Lizl Morden
GENDER POLITICS

‘Ladylike’ is bullsh*t

By Lizl Morden

It’s not ladylike, they say.

Men don’t like women with short hair, they say.

Guys don’t like girls who drink beer, they say.

Guys don’t like girls who do…, guys don’t like girls who wear…, guys don’t like girls who like…, that’s all they ever seem to say. Heteronormativity aside for the moment, I say: so what? How true is that? Did you do a worldwide survey? Am I supposed to care what men are supposed to like or not like?

What If I don’t want to be ladylike? Or a lady? What if I just want to do things that make me happy? Things that aren’t harmful to anyone. Unless you define harm as making people uncomfortable about gender roles and I don’t.

Why do I have to look and behave in a way that is pleasing to guys in general? Am I trying to attract all the guys; hypothetical, imaginary guys who all like the same things? Or am I trying to attract one guy in particular? Or a type of guy. The type who does not give an ever-loving fuck what I drink, seeing as how it only stays with me for a short amount of time anyway. Or, just maybe, a guy who actually likes the way I look and behave. Most of it, anyway.

What if I don’t care what ‘men’ and ‘guys’ like? Must I present myself in such a way that all men find me appealing? It is statistically impossible. Anyone who’s ever  tried deciding on what to do/eat with a group of friends knows that it’s damn near impossible to make everyone happy. Let alone all straight men who roam the earth. Saying “men do/don’t like…” implies that all men like the same thing, which is, surprise surprise, untrue. Same goes for what women like and don’t like.

Yes, some women like men who tell them how beautiful they are, how special they are. Men who are ‘gentlemen’, who open doors and pull out chairs and offer jackets. (The reaction to swapping the genders for these things is interesting. Once, in high school, I offered a guy my jersey because he was getting cold and I wasn’t wearing mine. He declined my offer pulling a face like I just asked if he would like to eat a bowl of cold garden snails covered in mayonnaise – how could I even think of doing such a thing.)

Well, guess what. I, like Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy, believe that “if you want to appease me, compliment my brain”. I know I’m special and also that I’m not. Everyone is special, so no one is. I have hands and am perfectly capable of looking after my own damn self, opening my own damn door and sitting on a chair all by my damn self. This last one is key – I am graceless enough as it is, somebody trying to scoot me onto a chair would just emphasise my awkwardness and that I can also do perfectly well on my own. If I require assistance,  I have the ability to ask for it. I also have my own clothes, including jackets. I’m not going to attack anyone who does any of these things – if it makes you happy, whatever. At the most I’ll politely decline. But it’s not exactly going to make me swoon either. For me it’s not about how well you treat ladies, but how well you treat people. Not how chivalrous you are you to women but how kind are you to those around you. Not would you keep the door open for me, but would you keep the door open for someone who really needs it?

What  I want to know is: what is the point of pretending to be someone to attract guys, according to standards set by “them”, who won’t even like who  you really are? Keeping up the charade is just going to make you miserable. Everyone is special. Everyone is different. Everyone likes different things, including qualities in a partner – man or woman. Just remember that someone tells you what women/men like/don’t like or you read it in some magazine article. Opinions are subjective and there is absolutely no accounting for taste.

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GENDER POLITICS, SEX AND SEXUALITY

The masculine mystique

Kyla Maimon Edinburg
Kyla Maimon Edinburg

By Kyla Maimon Edinburg

The main belief underlying feminism is that women are treated unequally in society. One particular idea is that much of the work that women do is domestic labour and this is neither recognised nor paid.  However, financial freedom leads to more choices and when ‘women’s work’ is not paid they are left with fewer choices in life.

A large part of the feminist movement has been a move towards giving women greater access to education and work – moving them out of the domestic domain – and encouraging women to be more in control of their lives. As feminists we have made great progress but we still have far to go and feminists everywhere continue to fight for this. Men, who generally have unrestricted access to the things women fight for, seem to have limitless choice and their freedom appears guaranteed.

However, there is a hidden aspect to unequal gender relations that is not easily acknowledged for men. This is the disadvantages men experience in the current gender relations. While this thought may seem shocking, they do not have as many choices as it first appears.

Men are encumbered with the responsibility of providing financially for their families. Many men feel trapped in a cycle of work that they do not enjoy, because it provides them with money and status. It seems like many men are afraid to give this up even though they may wish for a different kind of work, perhaps one that pays less, or not at all, such as being a stay-at–home father. However, some men are able to (in whispered tones) share their wish to be more involved in the lives of their partners and children, and also to have less financial pressure. Many men are not able to admit this, but live with a deep sense of dissatisfaction that they cannot name.

Women may also find this hard to acknowledge. We have fought so hard for many of the opportunities that men so easily have access to and perhaps we overlook the benefits that our position can offer us. Despite the struggles of being a stay-at-home mom (lack of financial freedom, the guilt) or being a working mother (double the work, the guilt) women are often able to be very involved in their children’s lives. Meanwhile this is very difficult, even impossible, for most men.

However, it is important to note that these preferences are dependent on the person and not the gender. Many men love working, as do many women. There are also a great number of happy women who stay at home or juggle work and family. However, for those that want something outside of their gender roles this can be hard to achieve. Lots of men would be afraid to not work because of the societal expectation that they do. Men who are able to break the mould and stay at home may have to face feeling emasculated in a society that does not give enough value to the work a parent does.

Therefore, this becomes a societal problem, and not just a gender problem. As long as domestic work, and parenting, is not recognised for the value it holds and therefore it is not financially reimbursed, many people (men and women) who would love to stay at home are forced to work. As a society we all lose out.

Women are, happily or unhappily, doing jobs that continue to be underpaid, or they stay at home and their financial freedom is limited. Meanwhile, men are away from their families for the majority of the time in order to support them. Most importantly, children are being raised by one parent, who may be unhappy with this role, or being raised by a stranger and being deprived of the nurturance and care of the people who love them the most.

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Kyla Maimon Edinburg is a clinical psychologist working in the community clinics. She has a special interest in gender relations.

GENDER POLITICS

We need to change the gendered value system

By Jen Thorpe

Are men and women different? If so, are those differences significant today?

Recently I’ve had two discussions with men about the differences between men and women. Each time, after a long drawn out debate, it has come down to this:

“But men and women are different. If they’re not, how come men and women don’t compete in sport?”

Or the slightly different version:

“You can’t think men and women can be equal in all working conditions. What about physical labour?”

It is generally at this point in the conversation when I feel a sense of deep exhaustion and despair coming over me. I feel the need to seek out the bottle store, climb to the bottom of a bottle of wine and go to sleep. So now, having done the aforementioned and recovered suitably, I will attempt to restore some dignity to the debate about women and men’s differences.

First, most differences between men and women are socially programmed. In fact, we have equal numbers of muscles in our body in nearly all the same places, which means that we can physically use those muscles as needed. Part of the historical explanation for women’s supposed inability to beat men at sport (though they have done so before) is because they are not encouraged to live in their bodies in a powerful way but are instead encouraged to be small (see crossing legs rather than sitting with them open and throwing like a girl) and to move in small movements. In essence, our historical proclivity to being ladylike has left us less physically able in many cases. When women are physically able, or too physically able for our social norms, we question whether they are in fact women.

Second, explanations of a system of difference based on extreme physical examples (e.g. sprinters, rugby players, etc) is not really useful. Put the average man in a race against Usain Bolt and he will be beaten. Put the average man in a race against Caster Semenya, and I bet you he will still be beaten. Perhaps pitting Caster Semenya against Usain Bolt would have a different result, but see the first explanation for possible causes. If that doesn’t work for you, try to see them as two incredibly fast individuals, one of whom is faster.

Third, how valuable is intense physical strength in our modern world? It is 2012. The world is ruled by technology and capitalism. Our world is run by people (mostly men sadly) who look like this, not like this. In short, physical strength ceased to be relevant in most professions a very long time ago. This is no longer a prehistoric world where our ability to construct things with our hands and biceps is essentially valuable. It’s a world where our brains and wealth are more important.

Being head of state, head of school, a doctor or the head of NASA does not require big guns, but sadly men are still leading many of these professions. Why?

Because history is relevant. The particular traits in a person (determination, strength, courage, fearlessness) that we value in today’s world are a throwback from centuries where you had to be an aggressive individual to survive. Times were tough, and you needed to be a cold bastard to survive them. The fact that we value these traits in people over traits like compassion, empathy and a connection to their emotions is not a-historical. The fact that patriarchy nurtured the first set of traits in men and the second in women is not a-historical. Our differences are not a-historical. These differences let down men and women. 

Our social differences are not permanent, and we have to work on changing the value system so that we can appreciate deep and complicated individuals instead of caricatures of men and women. If we are able to do this, then we can begin to celebrate differences between us as differences between individuals, rather than an a-historical reason to have a man in a job that a woman is equally capable of doing.

 

CULTURE

Comfort, beauty, you

By Tammy Sutherns

The most wonderful thing about being a woman is being able to express yourself in your own way. I’m a words kind of a girl, so my expression often comes out in my writing. I also love photography, but I’m still a bit too much of a newbie to use it confidently enough to express myself. My mom is an artist and she likes to spend her time finding peace in her paintings. Other women are more extroverted and show who they are by telling, talking, explaining. Some may sing and others may play an instrument. But the most common thing for all of us – whether you’re a jeans and sneakers trend-setter or a high-heels and dress wearer – is fashion.

I’m not writing about fashion because I believe that we should all be obsessed with material things, quite the opposite actually. I also am not a big fan of malls and I physically feel ill at overindulgent splurging while thousands of kids starve in Somalia. My favourite clothes are dresses that I’ve found in vintage stores for a hundred bucks and a belt I got for R5 from a charity store. I also think that supporting local (when affordable) is lekker.

But nothing is better than feeling so comfortable in your clothes, revelling in items that you’ve put together that feel like a complete extension of who you are. I think that as women, it also gives us a chance to give conformity the middle finger, tell tradition that we are making up our own rules and to reaffirm that our bodies are ours and nobody else’s. And I think clothes carry a lot more weight than we like to believe.

White wedding dresses, for example, became an icon for marriage and purity not because this was a traditional religious practice, but because Queen Victoria (quite the fashion icon in her area) wore a white wedding dress in 1840 and it became a fashion hit, albeit a long one. However what a wedding dress symbolizes today is something far different than a fashion statement and far more symbolic. What we wear is important.

The way that we present ourselves tells a story of who we are. I think this gives us room to tell such beautiful stories about ourselves. We do not have to defend our short skirts, but further than that, we also should be celebrating how individuality, our femininity and our inner selves, are represented by our clothes. The more we revel in what makes us feel comfortable, the more confident we are to go out into the world and tackle oppression, poverty, pain, inequality and suffering the only way we know how – with grace, beauty and some kick-ass unique flavour.