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shadows of echoes of memories of songs
All they say is "na na na na na"
1ngi wrote a good post about the way sexism hurts men too. This isn't at all a response to that post, I'm just using it as a jumping-off point.

I find that I mostly only think about gender roles in relation to me (rather than as some kind of abstract thing) when other people voice their worries, and (possibly because of this) most of my angst around these issues is kind of second-order angst: I'm a female programmer and I'm not particularly feminine, will this encourage people to think that (or think that I think that) female geeks can't be femme too? If I want to have children, will feminists tell me (as they have in the past) that this is letting the sisterhood down? (I already know that if I do have children everybody will tell me I'm doing something wrong, and hopefully by then I'll have learned not to listen to them.) If someone asks me "As a woman, what do you think about..." am I overreacting if I give them the three-page disclaimer about how I'm happy to answer for myself but while my biological sex and my gender are a part of that they're not necessarily the most important part and I don't regard myself as particularly representative of Womankind and certainly wouldn't want to think that I was being assumed to speak for anybody other than myself of any gender? If someone tells me that I am being discriminated against at work because of my gender, and if I don't feel it or see any ill effects then that just means I've been stunned into submission, are they in fact full of shit?

Anyway. I find it hard to synthesise the things I notice about my gender, gendered reactions, sexuality etc into any kind of coherent whole. So instead, a series of disintegrating observations about myself:

  • I am biologically female; my height/shape makes this fairly obvious to a casual observer and I don't make any conscious effort to hide it (but I also don't [think I] generally make any [conscious] effort to emphasise it either).
  • I am a bisexual woman married to a straight man
  • I feel like my bisexuality is mostly invisible (but I think this is a good excuse to kiss girls ;-)
  • I know that I shouldn't say things like the above, even in jest (especially in-jest-where-it's-actually-true) because that's objectifying women, and I certainly shouldn't say "girls" because some women find it patronising, though others find it cute/fun/affectionate, but they probably shouldn't because they're accepting a demeaning role for womankind, even if they do it in private, because we used to be able to do things in private but now everything we do is part of a public discourse even if (especially if) we don't want it to be, and the constant fandango in their minds between their right to accept a role for themselves and their responsibility not to for others they end up waking up exhausted in the morning with their dancing shoes worn through and nobody really knows why...
  • ... but it's OK for me, because I objectify boys too.
  • I'm joking! I don't really objectify anybody. I just find people attractive. Is that so wrong?
  • OK, it is. Let's start again.
  • I am a woman.
  • Too much time spent on the internet means that even that statement feels PROBLEMATIC by which I mean I AM TOO SPECIAL AND UNIQUE TO BE RESTRICTED LIKE LANGUAGE.
  • I am still a woman.
  • I want to have children.
  • I'm not sure if this means I want to give up my job long-term. I don't think I can "have it all", because there are only 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year or thereabouts, but I think life is always a compromise and there are lots of different ways to be wrong in the eyes of the internet, and if you spent all your life worrying about that you'd never get out of bed in the morning, and it might all turn out to be an academic question anyway because I might never have children or I might lose my job anyway or I might run away with the metaphorical circus (which is better than the literal circus because the tigers are far more dangerous)
  • I am getting to the age where people have stopped saying "Will we be hearing the pitter-patter of little feet?" and started saying "I assume you're not interested in having kids?", and that saddens me, but both questions are so fatuous that I just reply according to how I feel at the time & how much I feel like trolling, but it still saddens me so much underneath.
  • I don't think every woman secretly wants to have kids.
  • I don't think every woman who does have kids secretly wishes she could be doing something else.
  • I think most people are mostly thinking nothing in particular at any given time, their brains full of bits and pieces of the fragmented now that hasn't been hammered into a narrative yet.
  • I don't wear makeup. (A previous female boss told me: "You should.") Don't like the feeling, don't like the look, don't have the time, don't know how to do it 'right'.
  • I am aware that I'm drawing on stereotypes here. Life is short and stereotypes can be statistically valid shorthand for having to make a formal acknowledge of everything in the world individually before you can talk about any of it, so long as you don't assume that they mean you know better than the people who are telling you something about themselves.
  • I wear trousers more often than skirts/dresses.
  • This is largely because I travel everywhere by bike, and I can't cycle as easily in a frock.
  • The fact that you can't cycle in a frock is the fault of the PATRIARCHY (and physics).
  • I actually like wearing skirts, though, so long as they have a pockets to keep my keys/iPhone in.
  • I'm a geek. I work as a geek and I play as a geek. I even, so help me, self-identify as a geek.
  • I'm less good at talking to non-geeks than geeks. I know fewer female geeks than male geeks. This sort of helps to reinforce my worry that I don't find it easy to get on with women and/or that women don't like me and/or that women don't find my attractive. The fact that I ended up married to a man rather than a woman reinforces that, too. Because as damiancugley points out (in response to my reaction to some stats from OKCupid) bisexuals seem to be quite unfairly expected to be absolutely 50/50 all the time otherwise they're not real bisexuals (just a phase, just trying to be cool, just experimenting, midlife crisis, rebound, political statement, blah blah blah) and it's very hard to be a real anything all the time if by "real" you mean "one-dimensional".
  • Look, so much of this is angst is surprisingly little to do with strictly gender and surprisingly lots to do with what the more general question of what makes a person who they are and whether things are 'real', and the more fragmented society and culture get, I suspect, the more we cling to the unlikely hope that we can label everything with absolute certainty, though in fact if you stop mithering about absolute certainty and stop problematising the hell out of everything then it turns out you can actually label quite a lot of things with kind of useful amounts of certainty, useful in the sense that it stops you going completely batshit insane, and I don't have a conclusion here, but in the words of Robert Anton Wilson, reality is what you can get away with.
  • I do like shopping, though.

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j4 From: j4 Date: July 19th, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I feel I should point out that as I was finishing this post my husband brought me a beer before going to hang the washing out. :-}
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: July 19th, 2010 09:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like to think we get on; I like you all the time; you are attractive. I only wish I were less intimidated by maths and programming so you'd feel easier with me, because I love shopping but not ever for me and you do fashion and skirts and femme stuff I don't and I think it's fabulous that you do.

As for kids, and you not having any at present, people who ask are thoughtless insensitive sh1tes. Sorry, but I went through this as a single woman, too. My infertile friends have gone through it. It's always rude. Had I been childless when I married I'd have resorted to saying (as it's too often women who ask) "why? Are you offering me /your/ husband?"

Lastly, wanting a child is not unfeminist, in my book, but there's always someone around to tell you Yer Feminism It's All Rong. A child murders sleep more than Macbeth ever did is all I'm saying, but I'm happy to have the one. Don't have a big family because you read about it in a book. :-)

From: rmc28 Date: July 19th, 2010 10:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
There are lots of things in your list that I find myself nodding along to (like loving skirts, but only if they have pockets, and not wearing makeup, and knowing more men than women and so on).

I've never learned to wear makeup. I'm beginning to think I will never bother though maybe vanity will hit me at some point. But mostly it strikes me as a way to waste lots of minutes each day, and I already have lots of ways to do that.

I was at a wedding in a silk dress on Saturday, and at one point I was playing catch, in the VAST FIELD where the reception took place, with a young child who had me haring around and leaping and stretching and reaching and so on. I felt almost as though I was in drag, because my dress was so unsuited to what I was doing. At least I wasn't in heels though, like 90% of the women. I'd have broken an ankle.
From: taimatsu Date: July 19th, 2010 11:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Some women find you attractive :).

I need to sleep or I would try to be coherent here. Hmph.
james_r From: james_r Date: July 19th, 2010 11:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't really have anything to add, but wanted to say I like the way you think. :-)
ghoti From: ghoti Date: July 20th, 2010 06:52 am (UTC) (Link)
If I want to have children, will feminists tell me (as they have in the past) that this is letting the sisterhood down?

I find the questions "Are you telling me that I can't do what I want because I'm a woman?" helps.
venta From: venta Date: July 20th, 2010 09:02 am (UTC) (Link)
I find the questions "Are you telling me that I can't do what I want because I'm a woman?" helps.

Nice. I've never thought of that one.

Also, j4, I like your post. And I'm very glad that there are perfectly sensible people on the internet who don't have complete feminist strategies and attitudes and policies all worked out and who don't appear to be anti-women in any way. I, like you, work in male-dominated industry in an otherwise all-male office and, y'know, just don't really think about it that much.
lnr From: lnr Date: July 20th, 2010 09:02 am (UTC) (Link)
A lot of this is very familiar to me.

I get round the cycling-in-a-skirt issue by mostly buying shortish flouncy skirts which don't get in the way. Long flouncy skirts can be almost impossible though, no matter how hard you try to tuck them up there's always a bit trying to escape and get stuck in your back brakes. It helps that I'm a fan of short skirts anyway, and don't care if people think I shouldn't be showing that much leg.

The lack of pockets is an issue, given I'm not a handbag person - I can put up with a bag while getting from A to B but can't bear to keep one with me at all times. I cope by being willing to be parted from wallet/phone/keys for much of the day at work, although occasionally I have to beg a colleague to let me back in the office if Julia has gone out and locked it :)

In the winter I'll almost always be wearing jeans anyway.

Like others I definitely don't think having kids is unfeminist. I don't even think it's unfeminist having kids and giving up work to look after them. There's a bit of me that quite wants kids too, and wants to at least be able to spend some reasonable amount of time with them, but I do wonder how you afford that in a traditional way when your earnings aren't the traditional way round! There's a bit of me that wonders what's the point of having kids and continuing to work full time so you don't see them, and wonders if men feel like that too. I do feel like I don't have many years left to work it out.

I don't do makeup routinely, but might a little for parties etc - I never did get the hang of foundation though. Like Rach I wonder if I might get vain about that later :) I do shave my legs and armpits, although not obsessively. I find it more attractive that way, and although I recognise that it's a completely artificial preference that was drummed into me as a teenager (teenagers can be horrid to each other) I don't seem to be able to just turn it off. I do find the smooth *feeling* of freshly shaved legs really nice though.

And as one invisible bisexual to another I still think you're cute :)

Edited at 2010-07-20 09:03 am (UTC)
nja From: nja Date: July 20th, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Like others I definitely don't think having kids is unfeminist. I don't even think it's unfeminist having kids and giving up work to look after them.

One of the reasons my mother dropped out of feminist activism in the early seventies was that she was made to feel like a traitor for wanting to spend time with her husband and their male children. (She did continue to be an activist in other areas, the Labour party and family planning / abortion, but not feminism per se).

There's a bit of me that wonders what's the point of having kids and continuing to work full time so you don't see them, and wonders if men feel like that too. I do feel like I don't have many years left to work it out.

Some men do - my father always used to take time off in lieu rather than overtime payment, because like my mother he enjoyed spending time with his family. My brother has structured his working life around seeing his children as much as possible. On the other hand I occasionally overhear revolting conversations in the pub which make me wonder why women stay with certain men (you put up with the wife, presumably for the regular sex and the housekeeping, and the children are another price you have to pay if you want your woman to keep giving you what you want).

lnr From: lnr Date: July 20th, 2010 04:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
True - while *I* don't consider those things unfeminist some feminists do - I think it's probably easier to take my position now than it used to be. But I grew up with a feminist mum, which probably helps :)
sphyg From: sphyg Date: July 20th, 2010 09:50 am (UTC) (Link)
I wear skirts because I have trouble finding trousers that fit, and I wear some make-up to hide my crappy skin.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: July 20th, 2010 10:21 am (UTC) (Link)

On makeup

Stopped wearing it over 25 years ago: result = good skin and a younger (iwstwi) intelligent handsome husband who says " the first thing I loved about you was that I could see your face. I can't stand looking at women in masks." Some people don't know how to cope with women who have actual faces because it jars them out of their own comfort zones. Tough cheddar, eh?
nja From: nja Date: July 20th, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: On makeup

The councillor I met the other day was wearing so much makeup she almost looked like a clown. I'm another man who doesn't find that look attractive.
k425 From: k425 Date: July 20th, 2010 12:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I seem to have gained two promotions since having YoungBloke, despite having had YB. Of course, I'm lucky having someone (OB) to do the home stuff!

Today I'm wearing a dash of eye shadow and liner because I had an unexpected two minutes available.

I really hear you on skirts with pockets. Trousers with proper pockets would be nice too. They work for men, why on earth can't I have them?
jinty From: jinty Date: July 20th, 2010 01:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I make a particular point of only buying skirts (and trousers) with pockets as far as possible. 'Tis very annoying that fashion people seem to think it's acceptable to just not bother with pockets on women's clothes.

For those having difficulties cycling with a skirt - the skirt guard on my Pashley is a real serious boon! I have a chain guard too and the combination means I just don't have to consider what I'm wearing from a cycling point of view, I just wear what I feel like.
livredor From: livredor Date: July 20th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is really interesting and thought-provoking, and I got a lot out of some of the links, too. I've come to the conclusion that gender dynamics are important enough to be worth thinking and talking about, but I do realize that I'm contributing to a world where it's hard to just be yourself without a lot of this kind of angst. I'm pretty certain nobody has a duty to adjust their gender presentation to make the road smoother for other people. I know that there are a lot of people who do feel they have a right to opinions about this, though, and there seem to be just as many of them in the feminist camp as the sexist camp.
jvvw From: jvvw Date: July 20th, 2010 09:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I haven't had a single person ask me to justify our decision to have children or tell us it's wrong in anyway. It's felt like a non-issue with my friends and acquaintances, although I realise that they aren't the same as yours.

I have found that being pregnant has made me feel far more feminist however. The way that maternity leave works naturally leads to the woman being the main child carer. I'm legally entitled to a year off work on maternity pay, whereas Jon is only entitled to two weeks - plus I guess four unpaid weeks of parental leave if he chooses to take them although as yet nobody at his company has.

Suddenly the fact that I've chosen to work at a lower paid job in the public sector (in fact leaving the same job that Jon has in order to do so!) also becomes a factor in a way it never has before too as it'll make much more sense for me to go part-time than it would for him, especially as I'll have already put my career on hold anyway. That's obviously not gender-specific, but I suspect it's a more common choice for women than men.
teleute From: teleute Date: July 20th, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
So much of this is familiar, and much of the rest was familiar up until I had kids. One thing about having kids is you have to take a diaper bag (or some quantity of extra that wouldn't fit in pockets) so you have to become a bag-carrying person. I got around this by buying, and then making, diaper-rucksacks which work much better in my opinion (trying to carry a child and not lose a handbag off my shoulder at the same time is a skill I haven't yet acquired).

Occasionally, I've asked men whether they find women as terrifying and complicated to get involved with as I do, and they've all said yes. Makes me wonder how the species has managed to get this far, honestly ;-)
tinyjo From: tinyjo Date: July 26th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't find girls demeaning as a term, but I think that's probably because I use boys in exactly the same ways so I don't see it as something where there's a gendered gap there.

I totally agree with "life is a compromise."

I feel I should have intelligent points to make in relation to this post but I can't think of what they are, so I'll leave it at that :)
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