Monday, September 17, 2012

Stalin probably had a huge penis.

Apparently Heineken is changing their bottle design. Instead of being short and squatty, the neck will be longer. This is, according to their marketing folk, supposed to convey “masculinity” and “pride.” Did no one ever tell Heineken it ain’t the size of the bottle but the motion of the ocean…or something?

When I heard this, I just rolled my eyes. This has been going on for a while now, this perplexed response I have to the use of the word “masculinity.” It is almost always used in terms of defense or encouragement, as in, “That thing ladies do threatens our masculinity,” or, “We’re doing this so those dudes can feel more masculine.” I don’t believe I’ve ever heard femininity discussed in these terms. No one can threaten my femininity. There’s a word – emasculate. It’s used to describe the seemingly forcible reduction of one’s masculinity by outside forces. I once had a short dude tell me it “emasculated” him when I wore really high heels while we were together. He said he liked that, but it’s no matter. My point here is that there is no feminine equivalent. No outside force is going to forcibly reduce my femininity by simply doing their thing in my presence.

I think this is so funny. Is who you are “as a man” so flimsy that it’s dependent on your relation to everything around you? Actually, that makes total sense when you consider that masculinity is equated with power, and power always kind of turns people into paranoid, overly sensitive messes. Look at Stalin. Dude killed EVERYONE EVER because he was afraid they threatened his power, whether they actually did or not. This paradox makes me laugh – your supposed power and powerful “masculinity” actually makes you weaker and nuts. It’s one of the things I like about being a lady. Oh, there are definitions of femininity most certainly. But if I choose to shirk them, I have never found that it completely threatens my entire existence.

Masculinity comes up all the time, and the male anxiety about masculinity is simply ridiculous. Who cares? And can a Heineken bottle really improve your feelings of masculinity? How so? Do you equate your dick with all that you survey? And what does dick size have to do with masculinity in the first place? Females express their gender in a wider range of ways, and this is something that I believe gives us strength. It leads to far less insecurity. We don’t need anyone constantly shoring up our sense of femininity, and we don’t have to waste time fighting to get our sense of femininity back if someone seems to threaten it. When my husband does the dishes, I don’t FREAK OUT about whether or not I’m still feminine enough. I feel happy because, shit, I don’t have to do the dishes! 

Perhaps that's not anyone else's experience of being a woman. I was never good at it, so I took myself out of the gender norms Olympics very early on. I've always been a big wearer of dresses, but I've never equated that with personal attempts at being a woman. They're just so much more comfortable, and a dress makes getting dressed so much easier. I'm lazy, not feminine. I've never felt as though I suffered any great loss by shirking my femininity, either. But my main point here isn't what people suffer for lack of conforming to gender norms. It's the fact that I chose that. Any lack of femininity on my part is purely self-inflicted. Meanwhile, men are consistently talking about their masculinity in terms of it's being threatened. A man cannot simply put on gender appropriate clothing and call it a day. His masculinity is largely dependent on his ability to gain and keep some semblance of power over something. From what I've seen, this has turned most men trying to hang on to masculinity in this current era into a bunch of whiners. "But maaaaaaaawm! Why won't that person/place/thing let me feel more maaaaaaanly?"

From a cultural and historical perspective, it all makes sense. It’s the power thing. It’s the idea that the most masculine gets the most power, and men are in this power struggle. The struggle to maintain power. The struggle to get more. But think about that.

Do you really want to be Joseph Stalin?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Complicated Issue of Armpit Hair

I haven’t shaved my armpits in about three months. They’re not just shadowed with stubble. They’re not even just fuzzy. They’re…hairy. This wasn’t a conscious choice. It started out as sheer laziness. I take baths instead of showers most of the time, and the razor is always on the shower caddy hanging from the showerhead. Once I’m lying down in the bath and realize my razor is so far away, I just think, “Oh well. Maybe I’ll shave tomorrow.” I didn’t ever decide to grow out my armpit hair, but it’s interesting to me that it gets such as reaction. Apparently I’m supposed to shave every inch of my regularly visible body, or people will just tell me all about the fact that I’ve got body hair going on. I’ve been informed that family members are going to “stage an intervention,” and I was asked to explain why I had armpit hair. I guess I didn’t realize I owed people explanations for my choices as to what I do with my body as I go through my daily life.

I don’t ask other people to explain their body hair.

A lot of people have said that they shave not because they are responding to societal pressure but because they find body hair “gross.” Americans as a general rule will use this word to describe all things related to the body; people declare feet to be gross, their own genitalia to be gross, body hair to be gross, and everybody loves to say that penises are gross. I don’t understand any of these things to be gross unless they’re diseased and oozing pus. To believe that these things are inherently gross in and of themselves is to believe that even clean, fresh from the bath feet are “gross.” It’s to believe that my non-sticky, non-stinky armpit hair is “gross.” Some genitalia may be moist, but that doesn’t make it gross. I find it odd that so many people, and women in particular, describe a perfectly normal bodily function (the growing of hair) to be gross, but what really gets me down is that everyone feels the need to tell me this when they see my armpit hair.

As Madonna once famously put it, “I’m not your bitch. Don’t hang your shit on me.” I’m absolutely certain that I’ve quoted that before, but it’s one of my favorites.

I have been asked if this was “a feminist thing,” or perhaps the result of depression. It’s armpit hair! I just didn’t see it as that important. It’s just what’s happening right now, today, for me. Watching people have such strong reactions to such a silly thing is both funny and depressing. What I am doing harms exactly no one, but the group is passionately opposed to me stepping outside of the norm. My armpit hair makes me “the other,” that scary beast who needs taming. I suppose if I am willing to flout this convention, I might be willing to blow things up, steal, kill people, or be willing to step outside the other norms we so desperately need for civilized society. Except that is a crazy line of thinking.

Historically speaking, we’ve most likely used this instinct to spot “the other” to protect ourselves from the enemy. But we should be becoming more discerning at this point. Instead, we still crudely separate by “us” and “them” along even the most meaningless of lines. Of course, no one has abandoned me over it just yet, but they’re simply at stage one: shaming me into compliance. If I don’t respond to that, I wonder how long until I’m banished to the forest.

My armpit hair doesn’t feel so much like a feminist issue except insofar as it others me but does not other men. In reality, it didn’t really feel like an issue at all until other people started talking to me about it like it was a symbolic problem and a great offense. But if it is an issue, it feels like part of a larger issue for me – the issue of “the other” and how even the most banal of infringements on societal norms can immediately send you to “the other” side.