To Sir, With Love
Saturday, December 8, 2007
If gender-stereotypes don't exist anymore . . . why am I still getting called "Sir"?
In recent discussions of my "Overheard at Safeway" (posted here and at Shakesville), some commenters said that they had been raised "gender-neutral" (one even referred to the "gender-neutral police"). Others posited that their male and female offspring were "just different" from day one, which seems to support the concept of innate differences between biologically male and biologically female humans.
Now, I am definitely "biologically female". I check out chromosomally and everything -- so why am I still getting called "Sir"?
(Warning -- some photos below may be NSFW.)
Exhibit A -- this is a photo of me snapped in September of this year (for Kate Harding's very excellent BMI illustration project):
Looking at this photo, you will undoubtedly notice right away that I am "obese" (I kid, of course -- but the BMI doesn't-- I'm obviously at death's door -- OK, I kid, again. Sorry -- this shit just cracks me up!).
You may have also noticed that I have short hair, and that I have a rather noticeable set of tatas (those are the things that are making bulges outward from my upper torso, and which gave rise to the now-infamous TWH[tm] -- "Titty-Wrap Hug").
For those of you not "in the know" lesbionically, I am what is known as a "butchy" dyke.
Let me make it clear here that I am not a "stone butch", but I'm pretty butchy, and I always have been pretty butchy. It's been reported that I am "not butchy enough" for some dykes, and "too butchy" for others.
Que sera, sera.
(As a side-note, I just realized that when you include the word butchy many times in a single paragraph, it starts to look very strange. Butchy. Butchy. Butchy.)
There's the set-up.
The other day, when I was at the store, I was called "sir". Again.
As is usually the case, the person who sirred me, upon hearing me speak, became instantly flustered, apologized quickly, and then looked away -- as hard as they could.
This is not the first time that I have been called "sir" (nor, I imagine, the last). I used to get this a lot more than I do now, and I've pondered whether it was because my hair is slightly longer now than it used to be, whether I dress ever-so-slightly less butchy than in the past, or whether, since I gained weight, my tatas are even less avoidable than they were when I was a skinny little shit.
However, I don't think any of that is really the source of the gender-projection dysphoria that I seem to produce in strangers.
Here are some pictures of me from my past (click to enlarge):
During the time that these pictures were taken, I was sirred at least once a month (on average), even when I had hair down to my ass.
What you cannot see in any of these photos are these:
Face it -- they're kind of hard to miss, and they have been with me since age 13, at approximately the same size and shape (disclaimer: altitudinal coordinates have changed over time).
Do not click to enlarge this photo -- it's just not necessary.
My hypothesis is that it is not my hair, facial construction, or body type that results in me being genderized by strangers via a "masculine" form of address.
I am very short, my voice ranges from high-pitched to "annoyingly-squeaky" (depending on how much I've been smoking and how excited/upset I am), and my fashion choices (I'm using the term "fashion" very loosely here) are decidedly gender-neutral -- usually sweat-pants and a fleece shirt -- 90% of the time (OK, I'll come clean -- more like 97% of the time)
So, I don't think it is my physical appearance or dress -- I believe it is my manner and my mannerisms.
I speak loudly. I am brash and direct. My natural stance is "feet apart, arms akimbo" (think "Stands-with-a-Fist" -- but only if you can avoid thinking of Kevin Costner at the same time). I tend to look people directly in the eye, to stomp when I walk, and my stride is long and forward-moving rather than short and side-swaying.
And it's always been that way:
So how did this happen?
I've decided that it simply cannot be "Nurture": I was raised in a culture and a time when gender roles were far more stringently applied than they are today.
I was constantly admonished to keep my legs/feet together (even though no one bothered to explain to me that to do otherwise was either an open declaration of my slutitude, or an attempt to emulate a man).
I was repeatedly lectured on the appropriate toys/activities/body postures/vocal tones that fit with the following descriptors: "Feminine", "Girl-Stuff", and "Lady-Like".
Somehow, it just didn't take.
I'm going to argue again that the gender roles and expectations that many people would like to attach to chromosomal sexual status CAN NOT be scientifically proven as genetically pre-disposed -- even if you do extensive studies about how humans are supposed to be able to identify gender by gait patterns -- because gender-expectations and gender-roles are cultural, Cultural, CULTURAL!!!
(Oh, and have I mentioned that they're cultural?)
Let's take a fairly external item: Clothing.
Even though fashion in clothing is a phenomenon which is incredibly mercurial, changing literally year-to-year within our culture, there remain clothing-based stereotypes which invoke gender-roles and expectations, such as: "Who wears the pants in this family, anyway?"
Ask any English-speaking person in western culture what that means. They can probably tell you. (Hint: It has to do with Patriarchy.)
Even though pants are relatively new to western culture (introduced in Europe as an evolution of the "hose" worn by men in the 15th century), it has only been within my lifetime that the thought of women wearing pants in the US was down-graded from scandalous/possibly-culture-destroying to acceptable-but-not-really-feminine. (The demurely crossed ankles that you see in the photo above -- the one with me pouting on the porch -- are those of my grandmother in 1964, who wore "slacks" exactly once in her lifetime -- and only after my grandfather passed away, cuz God knows that would have killed him.)
You may want to say: "Oh, hey, Portly Dyke -- now that's 'a bridge too far'! ;) No one really thinks that pants are reserved for men anymore!"
Google the phrase: "women wear pants", and take a look at the ongoing debate about whether good Xtian women can wear a specific article of clothing without incurring God's wrath by violating Deuteronomy 22:5.
Oh, and just for good measure? Why don't you suggest to some "Masculist" that he "get back to his roots" and put on a pair of tights? I double-dog dare you.
Never mind that, at the time Deuteronomy 22:5 was written, the men in question weren't wearing pants (not to rub it in or anything, but they were wearing dresses), and a woman wearing pants wouldn't have had a problem with being mis-identified as a man and being punished for cross-dressing, so much as being annihilated because she was mistaken for a Scythian.
See, it's cultural. It's Cultural. It's CULTURAL!!!!!!
Gender identification/roles/expectations are incredibly flexible constructs. They change from generation to generation, from country to country, and from tribe to tribe.
Still don't believe me? Tell me: who's the man and who's the woman?
We all know that graceful, swaying motions, make-up to enhance the eyes and mouth, elaborate jewelry and headdresses are the province of women, don't we?
Tell it to the Wodaabe:
I "read" as "sir" in this culture, because of this culture's gender-role coding. I don't "cue" correctly for this culture's expectation of what a woman is supposed to sound like, walk like, act like, dress like. I don't cross my arms over my breasts when a man stares at them. I'm more likely to stare back and when he finally looks up, say: "Are you lookin' at me?" in my best DeNiro.
Truth be known, I don't even mind being "sirred" -- in fact, I prefer it to being "ma'amed" (which I think, sadly, testifies to my own internalized and culturally-coded misogyny).
I want to repeat again, in case anyone hasn't gotten this yet -- I'm not saying that it is impossible that there may be innate differences between biological males and biological females. I am saying that, until we can really perceive and understand our own cultural biases, assumptions, and projections about gender-roles, I don't believe that there is any way to perform empirical research on what, if any, those differences might be.
Which probably means that we need to have an extra-terrestrial to do the research for us:
Posted byPortlyDyke at 10:30 PM