July 25, 2014

"So in the past I've been quite tempted by the idea that perhaps I'm not a woman after all."

"I mean, I'm masculine in all sorts of ways — I am ambitious, logical, aggressive, strong, and highly competitive. And I'm certainly not silly, frivolous, dainty, weak, or overly emotional ... Oh dear. That's where I run into a major problem, isn't it? When I start listing traits of mine that I'd call masculine, they're always positive. They're points of pride. Whereas when I list traits I lack that I'd call feminine, they're negatives. It seems I can't consider my own masculinity or lack of femininity without relying on some of the worst and most pernicious sex-based stereotypes. This suggests to me that the enterprise itself is suspect...."

From "Why I’m Still a Butch Lesbian," by Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart.

ADDED: Urquhart doesn't say use the word "transgender," but I think she's making an argument to young people who may be overeager to see themselves as transgender. Pay attention to the last 3 sentences of the linked essay. And look at this cartoon at her webcomic Tiny Butch Adventures.

IN THE COMMENTS: I'm frontpaging myself here:
Personally, I find it hard to believe that so many women waste so much time thinking about the extent to which they are feminine. What difference does it make? You are who you are. Isn't that valuable? Unless you have character flaws — and there are flaws that are stereotypically feminine — why should you care or seek to do anything about it? It's like paying attention to whether someone else is taller than you… except that there's room to fake it and to try to be what you are not.

I do think women can be manipulated and bamboozled by others who push them to be more "empathetic," and it's very important to learn how not to get played. But that's another reason to forget about trying to seem more aligned with the stereotype. You make yourself vulnerable to those who would exploit you by making you feel that you need to be kinder or more nurturing.

37 comments:

Henry said...

Terrific essay. Without implying criticism of the specific focus of the essay, I would change the thesis in one particular:

But, it's just as important that young people, girls and boys and genderqueers alike, can have as many examples as possible of men and women who don't conform to gender stereotypes.

You don't really need the word "gender" there at all. I hate categories.

madAsHell said...

Why do so few occupy so much of the available bandwidth? So much gazing in the belly button.

I guess the other side of the coin is....who reads this crap?

Sean Gleeson said...

"And I'm certainly not silly..."

I do not share her certainty.

Ann Althouse said...

"who reads this crap?"

How about young people who are contemplating whether they should regard themselves as transgendered?

carrie said...

She certainly has a narrow world view--she needs some economic diversity in her life. Working class women, farm women, poor women, etc. do not have the luxury of being silly, frivolous, dainty, weak, or overly emotional.

Sertorius said...

My understanding is that homosexuality was removed (rightfully, in my view) from the DSM list of mental disorders because homosexuals were in other ways as well-adjusted as heterosexuals. That is, they were no more likely to be depressed, schizophrenic, etc.

Is anyone aware of someone doing that kind of research with regard to to people who claim to be "transgender"? My suspicion is that the incidence of mental illness would be much higher. But I would love to see some research, either way.

lgv said...

"who reads this crap?"

How about young people who are contemplating whether they should regard themselves as transgendered?

Based on recent studies, that's a very small audience.

I admit to finding the topic interesting. Is a "butch lesbian" just a pre-op transgendered person? Is Chaz Bono now part of the vast category of male heterosexual?

The Crack Emcee said...

"I'm certainly not silly, frivolous, dainty, weak, or overly emotional,…"

From what I read, none of them are,...

Peter said...

"perhaps I'm not a woman after all." 'I mean, I'm masculine in all sorts of ways...' "

Is it really that hard to distinguish gender from sex?

OK, so you're masculine. But you're also an adult female of the species, aka a "woman."

Henry said...

"who reads this crap?"

Anyone who wants to see the world from more than one perspective?

Who reads Homer? Or Murasaki?

But more to the contemporary point: we live in an era of labeling and categorization. It's useful to read intelligent analysis of such.

richard mcenroe said...

So she sort of skipped over nurturing, caring, supportive, protective... I guess since they're not "weak" they can't be"feminine" attributes...

chillblaine said...

"'m certainly not silly, frivolous, dainty, weak, or overly emotional..."

Why didn't she include feminine traits such as empathetic, nurturing, and collaborative? The negatives surrounding femininity exist only in her own mind.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

It's really not about destigmatizing the unusual. It's about de-normalizing the normal. If the object was to show positive examples of outliers and roll that into a general idea of acceptance the goal would be different--here the goal is to show "as many examples as possible of men and women who don't conform to gender stereotypes" in order to undermine the idea that norms exist.

Also, how seriously is Prof. A taking the assertion here that society ascribing positive values to masculine traits? As the Prof has pointed out the trend (in the popular media, anyway) is the exact opposite--"feminie" traits are described as normal, moral, and good in contrast to masculine traits or norms.

gerry said...

I guess the other side of the coin is....who reads this crap?

1.7% of the population.

kwenzel said...

"Why didn't she include feminine traits such as empathetic, nurturing, and collaborative? The negatives surrounding femininity exist only in her own mind."

I took that section as a series of revealed preferences - that she does in fact think more like a man than a woman. I don't think masculine men think of femininity as a set of negative values until superimposed over their own identity. So I didn't see it as evidence that the "enterprise is suspect," but more obviously that the nature of genders (however many there might be) exist, and matter to oneself. Which I suppose was part of her point - she doesn't think of herself as masculine *until* she finally puts on the clothes that feel comfortable (so she notices the absence, suddenly, of the discomfort her old wardrobe caused her), or tries to apply feminine-seeming aspects to herself, and finds that those are uncomfortable too.

Fernandinande said...

Gosh!

Ann Althouse said...

I hope people are actually reading the whole essay. Some of the commenters would find that their points are addressed therein.

Henry said...

Why didn't she include feminine traits such as empathetic, nurturing, and collaborative?

Hello stereotypes!

Why didn't she include feminine traits like telekinesis, weather control, and quantum tunneling? Oh wait, that's not gender stereotyping. That's the X-Men.

The point is not which stereotypes are positive and which are negative. The point is that they are stereotypes.

Ann Althouse said...

"Also, how seriously is Prof. A taking the assertion here that society ascribing positive values to masculine traits?"

I don't take you seriously at all since you haven't even competently read the excerpt. Go read the whole thing and get back to me if you have a good question?

BDNYC said...

If she were truly masculine, she wouldn't have written the essay.

madAsHell said...

How about young people who are contemplating whether they should regard themselves as transgendered?

Happiness is just a nip, and a tuck away.
After the wounds have healed, happiness will still be just over the hill.

n.n said...

She's confusing feminine qualities and female gender. She's also denigrating female virtues. Traditional society recognizes the value of both masculine and feminine qualities, male and female virtues. While it observes a hard separation between masculine and feminine, it notes a soft separation between men and women. Perhaps that's what prompted contemporary confusion of biological and social norms.

mccullough said...

Good essay. How much of our identity is formed by not identifying with certain attributes as with identifying with other attributes.

Shanna said...

OK, so you're masculine. But you're also an adult female of the species, aka a "woman."

Exactly. And, there are how many women in the world? They are not all going to be alike. Culture plays a role as well, but individual women, just like individual men, have innate traits. I did debate in high school and rather enjoy arguing with people, but I never considered that that made me male. I think it's sort of crazy how many people are thinking they should call themselves something else, without wanting to fundamentally change their whole lives (including surgery).

Also the reason she likes clothes made for men is probably because they are more comfortable.

gerry said...

That is, they were no more likely to be depressed, schizophrenic, etc.

Hmmm.

Ann Althouse said...

Personally, I find it hard to believe that so many women waste so much time thinking about the extent to which they are feminine. What difference does it make? You are who you are. Isn't that valuable? Unless you have character flaws — and there are flaws that are stereotypically feminine — why should you care or seek to do anything about it? It's like paying attention to whether someone else is taller than you… except that there's room to fake it and to try to be what you are not.

I do think women can be manipulated and bamboozled by others who push them to be more "empathetic," and it's very important to learn how not to get played. But that's another reason to forget about trying to seem more aligned with the stereotype. You make yourself vulnerable to those who would exploit you by making you feel that you need to be kinder or more nurturing.

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Shawn Levasseur said...

I liked this article. It doesn't really come to conclusions about gender identity, but does come off a bit more thoughtful that one would expect.

Urquhart's notices that she describes so called feminine traits as negative ones and masculine ones as positive. She's astute enough to see that as something bad, but attributes that as a problem with society.

I'd like to know more about why she thought that way, and how that came to be.

This does highlight something I see as a problem, the desire of people to find what "group" they belong to. "I am a..." is a sentence to be completed and defining.

I prefer the Quentin Crisp view of identity. Which is extremely personal, where one finds their own unique style, and not becomes a group's identity.

When Urquhart wrote on the reaction to her wearing men's clothing, "Other people who knew me said I looked more natural, more like my clothing fit my personality." I took it as she was finding her own style. It seems like she was also using it as finding what groups style she "belonged" to.

As a kid, I was picked on, ridiculed, made fun of constantly. No, I wasn't gay, transgendered, or anything that made me an obvious target. I was just an awkward, somewhat geeky, white male kid, who let such teasing get to him.

I'd heard of other kids in similar situations desperately trying to find some way to change their style to be less of a target, and more like the "popular" kids. To me, that sounded too much like surrendering your own identity. As felt some pride that as much as I was emotionally hurt by such harassment, I never saw it as a problem with me, but a problem with those other people. It was merely a storm I had to ride out.

Hence, my preference of defining a person as an individual, and not via membership in a group. Not that group membership is irrelevant, but putting group membership should merely be a portion of one's identity and not a defining characteristic.

Though Urquhart doesn't fully embrace the more individualistic outlook, she does seem to be taking steps in that direction, despite the fact the title of the piece would suggest otherwise.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...I do think women can be manipulated and bamboozled by others who push them to be more "empathetic," and it's very important to learn how not to get played.

[HoodlumDoodlum goes black in the eye as he whirls around] "I don't fucking care what you think (or if you like it)!"

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...I don't take you seriously at all since you haven't even competently read the excerpt. Go read the whole thing and get back to me if you have a good question?

I am getting back to you even though I don't have a good question. Firstly and most pedantically, I didn't ask if you take me seriously; I certainly assume you don't. Regarding whether I have competently read the excerpt, I took the phrase "on some of the worst and most pernicious sex-based stereotypes" to refer to the standard masculine v feminine stereotypes society holds, and I was questioning whether assuming those stereotypes give a positive value to masculine traits is valid any longer given the trend you have frequently pointed out. That almost certainly wasn't Uquhart's point and I didn't take it as such, but since it was a minor unspoken premise I thought it was worth mentioning. Perhaps the rest of the article directly addresses or contradicts that reading, though, since lastly, I admit I have not read the whole passage. I planned to do so later today, but who knows if I can competently read a longer passage?

Basta! said...

Sertorius: "But I would love to see some research, either way."

It's hard to get funding for studies that might disprove the premise that sex-change operations are uniformly beneficial for those who insist they need one.

Karolinska Institute in Sweden did a rare long-term study (30 year follow-up of 324 post-op transsexuals, both mtf and ftm) published in Feb. 2011, and concluded: "Persons with transsexualism, after sex reassignment, have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviour, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population." They also found a higher rate of criminal convictions in ftms.

There's also this summary of studies on transsexuals and suicide by Ann P. Haas et al. from the Journal of Homosexuality, Jan. 2011: "One clinical study reported a disproportionate number of suicide deaths among Dutch transsexual women and men receiving hormone therapy, compared to the general population (van Kesteren et al., 1997). Another international review of studies that followed over 2,000 persons in 13 countries who had undergone gender reassignment surgery identified 16 possible suicide deaths (Pfäfflin & Junge, 1998). If confirmed as actual suicides, these figures would translate to an alarmingly high rate of 800 suicides for every 100,000 post-surgery transsexuals. By contrast, the current suicide rate for the overall U.S. population is 11.5 suicides per 100,000 people. It is not clear whether this very high suicide rate still exists among transexuals.

Suicide attempt rates ranging from 19 to 25% have also been reported among clinical samples of transgender individuals seeking surgical gender reassignment (Dixen, Maddever, van Maasdam, & Edwards, 1984). More recent data from nonrandom surveys of self-identified transgender people found that up to one third of respondents report making one or more lifetime suicide attempts (Clements-Nolle, Noelle, Guzman, et al., 2001; Clements-Nolle, Marx, & Katz, 2006; Grossman & D'Augelli, 2008; Kenagy, 2005; Whittle et al., 2007; Xavier, Honnold, & Bradford, 2007). Suicide attempts appear to occur more frequently among transgender adolescents and young adults than among older age groups (Xavier et al., 2007)."

So, according to these studies, suicide rates are notably elevated among transsexuals both pre- and post-op, as well as during hormone "therapy".

Unknown said...

"What difference does it make?"

Or:

"At this point, what difference does it make?"

You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick and they won't take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them. And three people do it, three, they may think it's an
organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day...And friends they may thinks it's a movement.

Ambrose said...

Does she stop and ask strangers for directions when driving somewhere?

Freeman Hunt said...

This is a great essay. I hate this new trend wherein it's considered compassionate to say, "Yes, you're a very masculine woman, so you're not really a woman at all" or "Yes, you're a very feminine man, so you're not really a man at all." That's insanity. And you have doctors encouraging some of these people to have themselves cut up to look like poor copies of the opposite sex. Talk about gender fascism.

I like this essay. You're a masculine woman? Fine. You're a feminine man? No problem. Everybody's different.

stlcdr said...

Isn't it a usually feminine trait to constantly consider - mental hand wringing - what they are, who they are and how others perceive them?

If you want to be solely measured by your 'modern sexuality' then keep taking about it.

The Crack Emcee said...

Ann Althouse,

"You make yourself vulnerable to those who would exploit you by making you feel that you need to be kinder or more nurturing."

Geez - but, that way, you're psyching yourself out:

What if you ARE kinder and nurturing? I'm asking this coming from a culture that insists "giving back" is one of the highest priorities an American can hold.