Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Gender Blender

Found this posted as a 'comment' on my famous 'EatandCritique' blog:

Hey there! I am stopping by to invite you to come and join the Missouri Women Bloggers network. It is free to join. Our goal is to gather, grow, and connect MO bloggers to empower all of us. In the coming months we will be offering our members meetups, a conference, and compensated writing and blogging opportunities. Just Google Missouri Women Bloggers to find our website where you can learn more about us and join in!
Fawn @ Missouri Wxxxxxxxx  (Actual address obfuscated by me - DCB)
You won't see it on the site since comments on that page are 'moderated' meaning that they don't post automatically, I have to approve them first. I haven't decided on this one yet. Comments are 'moderated' to block the incomprehensible comments from the many, many Russian spammers who try to litter up the site.  Fame has its downside.
I was flattered by this invitation. Yeah, flattered. I like to be invited to join things. I rarely do join them because I'm about as asocial as it gets. However, when someone goes out of their way to invite me to be part of them, it usually means that my very meager contributions to the universe have been observed and seem to be compatible with the interests of others.

But Dennis, you're not a 'woman'!
I live in Missouri and I am a blogger. Two out of three ain't bad, right? A sports player that hits two thirds of the pitches hurled at him is considered a superstar.
Besides, it's a chance for me to stand up for gender identification and related issues.
I'm pretty open minded about that sort of thing.

I grew up slightly ahead of the times.
While June Cleaver was still all dressed up in heels, a fashionable dress and hair perfectly quaffed, while boiling a sumptuous roast for her husband and kids, My mom was going to college to start her first of two professional careers.
While she was away at school, I was taken care of by her mother, a retired teacher. The women in my life had careers, professions, jobs.
So when the women's lib movement was just getting warmed up, my mom was already out ahead of it. Not that it was all smooth sailing, it certainly wasn't. She was vilified by friends, neighbors and even family for merely working outside of the home.
I thought nothing of it. I had a roof over my head, mediocre meals, simple clothing and on weekends the entire family would do stuff together. It all seemed perfectly normal.
I was only later aware of the controversy, the glass ceilings, the wage gap. Mom has two Master's degrees and a doctorate and had two full careers, but never earned more than my eighth grade educated, self trained, maintenance man father.
When she announced that she was going into the ministry, in the late seventies as I recall, one of her older male cousins stopped by the house just  to shake his finger and yell at her for her blasphemy.
I couldn't figure out the problem. I knew my mother was very intelligent, a talented teacher and certainly a devoted shepherd to her faith. I lost a lot of respect and patience for the more 'fundamentalist' wing of the religion after that. It just seemed terribly arbitrary at best, a complete waste of resources, and at worst, nothing more than blatant, oppressive, institutional, misogyny.
Women have come a long way even in my very short lifetime. We're not there yet, but at least women are being 'allowed' to do more and more. In my mind, I'm all for women taking on more responsibility, more work, that's less that I have to do. I don't want to be the sole provider. I don't want to shoulder the entire responsibility, for anything. I'm more than happy to share. I wouldn't even mind finding out that Angel makes more money than me. What a relief that would be! The fact is I really don't know how much she makes, or myself either, she takes care of the finances. See, I share. I used to take care of the money stuff, but she asked to take it over after I made a few stupid and embarrassing errors. She's much better at it than I am. We're partners. I do my own shopping and laundry, we both mow and do the dishes. There are some things that we each do more than the other, but there's a balance in there somewhere. Not perfect, not exactly 50/50, but not too bad.  At least she doesn't complain very often, anymore.
When I was running for office back in the early 90's I met a fellow Party member at a campaign get-together. He and his girlfriend were introduced to me by a mutual friend. She wore a conservative but stylish dress. So did he. She was a brunette, he wore a blonde wig. She adored him, even though in heels, he towered over her.
Yes, at first I was a bit 'distracted' by the man wearing the nice dress. This was new to me. I'd seen men dressed as women before, many times on TV and the movies. Heck, Flip Wilson had already made a career out of it. Jonathon Winters, Jack Lemmon, Julia Child. . . Lot's of guys dressed up like women. Mostly comedians though.
This gentleman was the first straight cross-dresser I'd ever encountered in person though, that I know of. Yes, he was straight, the girlfriend later assured us, with a wink.
I don't know much more about the couple, I only ever saw them once or twice more and I didn't pry. I didn't care, I wanted to get to know them for their political support, not to compare underpants.
These days of course there's lots of gender identifications and even a push to rid our culture completely of such labels. I never understood the need to differentiate between 'comedian' and 'comedienne' or 'actor' and 'actress'.  What's the point? Even in Spanish, you have 'la radio' and 'el teatro'  indicating radios are feminine and theaters, masculine. Really? Why?
In our own contrived and impure tongue, we have 'chairman' which seems to be masculine and we have to struggle and use scissors, tape and baling wire to twist it into  'chairperson' or chairlady when we hire a female (for less money) for the exact same position. That's a lot of unnecessary verbal contorting.
Certainly there are differences between males and females biologically, even though that too is not as crystal clear as one might think.
I know I am a man and I'm okay with that. Not much of one admittedly, but still. Many things we ascribe to a gender traditionally are just silly.
Surely menstruating and giving birth are clear indicators of biological gender, but other things, like grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and raising kids have been proven to be capably managed by many, many men. I admit I'm absolutely lousy at menstruating and raising children, but some of that other stuff, I can do quite capably.
I learned to cook as a very young kid. I never felt it was a girly thing. My dad cooked frequently, my mom was not home much and my grandmother's cooking was awful, terrible, disgusting. I learned to cook as a survival mechanism. I had a sister around too. I didn't want her to cook for me, I was pretty sure that given the chance, she'd try to poison me. (I still feel this way)
There are some cultures that go well out of their way to differentiate between the two (and only two!) sexes. Men and women have specific duties and roles. They worship separately, dine separately and they even make the women completely cover themselves, head to toe. I do not ever want to live there. I like interacting, mingling, seeing shapes, ankles and faces.
Nowadays, there are gender-blenders. Trans/bi/cross, etc. You cannot always tell someone's preferred identity simply by looking at them. I'm fine with that too. Let a person call themselves what they want in this respect. You feel like a woman trapped in a man's body? I'm okay with that. Feel more comfortable in a skirt than dungarees? Sure, why not? I myself, envy the breeze.
Male/female roles have been studied, a lot. You can pretty much find a study that supports your opinion, regardless of where you are on the grid. That's because individuals and families do not live in sterile laboratories. Living in the real world we are all significantly affected, or infected by our ambient culture, every day. Even to this enlightened day, men and women are both subjected and expected to conform to certain standards of conduct and behavior. That standard may vary from location to location, but not by a whole lot.
I would like to hear an argument on this:
The only rational reason to endorse the continued 'traditional' roles and behaviors for men and women is to perpetuate those roles and behaviors.
I have seen men that are more caring and loving nurturers than many, many mothers I've known.
I've known many women with superior upper body strength to that of many, many men. (myself especially)
I've know many men that don't care for athletics, cars, hunting, heavy metal music, beer, bacon, etc. I've known many women that do.  I know many men and women equal or better in their abilities to multitask, stack bricks, earn a living, teach, preach, drive trucks and go to war. Certainly there are 'trends' and norms, but in almost every behavior I can see just as much diversity within a gender definition than across them.
How many of these are still lopsided, trend-wise toward one gender or the other simply because of 'traditional' stake-holding?
Are women biologically more loving and nurturing and emotionally motivated? Or is it something else? I seriously don't know, and I challenge anyone to design a realistic study that could determine it, devoid of 'cultural' influences. It's just not that easy to do.

So the Missouri Women Bloggers Network has invited me to join.
I'm a little uncomfortable with the gender specificity and emphasis. I'm not sure I understand the need for this segregation. I mean, what exactly is the gender of my restaurant reviews?
On their site to sign up, they asked me to check a category for my blog. Sure enough, 'Restaurant Review' was a category. So was photography, DIY, farm and garden, 'green/eco' and a host of others. In fact, about the only one that displayed any overt female reference was 'Mommy/Parenting.' Even that last one hinted that it was perhaps 'broader' than strictly feminine.
I suppose it is possible that they thought my blog was written by a woman, but only if they didn't actually read a single entry. In that case their bar for qualifying for an invitation is a bit low, I should fit right in.
A couple of years ago I declared the year of the female author. It had occurred to me that most, the vast majority in fact, of the authors I read up to that point were male. Not by deliberate choice, only that the genres I enjoy the most, crime fiction, mysteries, etc. were written to a disproportionate degree, by men.
I tried a few, and was fine with the change. I even tackled Janet Evanovich's 'Stephanie Plum' series, eleven separate volumes by that point I believe. I never picked up the rest of the series though, Not because of femality of the writing, but for the tired repetition of the formula. The first few were fine, the rest were like repackaged retreads. Men do that too.
I don't care for the uber-masculine writers, where women are always victims or two-timers or are constantly in need of male rescue. I like a strong, well described character, a flawed character, male, female, gay, I don't care.
I'm not sure the MWB will accept my application. I've done nothing to mask my gender, so if they are a strict 'Girl's Only' club they may reject me. Which I may not like, but rejection by women is something I am quite familiar with. Very, very familiar.
So what if Timmy wants to play with dolls, Jill wants to play football, Jack likes fashion week and Ann prefers hunting? Who cares?
My blogs do not exactly ooze testosterone, or estrogen either for that matter. . .Do they?
In my mind, when you set up gender specific organizations, you are severely limiting yourself. If you want to highlight women's issues and perspective, how do you do that without at least a little balance of perspective?
Granted there have been in our cultural history, many, and still are a few, 'men only' clubs. But we've been working for generations now to tear down those very walls. Knocking down those walls, jumping to the other side and rebuilding them doesn't accomplish the stated goal.
So hey missouriwomenbloggers.com, do you know what organization does not exist on the internet? missouribloggers .com, .org, .net., etc  
None of them have been registered as domains. Why the limitations ladies?

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Note: I won't be terribly upset if I am rejected simply because I have different baby parts from the gals. Maybe they just want to be off by themselves. Maybe they desire it and deserve it. It's a private club, they can make whatever rules they want. I'd never even heard of this group before I saw the comment. I also would not think to deliberately seek out articles limited to female OR male voices. Especially on subjects like gardening, photography, DIY and food.
No, let's only go to restaurants that WOMEN recommend!
I see that the Nikon camera is rated higher in price/performance/quality than the Canon, but how many of those evaluators were just MEN !?!
Maybe I just think differently.