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Feeding and Starving the Gender and Sexuality Stereotypes

I was guilty of misogyny for many years. I used to use those words, "I'm not like other women. I don't like girly stuff," not realizing that I was perpetuating stereotypes that were harmful to women. It never occurred to me to change my way of defining 'girly stuff' and women in general. Unsurprisingly, I had very few female friends when I was younger, and when I did make friends with women they were usually guilty of the same traitorous misogyny. We decided at some point that women were into drama, and we wanted to steer clear of all that stuff. Yet, I considered myself a feminist. I felt women should have equal rights, and were just as worthy as men. Talk about your cognitive dissonance. The contradiction is appalling to me these days, and I'm ashamed of that person. Women deserve an apology from me, so here it is. I'm sorry. I'm very, very sorry. I was wrong, and you were right.

The road to understanding how harmful I was being, not just to other women, but to myself and my daughter as well, was a long and winding one. As much as I supposedly hated the gender stereotypes when I was raising my daughter and little boys were telling me that Gargoyles weren't girl toys they were boy toys, I was still perpetuating the myths. I was proud to call myself a tomboy, and I was proud to call my daughter a tomboy, but what would I have done if my daughter had gone the other way? What would have happened to my pride had she decided she liked ribbons and curls and pretty dresses, and thought that action movies were stupid?

I'm sure there were many people who assumed I was a lesbian because of my predilection for 'more masculine' pursuits, despite the fact that I was strictly hetero, but that wasn't something that ever concerned me. People could think whatever they liked about me, and I had no prejudices regarding sexuality. Or, at least I didn't think I did. Stereotypes are tricky things, though. Being white, cisgender and heterosexual has given me a great deal of privilege. There are things I will never have to face just because of the circumstances of my birth. For the longest time I bought into the stereotypes of the butch lesbian and the effeminate gay man, because I was neither and didn't understand that nothing ever applies to everyone.

Stereotypes are generalities that simply aren't true for the vast majority of the population. I break the stereotypes myself, in multiple ways. Every person I've ever met, or spoken to, breaks those stereotypes. I was married to a man who started out thinking that women were helpless, but he learned we weren't. He would have been what most would consider a tough guy, but it didn't take him very long to reform his opinions about women when he ran into one that disproved what he'd been predisposed to believe. He broke out of stereotypes about men, and particularly the ones about bad boys. Every male that I'm in contact with bends or breaks their stereotypes, and every female, too. I have friends who are gay and bisexual, and you wouldn't be able to identify their sexual orientation by looking at them or hearing them talk.

One of my biggest examples, although 'excuse' would be the more appropriate word, was the supposedly female tendency to avoid speaking out. It's a common complaint about women, and it's still heard in comedy routines to this day. A man asks his wife what's wrong, and she answers, "Nothing," even though she might as well be holding a butcher knife behind her back. I've always prided myself on my ability to speak up and say exactly what's wrong, with no manipulation tactics, and no passive-aggressive behaviour. Yet, I still labeled this a feminine trait. It wasn't until I was faced with the evidence of one man after another doing exactly what women are accused of doing, that I realized it's not gender-specific. Passive-aggression is practiced by all genders. It's a question of psychological make-up, not masculine or feminine issues.

It wasn't easy to break out of the habit of criticizing women. My opinion of 'typical' females wasn't very high, and it wasn't until I finally realized that it meant my opinion of myself wasn't very high either if I felt I had to put down other people to make myself feel better, that I finally became conscious of what I was doing at all times. This is a mistake I've had to admit to my grown daughter, who is still doing what I used to do. I can only hope that I still wield enough influence with her that I can correct some of the damage that I've done. The damage isn't gender-specific either, as I've managed to impart some false expectations when it comes to men, too.

Breaking those habits has some major benefits, though. It's okay for me to like sexy boots and shoes, and it's okay to wear make-up and nail-polish without trashing my rep. I can dye my hair or leave the silver strands alone, and have it either long or short. Basically it means I have the freedom to be myself, doing what I like to do. Earrings don't turn me into a drama-addict any more than they do any other person on the planet. I can still work on computers, watch action movies, use my power tools to build furniture, and whatever else I enjoy doing, all while wearing a mini-skirt and platform heels. The things that seem like contradictions are only contradictory to our stereotypes.

This is what feminism truly does for us all. It gives us freedom, whatever gender and/or sexual orientation we identify with. We're free to be the person we were meant to be, leaving behind the stereotypes that pigeon-holed us into something we never wanted to be in the first place.

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Rain Stickland is a Canadian writer with a passion for ferrets and a love for sentient creatures. She produces The Kovacs Perspective, hosted by Steve Kovacs.

Her professional background includes freelance writing, consulting, technical writing, procedures manuals, payroll and HR, investment analysis, and accounting. She owns a company that develops and manufactures safe pet toys, and donates the proceeds to ferret shelters in Canada and the US.

Rain's writing background includes topics such as stem cell transplants and feminism, and position papers on charitable organization development. She's also a staff writer for a popular online feminist publication. A crime-fiction series is in the works, as she continues to contribute to various online and print publications.

Follow her on Twitter @RainStickland

You can follow her blog at: Torrential Rain

Future articles can be found at: Soul of Wit where she will contribute articles formerly written for SearchWarp.com.

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