For thousands of years any time a woman did something a man thought inappropriate she was accused of wanting to be a man, of being too mannish, of being unwomanly. We are still fighting this same battle today, ironically backed up by liberal progressive pseudo-science that agrees there are ways of really behaving like a man or a woman.
When we examine the history of this struggle, we find it written about in curious ways. There will be innocuous sentences like, ‘in the past it was thought inappropriate for women to work outside the home, but gradually greater numbers of women became accepted into the workforce’. This is not an actual quote, you understand, but a stand-in for thousands that I’ve read just like it. Not only does it obscure the agent (just WHO thought it was inappropriate for women to work outside the home) but it also obscures the struggle women had to undertake to gain their rights. It almost sounds as if women just accidentally started wandering out of the home and into the workforce and men were like, by jove, those ladies can work after all, we’d better give them some jobs and re-think our perceptions.
Two things that usually don’t get discussed much are the routinely repeated fears and accusations of women becoming ‘masculinised’, and the assertion that women will end up with too many rights. Go back a hundred years, two hundred, when women had fewer rights than they do today, and you will still find men making exactly the same arguments as any contemporary MRA. Saying that women have too many rights already, and that the progress needs to stop. Look at just about any contemporary culture in our shitty patriarchal world now. No matter how few rights women have, there will still be men saying that they have too many, and that more rights will lead to the loss of ‘womanhood’ that is apparently so important. (Again, one asks, to whom).
But we are still not really at the heart of the problem. If we imagine another nice innocuous sentence from our generic watered-down feminist text book, our author might say something like, ‘gradually perceptions of womanhood changed to be able to incorporate new roles of working outside the home’.
This is seen as a good thing, only it’s not. Perceptions of what is and isn’t appropriate for one’s ‘gender’ (by which I mean sex) is only part of the problem, and redistributing ‘gender roles’ or genderfucking the binary or any of that other stuff doesn’t really get to the root of the issue.
The root of the issue is this. Women are not punished in this world for acting ‘like men’. We are punished for acting like human beings. In our world, only men are human. They take that label for themselves, they accord themselves social and economic and legal privileges because of it, and they declare women other and different and make damn sure that we wear our inferiority in whatever way they tell us to. Through our clothing and our hairstyles and our submissive and ingratiating behaviours.
Any time a woman gives herself the right to be fully clothed, to have access to forums and spaces in which to express her ideas and opinions, to work in fields which men declare unsuitable, to be comfortable and free of bodily restriction, she is (knowingly or not) refusing to accept her inferior sex-caste status. We are declaring our right to be human. Not our right to be men, our right to be human. Got it?
The association of man with human is so pervasive, yet invisible, that women refusing to accept inferior status is equated with wanting to be men, rather than with wanting to be human, which is surely more accurate. And it is difficult to get away from, on a linguistic or conceptional level. A while ago I was reading through a draft of a story I’d written, and I was absolutely horrified to find that I’d described a lesbian character as, ‘moving with the freedom of a man’.
WTF, I thought to myself. Why would I want to equate a powerful lesbian with being a man, or like a man. She wasn’t like a man at all, and she wasn’t meant to be. She was a woman who refused to behave in the submissive ways expected of her by men. So I changed the description, and it’s something I keep an eye out for in my work now. None of this being-like-men crap for me. None of this differentiating those special and unique women who want to be like-men, i.e. treated as human, as opposed to all those other women who are a-okay with being slaves.
Nope. Women are human. All of us. And all of us deserve to be treated with human dignity.