A story of genders

There seems to be an awful lot of gender talk around at the moment, or rather, women’s gender? Perhaps there isn’t any more than usual, only that I seem to follow people on Twitter who talk about it. Quite a lot. There is #genderedcheese, the Women’s Equality Party, 50:50 parliament and of course, yesterday’s #WomenEd which trended for a while. Oh, and there’s HeforShe, although not part of my Twitter conversations much, presumably because those I follow aren’t active promoters? There’s a couple of blogs I’ve read which discussed gender this week to.

Gender is a funny issue. I learned as part of my BSc that there is no one single test that you can have to determine gender. Gender, or sex, it seems, has to be determined by more than one test. For example, those with Klinefelter syndrome have two or more X chromosomes and someone who is hermaphrodite may have both XX and XY chromosomes, along with both testes and ovarian tissue. There are those who are male and identify with females and vice versa – and a whole raft of other arguments that would be too numerous to discuss!

The thing is, there seems to be rather a lot being made out of gender differences. Now, I see very little by the way of differences within the person, as far as I’m concerned, we have far more in common than not (which, by and large, is also supported by modern science). I’m a female, as is my mother. My brother is a male, as is my father. Pretty straightforward. So, when my mum had got me and my brother ready to go out and allowed us to play for 30 minutes, who would be the most likely to return home, caked in mud sporting a black eye and a rip in their clothing? Of course it would be my brother, especially as he is three years older than me, right? Nope, couldn’t be more wrong. I was the one making mud pies, falling in the stream, ripping my dresses jumping off walls or forcing my way through wire fences. My brother simply did not have an interest in such things. He would rather pull things apart (too often the watches I’d been given for Christmas) to see how they were made. When my dad did the decorating, who would be the one assisting him? My brother? Nope, I would be there, scraper or paint brush in hand. My brother would be in his room, pulling things apart and remaking them.

The thing is, gender is far more about a person’s environment and wider cultural norms than it is about what sex you are. Gender is about what you become. It is a social construct, one mainly written by men and perpetuated by both (or more than two, depending on perspective) sexes. I remember reading an article on women’s football, about how it had become very popular during one of the major wars (I am thinking it must have been the First World War because of the language used) but was ‘taken down’ when the men returned home. The reasoning was because of the damage that such activity would have on the female reproductive system and women’s ‘hysterical’ natures. A century on, and women’s football is only just recovering…..

My grandmother came from the generation where you left work immediately you got married. She did go and get ‘a little job’ once, but was dragged home again once my granddad found out. In some ways, it would be nice to retire from the world of work as soon as you married, but today’s society is not like that. Not, perhaps, because women also want careers, but because ‘society’/’culture’ now dictates that we have to work, generally to pay the bills (a side effect of a consumerist society which encourages buying new and having all the latest gadgets?). Also, single mothers are now caller spongers and a burden to the state. No mention of the absent fathers or the circumstances by which women are left alone to raise the family. A bit of a whiff of a discriminatory discourse here? I shall avoid going down the avenue of men sowing their wild oats and women being scrubbers if they do the same.

As I have implied, I never ‘saw’ gender as such when growing up except that is, a jealousy for my brother’s Meccano set. That was probably my first dawning of gender discrimination. Yes I had Lego, but not Meccano. My mum would not buy me any and my brother would not share. I occasionally go to sneak and have a go and I so wanted some of my own. You see, my brother was not the only one of us that like pulling things apart and rebuilding them. I had to satisfy myself with the alchemy of my perfume making kit. One year when my mother asked what my youngest would like as a present, I asked if she could buy him a kitchen play set. No. She would not buy him a girl’s toy. He was about four at the time and loved to re-enact kitchen scenes. He had been brought up in a chippy, I had bought the chippy from my dad. Chippies, I believe, are gender neutral by anyone’s standards. But no, a kitchen was out of the question. I bought it for him and he loved it. One of the most useful uses of my money I think. Funnily enough, he has been bought Meccano and completely ignored it! He also ignored Action Men and similar, footballs and other ‘boys’ stuff.

However, I do not have a gender neutral house, but I think that my boys have grown up with less of a gender divide/discourse than I did, my mother did or my grandmother before her. I still have to laugh when I remember a comment from my grandmother not long after I had taken over my dad’s shop. I believe she had wanted me to do her hair (I was a hairdresser in a past life) but I had to organise it around work. I reminded her that I now worked the hours that my dad used to, ‘get away with you’ was the reply. I do not think she ever believed that I did the same work as him because it was not something that would have ever been on her radar. Her female children who worked, did not work the type of hours (or manual work) that my dad did so therefore I did not either! Yes, I carried sacks of potatoes and as it happens, the person delivering my spuds was also a woman. She was working her dad’s business as her brother had a physical disability. I think she was about 14 when she first came round, unloading the lorry which she later also maintained – and later still, she taught lorry driving in the Territorial Army.

There is too much talk, I think, of the differences between the sexes without consideration of the huge amount of sameness. I used to work 50+ hours a week, before thinking about doing the accounts or running to the wholesalers. A great many men do similar or more (yes, some women too). If women take on more leadership roles, they are likely to take on more hours. How many men would love to be able to collect their offspring from school or after-school club? How many would like to sit down to an evening meal with their kids sometime before 8pm? How many would like to attend parent’s evenings or assemblies or sports days? What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Not sure which one, but one of the Scandinavian countries send its fathers home at 3pm so they can be with their children. Wouldn’t it be great if all parents could be sent home at this time, men and women? Wouldn’t it be great if young, childless workers and workers whose children had flown the nest took on the evening shift? What about all workers being given a 15 year window of not working past 3pm? (or before 8am). Contented workers make for better employees.

Personally, I think that if there was more equity in senior roles, then this type of thinking will ensue. Not because women bring anything innately different to the table, but because the dialogue will change. Oh, for a change of dialogue. Once last little story. I was sitting down the pub chatting to this guy who was about 15 years older than me and a bit of a character (or know-it-all). We were talking about engineering – please remember, I was brought up with a brother who pulled things apart to see how they worked and often rebuilt them again (except for my watches, they remain forever in kit form) – he clearly spoke to my hubby on an equal level. At that time, hubby had zero interest in mechanics or any other form of DIY. When the chap turned to face me, he suddenly dropped the tone and acted as he was speaking to a child. And there is the root of the problem between the sexes. Don’t assume because you will make an ASS out if U and ME.

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