(insert oh so funny sexism joke here)
I don’t get women: how they react to things, what they think about things, what the spend their time doing, or any number of other questions. It’s a massive generalisation to say that all women would respond the same way to the same events, of course, but in my existence of a single-sex school, no social life and my extra-curricular activities consisting of playing football and producing films, neither of which attract women for no valid reason, I’ve simply not been around women long enough to notice any general differences between male and female mannerisms, beyond sitting position.
But this lack of understanding is a brilliant thing; I accept that there are fundamental differences between the two(?) genders, caused largely by thirty thousand years of prejudice and oppression based on hokey religious nonsense, but my lack of knowledge about these differences means that I don’t treat my female friends differently to my male ones. My education and social life have led me to see everyone as ‘people’, typically young, male people, a trait which means that when I meet women, I put them into the same social group, of ‘people’, as I put any male I’d meet at school.
I hadn’t thought about this divide until my last DofE expedition, where one girl in my group was surprised at my prickish behaviour towards her in terms of holding gates open and such, in contrast to another boy in my group who was more helpful towards her. She was hardly upset about it, and was saying it in a jovial way anyway, but I did start thinking about how each gender ‘should’ treat each other.
Is it to be expected that men hold doors open for women or are more understanding towards them, as societal norms? I know that politeness is a valid reason for being nice to others like this, but should gender expectations overrule our natural politeness, or lack thereof; should I be an arsehole to my male friends, but then change my behaviour to be more gentle towards a girl?
If so, is this not a form of sexism? If you define sexism as treating different genders differently, solely because of their gender, then surely being extra-nice to women is as offensive as denying them job opportunities? This is what pisses me off with some people; they say they want to remove the disadvantages associated with their gender, sexuality or ethnicity, but want to keep the benefits. Either the genders are fundamentally different, and deserve to be treated differently in some way, or they’re the same, and no differential treatment must surely then exist.
It works the other way too, with men; some may want a reduction in the stress of being a family’s primary source of income, but want to keep the relative ease of home life, where women often get stuck looking after kids and such.
Ultimately, I don’t think the small differences between men and women are great enough to actively change our behaviour; are we, as a species, really so stupid that we feel the need to change our ideas, the most powerful constructs of our infinitely creative minds, based on whether our listener has boobs?
There’s another problem with dividing based on gender, in that it underlies every other human characteristic. Should we speak more comfortingly to an emotionally unstable boy than a strong-willed girl because of his mental state, or should we be more considerate towards the girl, because her female-ness immediately renders her more deserving of comfort and care than any boy? The question is, therefore, how strong must we display a characteristic for it to override the generic characteristic that has been associated with our gender, and can this generic state ever be overridden?
I would argue that it can’t be in our culture; no matter how many times you read Sylvia Plath’s poetry, as I am doing in my English lessons, which includes lines such as ‘Dying / is an art’, you always end up linking it back to her kids and her love for them, because no matter how egocentric and destructively insane she shows herself to be, she’s a woman, and therefore is concerned with her children above all else, right?
There is a more specific problem with discussing gender roles in literature here; the oppression, or at least segregation from men, of women throughout the entirety of human history means that any female writer is immediately an underdog, is immediately taking a stand for all women against this male-centric world we live in; “JK Rowling wrote about a boy whose a wizard, way to stick it to men!” some cry, with alarming sincerity.
This is why I like Middlemarch so much, as Eliot’s male pen name means this isn’t a ‘women’s novel’, but a ‘novel’, that I can enjoy as such, without having to have feminism rammed down my throat every time I think about the book.
A gender division is also flawed here, in that there are ‘novels’, and ‘women’s novels’; in history textbooks there is invariably a topic on ‘women’, suggesting the other nine chapters are all about how men changed the world, and that women can be nothing more than idealistic underwear-burners or arm candy. Way to alienate half of your own population, humanity!
Iain M Banks’ The Player Of Games dealt with this gender divide cleverly, creating a culture with three genders: males, females, and the third, dominant, ‘apex’ sex. In this culture, there are clearly-defined male and female roles, as soldiers and arm decoration, as their roles can be contrasted to the dominant role of the central apex. In human society, we end up playing male and female roles off each other; how can we say that’s a ‘male’ thing to do, if the only thing we can compare it to is the exact opposite?
Social roles will develop so that one set of expectations appears dominant to others; in Banks’ novel, the apex were politicians and leaders, and in human society, we’ve ended up with men being the dominant gender, presumably because their hunter-gatherer role of naked bear-murdering was seen as more important than the female role of harvesting fruits to eat, which would have undoubtedly been the more reliable source of food. It seems, therefore, that instead of having a central gender that we can build social roles around, we’ve had to build social roles around abstract concepts, such as male hunter roles being ‘brave’ and such.
This is a deeply flawed system; it takes a lot of time and effort to raise a kid, especially if you were a woman in 25,000 BCE, but the female bravery here wasn’t rewarded as the male bravery was. We’ve ended up with a gender system whereby dominance is derived from what we think is importance, not what is actually important; the apex were the dominant gender because males and females are unable to reproduce without them, as an apex would first remove the sperm from a male in intercourse, then insert it into a female in more intercourse, and they achieved dominance because of a tangible advantage they held over males and females.
The two human genders also creates a problem in that if there is a dominant gender, there must be a submissive one too; there was little social unrest within The Player Of Games because men and women, while considering themselves inferior to the apex, didn’t consider themselves inferior to each other. As a result, there was a strongest gender, but no weakest gender. With humans, however, women have gotten the shaft over history; it is not simply that it’s a ‘man’s world’, but it’s also, therefore, not a ‘woman’s world’.
The fundementality of these divides ruin our society further in that overturning them can be almost impossible; I said earlier that it’s a generalisation to suggest that all women want the same thing, which is exactly what the supporters of Women’s suffrage had to do in the early twentieth Century to convince the ruling (male) class that they represented the interests of women in general, and not just those of a few crazy liberals.
This extends to this day, with the World’s most popular fad since Pokémon, ‘feminism’, being the single most divided movement on the planet; middle-class people who want women to be paid equally to men are ‘feminists’, Pussy Riot are ‘feminists’; some feminists want small breasts, saying ‘Small breasts made me learn to love myself’, while others like boob jobs. This means that the awesome goal of gender equality is lost in amongst all the squabbling over the fine, or really broad, points of the movement.
So our gender roles are based on perception, not reality, and actively distort and dilute our opinions. These misconceptions are difficult to overcome as a group, so the only alternative would appear to be working alone, a thought not helped by the fact that the only people to have single-handedly influenced the world have largely been men.
Personally, I’m a dick to everyone; yes, I avoid generalisation by gender by generalising by species, and dismissing all humans as egotistical parasites whose idea of a good day is doing absolutely nothing constructive and not getting yelled at by whatever faceless gonk is being paid by our corrupt employment structures to look after them as if they were financial infants in a ball-pit of low wages and late retirement.
I don’t see any reason to be nice to a person just because they’re a girl, or be especially hard on a person because they’re a boy; I judge people as such – those who I know to be upset I will comfort, and those who I know to be proud I will take down a few pegs by reminding them of the insignificance of their lives. This probably won’t change anything in our society in general, and will definitely only affect me in that women will think me rude for being honest with them, but I don’t care; call me a twat if you want, but it’s because I deserve it, not because I’m male.