Fifty Shades of Gender


Imagine if you will, a world in which every man typified the quintessential male: tall, muscular, hairy, possessing remarkable strength, a very deep voice and stereotypical emotional traits of insensitivity and bullishness. In addition to this, all these males were driven by success, excelled in science and maths and were the epitome of logical thinking and toughness.

Every one of them. No other variants.

Your husband or brother or boss. Every guy in every shop and social setting – some kind of life size, hirsute Ken doll with a fierce disposition.

Now imagine every woman as some kind of softly spoken, highly sensitive and emotional Barbie doll.

Stop! I hear the collective cries of protest across the Web rise up.

We all instantly recognise how variety and difference make for an interesting world. The thought of universal conformity, or everyone personifying the extreme stereotype, horrifies.

So, why then do we try to pigeonhole and define genders? Why – despite the obvious biological differences and a few generalities which tend to be common (though certainly not universal) – do we often project our image of maleness or femaleness onto others, maybe even our own children?

Before you start thinking that I’m one of these progressive types who believe in making girls play with trucks and boys try on angel outfits … I am not. (Though I would certainly have no qualms about letting them play with whatever they want).

What I am is a firm believer in letting people be what they should be. If we were to imagine a scale of gender for men and women, that went from 0 to 50, where 50 meant that you were recognised as the paragon of masculinity or femininity, and where 0 meant you had the biological parts – but little else that fitted in with society’s notions of gender – why could we not accept this simply as variation? Instead of trying to say that someone is less of a man or woman?

And how about the freedom to move up and down those scales throughout different stages of one’s life? I’ve certainly experienced different phases…

Back in the 70s I was free to be a tomboy. No one really talked about it, but when I heard the phrase once and read about it in Famous Five stories, I recognised that I was one. I was a fast runner, got picked early on for playground teams, preferred swinging around on the school climbing frame to skipping with girls and don’t remember crying much or getting easily upset.  I remember being given a rather ornate doll one Christmas, as did both of my older sisters, and thinking “What am I supposed to do with this?” I liked teddy bears, not dolls.

When I watched old black and white western movies in the holidays, I imagined what it would be like to have a gun and go around chasing the bad guys. The lack of brothers meant that cars, cap guns and trains were not on offer in my house. But I liked to imagine.

I didn’t feel much of an anomaly among my peers; in fact, a friend round the corner who had three older brothers, was also quite like me. And apart from the doll incident, my parents never tried to make me do girly things – like join the Brownies. I didn’t pay much attention to what I wore, either. Thankfully it was the 70s and I wasn’t forced to wear pink. (I’m still not very keen on pink – mainly because it doesn’t suit my skin tone.) I put on what was given -mostly hand me downs – and wasn’t concerned by outward appearance. I loved tearing around on my bike – a childhood as it should be – no pressure, just free to play and be what you wanted to be.

I think at one point I may have thought that I would prefer to be a man when I grew up, but this was not more than a fleeting opinion, triggered by the view that it seemed unfair that men didn’t have to have babies. And at age 10 I really didn’t like the thought of having a baby.

Not until a year or so after puberty did my perspective start to change and I began to develop my own taste for fashion and style. I was influenced in part by my sisters, but overall it was my choice. By the 80s I was an over the top, stripy skirt and silver bangle wearing teen, plastered in makeup. My mum never told me to wear it, I wanted to. I even liked stiletto heels until they started to deform my feet.

Thankfully, since then I’ve scaled back with the makeup, though I’m still rather fond if it, and my clothes vary, depending on the occasion or what I’m doing. I’m equally happy in jeans as a skirt, though I’ll admit to not really enjoying the whole glamour, long dress thing. But I don’t expect I’ll need to do a red carpet appearance any time soon! And as for the baby thing, well yeah, three offspring later I suppose I got over that hurdle. But you tend to think a bit differently by the time you reach your late twenties. It’s part of growing up.

In the same way, many men speak about becoming more gentle or emotional once they become fathers. I’ve read that older men also often experience a longing for intimacy and tenderness that they didn’t need in their younger days.

I’m not sure where my dad would have fitted on the scale – in some respects he was very typically male, in that he loved technology and woodwork and was good with cars and fixing things. On the other hand he hated the pastime of most men of his era – football – in fact, he didn’t like sport at all. And it was my mum who caught the spiders in our house!

The purpose of these observations and personal revelations – which could probably be mirrored by millions around the world – is to demonstrate how we are all different and have varying seasons of life; we should be given the freedom by society to develop at different rates and in different ways.

Children in particular should not be pressured to look or behave a certain way. And new mums would perhaps benefit more from reading 50 Shades of Gender than 50 Shades of Grey – a text that is rife with stereotypes and gender extremes (albeit without the hairy male). Please save us from a world filled with Christian Greys and Anastasia  Steeles! *

And as for that scale we discussed earlier… According to Twitter, over 75% of its follow recommendations that are apparently ‘Similar to @AnnieCarterUK’ are male. I guess I must write and think like a guy then! So I’m probably a 12 or 13 on that scale. But then again, I do like jewellery and lipstick so maybe I’m more of a 24. How about you?

*P.S I couldn’t bear to read the book, but have read more than enough reviews and critiques to know that it would infuriate me. I’m also not in favour of literary (or not so literary) porn.

For further reading about one man’s sad and confusing gender story, click here.

For a great article in The Independent that highlights parental opposition to classifying toys by gender in shops, read here.

Poem: Summer Psalm: Contented Soul

Photo by Peyri from Flikr’s Creative Commons

[It may not be summer, but the gorgeous sunshine today reminded me of a poem I wrote when my boys were younger…]

Sunshine in my hair

Warm rays soak through the skin

Perforating my soul with feelings

Of ridiculous contentment, as I

Absorb this summer day and await another

Long leisurely night


Slow down

No need to hurry now

Drink in beauty from

Above and around, strolling through Central Park

Sipping ice cold juice or playing

Inane invented games with my boys


Giggles and sparkling eyes abound

Listen intently to my stories

We lie down

Heads towards heaven

Pondering changing faces

In the clouds


Ice cream and hotdogs

Friends, family, you and me

So good to be a part of

This unique unit, bonded

In heart and spirit

Joined by common experiences


And I thank God for His goodness, for the

Golden glow on my face.

Sand gives way beneath

Bare feet, and I

Marvel at this wonderful

Expanse called ‘sea’


I could never tire gazing upon her

Shifting patterns nor hearing her

Distinct rhythmic power

As waves splash our faces

Sheer force won’t let me forget

Your guiding hand through life


This earthen vessel recharged

Ready for the dark days ahead

When sunshine is rare

And my hands and heart grow cold

If I should stray from You

Keep the flame alight in my life,

Don’t want to extinguish your

Blazing, breath-taking fire


So I’ll choose to carry

Summer in my heart throughout

The changing year

Christians and Social Media – How are we perceived?

Photo credit: Audio X

For many people in this country and abroad, the general consensus is that being a Christian is synonymous with being a shallow-minded bigot, who has no concept of science and no sense of reality in the world.

If the first thing I put on my profile is ‘Christian’, I immediately put off or scare away a whole host of individuals who may have otherwise had the chance to get to know me and possibly see their preconceived ideas busted.

What would Jesus do?

Yes – that old adage which used to be thrown around left, right and centre just a few years ago. But it’s a good question. If Jesus were on Twitter, what would his profile say?…

Jesus, Son of God, Saviour of the World? Jesus – your free ticket to heaven? Jesus – the most holy, awesome One?

Or would it likely be – Jesus. Follow me and find out more?

Jesus didn’t walk around with a fish sewn into the back of his robes. He didn’t introduce himself as ‘King of Kings’ in the first interaction he had with everyone he met.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t call ourselves Christians or followers of Jesus – for that would be denying what we are. Rather that, just maybe, we don’t need to declare this first, at every opportunity.

Perhaps our actions and attitudes should precede our words.

When I interact with the man behind the counter in a supermarket, I don’t interject: “Hello – wave – you do realize that I’m a Christian, don’t you?!” as I hand over my store card. When I talk to parents at the school gates, I don’t say – “Hey, remember that I’m a Christian, won’t you? Did I tell you that last week?”

When I go to a party or event – same thing. Do I simply start a general conversation with a stranger or friend of a friend, or do I begin by saying, “Hi, my name’s Annie and I’m a Christian.”

That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet, in many ways, that is how we can come across on social media by declaring our religious affiliation in our brief profiles.

If we wouldn’t do that in real life, why do we do it in the virtual world of social engagement?

I’m aware of the other point of view, that we should not be ashamed of Jesus or our faith. I agree.

But wouldn’t it be great if people observed something positively unique in us before we barraged them with our spiritual status?

Should we proclaim our label of ‘Christian’ at every possible moment and opportunity, before someone has had the chance to process anything else about us?

I’m not saying that there is a right way or a wrong way. People should feel free to present themselves in any way they wish. Obviously churches and Christian organisations will always be blatant in their introductions and statements of who they are. But maybe others should rethink their position.

One of my finest moments came when I was teaching part-time in a school, and, during a casual lunchtime conversation with pupils, mentioned something about church. A year eight boy asked me if I was a Christian. When I answered affirmatively, he showed surprise. “But miss”, he said, “you don’t look like a Christian!”

I had shattered his pre-conceived ideas of what a Christian might look like. I was chuffed about that.

In the same way, I didn’t reveal that I was a Christian to colleagues until after I’d been in that school for over a year. (Not necessarily on purpose, it’s more that I was dashing around so much in class, there was little opportunity for chat, and being part-time I missed out on most social events).

Anyway, the teacher I worked most closely with was equally surprised when I revealed my Christian faith; I didn’t fit her stereotypical Christian caricature. In the time before that, when I went about incognito – or before I came out – I got the distinct impression that many colleagues were pretty anti-Christian.

I quietly got on with my work, trying to be a hard working teacher, trying to stay positive and friendly to all. I got on well with most of those around me, but I wonder how different it may have been if I’d declared my beliefs right from the start.

When I once met a new supply teacher in the staff room during a free lesson, I felt immediately uneasy when she started harping on about church within the first three minutes of conversation. It seemed forced and irrelevant in the context, even though we shared the same faith. Perhaps sometimes Christians talk too much? (Yep, including me.)

I’m open to others’ suggestions on how best to handle this modern day issue. What do you think? Should we always introduce ourselves as … [insert name], Christian? Or do you think that I’m some kind of heretic for being unwilling to declare the ‘C’ word in my profile or within the first five minutes of meeting someone?

I only hope to challenge readers to consider others’ perception of them, and how they might best reflect the kingdom of God to those around them in their daily lives – both online and offline.

And as for having a fish on my car… never (I’m not the best driver in the world!)

But, who knows? Maybe I’ll change my standpoint on these matters in future.

Poem: Invitation to Light

[I unearthed this poem from six years ago, one of my grittier, honest poems…]

Darkness encapsulates the soul

Flaunting its ability to deplete nearly every last drop of hope and delight

In the ordinariness of a life squeezed by stresses or disillusionment,

Deflated by the realisation that self-fulfilment is not within reach

Nor peace a possibility at this stage in the game of life

(Young mothers may understand what I mean)

Yet merely a flicker of an eyelid commands power through its

Invitation to light,

As the eyes allow access like windows into my very being,

Embracing the call of creation which

Diffuses my small sufferings and dares to defy

Negativity, too much subjectivity

Or inflated thoughts of doom and gloom

Scattered through the day like pepper on a plate

Vision enables me, calls me to scan the horizon from east to west

And to see beyond the boundaries of my existence, while

Everything within cannot resist the rapture of God’s alluring landscape

My lungs expand involuntarily to grasp a fresh taste of salty air

As exuberant waves demand my attention, and I cannot deny

Your existence, Your true trademark of nature

And my all-consuming little life is dwarfed by the wonder of silvery sea and

Sugar-like sand that cannot be captured in the palm of my hand

And I laugh at the way you designed me to depend on

Your light, as you shine through the sun

Saving my sanity, as warmth envelops me,

Teases me, reminds me that there’s more to this world

Than me, than mine, and yet more of me,

And your cotton-like clouds entertain far more than what I see on TV

And the stones on the beach are pure pleasure to see

I’ll remember next time

When I open my eyes and respond to your

Invitation to light