Last week I was visiting my parents and my sister and brother-in-law and viewing the solar eclipse with them (they are conveniently living within waking distance of the Georgia/South Carolina border and were in the path of totality), and while I was down there I went rummaging through some old storage boxes in search of some of my oldest "coming out" writings. One of the items I found was a short piece titled "Anonymous Conversation III".
Back in 1980, my first attempt
to put my thoughts about gender and society down onto paper ended up getting me into trouble. The 4-page paper didn't make much sense to most of the people I showed it to; the ideas weren't coherently expressed. One person even felt threatened (not, I think, by the content, just by the fact that an unknown male undergraduate had left this incomprehensible document in her campus faculty mailbox) and that, in turn, triggered an overreaction by the university health center whose triage psychiatrist decided I needed psychiatric incarceration and observation.
That didn't shut me up, but I was a bit more cautious in my next attempts.
By 1982, I was starting to work on a book that I titled The Amazon's Brother
, in which I would introduce my gender stuff by explaining it in terms of feminism. "Anonymous Conversation III" was intended to be an introduction chapter to kick off the main body of the book, which was going to be (and eventually was) a combination of my own story followed by some chapters of feminist analysis and theory derived from those experiences. I initially thought about setting up the premise of the book as a sort of trial to take place before a feminist court, and "Anonymous Conversation III" was an unfinished draft chapter with that in mind. I never ended up using it (by the time I gave up on getting The Amazon's Brother
published, it had a different Intro) and, in fact, it was never even typed out -- what I found in the box was a sheaf of handwritten pages
. But it's an interesting bridge piece, still using some of the terminology (e.g., "spectrum theory", still saying "sexism" where I would later have written "patriarchy") from the problematic 4-pager, but doing a significantly better job (I daresay) of explaining things in an accessible manner.
ANONYMOUS CONVERSATION III
Xy: I want to stand trial on behalf of my entire gender. The charge is that we are responsible for sexism.
Xx: No way. The charge is that, as a general rule, people of your gender have fought against the people of mine who have tried to eliminate sexism, and that people of my gender have done almost all of the work and supplied nearly all of the energy for eliminating sexism. Still want to stand trial? Court is in session.
Xy: Eek! Okay. I'll try. May we dispense with the opening statement for the prosecution? Everyone's heard it a thousand times.
Xx: It has not been heard enough times by enough people. Request denied.
Xy: Very well. It is the contention of the prosecution that, as a result of sexism, people of your gender are deemed inferior to those of mine; that stereotypes of personality have been attributed to each gender; that standards of socially acceptable behavior for each gender have been derived from those stereotypes of personality; that the standards and stereotypes of personality and behavior, hereafter referred to as sex roles... uh, where was I... oh, yes, that the sex role for your gender is deemed inferior to the sex role of mine; that the behavior portion of your sex role reduces your gender to the status of domestic and personal servants, with no autonomy; that the portion of your sex role that deals with sexuality itself reduces your gender to the status of passive objects existing for the sexual pleasure of my gender; that the stereotype of personality for your gender includes qualities of nurturance, kindness, sweetness, compassion, tolerance, and a host of others which are of direct benefit to my gender, which shares the companionship of yours; that the stereotype of personality for my gender includes emotional insensitivity, callousness, and similar characteristics which excuse my gender from any empathic or supportive feelings for yours; that, furthermore, the stereotype of personality for your gender includes docility, acquiescence, politeness, calmness, and so forth, which discourages your gender from confronting mine; that sex role nonconformists are deemed inferior to others of their gender, or psychotic, or both. It is also the contention of the prosecution that the vast majority of people who have taken a stand against sexism have been of your gender; that this unequal participation has been even more disproportionate among those who have dedicated their lives to the active opposition to sexism; that the most vehement SUPPORT of sexism has always come from my gender; that the assault on sexism does not constitute a threat to my gender unless people of my gender find sexual equality threatening; that sexism has negative, dehumanizing effects on my gender as well; that this last observation has been pointed out to my gender by yours more often than the other way around... how am I doing?
Xx: I'm impressed. You've been listening. Continue.
Xy: The prosecution contends that sexism and its manifestations constitute a severe restriction of freedom; that the elimination of sexism would result in an awesome increase in the amount of freedom available to human beings; that sexism serves as a barrier to harmonious relations between the genders, both within and outside of marriage and other heterosexual relationships; that sexism cripples the emotional and psychological development of children of both genders; that my gender does not take seriously that portion of your gender that actively opposes sexism. The prosecution points out that courage and valor are listed among the attributes assigned to my gender; that taking opposition to sexism requires courage and valor; that, outside of an egocentric need for my gender to feel superior to yours, sexism is entirely detrimental to my gender as well as your own. The prosecution concludes that my gender has displayed abject cowardice, egocentrism, or both. How's that?
Xx: Oh, if I thought for a while, I could probably add to the list, but since I am a fictional character in your book, I will accept it. How do you plead?
Xy: On behalf of my gender -- which has not authorized me to stand here in its defense --
Xx: Don't make excuses. This is an unofficial trial. Continue.
Xy: On behalf of my gender I plead nolo contendere
Xx: Nolo contendere
... you do not wish to contend?
Xy: I feel that, although the evidence is valid, the conclusion does not represent a completely accurate assessment of the situation. There are, and have been, extenuating circumstances.
Xx: Very well. You may proceed.
Xy: To begin with, I would like to introduce the concept I call Spectrum Theory. As other opponents of sexism have often pointed out, sexism assumes that all women are alike and that all men are alike. Yet we know this not to be the case. Will the court accept this point?
Xy: Now I would like the court to visualize a spectrum of all people of one gender and a parallel spectrum of all people of the other. At one extreme, think of all the people who come closest to being described by the generalizations that sexism makes about women when those people are being their natural selves.
Xx: That is rather difficult to assess, since we don't know how people would behave if sexism were eliminated.
Xy: Very well. Make it abstract. Regardless of the quantity of people, or even the presence or absence of them standing at that extreme pole of the spectrum, that is what that end of the spectrum represents: those qualities of personality and behavior traditionally regarded as feminine.
Xx: Male and female?
Xy: Correct. That end of both spectrums represents feminine qualities.
Xx: You are aware of the sexism in using the label "feminine", I trust?
Xy: I am. Let's call that direction north, or blue. Whatever. Moving to the opposite extreme, we find the people, or at least the abstract qualities, traditionally called "masculine". Personality and behavior. Both genders. South. Red. Between the two extremes is a blur, a smooth blend. Theoretically, everyone is somewhere on that spectrum. Right in the middle is abstract androgyny. A person with a mixture of traits that are traditionally thought of as masculine and feminine, but with a greater preponderance towards the so-called feminine end would be green. Between the middle and one extreme. And so forth.
Xx: How about the person who behaves and feels differently at different times?
Xy: If you took a spectroscope and pointed it at the sun, you would find that it produces blue light, yellow light, red light, and so on. But it looks yellow because the yellow part of the spectrum is where the sun's intensity is at. If you go out at night, you will see red, orange, yellow, and blue stars. They each put out many different wavelengths too, but what you see is the brightest color, the place where their intensity is concentrated. And it's not the same for every star.
Xx: Or every person. That makes sense. Go on.
Xy: Now I'm sure you would object if I were to say that all women should be this way or all women should be that way, but I would expect you to object more strenuously if I said all women should be like Susie Q the girl next door than you would if I said all women should be like you.
Xx: I'm not sure I agree with you. Are you saying that... well, I guess I see what you're saying. I might be opposed to inflicting a new standard for women to have to conform to, and I would be, but it wouldn't affect me directly and personally if I myself were the prototype. I would automatically be normal.
Xy: Exactly. And you have experienced the frustration of not being the prototype or resembling the prototype close enough to be seen as normal without pretending to be someone you are not. If you had been born with a personality that just happened to coincide with sexist expectations you wouldn't know what it would be like to be at odds with them.
Xx: I will accept that. I'm curious to see where you're leading. You may continue.
Xy: Going back to our spectrum, or our parallel spectrums, let's take a look at what sexism does. On the male spectrum, sexism says to the red, or south-polar people of my gender, "You are normal. All males should be like you." Meanwhile, on the female spectrum, the people of the very same red south-polar personality and so forth are hearing, "You are weird. You are abnormal. You aren't doing it right. Something is wrong with you". Same personality. There are only two differences: gender, and the message they are getting from sexism. I ask the court which difference is most likely to make a difference in the attitudes of these people? Gender, or exactly opposite messages?
Xx: I would assume that any rational person would say the messages they are receiving.
Xy: And on the other end of the spectrum the situation would be reversed. Blue, north-polar women get the message that they are normal. All women should be like them. Blue, north-polar men are told they are weird. Something is wrong with them. The people in the middle get messages sort of like "You're okay, but you ought to be more this way, or that way". Sexism irritates them but it doesn't assault them with a full-fledged negation of their identities. Which people are most likely to be fully opposed to sexism?
Xx: Red... let me see if I have your terminology straight... yes, "red" women and "blue" men. We are tallking about men and women who would be described in sexist terms as unmasculine men and unfeminine women. Go ahead, I'm listening.
That's as far as I got with "Anonymous Conversation III". I can tell you where I was going with it, though:
Conjure up a conventional stereotype of a feminist woman. You did? Well, is she assertive? Verbally aggressive? Belligerent? Does she have fewer feminine mannerisms and behavioral characteristics including body language and how she participates in discussions? And/or more masculine characteristics, for that matter? OK, there's a scintilla of truth within many stereotypes. Feminism specifically says
that holding different expectations and using a different evaluation ruler for women than the one used to evaluate men is sexist
, and while feminism doesn't lack appeal to women whose personal characteristics pretty closely map to what you'd call "feminine", it constitutes a particular validation for women whose characteristics do not. So you end up with a situation involving tough confrontational women reacting to the definitional expectation that they be dainty and delicate. The very act of engaging in this type of confrontation is an act that comes more easily to a person whose characteristics tend more towards being dominant and aggressive, and furthermore the act of doing so is, itself, a reiteration of the statement that women are claiming for themselves the right to be powerful.
Yeah, now consider the mirror-image situation for males. Those for whom eliminating sexist expectations and behavioral standards would appeal most directly would be those who least exemplify the set of characteristics we call "masculine", in other words feminine males like me. If, as I just said, engaging in social confrontation comes most easily to dominant aggressive people, and the act of doing such confrontation is, itself, a message about that person's tendency to be adversarial and socially combative and so on, we've got a mismatch on this side instead of a convenient confluence. The double-handful of atypical women drawn to feminism in part because it embraces their atypical "unfeminine" personality characteristics are warriors, and when they join their voices with those of other feminists in conflict with sexist society their activity echoes their message; but the atypical male people who resent sexism for similarly personal reasons are (pretty much by definition) NOT very warrior-like and are NOT particularly likely to be well-suited for confrontational endeavors; and when they engage in it to the best of their ability ANYWAY, their activity is difficult to reconcile with their intended message.
We are sometimes told that we're acting entirely like men tend to act —- self-immersed and selfishly concerned and confrontationally combative about other people's attitudes and behavior. More often, we are dismissed as whiny and pathetic. Because yelling about things and being provocatively belligerent is so superior to whining, I guess. At any rate, it's more complicated. The things we are deprived of aren't about power and you can't really attain them by seizing them. So we tend to seek solutions in less socially visible ways in the smaller arenas of our personal lives.
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