Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Why Gender Shouldn't Matter

In the world of pregnant women, there is one question that seems to come up over and over and over again, whether with complete strangers or good friends.

"What are you having?"

I plan to answer this with, "We think it's a human, but I'm still holding out hope for a dragon."

Of course, that's not what people are asking about. They're asking about gender. We have an odd societal obsession with the genitals of unborn humans.

As it happens, my husband and I are on, what is known in the world of expectant parenthood, as team green. Which means that we will be waiting to find out Speck's gender until birth. Why? Because, a. it seems like it will be a fun surprise and b. we don't really care what the gender is.

Honestly, finding out via ultrasound or finding out via birth is a personal decision that is tied to a lot of factors, and I don't think there is any right or wrong way to do it. We decided to wait. That's all.

But I won't lie, part of why I want to wait is that I don't want close friends or complete strangers to tell me all the things my future offspring "will be" or "won't be" because of what's between its legs. Statements that start with "girls are" or "boys are" drive me nucking futs.

Allow me to explain...

I was always a tomboy.

I heard that word used to describe me over and over again throughout my youth. I had two older brothers who liked playing with fake guns, and I was included in their games as soon as I was old enough to stand up and support the weight of a fake six shooter on my hip. Granted, they always made me the bad guy (that's what little sisters are for, after all) but I they always let me play, and I loved it.

I play fought, I learned to fight for real, I played contact sports, I learned martial arts, I beat up boys on the playground who were sexually harassing girls (to be fair, I did that before I learned martial arts, once I learned a true martial art, I stopped fighting people outside of sparring). I wore my brothers' hand me downs. I romped through the woods with my dogs, climbed trees, played in the mud, and rough housed with with animals and friends. I never wore skirts or dresses if I could avoid them. (Sometimes my mom would insist that I dress up, but I resisted as thoroughly as I could.) I wanted nothing to do with makeup except on rare occasions when I applied it more like paint, and I had more male friends than female because we generally had more in common.

My parents never tried to steer me away from this behavior aside from the aforementioned attempts to get me to dress up for special events. My mom, who enjoys fashion and makeup and a few other more girly pursuits, is also a farm raised badass who can hold her own in a bar fight when pressed, and my dad was ecstatic to have both his kids show just as much love for men's lacrosse as he had always shown.

Playing in the woods behind my house at the age of 10. The spot of ice that is cleared off is a direct result of me rolling around in the snow.

Here are the two dogs that usually accompanied me on my outdoor adventures. 
Note that I'm wearing a baseball cap in both these pictures. I wore that thing every day for three years and was often assumed to be a boy because of it.

I played one season of women's lacrosse in 4th grade, and was so disappointed that there was no body checking that I quit and signed up for the men's league the very next season. My brother was quietly mortified that we would be on the same team. Not because I was a girl, but because I was his little sister. Little sisters were not cool things to have around at that age. My father was thrilled.

I played men's lacrosse through to the end of high school.

In high school, when most parents are busy fretting over what their children are doing with the opposite sex, my parents didn't worry about my brother or me. Once, when I had been invited to go away for a weekend with my at that time boyfriend another parent inquired of my father, "Aren't you worried he'll try to take advantage of her?" My father laughed and said, "I feel very sorry for any boy who tries to take advantage of Virginia."

In college I played rugby (women's, because there was just as much tackling as in men's) and was the friend that all my floor mates called on to walk them home at night because they were worried about walking home alone in the dark.

Over the years, I have become more interested in clothes (though only slightly) but still loathe makeup. I continue to practice martial arts, but have mostly left contact sports behind because I no longer appreciate the risk of concussion. Instead I've adopted rock climbing, trail running, backpacking, and as many other outdoor pursuits as I can cram into my life.

 Rock climbing is one of the few things my parents wouldn't let me try when I was under 18, but not because I was a girl, they wouldn't let my brother try it either, they just thought it was dangerous. I had to wait until I was in my 20s to start, but it was well worth it.

I have a problem. I won't let anyone else be stern when I'm in a canoe. Thankfully, my husband tolerates this personality quirk and is an excellent bowman. 

The precursor to me getting into trail running was me getting into triathlon. There were only 37 women in this entire race of 350 people. But to be fair, this was Japan, where sexism is still firmly planted in the 1950s.

I love camping, and I mean real camping, not "I parked my car near a fire pit and made gourmet meals for three days" camping, but "I walked into the wilderness for a day or more, set up a tent under the stars, and listened to the sounds of wildlife rustling the trees as I fell asleep" sort of camping. The kind that requires not showering for a week or more. The kind that takes you as far away from civilization as it is possible to get.

Me at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, watching the Colorado River flow by, in the midst of a 10 day backpacking trip that I led every year for three years. If you want a "shower" you have to hop in the river. It was my favorite part of my last teaching job.

Most of the things that I enjoy, most of the things I've enjoyed my whole life, are not associated with being feminine. That's what tomboy means after all; "a girl who enjoys things that people think are more suited to boys."

Me and a whole host of fellow gaijin dressed up as samurai for a battle re-enactment in Japan.
This is the closest thing I have handy for a martial arts related picture. So I'm throwing it in here.
One of these days I'll drag out the pictures of me training karate.

When I was very young, I didn't care if what I liked was tomboyish or not. I liked what I liked and my parents never said, "no, that's not for girls" so I went about my business. When I got into middle and high school I clung pretty strongly to the tomboy identity, mostly because it suited me, but partially because I thought liking "girly" things would make me into someone else--specifically someone like the mean girls at my school who insulted people for wearing the "wrong" brand of clothes.

Eventually, I came to accept that I could like as many "girly" things as I liked, just as I could like as many "manly" things as I liked, and neither of those things made any difference in who I was except that it made me happy. So, I wear dresses voluntarily now, but not often, because I still prefer not to wear anything that will prevent me from kicking an opponent in the head. (I'm totally serious. You should come pants shopping with me sometime. I do high kicks in the dressing room to make sure that the pants in question are acceptable.) I wear perfume because I like the smell. I like dressing up and wearing heels in order to seduce my husband on occasion. I love to go dancing. Some "girly" things are just fine. (Well, they're all just fine, but I only enjoy some of them.)

But if you ask me what I want to do on the weekend, the answer will never be shopping. It will most likely be something that involves disappearing into the wilderness. If you ask me to gut a fish, I won't hesitate. If there's a fire that needs to be built, I'll volunteer. I can set up a tent twice as fast as my husband, and I have more experience leading outdoor adventures than he does, and that doesn't bother either of us. I can also crochet a hat in less than an hour, do stage makeup like a pro, and put on a traditional kimono by myself.

So what's my point?

Well, I guess I'm just presenting myself as a case study. I am a female who vastly prefers a lot of the behavior that is typically associated as masculine. You can make a lot of arguments for nature vs. nurture, but I've talked to a lot of women and know many of us who come from all different circumstances that prefer these behaviors to those associated with "feminine." Not all of us had older brothers (or brothers at all) most of us had parents that were accepting of us no matter what, but some didn't. And I also know women who never leave the house without makeup, wear heels every day, and love to shop, but could also kick your ass with one hand tied behind their backs because they spend four days a week training in a martial art. People don't fit neatly into boxes.

I also know many men who do not fit the "masculine" mold. They prefer more "feminine" activities. Some of them love shopping, some of them love fashion, some of them love make up and hair, some of them don't enjoy sports, some of them love to cook, some of them love crafts, some of them "get emotional."

These people are not all, or even mostly, homosexual. There are plenty of heterosexuals who fall outside of gender norms. Why? Two big reasons: 1. gender and sexuality are not the same thing, and 2. gendered behavior isn't really a thing. It's a long standing fiction that we use to normalize behavior in a society, despite the fact that a lot of these associations are very hurtful to both men and women alike.

In my particular case, I don't "feel like a man" and I don't wish I had a penis. (The damn things strike me as terribly awkward, and I'm very happy in my own skin as a woman--though I would give up periods in a heartbeat if I could.) That is some people's experience however, and a valid one, but it is not mine.

But I hate the assumptions that people make based on gender, in both directions. I hate that we expect men not to cry, and that we expect women to want to get their nails done. I hate that we assume women will enjoy cut flowers and shopping, but we are shocked if a man hasn't kept up with the latest football scores. We assume women want to be mothers but that men are only reluctant fathers. (Did I mention the part where I never wanted kids but my husband always has?)

Why are any of these things the assumption? How many humans do you know who actually fall neatly into these categories? And before you answer, stop and really think about it for a minute. Can you think of people you know well, who really truly fit the gender mold with zero exceptions? Even the "girliest" women I know have some interest, skill, or trait that would normally be defined as "masculine" and even the burliest and most "masculine" men I know I have at least one interest, skill, or trait that most people would consider "feminine."

Humans are complicated creatures. We all have a variety of interests and talents, and the labels of "masculine" and "feminine" are simply externally imposed limitations. No one is helped by them in the long run. In the end they hurt both men and women alike.

So, as I sit here, feeling the odd flutter in my abdomen that could be a baby kicking or could just be gas, I think about what it would be like to have a boy, or what it would be like to have a girl, and I ultimately think: it makes no difference at all. This human will be an interesting person. This human will have an unpredictable combination of traits from my husband and I. This human will have interests, skills, and traits that are completely unfamiliar to me. Getting to know this little human is going to be one hell of an adventure.

So why does anyone care about its genitals?


  1. This made me think about a lot of my own memories which would qualify in the "tomboy" category, not the least of which was becoming a field archaeologist. It also reminded me how grateful I am to have grown up with siblings (2brothers and a sister) who know very well that I can do anything I want. You know, your kid is gonna be soooo lucky to have a Tomboy mom. All little ones need dirt and elements. All kids need adventure and physical challenges.

  2. This reminds me of growing up. My favorite bands were Metallica, The Offspring, and whatever my older brother listened to. I played outside with him, wore my boy cousin's clothes, played sports, and cried my way out of taking a dance class, (I was NOT a graceful dancer by any stretch of the imagination). I want my possibly-someday kids to do what they think is fun. I would want a son to feel that its okay to pretend to be the princess or like cooking and I would want a daughter to be able to learn to build things with her hands and get dirt and grass stains all over her jeans.

    I also learned as I got older that I don't mind dresses and heels when the occasion calls for it, but I would rather be in sneakers and jeans for every other occasion.

    I like your outlook on this whole topic. Woo for team green. I also will now be answering that I want to bear a dragon into the world now...I mean, whenever and if I ever host a human parasite in my person. :)

  3. LOVE this post! You go, Lee! You've got it sorted out just right!