Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Banality of Gender Roles.

Y'know... I've never really bought into all the sociocultural perspectives about how different men are from women... all that "Men are from Mars, Women are from Hell" bullshit. Like most cultural commentary, I find it generalized, abstract and overplayed. I've seen too many men that acted feminine, and women that were masculine, to believe in any pure dichotomy of gender. Sure... biological differences are innate and inescapable, and of course those variables find their manifestations in human behavior. But I've always viewed gender in terms of a sliding scale, or continuum. Look at nature's deviations. There are hermaphrodites and chromosomal anomalies. I am constantly hearing about genetic predisposition as a factor in homosexuality. I can't reconcile all these complexities with a black-and-white perspective.

I have this conversation with a female friend as it applies to art. She maintains (vehemently) that women display emotionality, while men are concerned with ideas. She further claims that she has NO ideas when she creates her own art... but instead simply reacts. It's not just that I think this is untrue in her case, but that it is impossible in any case. One must start from an idea... even if it is of an intutive or emotive nature. I think we've moved past the idea that emotions derive literally from the heart. And conversely, I have difficulty believing that an artist (even a male) can completely divorce him/herself from emotion or mood. So it's not a useful dialogue to me. It's way too simplistic. I also believe that there are many women who would be insulted, or even mortified, by my friend's position on gender-determination in the artistic process. As if women are incapable of articulating conceptualization. I simply won't accept that. It reinforces the worst kind of stereotype... a way of thinking that has contributed to the historical repression of women.

Yet I can't completely extricate myself from this insidious dichotomy. It came up a lot last night, in fact. A friend of mine and I were discussing how women and men talk about other people. It seems that when two women get together to gossip about friends or intimates, they tend to construct a mini-echo chamber... with empathy reverberating around the dialogue like electrons cycling around a nucleus (OK.. forgive me, I didn't do well in chemistry). All they seem to desire is someone to validate their emotions. They aren't looking for advice or problem-solving, but rather simply for someone that will listen to them. I've experienced a maddening type of circularity while lending a shoulder to a female friend, that just makes me want to tune out the speaker altogether. By the third re-articulation of the same exact problem, I want to start yelling in frustration.

Men talk about other people just as often, contrary to conventional belief. But they seem to do it with an entirely different intention. They want analysis and feedback... otherwise they would have just kept their thoughts to themselves. If I'm going to talk to a male friend about another person, I am seeking an alternative perspective. I want to discover some objectivity, so I can take an ordered approach to whatever situation is troubling me. And I choose my listener with that end in mind. There are numerous people I would consider talking to, depending upon the nature of the problem. If at all possible I will confront whomever it is that is the source of the difficulty.

But I don't look at this as some sort of chromosomally-determined phenomenom. I believe rather that it stems from cultural conditioning. Like it or not, our society establishes expectations based upon gender. Little boys are not encouraged to gossip about other little boys. That kind of behavior is met with a proper beating, and/or excommunication from the pack. And perhaps little girls are not taught to offer competing perspectives, but rather opportunities for symbiotic interaction... or gulp... relationships based around "feelings". I'm not exactly sure how the socialization occurs among females, but I know for damn sure that it's not the same as for men. Just enter a 9th grade classroom and count the seconds before some sensitive kid is publicly branded a "faggot", and you'll see what I'm talking about. Damn... when I was in high school I thought art and poetry were "gay". But my biological makeup certainly didn't prohibit me from evolving, and embracing these things as I matured.

Ultimately I think we'd all be better off if we were able somehow to develop an alternative vocabulary for talking about gender differences... or maybe a way to transcend them altogether. I get exhausted with having the most cliche assumptions perpetuated by people conforming to some basic idea of socially proscribed roles. It's not compelling at all. It's f'ing boring, and it keep us from really getting to know each other.


Blogger Rob Park said...

People "label" everything in order to comprehend. Sadly, we comprehend a limited number of things and label only a few of the things we comprehend. Moreover, our "labels" lack the dynamics necessary to describe free-will.

Yes, gender roles are banal but necessary to describe the limited world in which most people live.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Unfortunately these labels are too often used as "proscription", rather than "description".

11:19 PM  

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