Like a Lady

“When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man.
When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.”
Bette Davis

Women and men are not the same. No matter how we might wish them to be so, or how often we claim to take no account of gender in living our lives, I’m afraid that we all do. You do it, I do it, we all do it. There are basic biological differences between men and women that affect us all, and we cannot simply put these to one side. As this article points out, “the odds of men and women having evolved the exact same emotional psychology are basically zero”. No matter how much I might yearn for equity, I do not want to achieve it by ‘owning’ male words and attitudes, or behaving more like a man. That would not lead us to greater equity, it would just lead to women behaving more like men in order to gain a fairer share of the power. In order to achieve equity, I think we need to accept that there are what we might term ‘feminine and masculine traits’, and then we should value these equally, in both men and women. We need ‘yin and yang’ to create a balance.

In yesterday’s blog, I associated the current discourse of mastery, knowledge, grit and traditionalism with masculinity and force. While “mastery” and “domain” are obviously gendered, some commentators asked why I said the same about these other concepts. Surely it was sexist to suggest that women couldn’t be ‘forceful’? Surely women can be just as ‘gritty’ and ‘intellectual’ as men, on their own terms? Clearly, they can, but if you tune in to the current discourse, this is not what it tells us. Apparently the best way to get “grit” into children is to bring rugby players and soldiers into schools, and to get children to join the cadets. While there is no reason why such activities should be the preserve of men, that is not the point: they are part of a masculine narrative, in which strength, aggression and force are the way to get things done. The ‘knowledge debate’ is dominated by male voices (if you don’t agree, just look at the big name authors, the traditionalist ‘blogrolls’, or the panel line-ups for conferences on the subject). The term “child centered” has become an insult, with the slogan “no excuses” now seen as a compliment. Only the logical, rational and intellectual can lead us to a rigorous truth. A soft, emotional approach is irrational, illogical, and not to be tolerated. Masculine over feminine. “Stop being a big girl’s blouse.”

It’s vital to note that this imbalance impacts as much on men as it does on women; perhaps even more so. While women miss out on leadership roles, men suffer from being pushed to take on traditional gender roles, in other ways. They miss out on spending time with their babies. Consider the most recent statistics on male suicides, or this on gender in the prison population: “The male prison population is 82,001 and the female prison population is 3,891.”  Why are men 20 times more likely to be in prison than women? Could it be something to do with the way that we bring them up? Is there something about the way society treats men, and the kind of behaviours and attitudes we value in them? Once again, the language we use shines a light on our values, it influences our thinking even when we think that it does not. And so it is that, while I rarely act much “like a lady”, I most certainly do not want to be demonised for behaving “like a girl”.

“The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl.
The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl.
Being a woman is the ultimate insult.”
Jessica Valenti

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4 Responses to Like a Lady

  1. Pingback: Is Patriarchy throwing a final tantrum? | littlemavis

  2. ephemeral321 says:

    The political is personal so let me state the identity you can’t see: I’m middle-aged, middle-class (through social mobility not through birth), white, and female. I have no political allegiance because there isn’t an ideology I fully accept, and I won’t vote for someone based on gender; nor reject them because of it.

    Feminism is not one ‘body’; there are different schools of thought, with people riding different waves, and not all self-identify with a movement whose aim for equality they support. Inequality exists. It is not limited to women. I can’t speak for other women or men, and I do believe some of us need to speak less in order to create space for other voices.

    As a parent I’m further along ‘that spectrum’. We don’t have barbie or action man in the house. Pink is a gender-neutral colour in our home, though of course we know it remains a gendered colour once we leave the house. In our home all books, irrespective of jackets, are gender neutral, as are toys. I have a gentle, bright son who was bullied by both girls and boys. I have a daughter who is bright but whose intelligence is underestimated because she is blonde and elfin-like and, most crucially it seems, who giggles: thus, female teachers and instructors – oddly far more than males – expect less of her. We do our best to integrate challenging gender identity into our lives – we’re human, so yes, we drop some clangers.

    As cliches go, my partner is low emotionality and I’m high emotionality; I sigh but it’s who we are. We both dial it up or down depending on the situation. I have to dial it down considerably in any debate and I notice how often both men and women suggest someone is being ‘oversensitive’, ‘over/emotional’, ‘letting their emotions cloud their judgments’ when they want to discredit another’s argument. I think another’s feelings are their own.

    When I use the word ‘own’ I speak of the sense in which I am my own person who attempts to filter the influence of others: it is incumbent upon me to own my actions and my words. What I think and feel are private until I put them into the public domain. I am comfortable owning such words as grit, pupil, intellectual, and success (I wasn’t for a long time). I’m on a journey and I have no desire to be a man, nor anyone else but myself.

    My understanding of the twitter discussions at the moment is that gender is being discussed in regard to access to equity: access to the power tables to determine the direction of education and input into improvements; questions about why, in a female dominated sector, there is a disproportionate number of females in those power seats.

    Your two blogs shine a spotlight on gendered discourse. I think it should be discussed but I think the examples you used have muddied the waters. Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck are two female psychologists who encourage ‘grit’; it seems ironic that here are two females saying to an audience which includes females that we can do better. I say hurrah that both my children might meet people who understand reciprocal vulnerability and expect my children to utilise their skills and abilities more.

    I think there is a contradiction underpinning your argument here that needs to be reconciled to move the debate forward:

    “In order to achieve equity, I think we need to accept that there are what we might term ‘feminine and masculine traits’, and then we should value these equally, in both men and women. We need ‘yin and yang’ to create a balance.”

    You state there are feminine and masculine traits (but don’t acknowledge there are any gender neutral traits). You state we should value these equally (and that these traits are not restricted to a single sex). You say we need balance between the masculine and the feminine. Yet, your blog panned traits that you view to be masculine: grit, pupil (vs child), intellectual. This included mastery, of which Eliza Haywood in 1751 wrote ‘Those evil spirits, to which she had yielded but too much the mastery of her heart’.

    I agree with you that there is a militarisation programme in UK schools. The research doesn’t support focusing funding and time on sport instead of drama and music to build resilience and desirable values in our pupils. However, it is important to situation the ‘masculine narrative’ in the current political context in any discussion of it; if there is a third time women may be just as equally conscripted.

    Male voices are often loud, confident, and assertive – everywhere. But they are not all male voices. Just as any change in gender inequality will not result in every female voice being heard. As for the number of males in prisons, and the number who are black. Justice is not blind and when Courts see women they find it harder to comprehend the aggressive, violent, or immoral behaviour that women can do: and when it is proven beyond doubt the penalties are much harsher.

    I’m a woman who chose attachment parenting and did extended breastfeeding with both children. In schools I think child-centred learning lost its 19th century roots in respect and discipline. I think that most teachers openly acknowledge they don’t ‘know’ every child in their class – in which case it’s not ‘child-centred’ learning in my view.

    I personally believe in open hands, open heart, open mind in order to seek truth.

    Please don’t demonise or belittle me for exercising my right to choose to be strong, determined, intellectual, and to laugh loudly. There are many men in this world who also display these traits; many of them choose to use their traits to improve the world. I, in turn, will not judge you for being who you want to be.

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    • suecowley says:

      Thank you for taking the time to reply and for sharing your thoughts, I really appreciate it. I’m sure that you are right and there are many contradictions in my hastily scribbled blogs. It might help if you see them more as an attempt to figure out what I am thinking and feeling, rather than an attempt to get anyone to agree with me. I can’t really get past my strong impression that education has moved into a ‘masculine’ phase just now (sorry, I can’t think of a better word than that to describe it). The dominant discourse just feels that way to me. Whether that is only my perception or a reflection of reality, I don’t know, but I’m not really trying to make friends or persuade people by saying so. I’m just saying it how I see it. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel belittled for choosing to be strong or determined, although it’s interesting to note the powerful reaction I’ve received (both positive and negative, and not referring to you) for deciding to say what I think on this subject.

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  3. Pingback: On the confused, and confusing, discourse of edu-twitter feminism | Education: the sacred and the profane

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