily)

Erica's question yesterday, and all the responses to it, got me thinking:

What benefits do we all get from our sex/gender?

What problems do we encounter because of it?

Last semester I wrote a whole paper on how my particular gender identity impacted the way my First Year Writing students responded to me. As I researched communication patterns, I encountered many intriguing theories. But beyond the theoretical explanations behind behavior patterns... what are the behavior patterns themselves?

We often think of women as a minority (power-wise), but as Carl reminded us a few months ago, men sometimes get the raw end of the deal too, and we all know that people who don't accept the gender binary as part of their identity encounter a lot of discrimination. But my guess is that each and every one of us experiences both the pros and the cons of being whatever gender and sex we are, wherever we are at the moment.

Take me, for instance. I'm a petite, soft-spoken woman. I'm also white/ caucasion. When I was living in an apartment with three women who did not identify as white, I looked even more petite/ delicate to most people. I learned pretty quickly to think of myself as "a little white girl." I benefited in some ways - people often handled me with kid gloves. But I also encountered many people, male and female alike, who went out of their way to try to change or fix me. Because I gave off an air of fragility, people seemed to think I was broken. Because I was quiet, they seemed to think I was malleable enough to be fixed. When I proved them wrong and showed my true, much tougher and more resilient nature, I discovered how negatively people can respond when we challenge their assumptions. But I also found that people respected me more, once they adjusted to the true version of me.

Another area where I both benefit and suffer is in dating etiquette. Every time I decide to take the initiative and ask someone out, I realize how difficult it is for the men in my predominantly cisgendered, heterosexual culture to almost always feel the weight of asking someone out. It's a terrifying ordeal. And when a man shows interest and asks me out, I enj0y not carrying that weight of responsibility. But most of the time, I wish I were in a culture where women pursuing men was more socially acceptable. Whereas a man can casually ask me out and mean nothing by it, it's hard for me to ask a man out without sending the message that I am incredibly interested in him - it's less common for women to ask men out, so it doesn't seem quite as casual.

Another area of gender identity: I'm pretty. I used to think I wasn't, and I gloried in not being a pretty woman, because I thought men used pretty women and only dated them for their bodies. When I realized I was pretty, I thought maybe I'd be ok, since I'm not beautiful per se. But no, I find that I both benefit and suffer from being pretty. I've been used for my body, but I've also received positive attention because of my appearance. There's also something about being pretty, petite, and soft-spoken that tugs at the heart strings of elderly men and makes elderly male professors want to help you out. And I mean that in the most innocent sense possible. It's a grandfatherly kind of thing. I can't think of anything off the top of my head, but I know I've used my prettiness to my advantage, whether consciously or subconsciously.

So, those are my thoughts on how my gender (and other attributes I combine with it) impact me in both positive and negative ways. How about all of you?

1 comment:

  1. Something I observed the other night, when facilitating my group, was how gendered expectations continue to impact people even after they've rejected the gender binary. The youth I was working with identify with a variety of sexes and genders, but are fairly clear about what their assigned sexes were. Usually, the group is made up of people who identify as women- some trans, some cis, and many who use "she" pronouns and present pretty androgynously. But when some cis men came in, even though they identified that they liked certain aspects of female presentation for themselves, they completely and utterly dominated the conversation. Took up a good majority of the discussion time- just as the cis men and women do in mainstream classrooms. It was really interesting.