sarasvati: A white lotus flower floating on water. (Default)
Teaching little girls to be good domestic servants since... oh, last year or so.

I have a problem with gendered toys. The toys themselves aren't the problem, but the gender-specific marketing is. This ad? Gives the impression that it's only for girls, only girls will like it, and that girls will like it. Not for boys, nope. And a real girl, a properly-raised girl will like it because it's good training for her future life.

"I love when my laundry gets so clean/ Taking care of my house is a dream, dream, dream."

'Cause nothing says "fun child's toy" like a make-believe washer and dryer to help your little princess to learn her place in life.

Where's the problem with letting a boy play in a life-sized dollhouse and learning to cook and do the laundry, anyway?

The majority of children fit into the gender roles that society ordains to be correct for their genitals. Two problems with this, though, when you apply it to the whole. 1) A majority only needs to be a hair over half, leaving a hair under half of the population feeling like misfits for being different and under-represented. And 2) gender roles are fluid and depend largely on the time and place in which people live. A female has a different role to play in America, for example, than in Pakistan, and it's different again in Ghana. There's some overlap, sure, but it's not a fixed constant.

And that commercial seems to be advertising gender roles that around about 30 years out of date...

Which isn't to say that I have a problem with females who enjoy cooking and cleaning and sitting quietly while they embroider. If it's their choice, and they enjoy what they do, then I have no problem with it, and I resent the implication that no woman should do that as much as I resent the implication that all women should do that.

No balance is offered here. No other options are offered. Your little female child is going to grow up to being a pretty little woman who enjoys doing housework and taking care of her... offscreen man, I guess. No boys are going to want to learn to cook and clean, and no girl is ever going to seriously consider doing something other than this.

When I rant like this, I feel like I'm overracting. That isn't likely to be the message that was put into the making of the commercial, or the toy. That thought likely didn't cross any minds. But it's that lack of thought that makes for a lot of problems. It creates unconcerned images of what people are supposed to be without a care for the fact that a sizable number of people don't want to be that.

It's the same thoughtlessness behind sizism and ageism. It's the passive assumption that the norm applies to all, when it may not even apply to a majority anymore. Despite over 50% of North Americans being overweight, plus-size clothing stores are hard to come by and expensive, and the any really fashionable clothes come out only in "average" sizes which aren't so average anymore.

Now, Rei is a skinny so-and-so who is well within a healthy weight range. Shirts that fit him are often deemed "large", when I'd actually say he's more of a medium. Every time Rei comes home with a tiny "large" shirt, I want to write angry letters to the company asking them if they know what the word actually means.

I once received, as a gift, an extra-large shirt that ended up being a little tight on Rei, for crying out loud. Though I suppose I can't expect much for a clothing manufacturer called "SkinnyCorp." Your basic "large" men's shirt tends to fit comfortably on me, even if it emphasizes my chest a little more than I'd like. I'm a large person. Nobody can deny that. But sometimes it really feels like 99% of clothing manufacturers want to pretend that people like me don't exist. Might get a little fat on their fashion, and we can't have that.

Ageism is something I've ranted about before. I often feel like I'm being lumped in with people who get wasted every weekend, just because I'm in the age group in which that stereotypically happens. The assumption is that I'm irresponsible because I'm young.

Nobody stops to think that there might actually be offense in these mindless oversights. They push what they want to push, not because there's a demand for it but because they want to create demand while at the same time sticking to the tried-and-true. But things change, people change, and yet the media stays remarkably static. Any time a positive change is made, such as TV shows that have a black main character or a kick-ass disabled person, they're hailed as positively ground-breaking, unheard of and unseen. They are ground-breaking, but that doesn't mean that a potential audience wasn't waiting for years to see somebody just like them for once, instead of being bombarded with images of what everyone else wanted them to be.

Or what everybody else assumes them to be just because they're something commonly associated with that... in the media eye.

I'll give an example of this. I started watching Glee the other day, and have heard a lot of positive things about the show's treatment of minorities. Even the different are people just like everybody else. That message comes across pretty loud, and I can applaud that, but what I can't applaud are the way they fall victim to the very stereotyping they're trying to say isn't a great idea.

The gay kid who dresses all snazzy and likes shopping and associates more with girls than guys. The fat sassy black girl. The kid in the wheelchair with the thick nerdy glasses. I'm sorry, but were these supposed to be... anti-stereotypes of some kind? Because they come across as being very stereotyped to me. Can't have a gay kid who's not overtly gay. Can't have a black character without them being overweight and sassy and into R&B and other forms of "black" music. Sure, the characters aren't as stereotyped as they would have been even half a decade ago, but the thereotypes are still there.

Maybe they're trying to make a point, in that streotyped people can exist (they certainly can) and are deserving of as much respect as any cheerleader or football player because they have awesome talents too (and they do). Nobody denies that. But it's about media exposure. It's like somewhere in the back of the producer's minds, they're saying to themselves, "The only way a gay kid would be an outcast is if they're openly gay, so we have to have this guy be openly gay so that people will get that being gay is why he's outcast."

So even if it wasn't intentional, it seems like that kind of thoughtless assumption is there. There's a set way that gay people act. There's a set way that black women act. There's a set way that women in general act. This is how it is, and this is what people understand when they see it, and the image that's reinforced.

And it bugs me.
sarasvati: (bite me)
So this chart has been making the rounds lately. It's a flowchart of female characters in the media, and essentially how the majority of them suck because they're not "strong women."

They seem to have real problems defining exactly what a strong woman is, however, because one of their questions is, "Does she represent an idea?" What exactly does that mean, anyway? Are they trying to get across the concept of something like the "wise old sage" kind of character, or something like that? A glorified plot point? Someone from a tribe of all-female warriors who hate men? What exactly does "representing an idea" actually freaking mean?

I wonder, then, if I pass muster as a "strong female character." Let's see.

Can she carry her own story?
Yes, but only if you mean that my life is my own story. Of course then I can carry it, but only because once I'm dead, the story's over. If you mean whether or not someone can plonk me into a wonky situation and expect me to be the protagonist and lead everyone to glorious victory, then hell no!

But for the purposes of this, let's say that my own story is my life. So yes, I can carry it.

Is she three-dimensional?
I'm long, broad, and wide, so I'd say yes to that one.

Does she represent an idea?
Since I have no idea what this mean, I'll say no.

...Maybe they mean "ideal."

Does she have any flaws?
Do I ever!

Is she killed before the third act?
Well, I'm still alive, and given that I'm not precognitive, let's just say yes to this.

Congratulations! Strong female character!

Yay me!

I think I'd be more proud of this if I had any idea as to what they meant by some of their questions. Oh, and if it had any basis in fact. Stick me in any story that you'd see on TV, in a movie, or in a book, and no, I'm not strong. I'm actually rather forgettable. I don't say that with the intent of fishing for compliments. I'm just being honest as I see myself. I'm rather shy and reserved, prefer to keep my own company, prefer reading or playing video games to doing just about anything else. I knit and sew, I can't fight, I don't talk back much, and when I get in arguments I often get quite emotional and end up crying because I'm so frustrated at not being able to properly express myself and for making the other people angry.

Throw that into the equation, and I'm the very opposite of a strong character. I'm a weak nerdy little forgettable person who's probably just in the story to make the other characters look better by comparison.

Doesn't make me any less of a valid person, though.

But let's assume, for argument's sake, that I answered differently to any of those questions, because I kid you not, answering the way I did is the only way to get to being a strong female character according to that flowchart. So let's assume I answered differently, and see where I end up.

I may have played a lousy double agent between factions of my friends in high school, but those days are in the past, I've grown. I would say that at the moment, I'm not a villain.

Is she mainly a love interest?
Nope. I'm single, and likely to remain that way for a good long while.

Is she part of a team/family?
This is so ambiguously phrased that it's hard to answer. Am I part of a family? Yes. I have parents. I have aunts, uncles, cousins, and a remaining grandparent. But I'm not on any team, or close organization of friends banding together for one purpose, so let's just say no to this one.

How does she feel about babies?
I hate this question. Why? Because of my choices. I can have one, want one, or not want one right now, which has the implication that I will eventually want one, or that I do want one but know that this isn't the right time of my life to have one. The closest option is the last one, though in actuality, I don't want children at all. I don't much care for them, I find it awkward to interact with them, it bugs me when people go on and on about how cute babies are, and I know I'd be a lousy parent because I have too many of my own issues to deal with.

I guess this is supposed to represent that female characters in media, if they aren't automatically "strong female characters" by fitting some nebulous definition of a few vague terms, always want or have children at some point in their lives, and that there's no representation for females who don't want kids. Of course, there are actually such characters out there, but this chart chooses to ignore that option. Probably because it doesn't prove enough of a point.

But since the closest option I can apply to myself is that I don't want them right now, let's follow that path.

Does she get pregnant?
Oh hells no!

Is she in a horror story?
Not in the classical sense...

Is she violent?
I can snap at people sometimes, sure, but I'm not what most people could consider violent.

Is she nearly perfect?
By what standard? But given that I admitted that I have flaws already, and a lot of them, then no, I'm not nearly perfect.

Funny, isn't it, how the same thing, when phrased differently, can have such a different effect. Do I have flaws? Yes. That gives me one point, so to speak, toward being a strong female. But express that same thing if I've said that I can't carry my own story (I could say that legitimately, because at some points in my life it's only been through the help of others that I'm still alive to be telling you all this), then the meaning becomes totally different.

What is her flaw?
I'm looking at all the options here, and the closest one I can come to is "Cat Lady." I'm not a ditz, a klutz, an attention whore, a spoiled rich girl, a slut, a sassmouth, and so on. For all my diversity, for the talents that I do have and all the roles I could play depending on what the story is, I get relegated to being a cat lady.

Not that I'm complaining, hugely. I get to stay out of the way and enjoy life with my kitties. Of all the ending that flowchart could have led me to, this is probably one of the least offensive.

The chart also does some serious oversimplification of characters, too. Tsukino Usagi, also known as Sailor Moon, gets relegated to being the Adorable Klutz. Never mind the large amount of character growth we see in her over the years of the anime and manga. Never mind that despite being terrified very often, she still manages to stand up and stop evil things from hurting people, and that she's saved the world a few times. The entire show is named after her. If you look at her as a character, she actually passes muster for the "strong female character" role. She carries her own story, she's got flaws, she's 3-dimensional (she has layers, and shows a lot of growth as time goes on, even if she's somewhat flighty and lazy at times), she doesn't represent some idea or ideal, and she's not killed before the story ends. Yay, she's actually a strong character!

But to acknowledge that would make the whole flowchart fall apart.

According to the flowchart, there's only one very narrow way to make a strong female character. A villain can never be a strong female character. Somebody in love can never be a strong female character either. Or possibly they can, since that stuff isn't even brought into question until after the prime questions have been asked and answered. But the implication is there. If you're not the protagonist of a story, you're not a strong female character. The only way to be strong is to be the protagonist, be flawed (but not too flawed, or flawed in the wrong way, because admit it, a female protagonist who screams at the sight of spiders isn't going to be called strong for very long, no matter how many times they save the world)

For crying out loud, Molly Weasley's on that flowchart and being the Team Mom. The woman who flipped a bitch when one of the bad guys tried to hurt one of her kids, and who caused fans for miles around to cheer when they read that scene in Deathly Hallows. She's Molly freaking Weasley! The woman who helped raise a large family of intelligent and successful children on less than most people would find comfortable, who's a force to be reckoned with inside her family and out, and anyone who's read the books will know that she's the one who really wears the pants in the family, so to speak. If she's not a strong character, then I don't know who is!

Strength comes in many forms. The woman who willingly has a large family because she enjoys having children around, who raises them well and who enjoys her life, is stronger than me because I couldn't stand that situation for more than 10 minutes without wanting to tear my hair out. The high-powered CEO who sacrifices friends and family to reach her goals is stronger than me because I don't have the tenacity and drive to sacrifice those things. The girl who does Tae Kwon Do every Saturday is stronger, and so is the woman who knits 2 really awesome and complicated fancy lace shawls each week. Strength comes in all forms, and you know, I think it would do some people a world of good to learn that instead of dismissing all those females who don't fit into a very small box that pleases only a percentage of the population.

Oh wow, doesn't that sound familiar...

In a nutshell, these people clearly have no idea what a strong female is.
sarasvati: A white lotus flower floating on water. (Default)
Today I read an interesting post about not fitting the transgender mold. It struck a chord with me, since I am also someone whose physical sex does not comfortably match their mental gender, but I also don't fit into a nice mold hat somebody else has pre-shaped for transgendered people.

I looked at the DSM-IV-TR definition for gender identity disorder, the see the criteria that must be met for a diagnosis of GID or gender dysphoria to be given. They are as follows:

1. Long-standing and strong identification with another gender
2. Long-standing disquiet about the sex assigned or a sense of incongruity in the gender-assigned role of that sex
3. The diagnosis is not made if the individual also has physical intersex characteristics.
4. Significant clinical discomfort or impairment at work, social situations, or other important life areas.

I'm not intersexed, so far as I know, so that cuts out the issue of number 3. The feeling that I don't identify with my physical sex has been recognised for years, and signs potentially relating to it can be traced back to childhood, so I believe I fit number 2. I do get profoundly uncomfortable when somebody addresses me as "lady" or "woman" or "girl", because in a single word they are fitting me with all kinds of qualities that I don't have and don't agree with. I fit number 4.

I don't fit number 1. Why? Because the "other gender" that it needs me to identify with doesn't technically exist.

I consider myself agendered, which roughly means I don't associate with being male, female, or even androgyny or third-gender. Third-gender is closer to what I feel than male or female, but it still doesn't quite fit. When I think of myself as having no gender, it's like a sense of peace comes over me, comfort with the definition and the realization that yes, this is right for me.

How does one transition into nothing? How does one find a doctor willing to help somebody become neuter?

I tried to tell a therapist about my gender identity problems in the past. I tried to explain that I was certain that I wasn't internally male, but I didn't feel female either, and disliked everything about myself that made me female. Her response was to encourage me to spend time in the local gay and lesbian community, assuming that my gender problems came from a lack of connection to my sexual orientation.

I'm fine with my sexual orientation, by the way. I'm asexual. I do not have much of a sex drive. I can become aroused, I am capable of orgasm, but the thought of having sex or engaging in sexual activity leaves me cold and uncomfortable.

I've met plenty of people who don't believe me when I say these things. They believe that I'm repressing my gender and sexuality, or that my lack of connection to a gender or sexual identity means that there's something wrong with me.

I tried, when I was younger, to be a good girl. I tried to be interested in makeup and boys and fashion. Oh sure, I found some boys cute, and had the usual teenage crushes on a few male celebrities, but that was about as far as my femininity seemed capable of going. I bought a single tube of lipstick in my teenage years, and I used it so little that I still have it. My first boyfriend was somebody whom I was more interested in fantasy RP with than any actual romance. He told me he loved me and I told him he was too young to know what love was.

Younger still, I was accused by male friends of being a boy, because I had sports toys and outdoor games more than I had girl toys. I denied it. I wasn't a boy. I didn't know then that I wasn't a girl, but I was sure enough that I wasn't a boy. I played equally with Barbies and Lego, with Polly Pocket and my soccer ball. My Barbies were often escaping from wartorn countries or on the USS Enterprise, and with Lego blocks I built up towers and then threw crude planes at them to see how many planes it would take to bring the building down. (Few children could get away with that now, I bet.)

In high school, I tried to explain to friends what I wanted in a relationships, that I wanted "the perks but to avoid the responsibility." They insisted that what I thus wanted was a fuckbuddy. I didn't have the courage or words to tell them that the responsibility I wanted to avoid was sex and the drama surrounding it, and the perks I wanted were the nonsexual parts of a romantic relationship.

I didn't know the words then to describe what I know now. Asexuality. Genderqueer. Neuter. Nonsexual. I know them now, and I know they apply now, and I suspect they applied even then.

But no matter how many years I know the words and recognize the signs, that means nothing to a lot of people because I don't fit the mold. I don't fit into the F or the FTM boxes, and so my story isn't worth much and will probably never be given due notice.

The first transgendered person I ever met was an mtf lesbian. I didn't even know then that there was a mold she broke.

I find it painfully funny sometimes that although good work has been done to break down the gender binary, we're still stuck in it. Women can transition to men and vice versa, but only that. Women can transition to men and be given therapy for it, given hormones and surgery to make their bodies fit what their mind tells them should be. Men can transition to neuter, to androgyne, and only "make lifestyle choices", and are pretty much left to deal with it on their own, or at best are encouraged to further explore their gender and sexual identities until they finally decide on one or the other.

It can only be one or the other. It can never be in between or outside, or else it isn't real.

It's little wonder, then, that I used to joke about my gender and sexuality making me a nonentity. To many people, I am not real. I am not valid. I do not exist.

TL;DR - I am [personal profile] sarasvati, and I am a "bad trans person."
sarasvati: A silhouette of a man riding a dolphin, with the words "Part of everything" underneath (inexplicable)
After watching a National Geographic documentary on sex and gender, I became aware of the hijra, one of the many gender variants that are recognised in other cultures even if not openly accepted and well tolerated. This spawned a search for more information on gender identity, and I came across this link on Wikipedia: Girlfags and Guydykes.

This struck a chord in me, since I used to refer to myself, long ago, as being a gay male trapped inside a bisexual female's body. This was, of course, when the closest word I knew to defining my sexuality was "bisexual." I prefered neither men nor women over the other, but didn't feel any particular attraction to males or females at all, when push came to shove. I was much more interested in the parts of a relationship that didn't involve any sexuality at all.

I remember trying to convey this to friends in high school, but not being articulate enough to say it properly to people who weren't patient enough to fully listen to my explanation. I said that in a romantic relationship, I wanted the perks and closeness of being part of a couple, without that pesky responsibility. I didn't have the words or time to explain that a big part of the responsibility I didn't want involved having sex, or any of the consequences and annoyances that came in sexual relationships. But the people I was explaining this to jumped instantly to the conclusion that I didn't want a relationship, but instead wanted, in their terms, a fuckbuddy, and refused to listen to my objections.

It wasn't until relatively recently that I encountered the term "asexuality", and the more I looked into it, the more I realised that it was the right word to describe what I felt.

While struggling with gender identity (I never liked being nor thought of myself as female, and I certainly wasn't male), I came across the concept of being agendered, of not really having any gender at all. A few people tried to get me to use the terms "third-gender" or "androgyne", but I refused. They didn't feel right. Claiming I was of a third gender implied that I felt some connection to a gender at all, and calling myself androgynous implied that I was a mix of both male ("andro") and female ("gyne"), and I was neither.

I got comfortable with the concept of being someone with no particular gender identity who didn't want sex. I used to make jokes about it, saying that since so many people defined themselves by their gender or sexuality, I was a nonentity, but friends objected to that too, saying that the joke was too close to my old attitudes of not feeling important and trying to be invisible. I stopped making the joke for their sakes, though if truth be told, I still think it's amusing.

But here's where the girlfag/guydyke issue comes in. I do have an attraction to gay male relationships. This goes beyond my interest in fandom. If I ever picture myself with a romantic partner, I often picture them as being male, and in many ways in that picture, I too am male, or at least have more masculine features. (This can be accounted for, I suppose, by stating that the masculine features I have in that fantasy are the lack of breasts and a vagina, which ties in with my gender identity.) But I do not feel, in my mind, that I am male.

I feel wrong calling myself a girlfag, since that implies, for one thing, that I'm a girl. I'm not. Tests involving thinking patterns and personality traits typically expressed in either gender often show me as being right down the middle, between the two, and if there's a slant in one direction, it's a very slight slant to the female side of things. But despite the discomfort inherent in the word itself, I can't deny that the attitude applies to me.

I also can't deny the fact that I find females crossdressing as males to be very attractive, either. Where does that fit into the equation?

This is why labels are both useful and terrible. Useful, because they help us identify ourselves and given names to feelings that we can't always articulate. Terrible, because there's no label for every cirumstance, and as humans it seems we feel a burning need to explain everything and to put it in a neat little box. I won't change myself to fit somebody else's mold, and I don't feel right using a label that doesn't properly apply to me.

Maybe I should start looking for my ideal romantic partner in an asexual homoromantic male who doesn't mind being with someone who's physically female but mentally right down the middle and outside at the same time. Or perhaps an asexual homoromantic female who identifies as male who doesn't mind being with somebody like me.

Can you imagine what that personal ad would look like?


sarasvati: A white lotus flower floating on water. (Default)

August 2011

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