"...for the present enshrines the past – and in the past all history has been made by men." --Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
Last week, I wrote a short piece on my (stunning) failure to be socialized according to our culture's gender norms. As I pointed out, I spent much of my adolescence wearing my father's hand-me-downs and drinking cheap whiskey with the loud boys (the kind, you know, who wore cordovan wingtips and eyeliner to first period). We were a delightful lot of misfits. Anyhow, an old friend, reading this, sent me a link to a new collection by Dries Van Noten, as photographed by The Sartorialist, with the note "ahead of the times, eh?" But of course.
The Sartorialist writes : "The take away from this show? Steal your Dad's clothes, all your dad's clothes. His shirts, his jeans, his sportcoats are all fair game now."
Why, I wonder, did I ever learn to wear lipstick? And like it?
To be fair, menswear has long been a 'classic look' on women of my build (broad shoulders, long neck) and height (as tall as a man). In search of my style predecessors, I searched the Internets for some of my women-loves. I've posted a small gallery at the end of the post.
But before getting to that, I thought I would raise a number of questions on gender that still demand discussion :
How does language shape our thoughts on gender? How do we use language - as a form of behavior and as an expression and extension of culture - to implicitly enforce gender norms? And then -- secondarily -- If we think that language is shaping (or implicitly constraining) our thoughts and beliefs about gender, is it worthwhile to assess and try to change those values? Should we try to self-consciously change the way we speak?
In society, what role does biology play in propelling men (and not women) to the top? Are the traits of highly successful men (e.g., hyperfocus, ambition, hypomania) truly absent in women? In what way is the expression of these traits mediated by cultural norms and practice?
How does female sexuality play into all of this? What part does modern culture (pornography, fashion, etc) play in shaping our expectations of women? Must powerful, iconic women necessarily be de-sexualized, gay, or explicitly counter-culture? What happens when women turn the tables and objectify men? [Links are to the Martin Amis classic on pornography "Pussies are bullshit," the Dove ads scandal, and the Karen Owen sex-thesis (er, f*ck list), respectively.]
And finally, a provocative question from a conversation I was having this evening about Hemingway (who was often accused of misogyny) :
What does it mean to be a misogynist in an age (or society) where women are socialized to be powerless, subservient and inferior? What does it mean to be a feminist?
In the days to come, I'll write a little on the research I've been doing on the differences in how we use gendered words (like "he" and "she" and "man" and "woman"). The differences are striking, and sometimes more than a little startling. Here's a simple one you might not expect : when it comes to labeling people by their sexual orientation, we're far more interested in a man's preference than a woman's. In fact, we label men by their orientation (gay, straight, bi) about ten times more often than we do women. But that ratio nearly reverses when it comes to marital status. We talk incessantly about whether women are "married," "single," or "divorced," but when it comes to the guys, we couldn't care less. What does it all mean? --I'll get to that bit shortly.