Behaving Like A Man

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.

6 thoughts on “Behaving Like A Man

  1. karmarad says:

    “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.”

    Here it is, the trunk, as opposed to the roots, of patriarchy, with all the brush cleared away. It’s so basic that I haven’t seen it clearly stated like this before, and I’m not going to forget this again. I hope to quote this all over the place, Weirdward. Thank you.

  2. weirdward says:

    It is obvious, and yet difficult to see until it’s stated baldly. Like I said, I got to thinking about this because even I – who is probably far more aware of this stuff than your average person – found myself struggling to find ways to describe female strength that didn’t reference men or maleness. Until I realised that the problem was I should be describing women in relation to being human, and not in relation to men, nor in relation to not being like ‘other women’ who conformed and were therefore to be despised (as non-humans).

  3. luckynkl says:

    I was just compared to being a man 10 minutes ago. Wish I had a nickel for every time I was accused of such things every time I step outside the boundaries of my assigned gender role, which requires I be sugar and spice and everything nice and a ppl pleaser.. Anything other is construed as uppity. Worse, it’s usually women doing the policing. Of course I’m well aware it’s men who are dictating those roles and women are carrying out the orders, but it invisibilizes men’s iron hand in it so they can operate under stealth. It’s insidious.

    “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.”

    Precisely. I really, really like this quote too. 🙂

  4. weirdward says:

    I sometimes think policing on women’s part is a kind of subliminal survival instinct too. Every woman knows on some level that there is a danger of men taking exception to uppity women and reacting violently, and I think they’re afraid of suffering the fallout if they’re nearby or otherwise associated. So they try to make other women conform as well as conforming themselves as a way to try and survive.

  5. WordWoman says:

    Decades ago I took a carpentry class where I was the only women. Lots of men in the construction industry took it (non-carpenters, but in the trades). Being accepted as “one of the boys” instead of being ostracised was possible if one showed exceptional skill and/or dedication. I didn’t exactly like this, but if I wanted to learn these skills I had no choice but to be in this environment. Then there were the “car mechanics for women” classes (I never took these, but was aware of them). Ugh. This brought back old memories.

  6. meishuu says:

    Reblogged this on Whileaway and commented:
    Basically why I cringe every time someones accuses a woman (or a female character) of being too “manly”, “too much like a man” or “one of the boys”.

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