Isn’t this pretty? Do you know what it’s called? It’s a Petite Sweetheart Cheesecake (part of Delifrance’s Valentine’s Day promotion this year). It tastes absolutely divine dahling. But that’s not what this post is about.
I had a fascinating conversation with a dear friend last night, in which she tried to explain to me her desire to analytically separate gender from sex, because the conflation of the two leads to labels being placed on people that they have to wear even if they feel uncomfortable with the fit. The example we used to think this through was walking. It seems reasonable to believe that the way a woman is structured – with generally broader hips and narrower shoulders – leads her to walk somewhat differently than a man – with his narrower hips and broader shoulders – does. However taking this example to its logical extent forces you to admit that while these may be average forms, there are undoubtedly men who have broader hips and women who have broader shoulders. Presumably, the way they walk changes accordingly. So far so good. If there is no value judgment attached to any of these parameters, then the matter can rest here. You may not agree with the theory that body structure influences gait, but that is a different issue altogether.
The problem, according to my friend, comes in when one type of walk is labeled ‘feminine’ while another is labeled ‘masculine’. Immediately then, it becomes clear how insisting on a rigid binary framework can lead to trouble. Labels like this are artificial, arbitrary, and culturally intertwined with many other intersecting impositions of behavior and belief. Biological patterns, on the other hand, tend to be more fluid. Within the form labelled ‘feminine’ there is a range of actual configurations of body ratio. Likewise the ‘masculine’. There is indeed a continuum, whereby one segues into the other so smoothly that it is only through great force of purpose that the grid of labels may be imposed. In fact to do so requires a whole culture of contiguous structures that enmesh themselves with the human psyche so irretrievably that most of humanity cannot even recognize the imposition. We call this culture Patriarchy. Woe betide the woman with the narrow hips or the man with broad ones. She is derided for being ‘masculine’ while he is equally ridiculed for being ‘feminine’. Both are seen as insults in the context of their discursive power.
Which brings me back to the confection you see in the photograph. Of course Valentine’s Day is a marketing gimmick. And all the pink targets women as consumer and as commodity. But just think of a boy who approaches the counter. A teenage boy, who is sadly all too conscious of the impressions that his choices convey to a wider public that he has learned makes judgments on those who don’t wear their labels. He just loves the flavor of the confection, and he might even love the violently pink look of it. But the fact that pink is associated with the ‘feminine’ makes him think twice about ordering something he knows will taste like 50 shades of heaven. That he orders it anyway is proof that he is reflecting and trying not to let the labels dictate his choices. But there are so many examples like this, where labels force us into certain choices and away from others. And the use of these labels for marketing adds an extra layer of complexity that further locks us into these uncomfortable positions.
I’ve ruminated on this gender vs. sex issue before on this blog. Interestingly, in that post, I suggested that new forms of communication might be introducing some changes. I’m not so sure about that anymore, but I’ll give it more thought before I write about it. Something along the lines of appropriation of feminine styles by masculine logics of technology and business without appreciation of feminine substance. But even that’s a bit dicey because it contradicts the post-gender way in which my thoughts above seem to be leaning. I’d blame my friend for confusing me, but I’m too grateful to her for giving me something to think about 🙂
Meanwhile if you have anything to contribute to this, I’d love to hear it.