In numerous discussions throughout the last few months (honestly, more like the last few 22 years), I have found myself feeling pressured to “just accept” the world in binary terms. I’m not talking “good” vs. “evil” or “Pepsi” vs. “Coke” (neither, thanks. Just tap water), but “men” vs. “women” (if any words in the English language necessitate quotation marks around them, these two are definitely up there… along with “free trade” and “The American Dream”… ahem, but I digress). Far more often than I would like, I feel dragged into the oh so simplifying and excruciatingly annoying world of “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus!!” Yay! Like I totally just don’t get men! I wish I could, like, understand why they do all the things they doooo!! Ugh men suck, amiright girls?? Soon enough it becomes one giant Dr. Phil session about helping men and women to finally understand one another.
Before we all go into male/female group therapy and start hugging each other and swapping hand-written affirmation cards high school retreat style, let’s back up and take a quick look at this whole “difference between ‘the sexes’ thing.” Are we saying that men and women are fundamentally different in certain concrete ways? If so, how/why does that happen? I would be in the camp that it is mostly due to socialization, a form of socialization that is very detrimental to any progressive goals for my corner of the world. Want to claim that it’s biological? Natural? Well then that gets really sticky… Because you must start with binaries: “men” vs. “women.” Ok, fine. Then what makes a “man” a “man” and a “woman” a “woman”? Genitalia? Hormones? Chromosomes? An affinity for the color pink? Now try to classify everyone in your society into those two rigid camps: “masculine/male” and “feminine/female.” I assure you that you will run into problems very quickly. I for one wouldn’t go quietly/comfortably into either. What about Transgender “guy” “A”? Let’s assume this little fragile classification doesn’t collapse immediately and Trans guy “A” decides that he identifies fully as “masculine/male” and marches into the corresponding box. Will we now put all Transgender “guys” into that box? I don’t know about you all, but I have a sneaking feeling that this plan will go very wrong very quickly.
I think (not to say that this is a highly original train of thought… some readers [should there be any…] might be yawning and rolling their eyes in “duh-ness” right now) that one way to improve the societal issues that we feminists are always dragging on about would be to abolish this idea of “binary genders”. Accept that people are people, and we exist on a spectrum of genders, sexualities, physicalities, etc. Accept that people may feel most comfortable in several different identities at once, or none at all. Eliminate this binary, this either/or, this ridiculous fascination with “men want this, whereas women want that,” “men think this way, whereas women think that way,” and it will become easier in turn to eliminate the gender hierarchies/power struggles that have been created over the course of history. Not to mention, I think we would all breathe a little easier once free of this binary corset that all too often restricts our capacity to explore and express every aspect of ourselves. Of course this is all over-simplified, and I am by no means well-studied in this area, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about it because the “natural differences” between “men” and “women” thing just really gets on my nerves and doesn’t make a bit of sense in my mind. Perhaps I should blame it on the fact that I’ve surrounded myself with so many gender queer people who hate to be assigned a stringent category, and on my own struggle with my personal gender identity and not feeling comfortable residing permanently and entirely in either one of the two socially established and characterized “feminine/female” and “masculine/male” boxes.