On two separate occasions in recent memory, I was called upon to act like a girl.
The first time came when we were visiting a quaint little town in Oregon with the beau’s parents. The beau and his dad decided they wanted to go get a drink at a pub, and his mom decided she wanted to browse the shops. They all turned and looked at me, waiting to see which one I’d choose.
Honestly? The very idea of shopping makes me want to stab myself in the face with a carving fork. But as I quickly assessed the situation I noted that:
- Beau and his dad could probably use a little one-on-one bonding.
- If I went to the pub, Beau’s mom would be completely alone.
- Having had two sons, Beau’s mom had never before had the opportunity to go shopping with a daughter-like figure.
Seriously, the decision was made for me. Browsing the stores it was.
The second time came when I attended a housewarming party. Everyone had just settled in to watch a sporting event on TV when the hostess of the party sighed, muttered that she hated sports, then turned to me and asked if I wanted to go upstairs and look at the dresses she’d had made by a seamstress. Uh… no? But I couldn’t say that, of course. I was a guest and the only woman there besides the hostess herself. If not by manners, then I was bound by a common set of genitalia. Up the stairs I trudged for an interlude in making my face look way animated than I actually felt.
The splitting of groups by gender has always made me feel extremely uncomfortable, not least because I usually end up getting shafted. I was once a guest at a wedding for which the day-before activities were segregated thusly: girls were to attend a spa day, and guys were to go golfing. Um… what’s the designated activity for folks who feel terrified at the prospect of either option? That would be sitting in your hotel room drinking by yourself, yes?
The point is not that girly spa days are stupid, of course, or that anyone who enjoys anything remotely “girly” is bad. I sometimes participate in girly activities, myself: I like dresses! I wear eye makeup! The other week I willfully watched the E! True Hollywood Story of Full House, and I was riveted!
What really gets me agitated is when these behaviors are just assumed of men and women. I’d like to think that we all know better than that, but go ahead and scan the comments of any YouTube video or news article if you need a quick reminder about how moronic most of the population is. I’d like to think I would have let go of even caring about any of it by now, because it’s such a needling little thing. A quick comment here. A tired joke there. A totally-missing-the-mark-gift there.
Like the Debbie Gibson cassette and purple hair crimper I got for my ninth birthday, when pop music and hair styling couldn’t have been more foreign concepts to me. I remember feeling strangely guilty about these presents, because they strongly hinted at markers of “normal” girlhood that I just wasn’t living up to. With her feathered bangs and coral lipstick and smart beret, Debbie Gibson looked exactly like everything I wasn’t, and was probably never going to be.
And I’m still not. Especially with regard to the feathered bangs.
We all try to assimilate as best we can. We all catch subtle cues from others about what’s expected from us. More than being the nice thing to do, I knew I was expected by the beau’s parents — especially his dad — to choose shopping over a pub. More than being the polite thing to do, I knew I was expected by the people at the housewarming party to prefer looking at dresses over watching sports.
What, then? I could just whine about how that’s unfair, and point to the usual suspects behind behavioral conditioning — patriarchy! media! toy manufacturers! gluten! — and maybe shake my head indignantly. What for? Stereotypes are dumb. People are dumb. We’re expected to do things we don’t always like to do. Boo fucking hoo, right?
Are these expectations really such a bad thing?
Here’s what I want to know: when does being polite become compromising ourselves? And are we sometimes… well, too polite?
Would speaking up about our genuine preferences actually do anything to reverse the cavalcade of gender assumptions that filters through our fields of awareness on a daily basis?
The cynic in me says probably not.
But still, I wonder.
I like to speak up. Not at the expense of being kind when called to do so — in the end I’m glad I went with my mother-in-law on that shopping excursion, even if it did tear quietly at my soul. But every time I’m asked if I’m putting my husband in the doghouse, or if it’s insinuated that I’m withholding sex to get my way, or that all women want giant diamonds dripping from their bodies, or anything that makes me bristle, I try to say something.
Whether a brilliantly cutting joke, or a quiet reply: “Yeah, that’s not the way it is.” Anything.
It makes me feel better, anyway. A little more normal, again.
What do you think? Put up or shut up?