I worked with a man (up until the end of last week) who looks like a rustic Calvin Klein underwear model, rippling bicep muscles and all. He’s quite nice to look at but after talking to him I have decided I would have enjoyed him far more had he not decided to speak. His complete lack of respect for woman makes him entirely unappealing. The interesting thing is he thinks himself extremely respectful to woman. He opens doors and changes light bulbs and does heavy lifting while at the same time making unfounded assumptions of me based on my biological sex. Maybe, just maybe, the fact that I have a vagina makes me neither incapable of opening a door nor inferior to the penis owners of this world. The first (and last) time I opened a door for him he refused to walk through. In fact, we both stubbornly stood blocking the entry way for an excess of five minutes waiting for the other to give in. Finally, I looked at him and said “I can open doors just as well as you. What you just did was rude and disrespectful. Why won’t you let me be polite just because I am a woman?” and I left him standing there as the door slammed in his face. This story of course has almost nothing to do with the vile act of opening doors. To be honest I think opening doors for people is generally a very nice thing to do and I do it all the time. The sexism that was presented in this particular situation is my problem.
After the door incident afternoon I made the (very bad, yet enlightening) decision to talk to said co-worker about gender. For him, gender is the deciding factor in all things. It guides every decision you will make. Intelligence, kindness, merit, all other variables are trumped by what parts you were born with. During this heated conversation I learned that I am biologically wired to love romantic comedies and strongly disliked any action and adventure. My place was (and I quote) “barefoot and pregnant”. All women have a maternal driving force that makes them want to have children, be stay at home mothers and wives who are happy to submit to their superior husbands. While my retorts were both varied, well founded and brilliant he was unwilling to submit to the idea that gender is cultural and not set biologically. I was also informed that my father must be gay because he didn’t like the movie 300 and that my fiancé is “a pussy” (please note the negative connotation that refers to the female anatomy) because I asked him out on our first date instead of the other way around.
The idea that gender roles are both universal and biological is an unjustified idea. Gender roles are cultural. That is why they change over time and differ as you travel geographically. In America, the expected gender roles are based in Anglo-Saxon Christian ideals. Adam was created in God’s image while woman was a mere afterthought. In Genesis chapter two, verse nineteen God gave Adam the job of naming all the animals and then he created Eve for the sole purpose of helping Adam and being his companion.
2:19-And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
2:20- And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
Later, Eve is essentially blamed for the fall of man kind from the Garden of Eden and God's good graces. If you aren’t into reading the bible as literature but this idea interests you read Paradise Lost by John Milton which gives a poetic literary rendition of the story of the fall.
The Judeo- Christian creation myth still weighs heavily on women today. When you look woman up in the dictionary you get a lot of different definitions, which include a wife, a sweetheart or paramour, a female person who cleans house, cooks, etc, and these are just three of the definitions placed on women. Despite that pressure and the historical oppression women have suffered, we rise above. We rise above the misconceptions everyday. Every time a woman performs a life saving surgery, she rises above a time when women weren’t allowed to practice medicine. Every time a woman writes a book, she rises above a world where women were not allowed to get an education, to read, to write. Every time a woman works her way to the top of a law firm food chain, she rises above a time when women were thought too emotional and irrational to practice law. Every time a woman dares to be herself without social constructions guiding her decisions, we all rise above. When will the word realize masculine and feminine is only relevant when view through the lens of cultural context?