is it okay: to use the words feminine and masculine?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that grammar trolls are extremely popular people. Picking on someone’s spelling and punctuation rather than their arguments and ideas is clearly taking the high road, and being nitpicky is definitely something that shouldn’t be associated with pince-nez and monkeys grooming each other for fleas.
Or maybe I’ve got that the wrong way around.
While I’ll confess that I have a long, patchy history on both sides of the grammar Nazi fence, what I’m trying to do here is not to be finicky about language to the degree of missing the point of an argument. Instead, I want to look into the meaning behind words such as “feminine” and “masculine” and see if categorising these in such a specific way is actually hampering attempts towards equality.
The word “feminine”, at least for me, conjures up a host of images. They range from tea parties, dolls, 1950s dresses, the ‘Mad Men’ office, to doilies – all with a thick veneer of pink smog. It’s probably not the most awesome mental image, but years of conditioning, advertising and I guess a potentially unhealthy dose of cynicism has led me to this montage, which almost seems to be mocking itself. The one that comes affixed to “masculine” looks uncomfortably like an advertisement for ‘Action Man’ that I saw at the age of seven. It’s cliff-laden, muscle-filled, gun-toting and camouflage-bound. Extreme ends of the spectrum.
By no means do I look at men and women and automatically affix these notions and images to my understanding of gender roles. Instead, it’s just strange that terms that really should be there to help define the differences between men and women can become so entrenched in strange associations.
Having these associations is probably not healthy. There are a lot of articles about the impact of advertising based on some version of these ideals; most recently, the pink Lego for girls controversy. While pigeonholing people into certain roles is certainly not exclusive to gender ideals, it doesn’t lessen the potential confusion, emotional distress and indeed general arrogance of trying to mold people based on…what? Why is pink a girly colour? Why should boys have shorter hair? Why do girls wear dresses and boys wear pants, when, if you think about it, maybe it would be more comfortable the other way around? Certainly some of the more elderly wizards in Harry Potter would agree. On and on and on the arguments can go…and all because of these words.
In some arguments, it seems that the ultimate goal for equality is for women to reach the masculine goals, and, potentially as a result of this, forsake the “feminine”. “Feminine” has even in some ways become a “dirty” word, due to its associations with the aforementioned pink-veneered montage, and with weakness.
I think having the words actually makes everything more difficult. Putting a label on “feminine” and “masculine” is automatically trying to put everything into a box, which is what we try to do with pretty much everything. In the case of striving for equality though, it confuses the issue. Should we be trying to meet somewhere in between “feminine” and “masculine”? Do we need to inherently change in order to equilibrate? Should men be chastised for being too “feminine” and vice versa? It’s all because of the words and associations.
This idea is already being explored in one Swedish pre-school, where they have elected to become “gender-neutral”. The children are not referred to by their gender, instead being referred to as “friends” rather than “he” or she”. Sweden has also come up with a gender-neutral pronoun “hen”, in order to further prevent gender stereotyping and molding from an early age.
Overall I think it distracts from the big picture. What would count as “equality” needs to be decided upon outside of gender, and then steps should be taken to ensure that the goal can be achieved by anyone who wants to irrespective of how “masculine” or “feminine” they are.
Words come with associations. It can’t be helped. Sauron. Joffrey. Masticate. Furby. Enjoy.
(Image credit: 1.)