Last night I was told by two young women that if I was exactly the way I am, only a guy, they wouldn’t like me.
It began with us discussing how sometimes people just don’t like us—not due to any personal conflict, but more of a personality clash or something. I said how it was most often men who had this type of problem with me. Extreme versions of this involve my presence bringing out the rampant misogyny in men that they had previously kept well under wraps. (I’ve got some funny stories about this, that include a [female] pet rabbit that supposedly didn’t like human females because she felt competition for her [male] human owner.)
In any case, I stated some potential reasons for this aggravation, aggression, or just plain aversion occasionally directed toward me. It is clearly a problem that I don’t vie for the sexual attention of men generally. I am not particularly “feminine” (the quotes indicate the caveat “in the traditional [or socially constructed, or recognizable]” sense) and I can be crass. “Oh, and loud,” I added. “I got that one the other day.”
I had a slight sarcasm in my voice that apparently demanded the response of, “You are loud.”
Not too loud, they said. Still, I said, that term is used to describe me, but If I were a man that would never happen.
They didn’t deny that, but one said, “If you were exactly the way you were, only a guy, I’d be like, ‘Shut the fuck up!'”
“Me too!” the other added. “I’d hate you!”
“But you’re not; you’re a girl; you’re fine; so stay a girl.”
I was a bit taken aback, to say the least. I began to say something about just perpetuating gender expectations, but decided I didn’t want to go into it. Something about male privilege, taking up space, was said, and some other half-coherent comments about asserting power in certain situations, and I made sure the subject shifted quickly.
What I mean by maintaining gender expectations is—Well, why don’t they just tell me to shut the fuck up and hate me? Why is my womanhood a get-out-of-jail-free card? If I were a guy, taking up the space that I do (which I don’t consider all that much, but I do have my moments, and I’m the first to admit that), I would be considered, what, rude and obnoxious and oppressive (by people who might consider themselves feminists, as these two women do)?
But, since I am a woman, and take up more space than I was socialized to, I am, what, reclaiming this space of my own volition, a successful feminist, one to be admired? So I am allowed to be rude and obnoxious (not oppressive, as a woman I clearly cannot be), or at least a greater amount is forgiven?
This smacks of tokenism, a tokenism being carried out by the very members of the marginalized group of the subject they are tokenizing. Not that I ought to be surprised—as I have seen, women more than most disenfranchised groups are encouraged to squibble* amongst themselves, to gain power over each other, and to never look up (or out) (or in) at any other potential source of oppressive (ab)use of power.
Women are taught that we are alone in our struggles, that men could not possibly understand, or be expected to understand, or be expected to want to try to help, and so we look almost entirely to one another as measures of our progress. Any measure of progress suspected is seized upon and used as a mark, a martyr, a token of feminism’s “success.” And so idiosyncrasies are “tolerated,” or ignored, but rarely questioned or confronted as they would be in individuals in the dominant group.
So the goal, then, is becoming like the dominant group—like men—defining our progress and ourselves in relation to men, or what we understand to be typical male behavior instituted by millennia of relatively uncontested power.
Perhaps it’s like a pendulum that needs to swing to the other extreme before settling, like Derrida’s reversing binaries before obviating them: Before we can conceive of any real alternatives, we need to mess with as best we can the current options without actually transcending them.
If this is the case, I just pray we will be able to (or remember to) eventually transcend them. Maybe if we are collectively mindful enough, this will happen in my lifetime, at least to some degree, at least in some pockets of society. Then maybe people can actually, (as) genuinely (as possible), be accepted (or not accepted) based not on a precondition of where they happen to fall in societal structures, and not how much they may valiantly (or not) defy (for better or worse) the scripts set in place for them. As Greta Garbo said in Ninotchka, “Do not make an issue of my womanhood.”
(I’d like to qualify this whole thing: I am also considering the more personal implications of this exchange. We all have idiosyncrasies, we can never be perfect, blah blah blah, and I struggle with being self-aware, and wanting to know where my idiosyncrasies come from, how they manifest interpersonally, etc. [an interest in social psychology], but knowing I cannot possibly change them all. I have becoming increasingly comfortable with this, as I have come to embrace many of my idiosyncrasies. And then there’s the whole idea of changing yourself [or at least your social self/mask] to appease others, which not only do I not want to do on an ethical level, more importantly, it takes a lot of energy and I’m just too lazy and/or otherwise engaged.)
*Squibble is a combination of squabble (“to engage in a disagreeable argument, usually over a trivial matter”) and quibble (“to evade the truth or importance of an issue by raising trivial distinctions and objections”) (Dictionary.com).