Do Men See Themselves As More Important Than Women?

Reader NancyP writes:

Boys don’t want to imagine themselves as girls because they see themselves as more important than girls, and because they have to prove and be secure in their masculinity. Any non-masculine endeavor will make a junior high or high school boy an outcast, a target of bullies.

I’m sure that this is absolutely true. However, yet again, we are seeing only half of the picture. Girls and adult women castigate females who depart in any way from the stereotypes of femininity as swiftly as boys and men punish the “traitors” to their gender identity. No matter how much you hypercompensate with hair, makeup, shoes, skirts and dresses, if you are not openly emotional, if you privilege career over relationships, if you value financial independence, if you break up with men the moment they stop being completely perfect and just move on very easily, you will be told, “Oh, Clarissa, you are such a man!” And that isn’t said admiringly, to put it very mildly.

The reason for such attitudes – that, once again, are identical among men and women – is that people cling to their stereotypes because stereotypes make the world seem more understandable. This is not about men despising women. This is about people feeling threatened by the idea that the most basic binary that they use to explain the humanity at large might be completely useless. If the gender identity as a meaningful set of characteristics is gone, one is left with the need to elaborate a way of being in the world completely from scratch.

This is one of the reasons behind transphobia. I always think about this when I hear the favorite transphobic “pronoun objection.” I’m sure you’ve heard it more than once. “So how am I supposed to keep track of which pronouns to use when speaking about my friend now that she identifies as a female?” a transphobe asks. This question always sounds so desperate and so emotionally charged that one might think we are talking about a language with thousands of pronouns. The pronouns are not the problem here, though. The real question that the terrified transphobe wants to ask is, “If the pronouns only mean what we want them to mean, then who am I? Who is going to assign me the part and give me the lines to memorize and to deliver?”

Of course, one could always be grateful to one’s transgender friends for showing that the oppressive, reductive binary is not set in stone. That, however, requires the enormous courage of facing the possibility of a life that doesn’t follow a script one has been handed at birth.

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32 comments on “Do Men See Themselves As More Important Than Women?

  1. facing the possibility of a life that doesn’t follow a script one has been handed at birth.

    I think I’d have been ok if the script was for “As You Like It”.

  2. There is much more space for girls to depart from gender norms in my experience. “Tomboy” is often used as a compliment, as I’ve seen, while there is no similar positive name for “tomgirl” men. A woman may be complimented as being “one of the boys”, a honorary man, while I’ve yet to hear the opposite used for men. Being a man is considered as higher position than being a woman in society, which is the main reason of this disparity imo. Today I even stopped for a moment, pleasantly surprised to read an (?) honest “I can’t imagine anything better than being a woman”.

    • Last [only?] time I heard “honorary woman” was in that big thread last month where the radfem blogger bestowed the title on raped gay men. Classy shit right there.

      @David: “The pronoun problem is amusing, at least for us grammar nerds.”

      Oh, it gives me such heartburn.

    • “A woman may be complimented as being “one of the boys”, a honorary man”

      - By other women?? Approvingly? No, I don’t see that. Remember, we are talking about the perception within one’s own gender group.

      ” Being a man is considered as higher position than being a woman in society”

      - I know such societies exist but I have not lived in one of them.

      “Today I even stopped for a moment, pleasantly surprised to read an (?) honest “I can’t imagine anything better than being a woman”.”

      - It is totally the best thing. :-)

  3. I wonder though, if transsexuals aren’t simply falling for gender stereotypes in a different way. I mean, what does it mean to say “I don’t want to be male anymore, I want to be female.” How does performing an operation on your parts make a man into a woman? For one thing, your chromosomes don’t change. But leaving that aside, if there is no difference between men and women or if the differences are trivial, what is it transsexuals are trying to do? It seems to me that the need to reassign one’s sex physically is just a more extreme kind of rejection of one’s “gender role,” only it’s not a rejection of the idea of gender roles themselves. At the end of them day, you’re still you, whether you have a penis or not.

    But what do I know. I barely have any female characteristics. I don’t like children, I’m not at all nurturing, I dislike frilly clothes, I hate “chick flicks,” and so on. I have rejected my female role quiet successfully. Now if only I had some of that upper-body strength…

    • I agree with you in terms of operations, I can’t really don’t understand the urge to change my genitals because I place no value on the shape of my genitals. If I wanted to be perceived as a man, or a very ‘manly woman’, I could do so. I can act any way I want and live any life I want to regardless of my sex – except I suppose for giving birth and ejaculating – but the technology isn’t there to achieve that anyway.

      I think gender reassignment surgery is a symptom of our fucked up system because people feel so uncomfortable defying the gender binary as to feel the need to alter their genitalia.

      • “I think gender reassignment surgery is a symptom of our fucked up system because people feel so uncomfortable defying the gender binary as to feel the need to alter their genitalia.”

        Yeah, the binary sucks. But I like to think that, in the fantasy future land where the gender binary doesn’t exist, people will get to alter their genitalia as they like, without anybody saying that it’s fucked up.

      • “But I like to think that, in the fantasy future land where the gender binary doesn’t exist, people will get to alter their genitalia as they like, without anybody saying that it’s fucked up.”

        - ABSOLUTELY!! If it’s my body, nobody should even begin to have an opinion on what I do with it. Manage your own bodies instead of messing with mine, is what I say.

    • First, it’s nice if you use “transsexual” and “transgender” as adjectives, not nouns. I am neither my sex nor my gender alone, whatever that “society” boogabear would like everyone to think.

      Second, it’s not necessarily about gender roles. It’s an almost numinous sense that one’s physical sex is perversely distinct from how one experiences their sex. One feels that one should have a body that is sexed differently from the body into which one was born. Lemme ask you: you say you don’t have a lot of stereotypically feminine characteristics. Do you still consider yourself a woman? Why or why not?

      Corollary to that, gender stereotyping often comes in after the fact. Some trans* people who identify as, say, men, aren’t interested in being especially masculine, but they might feel pressured to project masculinity because otherwise people will say they are not men. Y’know, the same problem that non-masculine, male-sexed, male-identified men have. Same deal for trans* and cis* women. It’s not a drag performance. It’s trying to get by in safety and without humiliation.

      Finally, why should anyone give a shit what anyone else does with their own body?

  4. “I mean, what does it mean to say “I don’t want to be male anymore, I want to be female.””

    - This isn’t what transgender people say, though. At least, not from what I have heard. They say, “I am a woman (or a man), and now I don’t want to pretend like I’m not any longer.”

    What always confuses me is how some people (I don’t mean on this thread, of course) manage to be passionately pro-choice feminists and transphobes at the same time. If you believe in bodily autonomy, you have to believe it exists for everybody, not just some people. The hypocrisy of such a position is mind-boggling.

    Besides, it is a lot of work to manage one’s own body, identity and mind. Why would anybody want to mess with the bodies and identifications of others? She says she is a woman, so she is a woman. Why should I opine or participate in discussions on the subject?

    • - This isn’t what transgender people say, though. At least, not from what I have heard. They say, “I am a woman (or a man), and now I don’t want to pretend like I’m not any longer.”

      Right. Exactly. I felt I was female when I was four years old – the earliest I can remember anything at all about my life – and when I was ten years old, thirteen, eighteen, twenty-one. But, as I grew up amidst a stridently hetero/cissexual social circle, for all that time I got the message that changing my gender just wasn’t possible, and I pushed those thoughts away as hard as I could. I buried them so deep that when I finally realized it was possible, and in fact necessary to my mental health, the experience was epiphanic. Thank heavens for the cultural pluralism of the university, is all I can say.

      Re: the OP. As someone who has lived on both sides of the binary, I can confirm firsthand that if you say “I’m a man” or “I’m a woman”, and your deportment and habiliment don’t fall nicely in line with whatever your interlocutor conceptualizes for those identifications, they are almost certainly going to try and diminish you.

      • ” Thank heavens for the cultural pluralism of the university, is all I can say.”

        - I have a student who is just beginning to transition right now. We live in a very conservative Bible-belt area, so it’s hard. She says that she spends all of her time on campus, even when she doesn’t have classes because it feels much safer. People just act normally around her. When she first started to come to class with makeup and jewelry, I was observing the students very closely, prepared to clamp down on any manifestation of transphobia and jerkdom viciously. But the students acted completely normally, they just took it in their stride. Nobody stared or whispered, or anything like that. I was very proud of them.

  5. “Lemme ask you: you say you don’t have a lot of stereotypically feminine characteristics. Do you still consider yourself a woman? Why or why not?”

    - That’s precisely the issue here. The moment I decide that it is my place to judge who is a woman or a man, I should be prepared that others will judge whether I “live up” to my gender identity. That would be only fair. But do we really want to live like this?

  6. I am also a masculine woman, and, like el, have never noticed anything near the stigma that a feminine boy or man usually experiences. The most frequent comments I get about deviating from the feminine gender role are approving. (More frequently from men, but women, too, tend to be approving, admiring and enthusiastic about it. Sometimes there is a wistful element of, “I wish I was like that; my life would be a lot easier” — this came from another girl in high school in response to my confessed lack of interest in boys.)

    I am quite willing to believe that this high degree of acceptance mostly speaks to the broadmindedness of most of the people in my life, rather than a culture that generally accepts or encourages female masculinity.

    • “More frequently from men, but women, too, tend to be approving, admiring and enthusiastic about it.”

      - I need to borrow your female friends for a while. :-) I have not met a single one ever.

  7. Clarissa, someday during your travels, you might want to visit the Kuna indians in Panama. They generally live in the San Blas Islands off the east coast of the country. Interestingly, “surplus” boys there are raised as girls. Sometimes, they wear feminine garb, sometimes they don’t. No stigma appears to be attached to it. To some extent, the Kuna have a matriarchal society and women are generally in charge of the household purse.

    Each town of significant size has a “Congresso,” the largest structure, which serves as a town hall. Attendance by all adult males is required and the penalty for non-attendance is twenty-five cents; considering that a Kuna family has to work very hard to pull in even $50.00 per month from coconut production and sale, that’s a lot. There are separate meetings for women. Since my wife and I arrived at the various islands on our sailboat and paid a $5.00 anchoring fee, we were deemed honorary citizens and privileged to attend a Congresso meeting. A Kuna Indian (Pablo) who had learned English (he had married an English woman, had accordingly been shunned and banned from the island, had spent several years in England and Europe, had later secured a divorce, had returned and married a Kuna woman) introduced us to the Chief to whom we paid the $5.00 anchoring fee. The Chief advised us that as honorary citizens, we were welcome to attend. We both did, with Pablo. Although many of the male Kuna speak Spanish with outsiders, the Kuna language is used among them. Pablo translated for us.

    Molas, a form of reverse appliqué, are a, if not the, principal Kuna art form and appear to be unique. They are beautiful and a tremendous amount of hand (not sewing machine) stitching goes into even the mediocre ones. Generally, women make Molas but some men — generally those raised as women — make them and the ones they make are generally regarded as the best.

    You will find non-tourist Kuna towns only on the islands not frequented by cruise ships. There are 365 islands, many of them uninhabited, but perhaps a hundred or so with inhabitants, and of those my guess is that fewer than half a dozen are visited by cruise ships. Traveling in the San Blas for about a month, my wife and I were able to visit towns and villages unmolested by tourists.

    • ” They generally live in the San Blas Islands off the east coast of the country. Interestingly, “surplus” boys there are raised as girls. Sometimes, they wear feminine garb, sometimes they don’t. No stigma appears to be attached to it.”

      - Fascinating.

      “To some extent, the Kuna have a matriarchal society and women are generally in charge of the household purse.”

      - Just like in my culture.

      I’m now dying to go visit the Kuna people. Thank you for the fascinating story, Dan Miller!

  8. I wasn’t brought up with any particular sense of gender roles. There were formal ones, but I never figured out that there was anything I was supposed to internalize in terms of personality, to make me more clearly one gender than another. Even in high school and as an undergraduate, I had no particular impression of gender roles.

    When I had my first real job, however, the attacks started. They came from a strange place, because they were coded with gendered meanings I didn’t understand. There were significant problems in this workplace. I learned that when a person in a structurally weak position is trying to point out problems to those who may have more structural power than she, anything she says is dismissed as merely “emotional”. Not only does this silence her criticism and subdue her intellect, most people find the rhetoric that some people are merely “emotional” to be extremely convincing.

    Also, if there are men who are unstable, people are less likely to believe they have a problem if they can point to a woman very close by and suggest: “It’s just her perception of me. You know, women — being what they are — can’t see anything straight. They’re very emotional!”

    People feel very comforted by this sort of reasoning, as it means they don’t need to do anything about a particular situation. After all, what could they do? Women are going to be emotional and mess things up, because, after all, women are that way in their essence (emotional and messing things up).

    This was how I learned how political behaviour has a gendered structure in Western culture, whereby men are innocent and women are culpable.

    As for emotions, I wasn’t even aware that I had them. I was deeply repressed. I was behaving so absurdly rationally in a sequence of situations where I was deemed to be culpable for everything that could go wrong. That was when I woke up and began to investigate what emotions I had. I found I had repressed a profound sense of rage, primarily linked to having to leave my homeland, but more generally related to being treated as responsible for other people’s actions.

    It was an unusual experience for me to introduce elements of emotion into my behaviour, but I began to turn on the tap of my passions.

    Of course, I did this very rationally, with many a strategy. I thought, “What would confuse the most?” and I did that. For instance, I figured out there was an office spy (something I hadn’t figured out before, as my emotional awareness was switched off). I gave her contradictory emotional information in the same chain of speech. “I told her, “I really admire our boss….. But above all, I have no respect for him.” I became unpredictable and the strategy worked. I was able to stop people using me as a scapegoat for what went wrong.

    Later, I learned more about the political tactic of calling women “emotional”. It’s designed to get women to play a role of re-connecting alienated and inauthentic men to an entirely different realm of spontaneity and open possibilities.

    So, I shut the valve by refusing to be a conduit so that random males could feel their emotions.

    Western males are rather vulgar, stupid apes, that need to grow the hell up.

    • ” I learned that when a person in a structurally weak position is trying to point out problems to those who may have more structural power than she, anything she says is dismissed as merely “emotional”. ”

      - That is very interesting. I always felt castigated for not being emotional enough. Can anybody really believe that after seeing my writing on this blog? I’m even more intense in real life.

      “As for emotions, I wasn’t even aware that I had them. I was deeply repressed. I was behaving so absurdly rationally in a sequence of situations where I was deemed to be culpable for everything that could go wrong. That was when I woke up and began to investigate what emotions I had. I found I had repressed a profound sense of rage, primarily linked to having to leave my homeland, but more generally related to being treated as responsible for other people’s actions.”

      - I identify with this.

      “Western males are rather vulgar, stupid apes, that need to grow the hell up.”

      - I don’t know, I really dig the ones that surround me. :-) In my family, in the workplace, in my personal life, even here on the blog, I keep meeting truly amazing, feminist, intellectual, kind men. There were a few jerks at grad school with me, of course, but it was fun to trample them down, so they served their purpose. :-) I’m lucky, I know.

      • - That is very interesting. I always felt castigated for not being emotional enough. Can anybody really believe that after seeing my writing on this blog? I’m even more intense in real life.

        ***One of my problems it seems was having no emotional literacy, especially as pertains to what people think is normal or appropriate behaviour in conventional settings. Many of your posts about what would be the appropriate attitude or course of action are those I can’t relate to. I mean I can understand them intellectually, but not emotionally. I can’t understand prescriptive behaviour emotionally, even when the prescriptions are very advanced.

        Where I do have innate skills is in anticipating and handling a crisis. I think my mindset was formed in the context of my country being at war, and there being one crisis after another. So if someone sets up a crisis for me to handle, I’m in my element. I can do very good and immediate emotional readings of all crises. My solutions are always well-measured. I actually become calmer in these kinds of situations, as I can read them well.

      • “One of my problems it seems was having no emotional literacy, especially as pertains to what people think is normal or appropriate behaviour in conventional settings. Many of your posts about what would be the appropriate attitude or course of action are those I can’t relate to.”

        - I’m quite useless at that, too. :-) In professional settings, I just blurt out things. I see people sidestep an issue, being reticent and talking around it, hinting and winking, and that bores me. So I just voice what everybody is afraid to.

        “So if someone sets up a crisis for me to handle, I’m in my element. I can do very good and immediate emotional readings of all crises. My solutions are always well-measured.”

        - My husband is great at this. I, however, immediately start hanging from the chandelier, clawing at walls and being a total drama queen at the smallest hint of a crisis. I’m working on that, though.

      • I’m really bad in professional and formal settings and avoid them, mostly because my sense of humour is unruly. I also blurt things out, but they are things that strike me as funny. They also express my impatience at other people’s repression. So, I’m likely to say something like, “What’s an ape to do?” People who take themselves very seriously get extremely disturbed by my sense of humour. I’m not sure I can put a lid on it, either. To the extent that I do not express my emotions very much, but bottle them up, my sense of humour is my safety valve, which prevents me from going crazy. So I’m going to say funny things once in a while, and most people cannot handle that.

        In martial arts classes, people handle it rather more, but I realize I’m right on the border when I express myself in an unusual way. For instance, the ligament popped out of my knee yesterday, when somebody was kicking the shield. I was badly positioned behind it for the fact that I have an enduring knee weakness. Later, in class, the same person who had caused this inconvenience was paired with me, and I began letting off steam gently: “Try not to do your kicks in a useless way,” I encouraged her, whilst smiling. Her kicks were not accurate, so I was advising her of that.

        I got away with that this time, but I realize this kind of talking can upset some people.

      • “For instance, the ligament popped out of my knee yesterday, when somebody was kicking the shield.”

        - I’m sorry to hear that!

        ” Later, in class, the same person who had caused this inconvenience was paired with me, and I began letting off steam gently: “Try not to do your kicks in a useless way,” I encouraged her, whilst smiling. Her kicks were not accurate, so I was advising her of that.”

        - I’d see that as helpful advice because I don;t see anything offensive about that.

      • It’s humorous advice, rather than helpful, because I’m not giving her specifics as to how to improve. “Try not to be useless” is really funny. It’s so vague.

      • // I always felt castigated for not being emotional enough.

        Could you explain, please, (may be in a post) what you mean by emotional? After all, people aren’t supposed to be “emotional” at work.

      • I wasn’t talking about work-related situations. I think what people perceived as unemotional was that I was always very strong and decisive in my relationships with men. While other women shared endless stories of how “I said… And then he said… And then I cried… And then…”, with me it was always, “So he annoyed me and I dumped him.”

  9. Western males are rather vulgar, stupid apes, that need to grow the hell up.(888)

    Really, really? I suspect youve been having a hard life up to this point. :(

  10. “So how am I supposed to keep track of which pronouns to use when speaking about my friend now that she identifies as a female?”

    Asking them would be the first step, if they really are a friend.

    I mean, I believe in a give and take. If you identify as a female, I’m going to try my best to always refer to you with female pronouns if that’s what you prefer. If I slip up accidentally, I feel that a polite reminder is sufficient. Most people don’t want to be offensive or hurt others feelings (I think/hope), so I think there should be empathy on both sides.

    I do admit I have limited experience with transexuality and I might make slip ups. I want to get better, though, and would appreciate a gentle, guiding hand. Honestly, I don’t respond well to antagonistic people, so I think compassion is usually the best way to change negative behaviours.

    A little off topic, but you got me thinking!

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