A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

The Value of Femininity

I again haven’t posted anything for a while. I will admit that I’ve been reading up and thinking about certain things. And I thought it would be worthwhile to make a post about it. In particular, I’ve been thinking about how the opposite sex perceives and interacts with the world and the role that gender norms play in our lives. Two thought provoking books I’ve read up on the subject are Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent and Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. Norah Vincent is a woman who disguised herself as a man for a year and interacted in several places as a man. In her book, she describes this adventure and uses it to contrast a man’s life with a woman’s life in this world. Her underlying message is that even in a “man’s world”, the male gender is far from free and is constrained even with the advantage of “male privilege”.

I found her observations to be pretty insightful. She goes through her adventure, for example, by hanging out with guy friends in recreational activities, getting a job and working as a man, and dating women as a man. None of the people she interacts with ever suspect she’s really a woman (she disguises herself so well) and even when she admits to being a woman with a few of these people some of them don’t believe her at first and she has to take off some of her disguise to prove it.

For example, she goes bowling with some guys who welcome her as one of their own and she describes her relations with them to be much less intimate than when she interacts as a woman with her usual female friends. For instance, their greetings are pretty mundane, consisting of only simple handshakes and “hellos”. One of the guys brought his kid son along for what was supposed to be “father-son time”, but it was really supposed to a mens’ night out and the guys tease him when, for example, he rambles on too much about facts he learned in school. Norah rightly interprets this behavior as letting him learn things the hard way by “toughening him up”. She does, however, see some good in interacting with the guys. She occasionally will have a couple of seconds of intimacy with one of the guys when, for example, she scores at bowling and she shares a smile with one of the guys and actually sees this as greater than any bonding she has had with any of her female friends.

Reading about Norah’s adventure kind of reminded me of my own feminine desires and what I desire in pursuing my own friendships through the difficulties of having autism and how much intimacy is important to me in friendships. I can certainly relate to her experiences. Two years ago, for example, I developed a yearning to cuddle, not just with a romantic partner when one came along, but also among platonic friendships, as described in this post: My Developing Social Desires. It is a kind of intimacy that women often share as friends, but platonic cuddling involving a man is often stigmatized by society.

The other book Whipping Girl is by Julia Serano who is a transsexual woman. She tells of her experience in recognizing her desire to be female and in transitioning to female as an adult. She tells of the stigma that society holds against transsexuals, which is due to the general attitude that males and females are opposite sexes stigmatizing the idea of any kind of gender variance. She also argues that trans* misogyny contributes further prejudice in particular to transsexual women since they are seen as wanting to demote themselves from a superior gender, i.e. male, to the lesser gender that is female.

One key theme in her book is the value of femininity and feminine expression. She tells how it’s important to incorporate such things into the promotion of feminism. The problem is that a lot of feminists want to behave like men, i.e. to be masculine especially in expression, while casting aside their natural femininity because they believe it’s frivolous. The real way to promote femininity is to value feminine expression. Only in this way will femininity become masculinity’s equal.

Her writing style is also very engaging. I love, for example, how she goes on a rant of how men tend to distance themselves from feminine items, such as barrettes, as if such items are dangerous to any man who comes within the vicinity of one. She even promotes men wearing one in their hair even to work.

Overall, both books were pretty thought provoking and helped me reflect on my own life. Being socialized as a male has provided me with both advantages and disadvantages. And with the valuing and promotion of femininity, the disadvantages will disappear.

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