Of all the topics that seem to be becoming increasingly difficult to discuss, for some reason gender appears near the top of the list. Maybe it’s simply as fundamental as anything else? This deeply personal, significant difference between people, their perspectives, and the expectations placed on them. A simple yet complex way of dividing things up and pointing out all the many and various qualities that make us human.
In a way it seems fascinating how much humanity is divided: that this simple philosophical concept of “human” can be broken up into so many beautiful and unique variations. That “what divides us” often overwhelms “what unites us”. Aren’t we part of the same picture? All the many ways human “being” can flow into and through all we find around us. This endless diversity of human existence through time and space.
Yet, around it all, we seem to have such fixed notions of how things should be – all these expectations, labels and criticisms we so freely apply to others; all the strangely insistent ideals we’re faced with in cultural life; all those persistent assumptions that seem so deeply woven into social and personal relationships. All these “ideas” about what it is to be feminine or masculine.
Isn’t it strange? That we’d imagine all the complexity of either side could be reduced to a simple set of expressions. This idea that groups should all be, look, think, act or relate a certain way – and, that anyone who doesn’t is somehow mistaken or flawed. There may be functional or cultural conventions dictating how people should “be” and what kinds of choices are admirable or acceptable, but how meaningful is it all really?
Sometimes, as with many things, it seems so superficial: all the ways body, clothes or appearance are seen as saying something about any given individual. This whole conversation of “types” that projects so many expectations and judgements upon us all. It’s a weird game. Especially when every choice we’re making is being packaged as some branded sense of “who we are” – a real commitment or statement of identity.
If the labels weren’t so rigid and heavy – all the mannerisms, colour preferences, anticipated interests – could this whole thing not flow a little easier? If, beneath notions of male or female, we had a clearer space for simply being human. Might it not be that we’re all far more complex internally than the forms currently being offered to us by society or culture?
Almost this sense that the boxes we’re offered – the images, assumptions and ideals cast upon us – may be too constrictive, leaving little room for all the nuance of individual self-determination. That we’re effectively making a complex set of realities far too simple and prescriptive. Also, that we’re perhaps far too inclined to define one another based on appearances, while lacking the opportunity it takes to truly understand.
Between the inner and the outer of it all, where’s the balance that might let each person freely be who they truly are?
Notes and References:
These ideas we have of one another
Visual language and spaces
Understanding what we’re all part of
Valuing people more
The beauty in home economics
“Women who run with the wolves”
Value and meaning in our lives
Living through the changes
Ways of being & what’s getting left out