What’s really feminine or masculine?

Lately, I’ve been pondering the topic of genders and gender roles. Above all, I’ve asked myself what being feminine versus being masculine truly entails? The more I contemplate and the more I twist and turn the meanings of these notions, the more they seem to lose their meaning. Because in addition to valuing and judging ourselves and the people around us, they don’t really add any value at all. The only thing they do is determining how well we live up to expectations of how we should be and act. Expectations that simultaneously feel dated in a modern society. Let me paint you a picture. To point out that a woman is feminine is basically another way of saying that she’s doing it « right ». To point out that a man is not masculine is basically another way of saying that he’s doing it « wrong ». And vice versa of course. But what is right and wrong when most personality traits are so closely linked to a certain gender that the intrinsic value becomes secondary? If a woman is conspicuously muscular, she’s considered masculine rather than strong. If a man uses make-up to enhance the way he looks, that vanity is considered feminine rather than self-aware. If a woman has excessive (or just normal…) body hair, it’s considered manly. If a man has little or no body hair at all, it’s considered womanly. Everything we are, do, and know becomes secondary if our gender is wrong. And when we evaluate like that, everything loses its value. With this in mind, I’ve begun to remind myself not to describe people or the things they do as female, male, feminine, or masculine. Somehow, these notions only spark exclusion. In our often so mad world, almost everything is part of a simplified two-degree scale. Everything is a binary construction; educated or uneducated, fit or unfit, masculine or feminine, etc. Every grey zone in between these stark opposites requires some form of explanation, and the only thing that explains is that perhaps it’s not so strange that a lot of people struggle with mental health. How can we all be expected to fit in, if there are just two sizes of everything? If everything revolves around how well we live up to ideals created to be unreachable, is it any wonder? Sure, grievances and inadequacy are what feed a capitalist society, but let’s save that discussion for another text. Here I’d mainly like to establish two things; it might be exhausting to question, but it’s lethal not to do it.

What is feminine? What is masculine? For starters, I think some rephrasing is in order. What is considered womanly? What is considered manly? Out of curiosity, I’ve asked some people what they think. The responses have varied a little, but in general, most of them have concerned the very same thing, namely superficiality. A friend of mine told me she feels like a woman whenever she’s had time to do her make-up properly, gets an opportunity to wear high heels, put on a fancy dress, and well, make herself feel « beautiful » basically. Although it can sound parodic in this discussion, the fact is that almost everyone I asked told the same story. Some couldn’t come up with any answer at all, and that is of course an answer in itself. Because it’s not until we bring certain structures into question, that we realize how little sense they make. If we were to say that using make-up is a feminine thing to do, is it then masculine not to do it? Is something non-feminine synonymous with something manly? If being muscular is a masculine thing, does that mean it’s also non-feminine? What if a man is not muscular, does that make him feminine? Again, what is right and wrong when the way we assess one another is so askew? Must there be only a right and a wrong? Could a muscular person not just be strong? Could a person using make-up not just be self-aware? Why should one gender “need” the aid of make-up to be considered complete, when the other doesn’t? Of course, there are differences between men and women, and the point here isn’t to erase all of those, but if we’re being honest, we have to admit that the vast part of the real differences is biological. All other differences we’ve come up with ourselves. I, personally, have no urge to start wearing skirts, but if we’re simply being logical, skirts do look a lot more comfortable than pants do. And I’m sure just about any woman would have loved not to « have to » wear make-up, without that being a form of a statement. Despite the lack of logic in these divisions, the time we live in has taught us that these are rules to be followed. Women should wear make-up, and men shouldn’t. Women should keep their legs together, literally and figuratively, while men can be as promiscuous as they wish. Women should keep silent, while men should be heard. To be respected, women need to go through a lot of fuss, whereas men basically only have to exist to attain the same thing.

Saying out loud that you’re proud of being a woman, a gay, a lesbian, a transgender, etc. is still considered to be activism in this day and age. Everything that falls outside the tiny, cramped framework of being a heterosexual cisgender (preferably male), comes with a struggle. So what is implied in a statement like that, is that your reality is not an easy one, but that you carry on nonetheless. That pride is linked to the social struggle, and not to biology. A woman who says she’s proud of being a woman doesn’t say so because she’s got two breasts. She does it because she knows she has to work harder, and she does it. And that’s both inspirational, touching, and admirable. But should it have to be like that? The truth is that in a wonderful world, the answer is no. There wouldn’t be a reason to exclaim that you’re proud of your gender or your sexual orientation. But the fact that certain people’s realities are still unthinkable for others, is the reason we haven’t gotten any further. Nevertheless, I often think that I feel to be different and to be a part of a big minority. It’s made me a richer human being, to be in a position where you often look up instead of looking down. I believe the reason why this community is such a privilege to be a part of, is the abundance of love. There is a pent-up need for unconditional love and acceptance, simply because it is so scarce in the world beyond. Here, the love is so uniquely concentrated, simply because it’s not given room to spread out freely in a world that doesn’t embrace difference. That form of unbridled acceptance people give to one another, I believe to be a prerogative for all peripheral groups in society. And those who aren’t different like that will never get to experience the same form of love. Why? Because in the big world, there is no need for small rooms with lots of acceptance, because it’s already everywhere. Whenever I think of it like that, I feel a little sorry for « normal » people. I suppose the price you pay to take acceptance for granted wherever you go, is to be a little blind.

The other week, I was at the beach with some friends of mine and their kids. On one occasion, one of them told me « Be a man a just jump in the water, Adam! ». It was said as a joke, and I wasn’t perturbed at all, but it still struck me how little I miss being so young that I hadn’t yet begun reflecting upon the meaning of my words. It was one of those moments when it felt pretty great not to be young-young anymore. Regardless of how much I can miss the naivety and invincibility that marked being a teenager and a young adult, they’ve got nothing against being able to say « In that case, I guess I’m something else than a ‘man’ « and mean it. Yes, I sometimes miss the tempo from the past, but the serenity and insights of the present are priceless.


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