Welcome back to WWDTAOL, my new series on What We Don’t Talk About Out Loud. This is my series in which I can explore all the things that don’t get said in polite society and how we would be lost without the unwritten standards our society holds up. In this post, I’ll be springing off the last post and my example of it being vastly women who asked me about my reproductive choices. When we talk about the patriarchy and how the man keeps us down, well, there’s an unspoken addendum that there will always be women who are desperate to hold up the patriarchy as well.
Before I get too deep into the weeds, I want to mention that I won’t be talking about nonbinary and/or genderfluid folks because the recognition that they exist is fairly new and I don’t know how they fit into the patriarchy. My instinct would be to say they don’t, but I know people. I am sure there are some NB/genderfluid people who also hold up the patriarchy in some way or other. Anyway, I’m limiting myself to men and women for the purpose of this post on gender determinism and sexism.
In reading my advice columns, I run across certain responses from women towards other women that are sexist in nature and depressingly common. One. The whole children thing I mentioned above. Almost everyone who questioned me when I was in my twenties was a woman, which surprised me at the time. Another big area is looks. Women are mean to other women about how they dress, how much makeup they do/don’t wear, how much they weigh, etc.
Again, I’d like to stress that I know guys do this as well. The point of this post is to note how many women buy into those same toxic beliefs. With the kids thing, I had hoped it was a relic of an older time (nineties/aughts). Sadly, women who are currently in their twenties report that they still get the same pressure. Doing a quick Google, I see that there 15.4% of women age 45 to 50 (my age) do not have children. Honestly, that’s higher than I thought because of how constant the child beat is smashed into my face in popular culture.
One of the reason I find this issue interesting is because I’ve felt very much not like a women all my life. I’ve never been interested in traditionally girly things. Here’s a long list of things that I eschew. Cooking, sewing, makeup, fashion, shopping, weddings, and children. I don’t like rom-coms, romantic movies, or basically romance in general. I did play with dolls, but mostly to make them have sex with each other. I much preferred stuffed animals. I hate pink and other pastels, and black is my favorite color.
Now. Here’s the side of this I rarely discuss. I come about all of those dislikes honestly. I’m not doing it because I’m a contrarian (even though I am), but I will confess the heavy disdain some of them experience is one reason I’m happy to not be interested in them. Specifically rom-coms. And, it’s absolutely the gender expectations as to why I resist so hard some of the others such as cooking.
When I was in college, I had many more male friends than female friends in part because I liked ‘dude’ things more, but it was also my way of being a Cool Girl. I was comfortable laughing at the silly girls with them without realizing how my acceptance as one of the guys was razor thin. One slip and I would be one of the silly girls. In addition, makeup and fashion aren’t inherently sillier than sports and cars. I realize that now, but I bought the bullshit when I was in college.
Roll back even further before that and I used to pray to a God a didn’t believe in every night to make me a boy. This was when I was nine or ten and it seemed as if guys got to do all the fun stuff. As a girl, I wasn’t supposed to run around and climb trees. I was supposed to sit quietly and play with my dollies. I was what was called a tomboy when I was little and I never really grew out of it. I prayed to God for months because I hated being a girl. Or rather, I hated the expectations that were placed on me solely because of my genitals.
I have never wanted to be a boy/man. I don’t think of myself as male. I have no ‘I am a man feelings’. My desire to be a boy was purely because of the restrictions I felt I had to adhere to because I was a girl. It didn’t help that I grew up with a father who is extremely regressive when it comes to gender. His advice to me when I was fifteen or so and hadn’t gotten a boyfriend yet. “Raise your voice a couple of octaves, allow a boy to help you with something (like changing a flat tire), and let him beat you in a game.” Mind you, I never asked my father for his sage romantic advice, but that never stopped him from offering his unsolicited and uninformed advice.
Another time, my father was visiting me and went out to meet up with a friend. This was ten or fifteen years later. He came back with a gift in his hand and held it out to me, a blank look on his face. I stared at him and asked what the hell that was? I didn’t say hell, but that was implied in my tone. He said it was a gift someone had given to him as if it was self-explanatory. He didn’t say anything else but kept holding it out to me. I finally asked why he was giving it to me. He said women liked that kind of things. I asked, “What kind of things?” in a tone of exasperation. He said, “Gifts and weddings.” Seriously. His mouth said that without checking with his brain first. That’s my father, though. He puts people in categories and ascribes traits to that whole group of people. For example, he thinks Americans are better than Taiwanese people because Americans are logical and rational. Yes, he still believed this even after four years with the last president. In fact, he couldn’t fathom the situation with the coronavirus happening in the United States. It’s frustrating as fuck, to be honest.
Anyway, my desire to be the Cool Girl in college was a result of the patriarchy that dictates women had to be parceled into different categories and strictly held to those distinctions. I was not one of those ‘high-maintenance’ women who actually demanded that a man cared about their emotions and shit. Part of the difficulty is that I really am low-maintenance in that it takes me ten minutes to get ready to go somewhere. That doesn’t include a shower, BTW. I don’t take a shower every day. I truly don’t care about clothes or makeup although the reasons are not as straightforward as they might seem at first. Makeup–I’m allergic to everything. Back during my teen years, there was not much hypoallergenic makeup to be had. That was bad for my skin. In addition, I have sensory issues and hate the feel of anything on my skin. I wear as little clothes as possible, which is one reason I hate shopping. Another is me being fat and America hating fat people. I actually prefer to buy my clothes from Taiwan (or rather, have my mom buy it for me) because they know how to make clothes for Asian people. Even if I have to get XXXXXXL or bigger. That’s not great, but you can’t have everything.
I did buy clothes for Ian’s wedding (which was yesterday) because I have been living in sweats and t-shirts/sweatshirts for the last year. I wanted a festive top and simple black pants in case I had to stand up. You’d think that’d be easy, but alas. Let’s talk women’s pants. PUT. SOME. DAMN. POCKETS. IN. THE. DAMN. PANTS. It really is that simple. I want pockets in my pants. Why is that such a difficult concept? It took me hours, but I finally found a maroon top with a tiered hem (and flowers) plus a nice pair of flowy black pants WITH POCKETS that I felt ok in.
Whew. Let’s rein in back in, Minna.
When I first came out, I attended an APLB conference (Asian Pacific Lesbian Bisexual) that really opened my eyes to the diversity of queer women. Of course, I fell for a soft butch (her term for herself) who had no interest in me, but that’s the story of my life. It was exhilarating to be around dozens of other queer Asian women as we shouted Asian pussy power in unison. One day, we were playing the fun game of placing each other on the butch/femme spectrum. Hey, it was twenty-five years ago. It’s how we passed the time. One of the biggest compliments I ever got in my life was when one of the self-proclaimed butches looked at me for a long moment and said, “I have no idea where to place you.” I had a stone cold butch (again, self-proclaimed) years later tell me that I confused her because I had long hair, but I liked sports.
If either of them could articulate what their confusion was, I’m sure it would be something akin to that I had a body of a woman with my long hair and my triple Ds/Fs whatever the fuck my boobs actually are, but the brain of a man. I am empathetic, yet, I have a hard time talking about MY emotions. I am built like a brickhouse, but I pay almost no attention to my looks. Except my hair. It reaches mid-thigh, but I usually wear it up in a bun at the top of my head. I don’t wear makeup, but I do like lipstick. It just looks weird on me. All makeup does at this point.
Why do women uphold the patriarchy? For many reasons. One, the status quo is a powerful thing. “Because it’s the way we’ve always done it” is difficult to fight against. In addition, you have to realize there’s something to fight against in the first place. For the first twenty years of my life, I assumed I’d get married and have children one day because that was what I was supposed to do. It’s what I saw around me and it’s what my mother conveyed to me was the most important thing a woman could do. Not just implicitly (though mostly so), but explicitly as well.
Another reason is because women get beat down for getting notions that they can be something other than what is expected of them. I want to make this very clear. Most of the women who are holding up the patriarchy aren’t just doing it for laughs. They’re doing it because they know the penalties for refusing. That might not be a conscious decision, but they know it in their bones. I never had a choice in following the status quo because I am simply not wired that way. As I once said to someone, if I had ever been in the position where I was pregnant and forced to have the child, I would have killed myself. I wasn’t being hyperbolic–that’s how strongly I feel on the situation. I’ve written short stories based on this premise.
A third reason is to make themselves feel better about their own choices. When you unthinkingly follow the status quo, it can be threatening when other people don’t. A woman who has kids because it’s what she’s expected to do sees someone like me who not only doesn’t have children, but I’m very clear on the fact that it’s a positive choice on my part. It’s not because I can’t have them or because there’s a genetic reason not to have them. I’m not sorrowful about it or apologetic. I don’t trip over myself saying how sorry I am that I’m not having them or how much I love children. I’m positively gleeful about not having children. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my life and I’d crow about it all day long if the situation called for it. For someone who feels trapped by her own decision (specifically, a woman who felt she *had* to have children), it makes sense that she would lash out at someone she felt cheated or ignored the rules. I can say that now with decades between me and the experiences, but at the time, I just didn’t understand the anger.
Running long as usual. Will write more in the next post.