If Gender Is a Performance, I’ll Take the Part of Female, Please

In her reply to Hugo Schwyzer’s post about masculinity, Lisa Hickey asks for a difference to remain between masculinity and femininity.

When I first heard the words “gender is a performance,” in a post by Hugo Schwyzer, I felt like someone had finally given me the secret little instruction manual they had hidden away from me all these years. OH. It’s how we act. As in, act in a play. Putting on spike heels may make me feel more feminine, but it doesn’t actually make me more female. Becoming more female would require a scientific process that I am quite glad hasn’t been discovered yet.

It’s not that I hadn’t heard the tsk-tsking from people who specialize in gender studies as we dove into definitions of manhood here at The Good Men Project. “But you don’t even seem to understand the difference between sex and gender!!” I would hear, as if that difference were completely obvious or intuitive. It’s not.

My gender training as a kid insisted entirely of one sentence: “Sit like a lady.” That one phrase was said to me again and again by well-meaning teachers, aunts, friends of my mothers, and mothers of my friends. It was the only thing I can remember about how I was “taught” to be a women. And, in retrospect, what those words really meant was “Keep your legs closed. Whatever you do, don’t be overtly sexual.” It had nothing to do with my posture at all.

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I worked for many years on the creative side of advertising, a long-dominated male profession. There are stories of blatant sexism, which I managed to mostly avoid by a combination of hiding along with a fearless belief in creative ideas to get results. But one story stands out to me as a gender performance.

In and ad agency high on the 62nd floor, floor-to-ceiling windows, I heard about an agency golf game scheduled the coming weekend. Every male in my department, my level and above, had been invited. I had not.

The reverse is true as well. I was just as humiliated by feeling required to be “masculanized” as guys are when they feel they are being pushed to be “feminized.”

I walked quietly into the office where three men (including one whose name was on the agency door) were discussing an upcoming creative presentation. A pause in the conversation, and then, calmly, “Hey, why wasn’t I invited to the golf outing?”

They hesitated, looked around at each other, and one of them said, “Well, we only invited people that we thought actually played golf.”

I decided that if there was ever a time I needed to lie through my teeth, this was it. “I play golf.”

I didn’t really care about the golf game. Nor did I particularly care about fitting in, or bonding with my male colleagues, or proving that I could swing a golf club with the best of them. (Believe me, I could not.) And I didn’t know how to play golf, not because I didn’t like male sports—I simply preferred ice hockey and mountain climbing.

But what I cared about was that strategic decisions were made on the golf course, agency folks got to bond with clients, and on Monday mornings the team would come back with business decisions already made.

And if my job performance was going to be based on how well I made those strategic decisions, how I could relate to clients and sell to them, how much I understood the business, and how much of a team player I was, well then. I needed to be on the golf course. I needed my “male performance” to be equal to theirs. And so, I pretended to be able to play golf. I acted what I saw as the role of a man even if it meant I was headed for certain humiliation once I was found out.

Hugo says in his post, “It’s telling that the most hurtful way to put down a guy is, invariably, to imply that he is somehow feminized.”

The reverse is true as well. I was just as humiliated by feeling required to be “masculanized” as guys are when they feel they are being pushed to be “feminized.”

And I think that both sexes understanding that dynamic is important for moving forward.

♦◊♦

Hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro, there was a women in our group who only wore pink. There were 15 guys, three of us gals, and we’d set up camp after hiking for nine hours a day. No bathrooms, no showers, no mirrors. Most of us looked pretty raggle-taggle when we crawled out of our pup tents the next day. But somehow, she always looked perfect. Not much younger than me, she’d wear her hair in two pigtails, not a strand out of place, makeup on, wardrobe matching and accessorized. She told me that getting really high-quality pink outdoorwear wasn’t all that easy—she had guys from the Northface store and Niketown call her up the moment something came in. Even the laces on her hiking boots were pink.

Her “gender performance” amused me the whole trip—she wanted to make sure she maintained her femininity even in the most extreme, male-dominated situations. And she succeeded.

Hugo calls attention to the “fundamentally mistaken belief that manhood needs to be about rejecting anything that smacks of the feminine.” But where then does that leave women who want to reject things that smack of the masculine?

In an ideal world, perhaps the following would happen:

1) We would all understand that our gender is, in fact a performance, one that we can pick and choose from every day. All we have to do is be conscious about it—to pick the parts of “masculine” and “feminine” that make the most sense to us. We don’t have to conform to society’s expectations—but if there is a comfort in our role as we see it, that is OK, too.

2) Recognize that masculine and feminine “traits” have nothing to do with skill sets. Guys can be extraordinary parents and caregivers, just as females can be amazing rocket scientists.

3) Being open to the fact that embracing the qualities of the “opposite” sex can sometimes be helpful. In the case of the golf game story, I was ultimately invited to the event, borrowed some clubs, took a single lesson, prayed for the best. I screeched with joy (just like a lady) when the golf game got rained out. As a consolation prize, the agency put me on their flagship golf account, where I went on to win awards and accolades.

♦◊♦

I like Hugo’s thesis, but I can’t make the shift from not seeing men and women as somewhat opposite. As a heterosexual women, it is that “oppositeness” that fuels sexual attraction—and I don’t want that to go away. I just don’t want gender to be an issue when it’s not appropriate for it to be an issue. And at the same time, what I’m looking for in both genders is a comfort level about showcasing the amazing complexities of us as humans, instead of slipping into rigid stereotypes just for the sake of thinking that is how one is “supposed” to perform.

Hugo Schwyzer’s original post that sparked this one:

The Opposite of “Man” is “Boy”, not “Woman”

 

 

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For another interesting counterpoint, Tom Matlack looks at whether macho-ness can be a force for good:

The New Macho

EXCERPT: “A real man doesn’t lie or cheat or beat his chest, but stares down things that seem impossible—like flying at the speed of sound or walking on the moon—and doing them anyways,” I recently wrote in a piece about astronauts, but I might as well have been referring to all men.

“The New Macho” is a guy who has an aggressive moral compass that prioritizes the things that he finds important—family, being honest, making a difference in the world. He goes all out to figure that out, yet he is also more apt to take risks “and stare down things that seem impossible.” READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE.

 

Photo laura dye/Flickr

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About Lisa Hickey

Lisa Hickey is CEO of Good Men Media Inc. and publisher of the Good Men Project. "I like to create things that capture the imagination of the general public and become part of the popular culture for years to come." Connect with her on Twitter.

Comments

  1. To rephrase what I wrote on Hugo’s piece:

    Femininity is a mask that society asks girls to wear before calling them women. In return, they give up their claim to intelligence and have their sexuality boxed in on all sides.

    Femininity is a myth, and a dangerous one.

    As an additional comment directly to the summation points – I do not believe “masculine” and “feminine” are opposites. They are compliments to one another (at least in heterosexual couples – see how limiting these concepts are?).

  2. Kirsten (in MT) says:

    As a heterosexual women, it is that “oppositeness” that fuels sexual attraction—and I don’t want that to go away.

    I’m not clear. Are you speaking this for you as an individual, or are you speaking this on behalf of women in general, or…?

    It may be what fuels it for you, but that’s you as an individual. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a shortage of individuals who are different from, or even very nearly opposite to, one another. I don’t understand, though, if we are talking about men as a class being opposite from women as a class, why that would be necessary to somehow maintain for an individual’s sexual attraction to one or a very tiny fraction of members of the opposite sex.

    I actually *have* worked as an engineer on rockets (okay, missiles, but close enough). :-) I have two telescopes, and I’m not afraid to use them. I own and shoot firearms. I love my car and think of her as an extension of me personally. Space exploration and development is a great passion in my life. A couple of summers ago I helped build a house. I like to design and build solar ovens. I do other things and have other interests, many of which fall into the more stereotypical “feminine” category, but I’ll just use these for example.

    I developed my first crush which led to my first relationship with a boyfriend on a road trip to go see the Space Shuttle land. One of our very first dates ever was in a planetarium and it became a frequent make-out hideaway for us. There was a really dark “go inside an asteroid exhibit” that was perfect for this. When discovered we were in the same optics class, for the rest of the semester sat in the front row together snuggling and groping each other while taking notes and trying to look innocent. And so on.

    My last boyfriend taught me how to solder and we made a solar charger for my cell phone together. He’s a mechanic and helped me change the drive belt in my Honda Element. I taught him the basics of solar oven design and we built one together. We worked together on that house I mentioned (for mutual friends of ours) and later swapped stories of ogling each others’ asses while working. :-) We’ve worked on my car together (and now I know how to change my drive belt). And so on. This was all great bonding time that just added to our sexual attraction for one another.

    For me, shared passions, interests, hobbies, and so on are part of what fuels sexual attraction (whether those shared things are more commonly pigeon-holed as “masculine” or “feminine”). I also like my partner to have his own and me to have my own separate interests, of course, but this idea that we need to be “opposites” to be sexually attracted to one another, well, huh? It doesn’t work that way for me.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Ok — I guess I wasn’t clear. But thanks for the depth of your reply! *Always* great to meet a rocket scientist!

      I was speaking personally in that sentence — and I meant totally from a sex/gender standpoint. So for me, as a heterosexual, I am simply not attracted to females. And so, for pure sexual attraction, I am more attracted to the “maleness” of a person, if that makes sense. In all other cases do I try not to judge, and I am absolutely comfortable with people taking on whatever role they want — and can and am attracted to a great many other *qualities* other than sexuality. And I am totally for other people going for whatever preferences give them pleasure.

      • I think the question to ask is: How much of what you describe as “masculine” is inherently and unalterably male and how much of it is behaviors you have been socialized to be acceptable as proof of a male’s male-ness?

      • Kirsten (in MT) says:

        Lisa, for me as a heterosexual female, I am also not attracted to females. Specifically, while I can see them as attractive, I am not attracted to them sexually myself. I do not know what you mean by “for pure sexual attraction, I am more attracted to the “maleness” of a person, if that makes sense.”

        How do you distinguish “maleness” from “femaleness”? This is not a rhetorical question here. I really don’t know the answer, and so far nobody I’ve ever discussed this with seems to have anything solid beyond near universal biological basics such as reproductive equipment and capabilities.

        And where I’m going with that is, does this list of distinguishing features constitute enough to define that which is male as not merely different from, but so different as to be OPPOSITE, that which is female? I don’t see that.

        I can understand that you want someone who is different from you in certain ways. Perhaps you want someone who is the opposite of you, but that doesn’t make male the opposite of female.

        —SPOILER ALERT—
        I don’t know if you’ve watched this or not, but I’m going to take Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity franchise as an example. Spoilers may ensue for those who have not watched it.

        I look at the main characters as a great example of how “feminine” and “masculine” cannot easily be defined as opposites of one another. Starting with Mal and Inara, they most closely fit the more traditional feminine and masculine stereotypes. He is a space cowboy. She is the picture of grace and beauty and elegance. If you get into the series and movie, of course, you can see there is more to each of them than that, but I won’t get too far into that here for simplicity’s sake. I’m just calling them out as a baseline here.

        Moving on to Zoe and Wash, Wash is sort of a softie and class clown whereas Zoe is more reserved and a complete badass. Having fought in the war with Mal, Zoe has much more in common with Mal than Wash does. Does that make her somehow more male than Wash? How does that play with the scene wherein she and Kaylee are ogling a fancy dress in a window? Now, of Zoe and Wash, who is more masculine and who is more feminine? Before you answer, what about the scene in which Wash saves Zoe’s and others’ lives by his fierce piloting skill?

        And what about Kaylee? Girl next door type, but she is mistress of the the ship’s engine room. She is more competent at fixing the ship than Mal who owns it, but she has a teddy bear appliqued on her overalls. She spits, she swears, sex is definitely on her mind a lot, but she likes pretty things like dresses and fancy umbrellas and high class social events with formal dancing. She is too afraid to shoot at someone who is shooting at her in one episode of the series, but she saves the ship and the entire crew by disarming an explosive device set when the ship docked with another vessel. How do you file her one way or the other? And how to file her romantic interest, Simon, who is cool, competent, and commanding under extreme circumstances as a doctor, but is skittish around Kaylee, and repeatedly backs down against uber-badboy Jayne. He is fiercely protective of his sister River and is an aggressive risk-taker on her behalf when she is in immediate danger, but he is skittish and wants to run and hide in other situations.

        Inara, Zoe, and Kaylee are very different from one another, but which of them strikes us, the viewers, as unfeminine, not a real woman, or whatever? I don’t see any of them as unfeminine or unwomanly, myself. I see them all as embodiments of how being female or feminine, being womanly or being a woman, cannot neatly and narrowly be defined. Similar story for the guys.

        —END FIREFLY/SERENITY SPOILERS—

        In real life as well, people are too awesome and amazing and nuanced to be easily stamped and filed as Category 1 or opposite Category 2. If the “average man” or the “average woman” even exist, I have never met a single person who comes even close once I got to know them.

        My point here is that if you want to choose someone the opposite of you, I have no dog in that fight and I wish you the best. I have no doubt, with the amazing diversity among humans, that you will have a great pool from which to choose. Regardless of whether men are opposite of women, YOU will likely find many people (both men and women) who are very different from, even opposites of, YOU.

        But when we are clinging to “seeing men and women as somewhat opposite”, I think we are oversimplifying, and perhaps even unintentionally disrespecting, that diversity. When the difference between the “averages” of the sexes is dwarfed by the differences within each sex, it is simply misleading and inaccurate to paint the situation as men being opposite of women. It involves boiling literally billions of individuals of each sex down to an unrepresentative average, ignoring the shapes of the data curves around those averages and the massive error bars bounding them, and then posing those virtually meaningless averages against one another.

        • Exactly what you said. Completely agree with Kirsten here.

          Differences makes us individual, and groups are not inherently opposite another unless they are ideological groups…and even then they’re rarely one homogenous mass (see: feminism is not a monolith).

  3. So interesting. I’m interested in why you talked about gender being a performance, and then chose female, which is the sex, and not the gender. ;o). Im someone who likes to dance over gender lines and I fined it significantly freeing. There are a tons of closet gender-nonconformist out there… I say come on out and enjoy. Society is bout due for an upgrade.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      That’s just it — I was never taught the difference between sex and gender, and so spent most of my life confusing the two. I agree it would be more freeing not to worry about it. I love crossing boundaries, in general. And being non-conformist. But some parts of me can’t get there as fast as others. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Same same – Men and Women are different. Human beings are pretty much the same. Girls become women and boys become men by a process that’s unique to each but which both lead to mature human behavior.

  5. The thing is…

    Whenever I get involved in this topic I get hammered for sharing this observation: Men and Women are different for a lot of reasons. However, none are so prevalent as the roles we have evolved to fulfill within our species. With all other animals when we observe sexual differences we look through the lens of evolution and development but with humans we talk about societal norms, etc.

    Society and all the customs which come along with it have only been part of the evolution of man for the tiniest sliver of our history. 99.9999999% of the time we were chasing and gathering our lunch and behaving much more like primates than modern people.

    I’m not framing this as a reason to continue acting like a Cro-Magnon, but to deny the power of selective pressure is to ignore everything we have learned about evolutionary biology and I’m just not willing to go there.

    • Now don’t go bringing actual science into this! That reduces the feminist gender blending fun to mere philosophy. No matter how hard they try they cannot escape biology.

    • My only problem with evolutionary psychology is that too many people use it as an excuse for bad behavior. It’s no surprise that “pickup artists” love to yammer about evo-psych because it let’s them feel okay about treating women as disposable sex toys. “Hey baby, I’m not a bad person, it’s just my genes!”

      My response to that is always, if you want to view yourself as a portable sperm depositing device then go ahead, because that’s all evo-psych has to say about the role of men.

      The problem is, evolutionary psychology doesn’t help us have better relationships, it doesn’t help us make the world a better place, and it lends itself to cynicism and nihilism. I prefer to think of myself, and other people, as having minds and hearts. Yes there are biological drives, but human beings are much more than their biological drives. If not, why do we even discuss these things? What’s the evolutionary purpose of our ability to talk and think about ourselves, to strive to better ourselves and think about who we are in the world?

    • Here’s the thing:

      If you raise a chimp in Africa, it will behave in standard chimp ways – male and female roles are pretty straight-forward. If you raise a chimp in America, you get pretty much the same behaviors.

      This is not so of humans. Some behavior that is considered masculine in America is not considered masculine in Africa, and vice versa.

      So…evolutionary biology is a great tool, but it is only a tool. It is not THE explanation of everything that has happened in our increasingly complex society.

    • The evolution of man(sic)?

      Please use a more inclusive term like the evolution of humankind. Using man in the so-called generic implies that the male is the norm of humanity and the female is defiicient.

      There’s lots of research that shows that people do not think of both women and men when they hear terms like mankind.

      • Kt good points about kingdom and mankind, although huMAN and feMALE are still gendered words, to my mind.
        Apparently in the past men were called wereman. If true, Perhaps we could reintoduce that word for men. Woman and wereman.

        Even having completely different words for a man and a woman eg as in mandarin chinese. Doesnt mean there is social gender equality in that society though

  6. wellokaythen says:

    I’m not going to hammer you. I think you make a good point that there are certain biological factors that are really hard to say are just cultural constructions.

    BUT, I think that the interpretation about primates, humans, and the rest of the animal kingdom expressed in your message is not entirely accurate, or at least oversimplifies things. The animal kingdom, even the primate branch, is kind of an ambiguous source for what men and women have evolved to do. Some of the roles are not so clearcut if they’re just based on natural selection.

    I think what you’re pointing to is what biologists call “sexual dimorphism,” where the male and female members of a species are notably different. (I’m not a biologist, but I think I’m using the term correctly.) Clearly male and female humans tend to have noticeable physical differences. The thing is, though, that relative to many other animal species, male and female humans are not very different from each other at all. Then again, relative to some species, male and female humans ARE very different.

    In some parts of the animal kingdom, even experts using the latest scientific equipment can’t tell the sex of the animal. In other parts of the animal kingdom, the female is six times larger than the male, in some cases the male is six times larger. Not to mention many species in which the sex of an individual member may change depending on the environment. There are plenty of animal species in which the female gives birth but the male tends the nest.

    Just sticking with primates, some species have really big dimorphism (mountain gorillas), others do not (bonobos). There are primate species in which raising the young and getting food are both collective endeavors, male and female together.

    Hunter/gatherer societies may give a glimpse into what “humans evolved to be like.” To a lot of people’s surprise, it turns out they generally have huge overlaps between what’s considered “men’s work” and “women’s work.” Plenty of hunter/gatherer women hunt and plenty of hunter/gatherer men tend children and cook. Very seldom are males and females completely segregated from each other into exclusive roles. A lot of what people think about what prehistoric humans were like is just a projection of modern-day ideas onto them. Unfortunately, people keep treating the Flintstones like it’s a documentary about Neolithic life.

    • Here we go again with the sexist language. You say animal kingdom, you always address men before women, as in “men and women” . . .

      Language does influence attitudes and as long as people use sexist terms like animal kingdom and mankind, we’re going to think that men are superior.

      • You say animal queendom? And wellokaythen uses “men and women” and “women and men” interchangeably, like most people, without an ulterior motive.

        Britain is a kingdom, even if it has queens as heads of state. I don’t associate ‘kingdom’ with “male is great, male rules” either.

        Sometimes complaints are for inane things and are unwarranted. Because there is no ill intent and no ill consequences. Or else we’re never going to speak.

        Is history sexist too? Keep in mind the “his” doesn’t mean masculine anything, it’s incidentally there because it’s at the root of the word, period.

      • wellokaythen says:

        I concede your point about the sexist roots of words and phrases. “Kingdom” is currently a technical term for a biological category. I can see that it’s not gender-neutral on its surface. As Schala points out above, it can also be used in a relatively gender-neutral fashion, as in “The United Kingdom.” As for listing men before women in “men and women,” that could exhibit a preference for men because they’re listed first, but that is not necessarily the case. Is showing up early in a list better than showing up later? It could be a list from least important to most important. I know of several creation stories from around the world that have men created first and women second, not because men are primary, but because women were something of an upgrade.

        In the future, I’ll try to mix it up a little more, say “women and men” and “female and male.” I apologize if I don’t use an even number of those phrases and it comes out unbalanced. Perhaps you could keep a running tally for me and let me know which one I’m supposed to use next.

        It’s a bit of a luxury of English-speakers that we can even try to make everything gender-neutral. I wonder how this critique would work if we were writing in a Romance language in which all nouns have genders. Not sure what to make of “la patrie,” the French for “homeland” or “country” or “fatherland.” Calling it “fatherland” is literally patriarchal, but it’s a feminine word, so….

        • Personally, i say men and women because I feel it makes for better diction. It might just be my particular accent, but if I say women and men, it’s too many “n” sounds in a row and it gets slurred together.

  7. Great post Lisa.
    Also something that Hugo misses out is homosexuality. How, as a man who has sex with men, can you define being a ‘man’? Either in relation to the wider culture, which tends to posit gay/bisexual men as ‘feminine’ or with your partner?

    Sex as you say tends to work around the ‘performance’ of opposites. So according to Hugo’s theory does man on man sex involve the performance of ‘man v boy’? or is there a performance of ‘masculine’ v ‘feminine’?

    I think I prefer your analysis for the potential it offers around gender performance.

    • Sex does not have to occur between opposites. Two dykes can get it on just as well as two femmes, or bears or whatever two people happen to be, just as it can happen between a masculine person and a feminine person.

  8. One doesn’t necessarily have to pick one gender over the other. The point is to acknowledge that certain aspects (or most depending on who you ask) we associate with being feminine or masculine are socially constructed. You don’t have to, say, give up high heels or stop wanting someone to hold open doors for you, but if those things are important you it’s at least partially because you’ve been enculturated to think so.

    Culture is very powerful, so masculine/feminine traits are “real” in that sense, but to argue that every trait we associate with masculinity or femininity is biologically based is ridiculous. Given that studies defining masculinity and femininity can’t seem to agree on what traits are common to which sex (i.e. one study might define “masculine” one way and another study has an entirely different concept), it’s difficult to measure.

  9. For many, sexual attraction is about difference. I am a queer Femme who is attracted to masculine women. What makes them masculine, to me, involves far more than their appearance. It is the way they carry themselves in the world, their energy, and so much more. When I have a Butch partner, I play up my stereotypically “girly” qualities. It’s fun and creates a sexy dynamic. When I’m with an androgynous and rather feminine woman, I tend to kind of Butch up a bit, as I do when I have a male partner. I unconsciously downplay my femme-y qualities. There is a fluidity in my gender performance regarding my relationships with people of different sexes, and that is just what it is- a performance.

    For many, though, attraction is indeed about sameness. My lesbian friends call two women who are in a relationship that look alike “dyke-a-likes”. Lots of gay men have such relationships, too.

    Personally, I say to each their own. I realize I’m just speaking to my own experience, though I know many who have a similar point of view. I love being a woman, I love being feminine, yet I recognize that I don’t have to be feminine to be a woman. It’s something I choose to do. If gender is a performance, I choose to be feminine.

  10. The point that men and women who identify with their sex want to be seen as masculine or feminine, respectively, and (if heterosexual) want their partner to read as the “opposite” sex is mostly a valid one. The part where I take issue is that we define ourself as opposite to the other sex. Men and women certainly can express the need for the same thing in different ways, but it’s not always about being “opposite.” Psychologically healthy people are not too wrapped up in their public gender role to express themselves genuinely. Hugo is correct in saying that women and men are equally able to be courageous, forthright, etc. To say that we are of the opposite sex is to say that if one sex claims forthrightness, the other sex can’t display this trait. Not so. Certainly men and women are different, but I don’t find us to be opposite.

  11. Lisa Hickey says:

    For all those who had issue with this particular part of the post: “I like Hugo’s thesis, but I can’t make the shift from not seeing men and women as somewhat opposite. As a heterosexual women, it is that “oppositeness” that fuels sexual attraction—and I don’t want that to go away.”

    If the word “opposite” is the sticking point, what I meant was this — I prefer sex with people who are NOT women. That only leaves men. And we live in a sexual society, and to me, there is a (mostly) binary choice when it comes to sexuality.

    However, I can see that once you “sexualize” people you run the risk of only are seeing them as “sexual objects” by looking at “would you have sex with that person” FIRST, and then only looking at their other qualities after.

    I completely believe that personality traits are not inherently male or female. However, certainly physical attributes are — I, personally, would never be sexually attracted to a man who looked 100% like a woman, no matter how masculine his other attributes. And then, after that, is the complex dance of masculinity — I’m not so rigid that there is a checklist of attributes that can be marked off as masculine.
    But there is a difference that I enjoy — and I find it hard to believe that the difference between males and females should not be either acknowledged or celebrated.

  12. I think it’s interesting that much of the discussion following this article is stuck on sexual orientation. I’m gay (and female) and I actually really understand what Ms. Hickey meant (at least I think I do…room for debate, I’m sure) when she wrote that.

    As a woman who is attracted to women, I can honestly say that some of what attracts me is definitely what I intuitively call “feminine.” But some is not.

    As a gay woman who feels invalidated when people use my biologically female body to invalidate my own experiences of personal masculinity — and make no mistake, that is NOT to say that I identify as man or as male — I have to also say that I understand there is something internal about gender, not solely external. Personally, I actually identify as an even mix of both masculinity and femininity. However, I do not identify at all as male. This difference in my perception and among my culture is key, and is often completely ignored by psychologists, sociologists, etc. It’s disheartening.

    There are those who want to keep a separation between masculinity and femininity. There are those who want to disprove any difference at all. But what is it that makes me, with a delicate and soft lips and graceful hands and truly “pretty” singing voice – a word I will only accept when used to describe me if applied to that voice – what makes me move squarely through space instead of fluidly? What causes people to refer to me as “sir” if they’re not paying attention? What caused me, as a child, to idolize John Boy Walton, Aquaman, Batman, The Six Million Dollar Man and other equally embarrassing icons rather than Barbie, Nancy Drew, Wonder Woman, etc.? Why did I want to grow up to be more like the boys than the girls?

    Because that’s what’s intrinsic to me.

    Though gentle compared to the Terminator or Rocky, the role models – yes, roles – that appealed to me were all masculine. And though the type of masculinity that best describes my personality is of the “softer” variety, they are still examples of masculinity.

    I love a strong woman who knows who she is, thinks for herself, and is comfortable in both dresses and cargo pants. I love those qualities because I personally love a combination of strength and grace. But what appeals to me about that combination is far deeper than appearance or physicality. What appeals to me about it is the fact that it compliments the internal/cognitive parts of me that are wired differently.

    Sure, there are elements like social constructs, culture, environment etc. that play a part in the development of gender expression – but I do think that personality has a lot to do with the inner workings of individual gender experience. Schwyzer does have a unique ability to address masculinity in ways that help me understand it better in myself, even. And though I don’t always agree with what he offers, I do respect it (so far in my reading, which has been several articles but not his entire body of work). You see, for me, to be feminized is as humiliating as it is for a biological man – to put me in a dress or give me a make-over is one of the most humiliating experiences I’ve ever had. The difference is that if I were actually male, no one would do that to me. But because I’m actually female, people try to convince me to do it at least once or twice a year.

    Oh, and just for clarification: I am not gay because I’m sometimes masculine, nor am I sometimes masculine because I’m gay. If that were true, then one in seven to ten women would be walking around in men’s suits & ties at the office, and none of us would ever be able to find a date. In reality, there as many gender expressions among gay people as there are among heterosexual people (such a clinical term, but my understanding is that “straight” is no longer acceptable among the more enlightened). Think about it: for every gay woman I know who I can go tie shopping with, there is another, more outwardly appearing feminine woman somewhere in the world willing to help me tie it.

    Just food for thought. ; )

    –KW

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and complex reply. I, too, found it interesting how many people were stuck around the part of sexual orientation and sexuality. I understand that, technically, that is different than gender and gender roles, but I also think none of this can be parsed out so neatly and simply. It took me a long time to understand that I wanted to be both “female” and “feminine”, that my sexuality was important to me and that those things were all intertwined.

      Loved hearing your perspective.

  13. One final note – aside from the fact that I see I posted with a couple of pretty important word-skip style typoes…like:

    “…I have a [delicate] face…”
    and
    “…there is another, more outwardly appearing feminine [gay] woman in the world willing to help me tie it…”

    But much more importantly, I personally really appreciated the fact that Ms. Hickey even acknowledged herself as heterosexual – which tells me as a reader that she thought about it before she printed the statement. Usually, that thought doesn’t even cross people’s minds – or if it does, they choose not to voice it. Not voicing it does as much to neglect a dialogue as not thinking about it. So thank you. Got me thinking, too, instead of just making me feel marginalized yet again in this ongoing and ever evolving overall conversation about gender.

    Cheers!

    –KW

  14. I grew up with no father, three sisters and was raised by my mother and her mother. I now have two daughters, a wife, a live-in mother in-law and a bitch dog. So basically, I’m lucky to have testicles. However, I’ve never felt feminine, and no man I’ve ever known has ever implied that I was – especially after a round of sports (of any kind). And I agree with you, I like women being women. Let’s let that be. The problem I’ve always seen, was regarding ‘real men’ like my biological father, whom I didn’t live with, but visited once a month, who had a predisposition that real men built things with their hands, killed animals for food, smoked or spit tobacco and didn’t play sports. I never fit into that mold, and so my father was embarrassed of me. I wanted to write, not build metal machines. And I never thought of that as feminine. He did. They do. I don’t give a damn. I consider myself lucky for being surrounded by females my whole life. It’s given me a unique perspective on how to be a balanced person. And I damn sure don’t want to skew the lines of gender with women trying to make them more like men. Exclusion is a ridiculous concept to begin with.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Thanks for this Jim. I consider myself lucky that *you* pursued writing despite pressure otherwise, for that’s how I met you. And no, I would never consider writing “feminine”. But it’s interesting the other things you mention — I certainly wouldn’t want to do any of those things your father saw as “masculine” (with the possible exception of building metal machines). But is that because they are male or is it simply because I have no interest in them — and might only have the fleetingest of interest in them if I was socialized as male and thought they were a necessary part of “manhood.” There are certainly some pieces of feminine I wish I could let go of — the ongoing, nagging desire to be beautiful, for example. I often feel trapped in the place of having to live up to that feminine side of my performance, the same way men probably feel pressure to do things that are masculine.

  15. I find this whole issue really interesting. I’d like to point out that just as many men feel the need to reject femininity and as some women reject masculinity, there are a good deal of women who reject femininity, too, just because of the role and the inherent stereotypes that accompany it. By the time I had reached high school, most of my female friends would boast how pink was the absolute worst color in the world. Maybe if we could all just see those roles that are laid out for us and pick and chose for ourselves what we like, we’d all be able to tell that pink is just light red and not some kind of girlifying mechanism.

  16. Great post, Peggy Olson! In one of my former jobs, I was similarly left out of senior administrative outings that all seemed to involve men playing golf or men going to hockey games. I usually found out about them in meetings the next morning. I often wondered whether, if the ratios were the opposite, and there were a work situation dominated by high-ranking women with a couple of similarly-ranking men, the business and social connections would all be taking place at manicure parties or some other ritually “female” venue, and if the men would have been left out, or put in the same position you were vis-a-vis golf. I really don’t know what I think would happen! Perhaps someone else has been in that situation and could shed light on it…

  17. That’s an interesting observation Lori, I know the “mens outings” still exist in many office cultures but I work in a government office environment with roughly 50/50 gender representation and I can tell you there are numerous womens professional meetings (breakfasts for professional development/networking, etc) but the concept of having a “mens outing” of this nature isn’t even a consideration. Ever.

  18. gender is a performance

    Cart before the horse. Sex is what’s between your legs, gender is how people treat you because of it. Whether you play the part or not doesn’t really matter (except that you can change what gender people assign to you if you play the other part hard enough).

    I was a boy way before I knew it – I was assigned at much right when I was born. I didn’t choose it, it was given to me by my doctor and my parents. Then aunts and uncles, teachers, whoever. I barely – if at all – play the part, but it doesn’t matter, because everyone sees me in the part. People ignore when I’m compassionate, remember when I’m confrontational.

  19. Dr Mandeep says:

    totally agree with you lisa,as females we are attracted to ‘maleness’ of the males
    shared interest,hobbies everything steps in later
    we get attracted to someone for all the things that we are not ,or we could not be,or we want to be,or actually for all the things that we were brought up to be not, in our families.

  20. Moriquendu says:

    “I prefer sex with people who are NOT women. That only leaves men.”

    As a non-binary transgender person I beg to differ about this statement. There are indeed people who do not fit the typical definition of “woman” or “man”, either in terms of gender identity or chromosomes.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genderqueer
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex

  21. Wirbelwind says:

    And how many people like that are out there ? I somehow doubt there’s a viable possibility to meet them unless you are looking (hard and long) for them.

  22. Liked this article and the Hugo one. Only thing that I can’t figure out is the problem with sexual attraction. If “oppositeness” fuels sexual attraction but all walks of life are equally well fulfilled by men and women, how are we meant to be differentiating ourselves? *In general* femininity is attractive to men and masculinity is attractive to women, but it seems like they should share exactly the same definition other than the gender engaged in pursuing them. who knows!

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  1. [...] If Gender Is a Performance, I’ll Take the Part of the Female, Please [...]

  2. [...] Managing editor Lisa Hickey responds here. [...]

  3. [...] If Gender Is a Performance, I’ll Take the Part of Female, Please [...]

  4. [...] to be, instead of being who we are, that’s pretty much what it feels like. I’ve talked about my humiliation about pretending to play golf in order to try to fit in with men at work. Or my obsession with trying to look good on the [...]

  5. [...] I’ve said on these pages how much I like to be feminine, how much I enjoy the sheer feeling of being a woman. I love all things feminine and beautiful and sexy. But when it comes to the physicality of sport, I can’t help but think I am “manly.” [...]

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