Thursday, 11 August 2011

Draft: Socialisation

This is a half-arsed rapidly written unedited thing, posted because if I waited until I'd rewritten it properly I'd probably never post anything at all. COMMENTS PLS. Any and all comments, however half-arsed. You're a clever person, tell me something clever. :)


I was socialised as a boy.

I decided I wanted to be a boy, and like any other boy, I picked up on the messages from society telling me how I should and shouldn't behave.

But unlike any other boy, I wasn't punished for my failures to conform to this behaviour; all I was was weird, an unknown quantity, ploughing my own furrow, marching to the beat of my own drum. Which was ironic, since it wasn't my own drum at all, it was a drum stolen from every single masculine normative influence I could see.

Was I also socialised as a girl? Maybe I was told what to do, told girls shouldn't do X or should do Y, punished by my peer group for failing to conform to X and Y. I'm not sure I really paid attention. I was already Weird, and any peer-group punishment seemed to fall under that umbrella. Besides, I didn't have much truck with My Peer Group of Girls as an en-masse entity, or much respect for what they wanted me to conform to.

But, rebellious as I was (and stubborn as I always have been), I was very quick to ignore the "direct" socialising forces of "Don't do X" (haha, so much for you, I'm going to do X now!). And, naive as I still struggle not to be, I lapped up with earnest the "indirect" socialising forces of "Boys are strong and make jokes and don't care about their appearance and are in awe of the clever, sophisticated girls they like, etc., etc.! Look at this masculine role model! Blindly copy the way he sits, talks, walks, acts!"

I'm only now beginning to unpack all these layers. For a little while I believed "Okay, I'm female, but I'm not a Proper Girl" (my mind poisoned by pathetic models of femininity). For another little while I declared "I think I'm what happens when a child isn't socialised as either gender" (because my parents, bless them, were never particularly bound (and didn't bind me) by gender roles - aside from the occasional despairing exhortation, once I hit my teens, for me to start shaving my legs, or the occasional exasperated exclamation of "Woman!" by my father as though it were an insult, or my mother's sudden mild retrospective panic at letting me watch Thomas the Tank Engine for hours on end as a small child when I recently declared I thought I might be a boy).

But it's becoming clear to me that gender socialisation is truly inescapable. There are so many influences, and people are bound to pick up on them, at least some of them, even if they're not the "right" or "intended" ones, even if people pay attention to them only in order to rebelliously reject them (and in so doing, fall into the trap of accepting other ones, influences on how a Tomboy or a Rebel - or a Boy - should behave).

I don't know where this leaves me; I don't feel as though I've had a Woman's Experience, because I only ever submitted partially and confusedly to the pressures that dog life as a female, but equally, I clearly haven't had a Man's Experience, because my (I think fairly respectable) efforts at bowing to the pressures of being male were not interpreted as such and thus not reinforced or criticised in the same way.

But much as I've liked to claim in the past that I'm far too sensible to bother conforming to stupid old gender roles, and much as I think that I might honest-to-goodness be genderless, have no internal concept of being masculine or feminine in my identity at all, I guess I feel as though I've had a gendered experience.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ros!

    I've had it easy on the gender front on the whole, so find it hard to empathise. Still, I just thought I'd chip in and say YOU ARE AWESOME and spending time with you is great and that's kind of what matters as far as I'm concerned. I'm afraid that evolution has probably done its dirty work and rooted for gender roles, so my guess is that there will always be these expectations and confusion, felt considerably more strongly by some than others, and it will probably continue to frustrate if you let it. Even if you seek out people who aren't bothered about mentally categorising you and who tend to treat both genders identically (and I bet those are few and far between!) I think the general populace is fairly doomed to imbue life with a gendered experience.

    I think the socialisation cues from the people bringing us up are mostly born of fear and care, and the desire for the child in question to be happy and popular when they are older (taken along with the gamut of subconscious assumptions about what makes someone happy and/or popular). Many people would probably feel remiss if they didn't try to correct 'aberrant' behaviour - just look at the 'tough love' that Chinese mothers were expected to put their daughters through in binding their feet. They put them through the excruciating experience because of the social penalty they would pay if they had feet shaped feet.

    I hope you will find a way to be happy with who you are regardless of what faux pas your work colleagues may unwittingly make. Again: you are great fun to have around and a lovely caring person, and I think that's what matters really. Even if you did take my dignity.