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.

Will Young, 33, quoted in the Daily Mail. Read more here.

Somehow, I think we’ve known it all along, though we really might not wish to believe it’s true: That we could have all the things we’ve ever wanted and still be unhappy.

In a recent interview, British pop-star Will Young admitted the raw truth of his own life:

“I’d buy houses and get nothing from it. Bought cars – got nothing from it. I’ve gone out and spent £5,000 in Selfridges – and nothing. I don’t even wear the stuff. All those things I thought would bring me happiness, don’t.”

Inner satisfaction is not found in the acquisition of stuff; Mr Young confirms what, deep down, we already knew. To grow as an individual it’s imperative to explore the areas that do bring joy in life – quality relationships, and finding and pursuing our life’s purpose.

I’m also convinced that time spent outdoors, enjoying beauty, creation and wildlife, brings immense happiness.

All the rest is not of such great value as we once thought. How long it takes us to learn this lesson is up to us. 

“All those things I thought would bring me happiness, don’t.”

“It’s society who’s ugly.”

Photo: wikinoticia.com

This was Lady Gaga’s scathing response to critics’ harsh words about her recent weight gain. She said: “To all the girls that think you’re ugly because you’re not a size 0, you’re the beautiful one. It’s society who’s ugly.”

The flamboyant star, known for her outrageous outfits and tendency to shock, has got it right. Society has become ugly, when people think they are justified in launching personal attacks on anyone over their appearance. Especially when the jibes, which are so vicious and reprehensible, are directed at someone who has previously suffered from eating disorders.

The question on my mind at this time is: How did we get to this place, where society without a doubt has become so ugly?

I would hope that we can start to turn the tide and place more emphasis on the internal qualities and characteristics of every individual, rather than focusing solely on the external which is prone to fluctuations and flaws throughout one’s life. Ultimately, what kind of society would we be left with if everyone was beautiful and toned, but also vacuous, cruel and selfish?

(Read more about this story here.)

“It’s society who’s ugly…”

Setting things straight – Regarding Rupert Everett’s Assertion About Gay Parents

Mr Everett, an openly gay, British actor who starred in the 90s hit Shakespeare in Love, has certainly kicked up a media storm among the proponents of gay marriage and parenting by saying: “I can’t think of anything worse than being brought up by two gay dads.”*

I’m wondering whether his assertion might be groundbreaking here. A gay man attacking a gay lifestyle choice? Virtually unheard of. The likes of Stonewall and other organisations must be quaking in their boots. How dare he stray from the party line!

What’s that you say? There isn’t a gay political party?

Perhaps not, but at times it’s seemed as if every gay person has to toe the line over the rules of attraction, marriage and parenthood. Or risk being shunned from the very community which is meant to wholeheartedly accept them.** Perhaps this explains in part why Everett has decided to disassociate himself from said community. (Quote: “I’m not speaking on behalf of the gay community. In fact, I don’t feel like I’m part of any ‘community'”)

I admire Everett for his boldness to state his opinion. After all, the whole basis for the gay movement is underpinned by a belief in sexual freedom and the right to live as one pleases without threat or discrimination. This surely includes the freedom to hold and express one’s own opinion.

Looking at this topic aside from the perspective of gay rights and gay wishes, there arises a very poignant issue – namely that of the adopted or surrogate children, who ultimately have no say in the matter. They are simply denied the opportunity to be parented by both male and female figures. And no, I don’t think having uncles, aunts or friends of both sexes really counts – though such individuals are certainly valuable to a child’s upbringing.

I hope that the gay community take it upon themselves to consider the long term consequences of growing up in a family consisting of same sex parents. Each one should perhaps ask themselves: How much would I have enjoyed growing up with two mums or two dads? Would I have missed out on something?

Like Everett, such a thought seems horrific to me. Growing up with only sisters, for instance, I valued even the variety that male presence in the shape of my father brought to the household. However, to be denied the input of a mother, despite her flaws or imperfections, would have been unthinkable.  Meanwhile, the thought of only two mums… I won’t go into that.

And yet, regardless of the assumption that two, loving gay parents might do a very fine job of raising children (and indeed better than two irresponsible or immature heterosexual parents) – what about the wishes and rights of a young child?

Little human beings are not accessories or pets to boost our ego or fulfil our dreams, nor should they be part of a societal experiment. We would all do well to remember that. Only time will reveal the loss experienced by those with no voice.

History shows us that civilisations thrive where families consisting of mother, father and children are the norm. And future research will hopefully include reports from interviewed adults who have grown up in non-conventional family units. For how we are brought up shapes us long after we have moved out of our childhood home.

I think it’s good that someone like Rupert Everett has had the audacity to bring such issues to the surface. Long may there continue to be like-minded individuals (gay or straight) who will put forward their point of view, in spite of the ensuing media backlash.

*In an interview by the Sunday Times Magazine, 16 September 2012 (Online subscribers only.) For more about the furore, you can read excerpts of the interview here.

**Reaction from the gay lobby was similarly aghast when earlier this year lesbian actress Cynthia Dixon from Sex and the City fame, who used to have a husband, claimed that – for her, being gay was ‘a choice’.  See this article

Disclaimer: I don’t hate gays. In the past I have happily engaged with both gay neighbours and lesbian ones. I liked them. They were very nice people; I invited them over. I just don’t have to agree with everything they do or say or stand for. Is that okay? Same goes for all my friends. Likewise, they’re free to disagree with me.

Candyfloss Culture

ImageToday you’ll find me over at Jennie Pollock’s great site  

I met Jennie on the online world via a writing challenge we were both completing. I was unable to complete all the challenges in a timely manner but I’m hoping to knock another two off my list with the above article…Challenge #9 Great Writers Connect with other Writers and Challenge #12 Great Writers Provoke Us.

Jeff Goins’ 15 Habits of Great Writers series certainly alerted me to the fact that I need to be proactive and get going with projects whilst also being ready to stick my neck out and take a few risks. Amazingly, after interacting with Jennie about this article that I’d had brewing in my mind for quite some time, she encouraged me to not only write it but suggested that it feature as a guest post on her blog. Rather than find a million excuses as to why I shouldn’t, I decided to seize the opportunity and go for it.

It turns out that Jennie is also a spectacular editor who worked her refining magic on the post, including dividing it up into two separate articles. I am most thankful for her willingness to offer me this opportunity as a guest blogger and hope that you will enjoy looking around her site. Jennie is also a twitterer well worth following. She can be found at @MissJenniep.

(NB – Candyfloss is our British term for  ‘cotton candy’ as it’s known in the States. Photo: stockfreeimages.com)