Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Musings on Gender

I have been thinking a lot about children lately. Mainly because of my nephew. His name is Christopher, and his first middle name is Robin. Believe it or not, he was named after Christopher Robin from the Winnie the Pooh children’s story. My sister really loved that cartoon. Plus she was going through a depression at the time of her pregnancy so I guess she thought that maybe if her kid was named after a cartoon character he’d be happy and not depressed like she was.
 Anyway, the point is that I have been much about children, and babies recently. Christopher turned a year two months ago in April. But what I am intrigued by is how manly he is already, even from as early as nine months. Everything he does: how he twists his body, how he deliberately does things to annoy the girl holding him, how he immediately stays silent and unmoving when a male holds him… 

This is highly ironic because his mother is one of the girliest people I have ever come across and his father is rather metrosexual; the epitome of the Western, civilised, self-effacing, 21st century male. The only other person who lives with them is sister’s mother-in-law and she is a very sweet little old lady herself. So where did all this manliness come from all of a sudden? 

There is something interesting in my family in that all of us look very muscular and tough even though we hardly exercise. Both Christopher’s mother and I have rather large calves. People always ask my sister if she was an athlete. I have very well-shaped arms and whenever I stand with my hands akimbo people ask me if I work out because biceps appear from nowhere. My other two siblings, another sister and a brother, have smaller limbs but even they look tough. The brother because he is a martial arts champion has trained his body to look fit. But what was startling was that as soon as he started to work out, he very quickly looked super muscular. Honestly, I work out for a week and I start getting a six pack.

The true test is my other sister. She has very smooth slim legs and arms, which have only recently started to get bigger because of her diet, but she is changing that now. But she has the kind of extremely firm, very large, round behind that one would normally associate with an African American athlete. I’m talking a Serena Williams behind. How can her derriere be so firm if she hates exercise?

Anyway, I’m getting off track. This isn’t meant to be about fitness or my family’s weird athletic looking features. This is meant to be about Baby Christopher (never Chris). And I’m about to get academic sounding here but its nothing too ivory tower so its cool. Baby Christopher really challenges all the beliefs of the gender theory and Judith Butler's Gender Trouble. She and that school of thought believes that gender (not equal to sex) is not biological, but taught. This theory believes that all of the behavioural traits that come along with gender are taught to us by society and not inherent by our sex. I am still a firm believer in this because notions like boys shouldn’t cry and girls are hysterical pretty much get thrown out of the window when babysitting at daycare I observed the fact that male babies tend to cry more than female babies who are often more composed. Anyway, then along came Christopher with his masculinity who made me doubt my beliefs. I still believe many traits are taught and I hope Christopher’s masculinity won’t hold him back from crying (which indicates emotion which is a necessary sign of humanity and the denial of that component in masculinity is what turns some men into uncommunicative, heartless monsters). But the intuitiveness of his masculinity really makes me wonder. Is this an essential, unchanging part of him? Or will it change? Will he outgrow it? Or will his masculinity only get more…intensely masculine? 

I see a problem here. Masculine is too vague a term. Interestingly, its not as fixed a meaning as feminine which brings more (mostly negative) connotations to mind. Maybe that’s because women are constantly told what a “lady” is supposed to be by men. Men don't suffer from the Madonna/whore dichotomy that women do after all. In any case, masculinity in terms of how I am using it here refers more to an “Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!” Sparta warrior cry ideal. Or think the series Spartacus. Hmm, all these movies/shows are set in ancient times. For a more 20th Century example think of Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire. A great 21st Century example is Ali in Rust and Bone. It shows the kind of brutal, oblivious, insensitive force that I characterize masculinity as.

But of course, there are other types of masculinity. Forget the warrior/abusive husband/boxer uber-machismo ideal and think of the more debonair stereotype. The smooth talker. The charmer. Benjamin Schwarz wrote a FANTASTIC piece on the charmer that I suggest everyone read because it explains the manipulation of the charmer better than I can.

To be honest it doesn’t matter which one you prefer because both those stereotypes are calculating and cruel. One uses brute force/uncontrollable rage and an inclusive brotherhood that women are not allowed into, while the other uses smooth language and manipulative schemes to get into a lady’s pants while not giving a shit about her.

I don’t want either of those masculine ideals for Christopher. But you know, I am an open minded girl and so I think what needs to occur is a re-evaluation of masculinity.

Can we have a masculinity that respects women? One that, yes, provides, but understands that a woman can provide too and that that does not mean she is trying to emasculate him? Can we have a masculinity that is able to accept and understand that a man can cry and that is okay because it makes him human? Can we have a masculinity that doesn’t try to manipulate and seek to destroy womanhood at every turn? Can we have a masculinity that is not self-destructive and de-humanising of himself and harmful to all other people around him?

Cause that’s the kind of masculinity I’d like for Christopher. I love him very much, and this is why I am prepared to teach him the kind of masculinity I’d like to see in the world.

So that one day, when he falls in love with a girl or a boy or whatever, he will be the kind of caring, loving partner that everyone wants. And hopefully he will have the good sense to fall for a caring person too that gives him the kind of love he deserves too.

This is my wish for Christopher, and for the world.

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