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Living Loz
This is not a revolutionary revelation... 
5th-Mar-2010 09:41 pm
Loz Cola
Being a ‘[Strong] Female’ Character

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Or perhaps I should say I’ve been thinking about ‘these’. Issues of identity, including considering myself a feminist, and how this has changed as I’ve grown older and one would hope, wiser.

I grew up with two brothers and for a long time, I wanted to be seen as Just Like Them. I loved playing in mud, trucks and cars were awesome, and pink? I hated it. Which was why I was rather angry at my parents when they decided to paint my bedroom pale pink (partly because the carpet already there was a rich rose colour, but mostly because it was the cheapest paint available.) I was a tomboy and proud of it! In playing games with my female friends, I played the male role. I was always the husband squirrel. My favourite band was Queen and that was because they rocked. At the age of nine I became closer friends with an Abba loving, Sindy doll owning girly girl. I began to play with dolls more regularly. Even bought some more. But I was still a tomboy, and not afraid to tell anyone who’d listen that pink was evil and I could best any boy! I never admitted one of my favourite toys was my push-along vaccuum, nor that I harboured a deep yearning for a toy oven. They were girl things, and girl things were inherently icky.

This continued until I was about twenty, in varying degrees, even through my bouts of deep infatuation with boys, real and unreal (the occasional questioning of myself --- do I want to be with them, or be them?) I never felt comfortable wearing dresses or skirts. I almost always wrote from a male perspective. Girl things were icky, dammit. I made friends with make-up wearing girly-girls who I tried to emulate for a while before giving up. It wasn’t me. I’ll confess that I felt a certain amount of superiority over my friends because by this time I knew what feminism was, and by George Kirrin, I believed in it (having said “I knew what it was” --- well, no. I knew precious little. I liked the sound of what I did know. What I did know was very black and white.) I did not fit into those little boxes of femininity. I was a tomboy and proud of it!

During University I started to learn more about feminism and the idea that it’s not one homogenous set of beliefs; that there were contradictory theories and waves, and it wasn’t as simple as I’d always imagined it. I also questioned my role in society --- both the role I held at the time and the one I intended to hold in the future. My perceptions were shifting, or even developing.

Fast forward to today. It’s true that I am often uncomfortable in dresses and skirts --- mostly because I’ve avoided wearing them unless they were uniforms or the occasional party dress, for going on twenty-two years. I don’t wear make-up, because I hate the feeling of it, and most of the time I’m surrounded by five year olds. I do like mud, trucks and cars are awesome, Queen continues to rock (I live in a world where certain covers never existed and don’t talk to me about a Ben Elton musical thing, I can’t handle it), I still obviously often write from a male perspective. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that.

But I have come to realise that pink is not evil. It is perfectly okay to like pink, and it doesn’t weaken you in any way. Girl things are not icky. It’s important to interrogate the constructs we build around gender and sex roles, but to condemn any woman who chooses to stay at home to raise a family as opposed to ‘joining the workforce’ is ludicrous and regressive.

This is where I come to --- the point, I guess, of this post.

I embody many traits, some which are stereotypically feminine, and some which are stereotypically masculine.

I’m a teacher of young children, which is often considered a feminine role because of its nurturing aspect. I’ve always had a high, sweet voice. (It was the bane of my existence for a long, long time.) I’m in tune with my emotional side (read: I cry a lot at films and tv shows. A lot.) I’ve pined for a boyfriend before, one day I would like to be a mother. I’m not bad at cooking. I’m a bit shit at reading maps. And do not talk to me about parallel parking, because I will thump you.

I love computer games; all things technical really, I can change a tyre by myself and wouldn’t think twice about doing so, I think more in terms of what makes ‘logical sense’ as opposed to ‘emotional’, I can be aggressive, I have a fair amount of physical ‘strength’, I guess you could say I have an adventurous streak --- considering where I live and some of the things I’ve done, I’m more of a slob than a neat-freak, I regularly wear more masculine clothes, and currently I have short hair.

And this is what I’ve been slowly understanding for a while --- it’s not necessarily my more masculine traits that make me stronger than any other female. The truth is, I’m not.

I’m strong because I’ve survived through adversity. I have convictions and I follow them. I recognise that I am flawed and whilst I work towards changing aspects of myself that I think need to change, I don’t beat myself up about having these flaws --- they’re what make me. I persevere, and I’m patient, and I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong; that I still have a lot to learn. I know when I’m being egotistical and I make no apologies for being so.

I am strong. Just as almost every woman is strong, in myriad different ways. As strong as any man. Being more stereotypically masculine doesn’t make you better, it makes you more stereotypically masculine, and that is fine. The stereotypes, in the long run? Are just that. There is often a lot of truth to them, because they had to come from somewhere, but they should not be rigidly viewed as ‘true’.

I am a feminist, and proud of it, dammit. Even if it’s taken me a while to truly realise what that means to me and how it affects my perspective of the world.

5th-Mar-2010 01:07 pm (UTC)
In many ways you'll find women who live in remote areas have a lot of masculine traits because its a matter of survival. I first changed a tyre on a car when I was about 8, I had learnt to drive a few years prior and wasn't allowed to drive by myself unless I could change a tyre.

I don't think of myself as a feminist persae, I think largely because of the meaning that it has been given to me by my surroundings growing up. It always seemed to be inferred that feminists were just whingers, who expected to be given something because they were female, and not because they were equal to the job. My Dad always treated me the same as my brothers when we were working, and there have been many a time when I've had to remind him that I'm not physically as strong as my brothers.

I too thought pink was evil until I was about 20, however I was a tomboy in a pink skirt for most of my childhood. I know, I'm strange, we should all know this by now :p

I think evolution caused the jobs required for survival to be shared between the sexes. The young need to be cared for, this is done by the women, and this is by no means less important than the finding of food which is traditionally done by men.

The changing of roles in society could be seen as another part of evolution.

Okay, its far too late at night for me to make too much sense.:p
7th-Mar-2010 12:57 pm (UTC)
I think it's a very small minority of feminists who have an expectation of getting something for nothing. And there is something to be said for redressing the wrongs of centuries --- that sometimes things shouldn't be equal to be fair. The idea that women railing against inequity is automatically just a bunch of women whinging is fairly misogynistic in itself. There are still professions where females don't get paid as much as males, despite doing the same job at the same, or a better standard. Yet there would almost certainly be someone rolling their eyes and saying "those women are whinging again", you know? (And it may not be a man. There are plenty of misogynistic women, which boggles my mind, but is sadly true.)

If you have ideals that align with feminist theory, I am pro calling yourself a feminist --- because the more vocal sane ones there are, the better. It isn't a dirty word, even if it's got a bad reputation.
8th-Mar-2010 09:41 am (UTC)
My Mum tells stories of when she first started teaching and the men got paid quite a bit more than her, purely because they were male.

I work in a field where men are more likely to be promoted and as such are paid more than women, its annoying, and I honestly don't know how to fix this....
5th-Mar-2010 01:34 pm (UTC)
You sound very much like me, in some respects, although I could never surround myself with children! I grew up as a substitute son for my dad and although I never really got to grips with driving I knew/know more about electrics and plumbing than about cooking - and I still loathe and despise pink, largely because my mother went through a Barbara Cartland phase of only ever wearing shocking pink. I'm also a slob, hate make-up, wear trousers and teeshirts because they're easy (and if you could see my shape...) and can rarely afford hairdressing, new shoes or jewellery.

I've always thought that men and women had different types of strength and women on the whole tend to be more enduring and tenacious whereas male strength is of the sudden and forceful variety. What makes a person strong overall is not having one type or the other but actually having both, plus a good dose of self-knowledge - the latter being something which one couldn't write without, I think.

I'm not sure I'd call myself a feminist, exactly, but that may be because I've seen some terrible examples in the past of women who identified as feminists and wouldn't want to be like them. I do, however, think that there are very few things a man can do that a woman can't - and most of those, like peeing standing up, aren't really worth doing!

[NB: a favourite example, although a sad one. On a recent episode of 'Air Crash Investigation' the pilot, the air traffic controller and the senior crash investigator were all female. The world has come a long way from the time my 'careers advisor' at school tried to shoe-horn me (me!) into being a nursery nurse.]

Edited at 2010-03-05 01:35 pm (UTC)
5th-Mar-2010 08:22 pm (UTC)
It is perfectly possible for women to pee standing up. You just need to go a bit bandy-legged around the toilet bowl and tilt your pelvis so you're peeing into it. And not fall over clothing around your ankles while doing this. Sitting down is just a lot easier.

I don't like being told I can't do something! "Why not? How would you know? Bet I can prove you wrong!"

Alternative answer: otherwise French loos would be a bit problematic (or at least I first came across them in France - apparently they're known by other names)! I'm not going to take safe search off to see if I can find a pic of a woman using one though ;-) But you don't need to actually squat.
5th-Mar-2010 08:30 pm (UTC)
I don't like being told I can't do something! "Why not? How would you know? Bet I can prove you wrong!

Well, okay, but why the hell would you want to?
5th-Mar-2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
Knowing I could if I did seemed worth the thought it took to work it out in my head, then the time it took to (carefully) try it out and prove myself correct!

I never particularly actually wanted to - but knowing how to just in case the only toilets available were the hole in ground variety, or just so horrible that without a lot of bleach, you wouldn't be able to sit over them (and I have been to festivals where the portaloos were convex, with stuff higher than the seat*).

*I walked to the nearest restaurant and when the greeter asked me what I wanted, asked where their loo was. Perhaps the fact that it didn't really occur to me that I was being cheeky, or perhaps the fact I had a full underclothes moneybelt tucked into my trousers making me look 5 months pregnant or so, meant that they quietly pointed it out ;-)
7th-Mar-2010 01:05 pm (UTC)
To me, it sounds like you're a feminist. In the great way. It sucks so badly that the idiocy of a few spoils the voices of the many. I have also witnessed horrible actions and listened to some truly hideous opinions --- and you kind of want to scream "get out of my club!" to those people. "Stop trying to help!" :D Because I do think that the overly zealous really-not-truly-feminist few have a lot to answer for.

I agree that the world has come a long way, but as with issues of race, I often feel like people say "oh, we're over that now, it's not a problem", and it really is, in so many insiduous and ingrained ways.
5th-Mar-2010 06:15 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed reading this post. If you read the relevant posts in my own journal, I'm sure you know by now that I think rigid gender roles are one of the main problems our society is facing. Hey, I like some things associated with both genders, and it sometimes seems like it's worse for a guy to like girly things than a girl to like guy things.

As for feminism, if you look in a dictionary, it's technically just a belief in equality. Because of that, I fail to see how everyone who isn't a sexist jerk wouldn't self-identify as a feminist, but I guess the term itself has gotten kind of a bad rap. Maybe if they called it "gender-neutralism" instead of "feminism," it would lose its more negative aspects? Or is that even worse?
5th-Mar-2010 08:25 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of people would argue it'd be going too far/it completely disregards the differences between men and women and is therefore bad?
5th-Mar-2010 09:46 pm (UTC)
Probably. I don't know the statistics of how many anti-feminists are of that mindset as opposed to Pat Robertson's, but they both exist. Obviously there are differences between the sexes, or else there wouldn't BE such things as sexes, but for governments to make a concerted effort to enforce differences comes across to me as very sickening. Maybe men and women are different, but that doesn't mean they should be subject to different laws. That's kind of like the "separate but equal" philosophy, which we know from history doesn't work.
5th-Mar-2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
By 'it' I kinda meant political correctness - I doubt that was at all clear though :-/

I think it is one of those situations where some things are quite clearly wrong, but there is a lot of grey - in an ideal world, we'd all respect each other and the only things limiting us from achieving our own personal goals would be our own limitations, rather than other people's mindsets. It's just very hard to legislate that into being...
5th-Mar-2010 10:29 pm (UTC)
I can only conclude it really is that feminism has a bad rap, otherwise, phrases like 'feminazi' wouldn't exist. Many people who are feminist in ideology don't call themselves feminists because they're thinking of the militant extremists who actually aren't feminists at all.
16th-Mar-2010 07:14 pm (UTC)
"Gender-neutralism" like "color-blindness" is the pretense that one set of people (and the stereotyped roles/behavior that pertain to that set) is not in fact disproportionately privileged. "Feminism" has more accurate connotations.

Disproportionate privilege and outright misogyny is why girl things are uncool.
(Deleted comment)
5th-Mar-2010 10:26 pm (UTC)
:D Thank you!

5th-Mar-2010 08:47 pm (UTC)
I quite wanted to be a boy when I was 9 or 10, in winter - our school uniform meant that, as a girl, I was in a skirt and woollen tights, freezing, while the boys got to wear trousers (at secondary school, I'd sometimes wear 60 dernier tights under trousers - I wasn't warm, but I was closer)... The law of the playground also meant that the boys got to use the two netball pitches to play football on, while the girls got to skirt around the edges and in the bits between the greenery and the buildings.

Gender identity is kinda interesting. You've never come across as a particularly blokey girl to me (says the girl who, as a teen, despite being under 5'2" could beat all her male friends at arm wrestling*, lived in baggy band Tshirts and trousers, spent her Saturday nights beating up boys in mosh pits for fun, employed the sort of relationship with eyeliner that meant I went out until either my eyes were even or I hit my eyebrows - yet hadn't, really, until now really thought that perhaps those were quite masculine approches to life (in fairness, most of my male friends who wore eyeliner were considerably more restrained with it)... I just (a) had anger issues, and being in touch with my emotional side didn't help with them; (b) wasn't used to coming across things I wanted to do and couldn't; (c) didn't see most of my male friends "like that", so while they didn't treat me like a guy (I'd have punched them if they'd tried), they weren't going to let on if they saw me that way ;-) )...

I'm science-oriented but in touch with my emotional side. I don't have spatial awareness. My hair's practically down to my waist (though this is partially a disliking hairdressers, and having hair that would grow sideways if it was short, so having it this long is extremely low-maintenance!). I have a huge sci-fi geek streak. I read more chick lit than "male"-type books.

Does it matter, though, or really mean anything? At the end of the day, I know myself, like myself and enjoy being me. I enjoy being female, and don't feel I miss out on anything by not having a penis (other than being able to write my name in the snow - but really? How often is it snowy?). If I was given the chance to symbiotically tuck myself into Kit's mind for a day, so I'd think his thought, feel what he feels, etc., I'd probably do it (if he were OK with it), coz it'd be really interesting - but I'd be happy to return back to being me.

*And still got a victory of sorts a few years ago, I reckon, when my friend's 6'4" landscape gardener lodger was left rolling on the floor, clutching his arm for 5 minutes after beating him. I was still sitting down comfortably, and me smiling and saying that I thought he'd wanted it more than me meant that his friend definitely recorded it as my win ;-)
5th-Mar-2010 10:25 pm (UTC)
Online, you really only see one side of me. Just as, even though I knew you had a mosh-pit jumping streak, I've never considered you as necessarily embodying any stereotypically masculine traits. My brothers are super muscular and good at squeezing fingers, so I never really beat them at arm wrestling, but I sure did arm wrestle ;)
5th-Mar-2010 11:02 pm (UTC)
Aaah, I explained before we started that if they crushed my hand, I'd stick my fingernails into them. Guys who ignored this left bleeding ;-) And I didn't armwrestle with my brother - he would have hurt me if this situation had come up! (We were the type of siblings who went through a 5 year or so phase where I'd leave a room when he entered it, coz otherwise he'd throw things at me/hit me.)
6th-Mar-2010 04:36 am (UTC)
You should date Nathan.
7th-Mar-2010 01:06 pm (UTC)
Hah :p
6th-Mar-2010 05:18 am (UTC)
"But I have come to realise that pink is not evil." -I really enjoyed this line.

Actually I really enjoyed reading this whole thing, it was very interesting and reminded me of your awesomeness! Maddy and I are always talking about this kind of stuff- 'gender roles' and what's 'typically' male and female and all that cool stuff- and how important is it really? It's interesting to think about. *weeeeeeeeee smiley*
7th-Mar-2010 01:09 pm (UTC)
I often think about how so much of our life isn't really real --- gender roles, race, class, nationality, monetary worth --- they're all constructed. We kind of create these boxes to put ourselves into, as a way of giving life meaning. And more than once I've had to go 'why? why do we do this?'
6th-Mar-2010 06:24 am (UTC)
I would like to say "hear, hear" to everything you said, Loz. Except possibly the part about pink not being evil. I've had a lifetime of people telling me I look good in pink... and I really don't. {sigh}

The reluctance of most feminist-minded women to call themselves feminist (the spectre of "feminazism") is a lasting failure of feminism's second wave, I believe. (OK, it's also exacerbated by those people who call up its spectre to inhibit legitimate feminist activism.) But the truth is, unfortunately there was/is a minority tendency within the women's movement that was/is not feminist at all, but female supremacist. Alice Echols blames much of this on what she calls the 'cultural feminist' aspect of feminism, which saw many gender differences as inherent, and which tended to champion perceived 'superior' 'female' 'qualities' such as compassion and peacefulness as proof that women are generally 'better'. (Hah! See Thatcher, Margaret.)

In any event, gender supremacy is always highly offputting to fair-minded people of either sex. I do believe it's a minority tendency in feminism, but it always gets disproportionate attention.

My own story is that I was quickly radicalized as a young woman in the 1980s when I volunteered for a local rape crisis centre. (Some of those middle-of-the-night crisis calls are etched forever in my memory.) But the hardest experience, in some ways, was the split that developed between the conservative members of the crisis centre and the more liberal/radical ones. There were impassioned debates about how best to support survivors of sexual assault... and also heated arguments about sexual orientation, which was still a hot-button topic. Hard feelings grew and festered. My first-ever civil disobedience wasn't an anti-nuclear protest, but an occupation of the crisis centre to protest the board's attempts to lock out those counsellors who were lesbian. Sad times. I really hope that we're all more enlightened now. Sometimes, I think, the biggest challenge is to overcome our sexist conditioning of seeing other women as 'threats' or 'rivals', and to see them instead simply as fellow human beings.

Actually, what I really hope that what I'm saying makes no sense whatsoever to anyone reading this. That would be a good sign :-)

As for male/female characteristics, it's been a long time since I cared (much) about which column I was totting up more entries in. If I had to define strength, though, it would have less to do with defying gender stereotypes, and more with standing up for what matters, especially when it's hard to do so. And keeping my heart open when it wants to close up from anger or grief. Those are my biggest challenges, and they have nothing to do with gender.
7th-Mar-2010 01:15 pm (UTC)
Annoyingly, I truly do look good in pink. I have an English Rose complexion and it brings out the natural hue of my lips. Blargh! (I am still not a fan of the colour, whilst acknowledging it may not be the work of the devil.)

Sometimes, I think, the biggest challenge is to overcome our sexist conditioning of seeing other women as 'threats' or 'rivals', and to see them instead simply as fellow human beings.

I couldn't agree more. Because the ingrained misogyny in women is just as dangerous as that in men. I would say, judging by the media (which, sadly, is still a representation of public opinion, even if its not always wholly accurate), that this is still a major problem. Which is sad, I think.

Thank you for sharing your story with me. ♥
6th-Mar-2010 08:26 am (UTC)
My word, I've missed your posts - they definitely give me food for thought. I think I tend to shy away from the label "feminist" because so many that employ it, particularly here in the states, aren't really feminists - they're misandrists. Your post had definitely made me revisit that idea, and try to spend some actual time considering what the term actually does, and actually should mean, both in the context you present and out of it...

That, and on a completely off-topic note, I still have a book that I need to mail you *facepalm* from before I fell offline long ago - I believe I do still have your physical address in my inbox, but please PM me if it has changed.
7th-Mar-2010 01:18 pm (UTC)
Sytaxia! ♥ ♥ ♥ How are you?!

I still live where I was living before. If you need it again, I'll be happy to PM you, but please, don't feel any pressure to send me anything.

So many people shy away from using the feminist label, and I guess it is just another label. But it's one I'd like to see reclaimed and seen as a good thing to be.
6th-Mar-2010 09:46 pm (UTC)
I've been thinking about this post ever since you posted it. Don't feel right now that I have the mental capacity right now to answer it.

But it has made me think a lot about my own rather masculine side, and how, over the years, I'm trying to change it. As you say, pink isn't actually evil, not all the time... ;)

I have no worries that I've always been a tomboy, that I was, essentially, raised as a boy, that I do a traditionally masculine job etc. But I do now see that my view of emotions being a weakness is, in fact, a weakness... And I'm slowly changing that view, not because I need to for anyone else, but I need to for me.

Fascinating post, thank you.
7th-Mar-2010 01:24 pm (UTC)
♥ Thanks!

Although I went through a long period of thinking emotions are to be tamped down because they're a weakness, I could never really stop showing them. I'm a fairly passionate person, and unfortunately that means that as well as great excitement and joy, I can feel great anger and sorrow. Cue the waterworks and blaring eyes, and BOOM. I am better at controlling my emotions now, though, which is needful suppression when necessary and expunging in a safe environment. Let's face it, sometimes showing emotion can be a weakness. But I don't think it should be seen as such all the time. It's much healthier to let it out at some point than continually repress.
7th-Mar-2010 01:37 pm (UTC)
I do cry at the drop of a hat. Well, that's not really true...I cry if other people are crying, and I cry when I get very angry. And I've always hated it. And, in fact, hidden it if at all possible.

I agree that it's not healthy to keep it all in, although it takes a lot to convince myself of that.

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