Simmer until reduced

Imagine a Facebook “guess my gender” quiz.

Do you prefer:

  • pink
  • blue

When you pack do you:

  • Carefully fold things and pack them in a specific order
  • Stuff the minimum of things in any old how

A pile of dirty dishes:

  • makes you twitch until you can roll up your sleeves and wash them
  • what dirty dishes?

If this were to be accurately scored my result would have to come out not so much male or female as somewhere around “It’s complicated.” And I recognise that I am not normal. As a wearer of persistently odd socks, and the kind of person who winds up in the wrong room when a party splits into the girl room and the boy room, I am probably not a good person to ask what is “boy stuff” and what is “girl stuff”. But I’m quite sure I’m not the only person who feels this way.

Today I saw a meme on facebook that said “Men: if you ever wanna know what a woman’s mind feels like, imagine a browser with 2857 tabs open. All. The. Time.” and my first reaction was to laugh, because that’s totally me. But my second reaction was annoyance, because I know a lot of men who are exactly like that. It’s not a gender thing. It’s a personality thing.

We are extraordinarily good at categorization. It’s an essential survival skill. We box things fast so that we know how to react to them. This helps us stay alive when the box is labelled “man-eating-tiger-RUN”. But there’s not a lot of room for nuance and error detection in this super fast boxing. All too often it leads us to the wrong conclusion. It leaves us in a place where men are not allowed to be nurturing and women can’t be assertive. Where women can’t be strong and men can’t cry.

We’re starting to make progress with toys and demand that manufacturers ditch the “boys play with cars and girls play with dolls” marketing that is so corrosive. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re getting there. But we seem to be much slower about tackling the adult versions of the same thing. The jokes. The funny memes.  The assumptions about the way men and women will and should behave.

People I respect, writers with a lot of intelligence and credibility, still make comments about how bad men are at cooking, and how there are things only a woman would understand. And it drives me CRAZY. (But that’s ok, because women are good at crazy.) They write articles about imposter syndrome as an exclusively female problem – and it’s not. I know men who feel this way too – but how much worse to feel this way and believe that you shouldn’t, because you’re not the right gender?

The internet is full of articles with headlines like “5 things every woman should know.” “10 things only a man would do.” I just Googled “10 things every man should” and it defaulted to “10 things every man should own.” It won’t surprise you to learn that I found lists of axes and work gloves. The first full page of results for things every woman should own was all clothes, except for one about things women should have in their purses, which began with hand sanitizer and a sewing kit. Oh, and something called “oil absorbing sheets”, because apparently there’s nothing worse than finding you have oily skin right before a meeting (words fail me). When I found a list for men’s pockets it included USB drives, multi-tools, and a hip flask. I’ll take the pockets, thanks!

Sure, taking the top few Google searches is the low hanging fruit of the internet. But it is also a key indicator of the shape of our world. Men still aren’t supposed to carry bags, and women’s clothing doesn’t have pockets. Women shave their legs and their armpits, men don’t. Women can’t be seen in public without makeup. Men barbecue, women cook in the kitchen. We may think we are equal and so much better at gender politics than we used to be, but while we are still defining ourselves and our behaviour by our reproductive organs, we are still horribly lost. Worse, we are still constraining ourselves by our gender. And it’s time we set ourselves free.

I can’t put it better than my friend Jarred did today: “It’s about time we moved on from 90s-style jokes about how men and women are sooooo different and it’s impossible to understand each other. It’s 2015, people!”

* UPDATE: A week after I wrote this I discovered there is a Facebook gender quiz, and I scored 85% male 15% female. I think it was inaccurate though. I should have scored 70% male, 10% female, and 20% None-of-these-answers-are-right-also-please-correct-the-grammar.

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