|We all know someone (or maybe several people) who is close-minded, especially when it comes to sex and gender. In this essay, I address my cousin's stubborn attitudes toward the gender binary and offer him a method for opening his mind.|
Like Professor Lucal, I believe gender rebellion is a significant part of dismantling sexism. She expresses this in her article “What It Means to Be Gendered Me.” (1999) While some women enjoy a domestic lifestyle, one should not simply comply with her husband’s or parents’ or children’s expectation of her to settle for the life of a housewife simply because of her genitalia. Of course, this does not make a voluntary housewife any less of a woman. But it does expand the career opportunities and give more options to modern women rather than automatically placing them in the stay-at-home-mom category. If you love the housewife life, more power to you! But do it for you, because you like it, not simply because of your genitals.
With all that being said, this letter goes out to my younger, slightly-close-minded cousin Harvey. Hey, Cuzzo. I strongly remember that time last year when you shared a video on your Facebook page: it was a person speaking on gender norms, gender identity, and the social constructs that link gender and sex. The person identified themselves as “they,” so I’ll be referring to them as such. You, however, didn’t. I can recreate the image in my mind clearly: 6 laughing emojis, 4 crying ones, and a caption that went along the lines of “LOL she needs to sit down and act like the girl she is.”
Woah! In about 10 words, you managed to both knock my socks off AND take my breath away. Let’s start with the obvious — “she”. She? I watched that video, and not once did the speaker refer to themselves as a “she”. So what gave you the right to do so, cuz? I’m willing to bet if I called you a “she,” you wouldn’t think it was so fine and dandy. It’s pretty basic, cousin — Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You. If you would like to be treated with the basic respect and decency of being referred to with your preferences in mind, you gotta do the same. No loopholes, no shortcuts, but the exact same.
Next up: “act like the girl she is.” Well, well. Not only are they not a girl, but you failed to explain how a girl is supposed to act in the first place. My feeble woman mind can’t wrap around that order because it lacks details and a step-by-step guide. Please, start over, and use visuals this time.
You see, cousin, this is the exact kind of stubborn, heavily-opinionated mindset so many of us have in regards to gender and the gender spectrum. Repeat after me: sex does not equal gender. If you think it does for even a second, you already rule out the intersex, transgender, and non-binary communities. Three whole communities being left out! I don’t think that’s fair. It was none other than us humans who decided that if you’ve got dangly bits below the belt and no dangly bits on your chest, you are a blue-wearing, beard-growing, dirt-eating manly man, and if your dangly bits are reversed, you’re a girl in pink dresses and ribbons. In one fell swoop, your entire lifestyle, color choice, career options, and spouse’s gender are all decided for you.
I know you don’t believe in the majority of gender stereotypes, Harvey. I know you don’t expect your girlfriend(s), past and present, to want to stay home performing child-rearing tasks and cooking meals all day long. I know you don’t expect your future sons and nephews to want to become firefighters or lawyers or doctors while your daughters and nieces settle as nurses and teachers. These are all silly, dated, disproved stereotypes that hold no weight in this day and age. But if you can deny all those, why don’t you deny the others?
In Lucal’s words, gender is something that we all “do”. If you came across an individual wearing a dress and some killer stilettos, I’m sure you wouldn’t doubt for a second that they were a woman. And why is that? In our society, women are automatically linked with beauty, with pretty clothing and delicate bodies. Is it any surprise, then, that transgender women and drag queens dress in what is essentially a “woman costume” to assimilate more into the gender? Is it any surprise that women who stray from this typical description are sometimes judged or even mistaken for men? Gasp! Is that a woman with a short haircut? Is she even really a woman? See how silly that sounds?
In our society, we put so so so much weight in appearance and our own perceptions of others to determine gender. Gender is such a personal thing, feeling, and mindset, yet we make it our own duty to categorize others and disregard their choices and feelings for the ease of “he” and “she.” Times are changing, Harvey. I know you’re young. I know you’re opinionated. I know that as humans we tend to be stuck in our ways and stick to what we know. But it can be as simple as respecting someone’s pronouns. As a five-year-old, we wouldn’t question if our next-door-neighbor-who-looked-and-sounded-like-a-woman introduced himself as Mr. Johnson. He would just be Mr. Johnson, no ifs, ands, or buts. But if that happened now, it would become a whole interview and mocking session about “the crazy lady who thinks she’s a man”.
You think you’re a man, cousin, and no one questions it. You live as a man, use male restrooms, and “dress” like a man. Now imagine if someone came along and contradicted all you’ve worked toward.
We all just want a little respect, cuzzo,
Lucal, Betsy. (1999). What It Means to be Gendered Me: Life on the Boundaries of a Dichotomous Gender System