There Is Neither Male Nor Female – Rethinking Gender Roles

…And for those of you concerned, Evan has mandated a cut-off for these posts. As important as they are, and as many interesting questions as they raise, there’s only so many weeks in a row we can dedicate to beating a dead horse.

I feel first that I should clarify some of my points in my original response. When I was first drafting it, I was concerned that Kat (who had written a rather personal piece) might take it the wrong way- I’m glad that she gave me the benefit of the doubt on it. Truth is, my issue isn’t with Kat (who I think would agree with most of what I’m about to argue) but with the wider implications of Deschanel’s statements (though there were a few points I take issue with in Kat’s response- but we’ll get to that).

Deschanel argued that “we can be powerful in our own way, our own feminine way“. My response was “No, you ****ing can’t”.

Not “no, you *****ing can’t be powerful”, not “no, you can’t be feminine” (whatever “feminine” means), but rather “no, you can’t have your ‘own feminine way.'”


Because to suggest the existence of a separate, distinct “feminine” power is to suggest the existence of a separate, distinct “non-feminine” power. And that’s absurd. Power is just “power” and arguing that there’s a manly or girly version of it means that there are aspects of it off-limits to folks of the other sex. Again, that’s ridiculous (and all I gotta do to prove it is reference any hermaphrodite or transsexual as proof).

And all throughout her speech, Deschanel reinforces that binary system. She references how women “don’t need to dress like men or act like men”. Well, how do men act? How do men dress? Should I be giving up that pink pinstripe Oxford at the bottom of my laundry pile? What about my jalabiyas?

And on the other hand, Deschanel talks about “acting girly”.

Same complaint here- how does a girl act? Are there certain actions and traits which are inherent to women? Are there certain qualities which women have a monopoly over? I’d argue no (and we’ll expand on this more in a second).

Now yes, before anyone starts on me, I know Deschanel is presenting her argument as being optional. She says that you don’t have to dress a certain way (though she absolutely reinforces the gender-binary system)- but even then I’d take issue.

We’ve had a commenter on Kat’s response who stated “I think women can be a bad*ss and still wear as much pink and feel as many emotions as they like.” I’m sure that statement was made with the best of intentions, but what about the whalebone corset?

I am in literal pain just looking at this thing…

I’d happily venture that you can’t be a feminist while simultaneously displacing your internal organs. I’d extend that same criticism to high heels- though high heels brings up another issue. Most of these supposedly “girly” accoutrements aren’t even girly. Historically, pink has been a male color, and the whole “blue for boys, pink for girls” dichotomy is comparatively recent.

For clarification, that’s a dude right there

Likewise, high heels have their origin as an exclusively male accessory, worn by ancient Parthian horsemen, who used ’em for better grip in their stirrups. Ironically, Deschanel’s call for women to dress womanly is a call for them to dress more masculinely, which demonstrates just how utterly dumb this whole thing is.

I’ve got no issues with women (or anyone, for that matter) wanting to wear pink, but I do feel compelled to ask- do you like this because you like this, or because you’ve been told you want this?

We could spend a whole month just unpacking that question, but let’s move on. What about those biological difference that Kat mentioned? There is a lot to be examined there as well, so rather than step on anybody’s toes, I’ll take that point to its logical conclusion and insert a strawman as its advocate.

Strawman: There are fundamental biological differences which make women less inclined to run for political office. Women tend to be more social, more consensus-based, and more group-based. The idea of being a solitary, competitive candidate just doesn’t mesh with their nature.

Gordon: Beyond questioning the validity of such studies, I’d question how much a minor biological inclination should be used to dictate individual behavior or society at large. Some studies have shown men as statistically better at judging distance, that shouldn’t mean that we use a double standard for male and female drivers, or exclude women from sports, construction, or anything else.
I mean, I’m not even the first person to observe that trying to use evolutionary psychology just confirms 1950s gender roles.

But even ignoring that, I don’t think that one’s biological or psychological proclivities should be deterministic. A person might be naturally timid, but that doesn’t give him or her any less obligation to stand up to someone. Heck, that’s why we don’t give free passes to folks who’ve been “raised to think a certain way”, whether it be sexism, racism, or whatever. If you’ve got a functioning prefrontal cortex you should be able to form conclusions and actions beyond simple emotion or predisposition.

“Why can’t I be girly?” Deschanel asks.

Because (1) “girly” is an intensely subjective term and (2) because the definition of “girly” has been largely dictated  by misogyny, mindless traditionalism, and predatory Capitalism (yes, that applies to men as well).

Now that’s more like it… [via Cyanide & Happiness]

Again, the things that Deschanel would seem to argue in favor of, I significantly doubt are in any way natural (Cosmo, after all, bills itself as a “women’s” magazine). I mean, she had a string of commercials lauding cotton as “the fabric of my life”.

When Deschanel says women should feel comfortable being girly, part of me wonders if girly isn’t just a ploy to disguise consumption as feminism (but I’m cynical like that). But in fairness, even if Deschanel was just a corporate shill, the argument would still stand. In fact, Kat provides us with an example in her response, citing the example of nurses.

Kat mentioned the “passivity” of nurses who helped fight polio. How fighting polio is passive, I don’t quite understand, but that’s besides the point. Granted,  there’s the whole image of the tireless, Nightingale-esque angel-o’-mercy gently tending to the ill and injured. Isn’t that the ultimate rejection of “masculine” values placed on stoicism and toughness?

It isn’t, because those images are largely myth.

Essential to surviving in any helping profession (the medical field in particular) you have to be distant. There is nothing more dangerous and destructive, to either you or the patient, than getting emotionally invested- these things cause you to lose objectivity and succumb to burnout.

Good ol’ Scrubs really hit the nail on the head on this point.

That’s the reason “clinical” is synonymous with “impersonal“, “detached“, and “unemotional“. And that’s neither a male nor a female trait- that’s just part of the job. And that’s just one of countless examples of women, powerful women, whose strength, toughness, capability, and durability differs not one iota from men. Not in volume, not in flavor. As before, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander (and vice versa).

Kat’s post came from a personal place, and mine did a little as well. My mother, while going by a number of nicknames in her life- “Sarah Connor”, “Paul” (to my more gentle father’s “Silas”)- most common was, and I kid you not, “She-Ra, Princess of Power”.

I had an interesting childhood

It was my mother, not Frank Frazetta or Tolkien, who was my introduction to the warrior-princess dichotomy, and I’ll never forget her level response to my frequent childhood complaints:

“Life is tough and then you die.”

Ain’t that the truth.

Now I say this not to hurl accusations, but because I think that’s absolutely correct. I think that people should stare into the abyss. Evil in our world needs to be grappled with, and that requires the ability to not flinch when it rears its ugly head.

Not us as in “men”.

Not us as in “women”.

Not “we who’ve got the predisposition for it” (I don’t think anyone’s got the predisposition for it).

All of us.

The gender-binary system needs to be obliterated. Not modified to be more balanced, not made separate-but-equal (when has that ever actually been equal anyways?)- completely and utterly razed. In it’s place, we need a new standard; one that’s not only good for everyone, but makes everyone good.

Go forth and kick some ass.

7 responses to “There Is Neither Male Nor Female – Rethinking Gender Roles

  1. Great response. I don’t even feel the need to continue beating the horse, as fun as that would be.

  2. ….so I can’t wear pink? 😉

  3. Where did Deschanel insist that gender is a binary system?

    I think that you and Kat (and Deschanel, for that matter) are kind of arguing two different things: you are arguing against a gender binary system (with which I agree) and Kat is arguing that one can embrace what constitutes “traditionally feminine” in our culture (which need not include corsets, or anything else a woman does not want to include) and still be powerful (with which I also agree).

    I do also think there are different kinds of power/skill-sets that tend to be divided amongst the genders, but these are of course by no means exclusive to any gender.

    Here’s an interesting read (Kat you might especially like this one):

    Anyways, I liked your debate guys 🙂

    • Exactly! Love the article, by the way, thanks for sending it!

    • I don’t think what traits are considered “traditionally feminine” are up to the individual to decide, I think women can embrace traits that are seen as traditionally feminine but what is considered traditionally feminine is culturally agreed upon so the individual doesn’t get to decide what those things are (just like the individual can’t decide that the parts of their culture that they don’t like doesn’t exist)

  4. Pingback: Can A Feminist Wear High Heels? | Culture War Reporters

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