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Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Matters of Identity

It was after a fairly amicable break-up. But I have to confess it, when he said I was "kind of masculine" because I'm "analytic about things", I did not react by thinking "Why, yes. As a result of socialisation which may or may not be aided by natural differences between the sexes, women do appear to be less analytical than men, on average, and I am certainly an exception to this rule." No, what I thought was basically "Well, f*ck you, too!" Why is this?

On some level, I want to be feminine. That is to say, I want to identify as a woman, want to count as a genuine member of my sex. It's a matter of identity. I think most people feel this way about their gender. As a result, statements of the form "Men are usually..." or "It is feminine to..." are almost never able to be nothing more than statements about the way men or women are. Inevitably, they end up containing some idea that this is the way men or women ought to be.

This means that when people make entirely scientific statements about women, on average, scoring less than men on maths tests (or having a smaller sexual appetite, or whatever) I find it hard to believe that someone, somewhere, is not taking that as a normative statement; a statement about what they should do to fit in with their treasured identity. I'm not saying that people shouldn't do these studies, or report what they find, but I think it's important that people consider what they are playing with when they make gender statements. They are not to be made lightly or without basis.

Of course, it's often possible to flout the 'rules' that apply to masculinity or femininity. I do it all the time. I think it ought to be encouraged. That will make reporting on these kinds of scientific tests less dangerous; it will also decrease the effect of the far more frequent casual statements about gender. Above all, it gives people more freedom to be themselves.

Still, I have to admit, when I look around my room and see the dusky pink silk scarf hanging up on one wall and the sloppy picture of Mount Cook daisies on the other, I can't help feeling glad that, quite without conscious effort on my part, you can tell my room's a girl's room, physics texts and all.

It's important to be yourself. It's very comforting, though, when the person you are can naturally fit in with the labels you want to hold.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So being analytical about things makes you masculine? Wow. Seriously, that's a new one for me.
But then again, I'm in a relationship where my boyfriend cooks and sews me under the table, while I LOVE soccer and study linguistics. And calling him "feminine" or me "masculine" would be... well... not fitting to say the least.