Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Prejudice Part 2 - Gender

It's taken me a while, but here is the second installment of my Prejudice series.

I am a female-bodied woman. The greatest influences in my childhood were two very strong women: my mother and my paternal grandmother.

My grandmother was widowed at a relatively young age and never remarried. She had a large house with over an acre of yard that she kept maintained better than most parks you have to pay to see. She also kept a large garden that she plowed and managed by herself. She worked hard at her job and was well known and respected in our small town community. She had a grace and dignity that I have never seen in any other person. She never raised her voice – she never had to. She commanded respect because of her respect for other people.

My mother worked very hard at a very physically and emotionally demanding job, while her husband (my biological father) contributed very little to the household. While working 60 hours a week, and with two adolescent children, my mother went back to college and graduated magna cum laude. She taught me that I could overcome any obstacle with my own strength – including an abusive marriage. (Again, another topic for another day.)

The main similarity in these two remarkable women is that they never let anyone tell them their actions depended on them being female. Both of them took care of things that needed to be taken care of – whether or not they had help. I grew up knowing I could do anything a male-bodied person can do, specifically that being a woman does not limit my potential.

As a young adult, I entered the wonderful world of law at a solo practitioner's office in this same small town. I started off as a file clerk and worked my way up to the highest position available short of becoming an attorney. I'm very good at law. It makes sense to me and I really enjoy studying it. That office is where I saw some of the very worst gender prejudice of my life.

I was often referred to as “that little curly headed girl at (attorney's name)'s office.” Men would come in for a professional legal consultation-type meeting with me and say things like, “Oh it's a shame you are married. Are you sure I can't take you to lunch?” and, if they had only previously communicated with me via phone or email, “Well, isn't this a pleasant surprise. Pretty and smart.”

I knew what I was doing. My boss and most other legal professionals treated me with great respect because they also knew I knew what I was doing. Still, those comments served their purpose quite well: they stripped me from my knowledge and left me with my looks and leaving me feeling that only my looks were “worthy” of note. By the time I left that office, I had started deliberately wearing very plain clothing, pulling my hair into a bun, and attempting to look at boring as possible. Not that I was previously wearing provocative clothing – I just decided I couldn't really be myself if I wanted to be respected. This is part of the reason I don't work there any more.

What bothers me are incorrect expectations of gender: Women can't be smart and pretty. Men can't be strong and sensitive. If you are transgendered you are expected to be all and none of those descriptions at the same time.

At what point will our society stop forcing individual expectations on people based on gender?

Dictionary.com:
prejudice: (definitions 2 &3)
2. any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.
3. unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, esp. of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.


Of course we will never be able to rid ourselves completely of preconceived opinions and I don't claim to be without such. What I propose is that you make a conscious effort to set those prejudices aside and attempt to relate to individuals rather than genders.

To see what prejudices you really have you need to observe yourself observing others. Pick a day when you will be out in public, among lots of people you don't know – like at a mall. Sit and watch the people go by. Recognize your expectations from those people purely based on their gender.

But it's more than knowing your own limitations. It's about treating people with respect, regardless of their gender.

It is important to me that my children know they don't have to do or not do anything because of their genders. I will feel I have been successful as parent if my children grow to a place where they are sensitive to the fact that everyone is not the same - That people are all different on the inside no matter what gender they are on the outside. That all people are of value and deserve to be treated as such.

As a person who cares intimately for a transgendered person, I frequently see the expectations of people and how much those expectations hurt someone who doesn't meet them.

We all want to feel accepted and loved. It isn't your place or mine to judge someone's character by their appearance, including their gender appearance. That is prejudice.

4 comments:

saintchick

babydoll this was a great heartfelt post. You are such a loving and giving person. I am so glad that we are friends...oxoxo
meiness

Kyle

I enjoyed this very much. I like hearing about those strong women who mentored you and about how your experiences have shaped how you see gender. As for roles and expectations, my response was to take that rule book and toss it out.

jennytg

This is a wonderful post.You truly are an amazing person.I feel very lucky and blessed I ran into you on the net.

Roland Hulme

That was a great post...

funny, it had never occured to me, this idea of gender. Not until I moved to America. Now people consider gender differently.

For example, I'm not a typical 'mans man.' I like to think of myself as sophisticated, masculine and into old cars, horses and other 'manly' pursuits... I was quite the womaniser in my day. But at the same time, I hate sports and have few male friends (and the majority of those aren't interested in women.)

In Britain, not a problem. In America, people assume I'm gay because I don't pound Miller Lite with the guys and talk about Hockey.

I still imagine, though, but by the standards of 'classic' masculinity (Hugh Hefner and Roger Moore) I'm more man than any of them.

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