reading again. This time I picked up Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax--the same author of Boys Adrift. This book was written before Boys Adrift, and it tried to focus on physiological differences between the sexes (you know, besides the obvious). For instance, did you know that girls, from infancy, have better hearing than boys? Next time you think a boy is ignoring you, maybe the truth is he can't hear you.
There were all sorts of interesting tidbits like that throughout the book: from the way we process emotion (girls process emotion in a part of the brain that's related to the part that processes language, for instance, which may explain why women are typically more adept at expressing emotions than most men) to our willingness to take risks (boys being generally much more willing and interested in risk-taking than girls), we're just different.
I really enjoyed the overall point of the book, though, which was that while there may be differences in how we do things, there really isn't a whole lot of difference in what we can do. Boys can do anything girls can do, if it is presented to them in the right way. Girls can learn anything that boys can learn, if it is taught in the right way.
Dr. Sax made one point in his book that has kept me thinking and thinking. He was talking about how because of decades of insistence that there is no difference between boys and girls (again, besides the obvious) and the adherence to "gender blind" education and indoctrination, the upcoming generations are left to draw their own conclusions about what it means to masculine and what it means to be feminine. Because girls no longer have these strong traditions to tell them what it means to be a woman, they are filling that void by their own means. "If you refuse to affirm a child's gender identity explicitly, children will find other ways to announce their gender identity...So the market steps into the vacuum."
And what seems to be happening is that young girls are increasingly equating femininity with sexiness. Dr. Sax described a study that sought to understand girls' pyschosexual development and how it has changed over the generations. He said, "The most fundamental change [the study] documents is that girls in generations past worried about their character. Today most girls' first concern is with their appearance. Whereas the typical fifteen- and sixteen-year-old girl in generations past made solemn resolutions to be a better person, the fifteen- and sixteen-year-old of today makes solemn resolutions to lose weight, tone her tummy, and find a hairstyle that suits her face. The relentless message of our culture--in TV shows and commercials, in movies, in magazines--is that being a woman means looking sexy."
So, I've been thinking about that a lot. I mean, obviously that's not what it means to be a woman. It's not what I want to teach my daughters (when I eventually have some), or my sons about women. So, what does womanhood actually entail? What are some qualities that women and young girls can claim as feminine?
In the back of the book, there were two quizzes you could take to determine how "masculine" or "feminine" you are. I really couldn't figure out the purpose of these quizzes, except maybe they were supposed to be of mild interest (?). They seemed to negate a lot of what was said in the book, in that they emphasized and reinforced gender stereotypes rather than any of the physiological or brain differences Dr. Sax explained so well in the book. For example, if you often feel shy around other people, if you know what an endive is, and if you try to present yourself as a cheerful person, you score high on the femininity quiz. Knowing what a serger is, what musk smells like, and what color ocher is most similar to also get you high up there.
I don't know about you, but when looking to define myself as a woman, I don't think musk and endives are going to do it. Incidentally, I didn't know that musk was best described as "pungent," but I did know what a serger is used for. Are you surprised?
And, that's what I've been thinking about. Trying to figure out what femininity means to me. I haven't come up with any clear answers. Maybe it's my "gender-blind" indoctrination and education that leaves me feeling a little bit offended every time I come up with ideas. There's this little voice in the back of my head that tells me There's no difference between men and women. Defining yourself as a woman and different from a man is betraying everything you know about equality. Even though, really, I know that's not true. Equality does not mean sameness. I don't have to be a man or do all the same things as a man in order to be equal to a man.
So, what does it mean to be feminine. What do you think?