Dating Scripts: A Personal Story

Miriam, who keeps churning out brilliant posts, just wrote an article on whether it makes sense to follow traditional dating scripts:

Conventional dating scripts are being challenged all the time, but they still cling to life in the form of movies, TV shows, Cosmo, and many other bits of culture. They also continue to drive the actions and desires of many people, albeit not of me and the people I hang out with.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that they make things so deceptively easy. Dating outside of the conventions seems riskier, scarier. But in reality, it’s not. There’s so much joy and freedom in writing your own rules, or forgetting rules altogether. It opens up the possibility of meeting someone who likes to play by the same rules, or lack thereof, as you do.

I agree with Miriam completely and I wanted to share a personal story demonstrating why what she says makes a lot of sense.

N. and I met when he came to New Haven for a summer job. I had been planning to move to Canada for my last year of grad school, so we knew from the start that I would be moving to another country within three weeks. N. couldn’t (and still can’t) leave the US because of his visa issues, which we also knew from the start.

From the moment we met, we were so much into each other that we start living together on our second date. Now what you have to know about me is that I prefer to initiate everything during the dating process. I like to be the one who invites the man on a first date, initiates the first kiss and the first sexual contact, etc. That’s just who I am. It makes me happy. I’m a total find for a shy guy who is afraid of rejection and doesn’t know how to go about such things. N. is the perfect partner for me because he is precisely such a guy.

So I got the chance to initiate everything and we were both happy as clams. Then, the moment came for me to move to Canada. Since the relationship was going so well, I really wanted to move my stuff to Montreal and then come back to New Haven and stay with N. while he kept working his summer job.

Here, however, I decided to adopt the traditional female role of sitting there like a patient little wallflower and waiting to be invited to come back to New Haven. I didn’t do it because I enjoy this role. I actually hate it. And I didn’t do it because N. had given me any indication that he wanted me to be this way. He obviously doesn’t, or we wouldn’t be together still. So I waited to be asked. And he was waiting for me to show that I wanted to come back.

And then we waited some more. And some more.

Finally, when all of my stuff had been packed into the mini-van and I was on the doorstep, resigned to leaving and never seeing him again, N. blurted out:

“But don’t you want to come back and continue being together??”

Of course, I did come back and we hope to remain together forever.

It really scares me to consider that I almost lost the opportunity to be with somebody who was very obviously made for me because at a ripe old age of 31 I suddenly decided to fake being all passive and traditionally feminine. I was afraid that I’d scare N. away by being all pushy, in spite of how clear it had become that he liked my pushiness, which is an integral part of my personality.

So I agree with Miriam: all of these traditional behaviors and dating scripts are bunk. It makes no sense to force oneself into a role that one doesn’t enjoy. And what’s the point of attracting a partner by acting fake? It isn’t like one’s true nature won’t come out eventually.

False Feminist Issues Versus Genuinely Feminist Issues, Part III

– Pay equity has not been achieved yet. This is a crucial issue which will not be resolved by promoting the belief that “men conspire to keep women down by paying us less.” We will not achieve pay equity, in my opinion, until the male identification with professional realization and money-making is weakened and the female identification with them is strengthened to a point where they meet somewhere in a healthy intermediate point. (I can go into more detail in another post if people are not sure how this is supposed to work.)

– Gender discrimination in the workplace should stop. And it’s up to all of us to stop it. A man who believes that women should not be doctors, firefighters and soldiers are as much of an idiot as a woman who believes that men should not be massage therapists, secretaries, and daycare workers. There is nothing in anybody’s anatomy that makes one incapable of performing well in any job.

And the most important thing that, I believe, would help us resolve all of the above-mentioned issues:

Let’s stop fixating on genitals so much. As progressive and enlightened as we are, we still allow the biological sex (of others as well as of ourselves) to matter to us way too much. As long as we see the world in terms of men and women, men versus women, female interests against male interests, we will be stuck in this gendered universe that hurts all of us forever. Just imagine the freedom we will all experience when people will read as little into the shape of our genitals as they do into the shape of our ears and the length of our toes.

Last week, in my Spanish 102 class, I handed out an exercises with pictures of people practicing different professions (we are studying the vocabulary of the workplace). Immediately, several students raised their hands.

“There is a mistake in the handout,” they told me. “Here it says that this person is called Carlos and that doesn’t make sense.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Well, he looks like a girl. And besides, this is an elementary school teacher, so it’s got to be a woman.”

I started getting hot behind my ears, especially because the students still don’t possess the kind of command of Spanish that would allow me to explain to them that it’s nobody’s flapping business how Carlos looks and what profession he chooses to practice. And also that we should not be policing anybody’s gender identity in a Spanish class or elsewhere.


False Feminist Issues Versus Genuinely Feminist Issues, Part II

False feminist issues (continued):

– “Women are conditioned to please.” Everything I have seen in life has led me to conclude that men are the ones who are conditioned to please women. However, I realize that I should not be projecting my own very limited experiences onto an entire gender. If anybody is conditioned to do anything here, it’s me. I was brought up in a way that makes me see men who strive to please and not see men who don’t. In reality, however, this is not a gender issue, but, rather, a matter of individual psychology. I blogged about it before and don’t want to repeat myself too much.

If people have more false feminist concerns, feel free to mention them. Now, for the list of really important tasks that feminism still has to accomplish.

Genuine feminist issues:

The right to manage one’s own body as one sees fit. This is a core feminist issue. The only actual differences between men and women can be found (not always, but in the majority of cases) in their physiology. And until this physiology is under the complete control of every individual possessing it, there can be no discussion of gender equality. This is not only about abortion, even though the right to an abortion is absolutely crucial. There are other important issues, too, such as, for example, the very inadequate nature of male contraceptives. Is there even anything there, aside from condoms and sterilization? This isn’t good enough.

 Equal rights and equal responsibility parenting. Until taking care of children stops being the exclusive purview of women, we cannot hope for any gender equality. Maternity and paternity leaves of equal duration need to be legislated. Shared custody of children should become the norm and be awarded in the absolute majority of cases. All of us, men and women alike, will have to work hard to change our mentality and stop seeing children as some sort of an appendage to their mother with the father being expendable.

– Gender stereotypes need to go. There is still way too much of this “women (men) are, think, want, feel” crap going on. There is such a huge demand for these tired old gender stereotypes and for the discourse of “hardwired gender differences” that all legitimate research is vitiated and forced to serve the goal of selling more copies of tabloids. (Read Cordelia Fine on the subject, people. If you don’t have time for an entire book right now, the read Janet Bing’s article “Brain Sex.” When you do, I promise you will not want to talk about gender hard-wiring in the brain any more.)

(To be continued. . . )

False Feminist Issues Versus Genuinely Feminist Issues, Part I

Before I begin, I want to remind everybody that when I speak of feminism, I refer to a system of beliefs and a form of political activism arising from the idea that one’s physiological characteristics need not be invested with meaning. Simply put, feminism is about making sure that the shape of our genitals does not translate into the roles we are assigned in our personal, professional, intellectual, political, etc. endeavors.

One of the main dangers to feminism nowadays is, in my opinion, the frequency with which people label as feminist aspects of existence that have nothing to do with gender roles or gender expectations. Many people seem to think that feminism exists to make their lives better in every possible aspect and when it fails to do so, condemn it as a failed ideological project. It makes as much sense, however, to expect feminism to achieve anything other than what falls under its purview, as it is to expect a Kindle to do your dishes for you.

In this post, I want to provide a list of issues that often receive the label of feminist concerns but that have nothing to do with feminism. Then, I will offer a list of what I consider to be genuine feminist concerns. This is a work in progress, so feel free to add to both lists.

False feminist issues:

“The impossible standard of beauty.” Beauty is supposed to be quite impossible, otherwise it wouldn’t be beauty. My appearance, which is as common as pickled cucumbers in my country, has been referred as “exotic” in many places I have visited. Beauty is supposed to be hard to achieve, difficult to find, special, rare. It’s frustrating as hell that we can’t all consider ourselves and each other beautiful. But it’s not a gender issue. It’s as hard to look as Brad Pitt as it is as Angelina Jolie. Female and male models in magazines all have the kinds of bodies that cannot be encountered in nature. It can be extremely frustrating to see those impossibly skinny, ripped, flawless bodies on the screen and on billboards. To suggest, however, that it is more frustrating to all women than it is to all men makes absolutely no sense.  (Research shows that I’m right and that body image issues have no gender.)

“There is a system in place in our society that uniformly oppresses all women (men) and benefits all men (women).” There is a very large group of people who confuse gender wars with feminism or men’s rights activism. In reality, however, their engagement with gender is neither political nor philosophical. It’s always strictly personal. Such people have been hurt by a man (many men) or a woman (many women) and are now analyzing societal issues through the lens of their personal hurt. (See a very vivid example discussed here). I believe that no patriarchal ogre is quite as damaging to the cause of feminism as these gender war champions.

– “We need to promote women’s right to choose any lifestyle they wish.” As we all know, I detest “choice feminism” and see it as profoundly anti-feminist in nature. “Choice feminism” promotes the idea that women are such saintly creatures who exist outside of societies, ideologies, family structures, etc. that every single choice these infallible individuals make should be celebrated. If you question any kind of a choice made by any woman, you are an anti-feminist. This kind of respect for any choice they might make is, of course, not extended to men, which makes “choice feminism” a movement that reinforces gender boundaries.

– “Women are told to be skinny and are fat-shamed!” Once again, as annoying as this phenomenon is, it has nothing to do with gender. The fascination with thinness is very recent historically and very culture-specific. A society values what is scarce. This means that a society that routinely overeats will value thinness for the same reasons that, until very recently, my society (I’m from Ukraine, in case you don’t know) valued plumpness after surviving horrible famines. I don’t think that anybody can reasonably argue that all fat men have things easier than all fat women. Not only is this not a feminist concern, it is also not an issue that anybody can do anything about until the majority of our population becomes thin.

(To be continued. . .)

Womanly Women and Manly Men

The beauty of Internet is that a couple of ill-advised clicks can transport you into a completely different universe. This is how I stumbled on an article that discusses Hollywood’s loss of popularity by a passionate character called John Nolte.  Instead of discussing Hollywood’s ills, the article’s author engages in a very entertaining public fit of hysteria about actors who do not conform to traditional gender expectations:

We The People love Sandra, Will, and Denzel for a reason. She’s gorgeous, smart, womanly, classy and approachable, and the fellas are masculine, confident, classy, and non-neurotics who take charge. They also make films that deliver. Not all the time. But most of the time we the customers know that if they’re in it, there’s a better chance than not of bang for the buck.

What they are not and what no movie star has ever been is a child playing a grownup (the exception, of course, is comedians like Adam Sandler or Lou Costello). The Orlando Blooms will never be movie stars. Neither will the Michelle Williamses. And don’t get me started on Shia Le-what’s-his-name.

Look at your history, both recent and long past. Hollywood may have changed over the last few decades, but the people — the customers — have not. The human animal simply doesn’t evolve that quickly. Furthermore, stars shouldn’t represent who we are; we don’t want to see ourselves on the screen. Stars should represent who we want to be. Men want to be John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. Women want to Ava Gardner and Barbara Stanwyck.

Masculine men.

Womanly women.

Who knows why in the strange imaginary life of this rant’s author Sandra Bullock, whose only more or less memorable role was precisely one of a “manly woman”, has transformed into a paragon of femininity.

What I wanted to draw your attention to, instead, is the italicized confession John Nolte makes in this piece. His hysteria over the bad, horrible Hollywood stars who do not fulfill the traditional

Will Smith, Nolte's favorite manly man, actually looks great as a woman.

gender expectations is driven by a realization that he himself does not measure up. He tells us very clearly that he is not one of those masculine men, which is precisely why he wants to see them on a screen as often as possible. If he could see one in a mirror on a regular basis, he wouldn’t be bothered by not encountering him in a movie theater.

And it’s always like this, people. The greatest partisans of strict gender roles, the worshipers of womanly womanhood and manly manhood are so obsessed with gender for the simple reason that they feel they never can catch up with this elusive, non-existent category. If only somebody were kind enough to tell them that manliness and womanliness are highly subjective, that they mean entirely different things to different people, that searching for the gold standard of gender in real life is futile. Maybe then they would be able to go to the movies and simply enjoy a film.

Keep reading the article. There is a hilarious discussion of how commie-pinko-unpatriotic-anti-American Hollywood actors “insult” the profoundly conservative American audiences with their partisan movies. And then read the comments because, seriously, it’s a glimpse into a different world. There are folks who actually say that Hollywood actors “hate the troops.” Priceless.

Gender Issues in Our Lives: A Semi-Open Thread

Reader Titfortat posed a very interesting question that, in my opinion, deserves a separate thread:

I’m curious if any of the theorists in magic land actually encounter even 1 tenth of the nasty gender stuff they claim happens out in the real world?? That question goes out to both male and female that inhabit Clarissa’s fine blog.

In my own life, I can say that it took me years of very painful struggles to get rid of gender conditioning that was undermining my existence in a variety of ways. In grad school, I remember lying on my bed trying to read a book in preparation for the comprehensive exams, and in the meanwhile, this nasty voice in my head kept reminding me that reading was not what a woman should be doing and that it made me a total loser as a woman to be doing that.

There were forced public gynecological exams I had to undergo as a child since the age of 11 (Soviet Union, everybody). I had to get married when I didn’t want to in the least because good girls didn’t shame their families by having long-term boyfriends, they got married. I’ve been pawed, harassed and beaten in the street by men who didn’t accept a “no” (Ukraine, people). I’ve been fired from a teaching position for being “too pretty” (Montreal, folks). I’ve been offered a lesser salary than male colleagues with lesser qualifications for the same job. I’ve been told more times than I can remember that I’m not a real woman, I’m a man, I have something seriously wrong with me for wanting to have a career, for not being interested in finding a husband to keep me, for paying my own way, for liking to read, for liking my job. Every single time I heard this, it came out of a woman’s mouth. I’ve had male colleagues suggest that my good grades, my publications, my grants were all a product of me sleeping with both male and female professors. I’ve been slut-shamed by female friends many many times.

Still, the hardest part was getting rid of my own inner gender conditioning, learning to accept all the ways in which I didn’t conform to the gender stereotypes of what a woman should be like. I think I managed to do it, and it has been such a relief to shed the burden of gender expectations.

So this is my story. Please share yours.

I’ll make this post sticky for a while, so that people can share their own stories of how gender stereotypes, roles, conflicts and issues hurt them in their lives. Scroll down for new posts.

Please remember that I’m not looking for statistics on what happens in New Zealand or wherever. This is a thread where we share personal stories. Anonymity is welcome.

The Gender of a Slob

Noah Brand at No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz? writes about how the narrative of cleanliness versus messiness has been framed according to the fictitious gender divide:

It’s taken as cultural gospel that men are, by nature, sloppy, unhygienic, and generally filthy. Women, by contrast, are neat and clean and constantly exasperated by the unending tide of filth that is the male gender. Indeed, a standard way of calling a man’s masculinity into question is to show that he is neat and well-groomed (i.e. thousands of throwaway gay jokes, or every episode of Frasier). This is part of a larger cultural narrative, one that I’ll call the “civilizing” narrative, wherein men are grunting, violent, ill-smelling brutes, and women must overcome these disgusting attributes and train the men to ape the manners of civilization. (Usually via their role as sexual gatekeeper, dontcha know.)

This kind of narrative is not only is insulting to men, as this talented blogger points out. It also marginalizes many women by presenting them as not fully female if they are not bravely fighting germs for the benefit of their entire family.

My sister and I, the slob of the millenium and the slob of the century respectively, are a case in point. We both have many amazing attributes: we are intelligent, funny, loyal, and also extremely feminine, among other things. However, we were born to be messy. The men in our lives are very traditionally masculine in appearance and general modes of behavior. They are also very neat, clean, meticulous people who are doomed to be picking up after their messy partners. Thankfully, they both really dig cleaning and are great at it.

The four of us are very opinionated and, as a result, have never bought into the dominant narrative that tells us that a woman who washed the floors in her house once every six months when she lived alone and a man who gets annoyed when somebody does the dishes instead of him must have something wrong with them. Many people, however, spend their lives trying to fit into a model that is alien to who they are because they don’t want their gender identity to be questioned.

It is truly sad that in year 2011 we still have to talk about the fact that having a penis or a vagina means absolutely nothing in terms of whether you will be messy or neat.