Sunday, August 8, 2010

Gender Policing Phrases

When I was working on my service learning, I was helping out on the Hidden Treasure Farm. Because there were no women or children to work with at the time, I was set to doing farm tasks. At one point, I was cleaning chairs in an area that turned out to be full of wasps and ran away. After getting a class of water and calming down, I headed back to set aright the cleaning supplies, which were now strewn everywhere. As I did so, I gave myself a pep talk, which consisted of "Okay. Time to grow a pair and pick up the buckets." And then, of course, I was appalled at myself. Grow a pair? Of testicles? Because I needed testicles to go be around wasps.

As the girlfriend of man who is afraid of bugs and runs away screaming (like a girl?) every time he sees a tiny spider, I know that being man does not make one brave or able to handle little stinging things. I even know that having testicles does not make a man. But phrases like "ran away like a girl" and "grow a pair" are used so often that they seep into our psyches and become attached to gender stereotypes. I consider myself to be pretty aware of myself and highly feminist, but even I kept having thoughts like this the whole time I was completing tasks that took "masculine" strength. In order to lift branches, I felt I should "man up". Why is that? Why on earth wasn't I just thinking, "I should really work out" versus "I should be a man"? How can I change the lines of thinking and really common phrases that pop to my mind unbidden? And in the meantime, how do they affect me and my perception of men and women?

1 comment:

Heather said...

I find myself doing the same thing, Miranda. Undoing language can be hard, but it's something I've been trying incredibly hard to work toward. A few months ago, I found myself swatting at a bug and asking a male to kill it. "I'm such a girl" is what I said to him, and immediately after I questioned myself and why I would say something like that.

I think recognizing it when we do it, even after the fact, is important. We didn't learn language overnight, so we can't expect to undo it in the same amount of time, either.