Columns / Discourse / November 13, 2013

Of men and women

Once I remember sort of wishing I was a girl. Not because I was experiencing gender dysphoria or because being male was particularly aggravating, but because girls seemed so much more – real. To be beautiful (rather than just being), to have close friends who spent the night over all the time (rather than just friends), to be emotionally… Real. Being a guy seemed depressingly ordinary, like there were fewer opportunities to tell your story, have an identity, and be in touch with who you were.


I’m reminded of the moment in “Moonrise Kingdom” when Suzy Bishop tells Sam, “I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favourite characters are. I think your lives are more special.” And Sam looks back at her and says: “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”


I’ve spent a while talking with my girlfriend about what it means to be a woman, and I’ve begun to comprehend how much WORK it is. Being a woman seems to involve reality more heavily. My reality feels normal, and it’s hard for me to imagine a normal that involves constant shaving, having to find jeans that fit perfectly and a wardrobe that doesn’t repeat an outfit too often. Not having full control over your body and what it does. Where interacting with other people and maintaining your integrity can be an exercise in futility that holds your emotional survival in the balance.


My impression is that women have to extend their awareness to include many other difficult and disparate additions to life, like having to be aware of the boundaries of the car in addition to the boundaries of your body. And women have to drive a lot of cars all at once. (There’s much more, and I don’t intend to not acknowledge more devastating realities of assault and discrimination at many different levels of life).


What I realized was that not having that kind of beauty, and not having quite the same emotional freedom of expression that women have is an okay price to pay for having a life that is so wonderfully normal. That if women deserve anything for all the difficult things they have to go through it’s to have those moments of feeling beautiful, of being able to hug and laugh without having their sexuality questioned as a result.


The truth is that men and women deserve both. But having both is a difficult thing in the world today.


What men lack, often, is a strong sense of identity. On subjects of sexuality, gender and the realm of emotions, we’re often left out – we aren’t acknowledged as having powerful, shifting relationships with life, as women are. That’s ours to reclaim. And it’s right there: one of the biggest problems being that we’re unconsciously apathetic. As Alex Gibson writes: “Feminism encourages women to shed gender stereotypes and consider themselves as individuals. Men simply don’t think about gender. Why would you, when it rarely impacts in a noticeable way on your life?”


Women face a different problem – the structure of their lives is much more deeply ingrained. In girl/women’s culture and with beauty standards, it’s hard to be an outlier. Going against the grain is noticed, and there are consequences. So what do we do?

That’s a huge discussion, with many factors and not enough time to discuss them all. But I think that one thing that will help is men and women spending more time with each other. We learn to separate at such a young age, and it takes until high school or college to start hanging out together again. By that time a big gulf has grown, and is still present, emphasizing opposite messages that allow some men to objectify women and disregard their authenticity, that can put women in a situation where the only opinions that really matter are other women’s opinions, that sexualize opposite-sex friendships and stereotype romantic relationships. But if we challenge our assumptions about gender and connect with each other more strongly, we can further integrate our experiences as men and women.

Leland Wright

Tags:  Alex Gibson assumption feminism gender identity men Moonrise Kingdom women

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