I overheard a conversation on the bus the other day. A boy, most likely a high school student, laughed as he questioned the girl beside him: “So what do girls prefer? Do girls like forward? And fast?”
The girl replied with confidence. “Forward and fast, but not too fast.”
And then they started talking about a myriad of topics related to dating rituals and expectations for how a guy should behave.
“I can’t stand a guy who is indecisive and sensitive. I will never date a guy like that,” the girl said. “Man up, seriously. Man up!”
I approximated the dialogues because I can’t remember exactly how they went, but that is basically the gist of it.
In my head, I flagged that comment extremely unfair and well, problematic. While girls are expected to treat their physical appearance as (quoting Peggy Orenstein) the epicenter of their identity, boys (and men) are constantly restricted, pressured and policed–well, to be a man. They’re supposed to be masculine, macho, and manly! They’re supposed to “man up”–or otherwise, they’re gay, weak, inferior, and feminine.
What’s wrong with being feminine?
Because it’s not manly, that’s what.
What does it mean to be a “man”? Masculinity is typically associated with dominance, independence, and aggression. Anything other than those three things are “less than a man”, and therefore “feminine”. The assumptions of this construct is that femininity is negative, or being feminine is a bad thing. This of course is a product of gender dichotomy, as well as the rigid definitions of gender. If you do not conform to these gender expectations or definitions, you’re out of place, deviant, and socially unacceptable. That’s one reason for homophobia–and especially male homophobia. Because gay men behave in a feminine manner or are assumed or perceived to be feminine, they are (at times violently) rejected by the masculine ideals. This is also why “gay” has become a derogatory term to describe something lame, unpleasant, or bad. The short explanation is “gay” embodies everything unmasculine, and being unmasculine is deemed by the majority of society a bad thing.
Why is femininity a bad thing for guys? It’s not easy to answer that question without discussing gender, but I believe the short answer is: no, it’s not a bad thing. After all, ideals of masculinity and femininity are socially constructed notions. I believe people should simply be accepted and embraced as who they are. A guy who is indecisive or sensitive shouldn’t be reprimanded to be “unmanly”. He’s just who he is, and to be honest, just like a girl shouldn’t be judged according to the size of her breasts or the silly things like how curly is her hair, a guy shouldn’t be judged because of a few traits that “qualify” him as “unmanly”. You can’t approximate somebody’s identity like that. A person can be “bad”, but it’s not because he is unmanly, or she is unwomanly. It’s kind of like saying you’re a bad person because you don’t wear enough blue, or something equally silly.
What’s disturbing to me is probably the fact that we continue to become affected by gender stereotypes. Personally I firmly believe that these things should be taught at grade schools. Seriously. Schools should be a place that teaches us how to question things, because I believe only through questioning can we truly find answers.
But that’ll be a different post.