Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gender Policing

Among the websites I visit and use regularly is a fitness website. I originally posted this post there, in response to a thread bemoaning the demise of the "manly man" who fixed cars and was muscular and hairy, and cried about the "pussification" of America with men who style their hair and shave their chests.

And all kinds of people chimed in about how terrible that was, and how John Wayne would be circling in his grave.

I was angered at the contents of that thread; if you have a soul and any ounce of caring for other people, you should be too.

First off: I am not telling anyone who they are allowed to be attracted to. If you prefer big, burly, manly men, that is perfectly within your rights. If you prefer men that you might describe as pretty rather than handsome, that is also your right. No one has the right to tell you who you are allowed to find attractive.

That was certainly not the content of the thread and the replies supporting it, though. Many of the posters in that thread declared that feminists were feminizing men, that all men should go back to being ultra-masculine.

Someone on my wife's profile there made a comment about how awesome the thread was. I called him out on it, because the thread was absolutely not funny. It's not funny because it has a real-life impact on real people.

That's what we call gender policing - making sure that everyone fits into specially designed societal roles, whether they like it or not. It is a very, very short step from saying "All men should be masculine" to "We should socially punish men who do not fit the masculine mold."

To hell with that attitude, I say.

Every person should be allowed to express themselves in the way that makes them most comfortable. If a guy wants to paint his fingernails and wear eyeliner, that's his business. If he wants to have a hairy chest and a full, thick beard, also his business. If you don't like it, you don't have to go out with him. Simple, right?

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. There are people who want to impose their value systems and control the lives of the people around them, and will harass and bully others as a punishment for non-conformity.

Story time: Back when I was teaching, I had a very bright girl in my class. She could have had a bright future ahead of her, college, a successful career. When I talked to her one day after class, she told me what her future held - she was going to leave home the day after high-school graduation, take a rapid course in court reporting, and hopefully live on her own.

She was forced by her parents to wear boys clothing and present herself as male; despite doing this against her wishes, she was subject to verbal abuse by others.

Why? Because she had the misfortune to be born with the wrong plumbing, and others around her just couldn't handle it, because she would not conform to their ideas about what her gender role should be.

One student taunted her in class - I will admit that I got angry, and kicked him out of the classroom, telling him to meet me after class. I sat him down, and asked him how he would feel if he was forced to dress as a girl. To put himself in the first student's shoes.

A few days later, I saw him and his two compatriots actually sitting and talking to the first student, asking her about herself and what it was like. There was no further taunting from that quarter.

The next time you feel the urge to gender police - to take a truck away from your daughter and give her a doll, to take a doll away from your son and make him play with a truck, to feminize a man with harsh words for not conforming to your gender expectations, or to call a woman a "bitch" because she has strong opinions and a forceful personality, ask yourself - How would I like it if I were in their shoes?

How would you like it if you were bullied and harassed to conform to a gender expectation that you didn't want?

Remember - it's okay to say "I prefer masculine men." It's not okay to say "those evil feminists have turned all the men into pansies." Because you wouldn't like it if it was happening to you. It's not your job to tell someone how to express themselves, and you should think twice before doing it.

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