Sunday, February 20, 2011

Not A Real Woman

I finally figured out why this whole discussion about "gendered research" bothers me so much. My entire life other women have been telling me that I'm "not really a woman" or that I "think, act, speak just like a man." Things that disqualify me as a "real woman" range from tiny and insignificant (e.g. my indifference to chocolate) to more important ones (my bookishness, my directness in interpersonal communications, etc.). I might move from one continent to another, from one country to another but there will always be some women somewhere who will explain to me that I don't fit into the "correct" version of womanhood. Women, mind you. Never men. (I realize that men do that to other men, of course. But I'm not a man, so I only get this from women.) Of course, discovering that my passion for research now also characterizes me as not really female couldn't fail but annoy me. 

Gender relations are a lot more complex than "bad horrible men oppress nice kind women" (or vice versa). Both men and women are actively engaged in keeping existing gender stereotypes in place. Both men and women are victimized by these stereotypes in certain ways, while being favored by them in a variety of other ways. 

Often, people who pretend to denounce a gender stereotype end up perpetuating it. In the discussion of "gendered research" I was told several times that "women are expected to be nurturing as teachers." The curious thing, though, is that I have never in my life heard, read, or saw on TV any man use the words "nurturing" and "teaching" in the same sentence. So who hides behind the seemingly innocuous passive construction of "women are expected"? Who really expects us to be trivial, giggly, chocolate- and boyfriend-obsessed, nurturing, self-sacrificing, cookie-baking, wasting our lives on household chores, and incapable of producing valuable research? 

17 comments:

SarahL said...

My experience is the opposite, I'm 6ft tall, loud, have an upfront contact style and have consistently been told be men that I'm aggressive, butch, intimidating, but I have found that women are much less superficial in their judgements.

My experience is that generally it's men that want us to fit the stereotype, the women I know and have known are comfortable with the differences.

Izgad said...

Thats ok I am not a real woman either. :)

On a serious note your comments would fit with the Baron Cohen theory that Asperger Syndrome leads to a very "male" brain.

Clarissa said...

SarahL: that I'm intimidating I have heard from people of all genders, creeds and colors. :-) Aggressive, too. :-) But what I'm talking is when people specifically connect those qualities to gender.

Izgad: there is no male brain. There is just a lot of sexism, that's all. :-) :-)

Leah Jane said...

I've had the opposite experience as well. I've never had a problem with women telling me I'm not feminine enough, but a frequent backhanded compliment from male friends that I get is that I'm "Not like other women. Basically [I'm] one of the guys." When I pressed for evidence, they said it was because I wasn't "catty" and that I wasn't a "tease" and didn't try to use sex to get what I wanted.
Huh?

Clarissa said...

Nobody ever told me I wasn't feminine enough. I can't really imagine any woman saying that to any one. The "you are just like a man" comment has absolutely nothing to do with how feminine one is.

It's very telling that people aren't managing to read the text that I actually wrote and respond to it. :-)

" When I pressed for evidence, they said it was because I wasn't "catty" and that I wasn't a "tease" and didn't try to use sex to get what I wanted. "

-A very clumsy attempt at manipulating you.

profacero said...

Well, it's not women (or not research oriented women) who think they can't do research or should be more "into" "nurturing" teaching. I think that's where you misunderstand Historiann's thread.

I've always gotten all kinds of crap for "thinking like a man," not being sweet enough, and so on. I also don't like to bake, which means I don't bring cakes to the department.

However, the most amusing story is during the era when I was the designated outside member on a lot of English dissertations. It made sense since I'm from CPLT originally and I know some things about English. So from being in Spanish, I was on a lot of Chicano studies type dissertations, and then it expanded to African American Studies, and so on, to Queer Studies. Everything alternative / minority.

I again thought it was because of my field but then found out it was also because of the impression I seem to give, which is: gay.

Reasons for this impression, I was told, were five:
1. Living in the city, not the suburbs, and being willing to commute from this mysterious urban life.
2. Wearing dark colors, not more traditionally feminine ones.
3. Not wearing spike heels; if I wear heals they are not terribly delicate.
4. Having strong opinions.
5. Never discussing husbands or boyfriends in class.

profacero said...

Well, it's not women (or not research oriented women) who think they can't do research or should be more "into" "nurturing" teaching. I think that's where you misunderstand Historiann's thread.

I've always gotten all kinds of crap for "thinking like a man," not being sweet enough, and so on. I also don't like to bake, which means I don't bring cakes to the department.

However, the most amusing story is during the era when I was the designated outside member on a lot of English dissertations. It made sense since I'm from CPLT originally and I know some things about English. So from being in Spanish, I was on a lot of Chicano studies type dissertations, and then it expanded to African American Studies, and so on, to Queer Studies. Everything alternative / minority.

I again thought it was because of my field but then found out it was also because of the impression I seem to give, which is: gay.

Reasons for this impression, I was told, were five:
1. Living in the city, not the suburbs, and being willing to commute from this mysterious urban life.
2. Wearing dark colors, not more traditionally feminine ones.
3. Not wearing spike heels; if I wear heals they are not terribly delicate.
4. Having strong opinions.
5. Never discussing husbands or boyfriends in class.

Clarissa said...

"It's not women (or not research oriented women) who think they can't do research or should be more "into" "nurturing" teaching"

-But I only hear it from women, as weird as it sounds.

"Never discussing husbands or boyfriends in class"

-My methodology of teaching prof tried to teach me to share such info with my students. How I suffered!

According to your list, I'm gay too. :-)

Jonathan said...

Indifference to chocolate alone should disqualify you. That's pretty essential to womanhood. I guess the women on that thread were right to see you as an impostor.

[sarcasm from a male chocolate freak]

Clarissa said...

:-)

Every time my husband orders chocolate cake at a restaurant, the waiter puts it in front of me. :-) It isn't easy to be a chocolate-loving male. :-)

Pagan Topologist said...

I think of myself as a nurturing teacher, or at least as an encouraging one. Less so at the freshman and sophmore levels than at upper level undergrad and grad level, but still somewhat so.

Canukistani said...

This gender stuff is funny. I was married to a feminist pioneer who was the first priest in the diocese to take maternity leave. We use to get letters addressed to the Rev. and Mrs. X. so I guess I was Mrs. X, the clergy spouse. We also had a male nanny to look after the kids. He was an Irish mormon who trained in a nanny school.

Anonymous said...

I don't fit the qualities of masculinity very well. I don't follow professional sports. I'm not into cars, or action movies. I prefer art, movies, and books, and writing. Physically I am not large. No one has ever said I was unlike a man. I *am* masculine in other ways. Then again my social circle accepted me for who I was a long time ago, and some of them are similar to me. I am not concerned with what other men think of me. However, I do worry that women will not see me as masculine enough.

My sense is that some female stereotypes are harmless (the preference for chocolate) while others (speaking directly, being interested in certain things, etc.) are used to keep women from asserting themselves or acquiring power.

Clarissa said...

" some female stereotypes are harmless (the preference for chocolate)"

-I thought that too until I saw a commercial, saying: "60% of women say they prefer chocolate to sex".

Canukistani said...

Have you ever watched Otomen (オトメン(乙男))? This is a Japanese teen drama about the adventures of a soushoku danshio or Japanese herbivore boy. Here’s a link to episode 1 with English subtitles.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLhCZDJ9uoA

J. said...

(disclaimer: I'm not currently at a research university, so this is technically fairly off topic in terms of the research/gender debate)

Clarissa and Profacero--FWIW, I got the assumption-of-gayness thing for a while (I was older when I married) from a lot of my friends and colleagues. Later what many of them told me caused the assumption (I guess they could have been lying, but I prefer this to the other reasons!)was that I was smart, attractive, fun to be around, and they just assumed that if I'd wanted to be coupled I probably would be, so the fact that I wasn't indicated that I probably wasn't interested in men and was dating in the closet.

I chose to take that as a compliment. :-)

(Even better was that, when I DID find The Guy, it turned out it was someone several of my gay friends had been unsucessfully coming on to for several months. Their self-esteem and confidence in their own hotness was immediately restored.)

Y'all are utterly destroying my hope that getting my butt into academia might give me a shot at escaping the inherent sexism of my current position...

Clarissa said...

There is a lot of sexism in academia. There is also a lot of pseudo-feminist and quasi-liberal silliness. Still, an academic position is a wonderful, wonderful thing, which I strongly recommend.