Note: This was written immediately after reading Deals well with ambiguity: a savagely long wu about why boys are not like girls and other things.
It is part of the cyclical nature of culture. Notions persist until they become suspect, die, then reappear later and are hailed as revolutionary.
Usually there is some mention of statistics. There is theory, and there is observation. Statistics only mean so much to an individual; generally, viewpoints gain more credence when the individual experiences evidence of them in his or her daily life. Our brains seek data in order to ease the effort of categorization of input, so that we can lay certain nagging quandaries to rest. Why? Because we are human. Whether consciously or unconsciously, that is what we do.
I'm not sure if this is a plea or simply a symbolic shout, like placing a flag on the moon. I am an anomaly, it seems, and perhaps it is inappropriate of me to desire a non-weird category in people's minds. Perhaps this is why I was often accused of "seeking attention" as a child. I did not fit. My early childhood was spent traversing the garish decade that was the 80s; one of my first memories is that of watching MTV. They had an advert showing a stylized astronaut placing a flag on the moon. The flag was emblazoned with the MTV logo. Me? I wore Mothercare striped pullover sweaters and Polly Flinders dresses. I had braids for convenience and a perpetually impish expression.
When my mother was pregnant with me she assumed I was a boy. So did everyone else. "A boy, definitely, or maybe twins!" Why? The kicking. The constant somersaulting, the rearranging of her center of gravity whenever she spoke, ate, or moved. She'd been taking drugs to help her conceive, so it seemed possible that I might indeed be twins. My baby room was painted yellow, and in my earliest pictures, I am clothed in green and marigold and vermillion. Not pink. They couldn't tell my gender with any certainty until I was born; when they did the ultrasound, I probably showed them my back and nothing else.
My mother kept a Baby Book for me. It is impressively detailed and lucid, and I wish I had known the woman who took the time to record all my firsts and immunizations. The mother I knew was pale and distant and could barely form a coherent sentence. She seemed to forget what she was talking about mid-statement and either burst into tears or start rambling about how my father was going to leave her (he wasn't, but she eventually left him). But apparently there was a time when she was observant and articulate. Thanks to her, I know that I said my first word at four months, and had a 40 word vocabulary by eleven months. At thirteen months I knew multisyllabic words like "vegetables, saturday, and telephone." This is trivia. But it is interesting. Some scientists say that females generally develop language skills sooner than males. But really, did I talk early because I was a girl, or because I was Anne? Perhaps I'm oversimplifying. I'm not a neurobiologist.
When I was nearly three, my brother was born. This is probably when I learned that boys are not, in fact, exactly like girls. Penises, etc. But mostly just penises. And short hair. I liked to draw as a kid, and since I generally wasn't depicting nudists, the way in which I generally differentiated males from females was with hair length. My adult women, even, had boxy robot-like figures because I thought I'd get in trouble if I drew breasts on them.
So far, so good, right? Girly enough. Little pigtailed kid, chatterbox, likes to draw. But this kid wrote a book for the Young Author's program in fourth grade. The whole class had to write them; we drew pictures with crayon, wrote in pencil, and bound them with yarn and wallpaper samples. I included an "About the Author" section on the inside back cover of mine. It went something like this:
Hi, my name is Anne, and I am nine years old. I live in Connecticut. I like writing, drawing, and cats. I also like guns and blowing things up.
I wasn't a particulary violent or disturbed child. I picked a few fights, but nothing major. I drew lots of pictures with aliens in them, and exploded heads. I drew pictures of spaceships and hung them on my wall next to the unicorn posters. Many of the boys in my class did the same, but none of the girls. I was very lonely but not lonely enough to compromise my interest in things that were just plain cool. (In retrospect I've decided that exploded heads are not cool at all -- actually, they pretty much suck.) But I still maintain a fondness for spaceships.
It seems that there is some credence to the New Revolutionary thinking. I could phrase it, irritatingly, as "post-feminism", perhaps. Most little girls seem inexplicably drawn to kitchen sets and Barbie dolls. The idea that there might actually be some science and statistical backup behind the stereotypes saddens me, because it isolates me even further from my own gender. In my circle of friends (which admittedly is not extremely large), there is a generally liberal attitude regarding gender and a certain degree of fluidity of role. However, my friends and I are not representative of majority American society at large. It seems that the Internet and computer/gaming culture in general has become the social savior of anomalies like me. I know very few other girls, and in general I find females confusing and difficult to relate to. I am intimidated by them, and for some reason I always assume at first that they are going to think I'm awkward and dorky and irritating. I don't get this junior-high-esque insecurity around boys.
I am writing this because I am suddenly feeling that perhaps I've been wrong all these years. As soon as I encountered the notion that perhaps stereotypical female behaviors and interests might be more a product of nurture than nature, I pounced on it. I was probably seven or eight when I began to notice that certain toys were marketed toward girls, and others were marketed toward boys. Even as early as first grade, I was pissed that the toy ads never showed girls playing with the spaceships or the racing cars, or the tool kits. I had a little plastic toolbox; I think it was an orange Fisher-Price model with a wooden panel on top you could attach plastic nuts and bolts to. I loved that thing, and went around the house whacking on stuff with a blue and yellow plastic hammer. I am so glad that those close to me, especially my dad, did not force the girly toys on me. Otherwise I probably would not be as happy as I am today -- despite a certain sense of not-belonging, I am one of the most joyful individuals I know. And I've realized that there are things more rewarding than feeling like part of the girl collective, things that make it more than worthwhile to be myself and pursue my own interests.
My body is female. I am female, and I have no problem with that fact. I think it's pretty cool for various reasons. But I cannot escape the fact that most of my interests are considered masculine by a majority of people. Perhaps this shouldn't bother me, but it is alienating enough to make me write long wanky essays like this about my experiences with gender paradigms. When I encounter a new group (such as a discussion about video games), whether online or in real life, there is invariably a reaction to my gender. Either I get hit on (which makes me laugh when it happens online because how do they know I'm not hideous?) or I get accused of trying to join the group or conversation in order to get cool points or ego-boosting compliments from geek boys. What if I simply want to talk about a computer game? If I'm interested in a subject, it would be nice to be able to just talk without anyone caring that I'm a girl. Thankfully, this phenomenon has been minimal on E2, perhaps due to the higher common denominator here resulting from high writing standards. You might say, "Well, if you want to go chat online about gaming, etc., why not just pretend you're a boy, or avoid the subject entirely?" I could do that, and I have done that at times, especially if the conversation is superficial. But I should not have to. When joining a new online community, I often get referred to as "he". Does correcting the pronoun mean that I am an attention seeking geek-whore? Does it mean that I'm trying to get extra props somehow? No. It simply means that my gender, while mostly irrelevant, should not be something I have to hide or deny in order to participate in activities and discussion I like. Since graduating college and making some good friends, this hasn't been much of a problem in meatspace, but again, finding people I can relate to was not an easy task.
So what is my point? I read iceowl's Deals well with ambiguity: a savagely long wu about why boys are not like girls and other things. It made me think. Hard. It is a wonderful piece, one that rings very true, and one that I cannot respond to in annoyance because iceowl covered all his bases. He addressed the "oh, it's just advertising" argument. He spoke of the mystical aura of Barbie that makes most little girls glow with delight. However, the little girl in the corner of the yard trying in vain to pull of Barbie's head so she can examine the rotating socket joint that gives Barbie's head a rotation range comparable to Linda Blair's is not there. This is where I feel guilty: I should not expect all exceptions, those that describe me or otherwise, to appear in everyone's observations. Iceowl's writeup was not about me, except in the brief mention of the "gray area" kids, the ones that go through the phases. I've spent my whole life in a gray area, and for some reason sometimes it feels as if I have to expend extra effort to convince people that I exist. I am more than a phase, as are the few other women I've met that I can talk to without feeling strangely distant from.
Again, my point. I'm getting to that. This might come across as a big colossal whine, or as I referred to earlier, a plea for attention. In all honesty, all I can say is that I read iceowl's writeup first thing this morning and this was the result. It hit a nerve in my head, not because I disagreed with the author's sentiments, but because I did not. I need to accept that bicycles marketed to little girls are probably going to remain pink with white tires*, and that I'm not likely to encounter any little pigtailed girls in pinafores and jumpers playing with big, navy-blue, chunky-wheeled remote control monster trucks in catalogs. Everyone, regardless of how independently minded they are, feels some sense of aliveness and pleasure when they see themself in the world as a representation of a Human. And every anomaly, despite his or her happiness at being true to him or herself, probably wishes sometimes that the statistical tables were turned.
*I had a black and gold BMX as a kid, that I won in a Sears contest when I was seven years old. I dropped my name and phone number into a box, and got a call a few weeks later. My dad answered and handed the phone to me with a funny look on his face. Apparently, they'd asked if they could speak to his son, Anne. They figured that no girl would possibly want a bike like that, so I must, in fact, be a boy named Anne. Pah.