Integrating Gender Neutrality Into My Life
Thoughts of gender have been pushing and pulling their way in and out of my mind a lot lately – honestly, they always do. My job in particular is provoking a lot of these thoughts, it’s a very gendered place, like most places.
Ever since I graduated high school in 2012 I have tried to unlink gender from the characteristics, actions, style, and objects society is determined to make gender specific. I had three main reasons for this:
1. I was tired of limiting myself to only doing “masculine”, gender confirming things when there were so many “feminine” things I enjoyed.
2. The way I let my mind think, policing my own gender expression, in turn had me contributing to the strict gender roles in my immediate circles.
3. It is fucking exhausting.
It has been four years since I started prioritizing gender neutrality, and even though it’s something I really want to do, it’s very difficult. It’s difficult because it’s everywhere, and it’s not something I can confront in other people. As much as gender assumptions may cause harm to people, limiting their experiences, it also gives those same people a sense of comfort because gendered thinking is enforced so thoroughly to us since birth.
Do I want to make the world abolish gender? No. I don’t think gender is inherently bad, nor do I think fitting yourself exactly into the role of man or woman is inherently limiting if that’s what makes you happy. However, I would like to abolish the gender policing that people do to themselves and others; I believe womanhood, manhood, girlhood, boyhood, masculinity, and femininity are all very personal terms that should be defined by those experiencing them, not by an assumed universal experience.
If someone wears make up because they are a woman and make up makes her feel like a woman and she’s happy about that, then that’s awesome. On the other hand, if a woman wears make up because it makes her feel like a woman, but it also makes her unhappy because she doesn’t like make up and feels obligated to wear it in order to express her womanhood, then to me there is a problem. The micro problem is the woman policing her own gender expression; but more importantly, the macro problem is that society taught her to do that policing by reacting to her differently with and without make up on.
On the masculine side of things, where femininity is a weakness, there are plenty of men who make themselves appear tough and avoid crying, but there’s no problem for men who enjoy their toughness and naturally do not feel benefits to crying. However, where does that leave the men overcome with feelings they can only express with aggression publicly while a good cry would relieve the distress they feel?
Now as much as I don’t want to gender police, these cases are two things I know I would react to in a gendered way because I’ve done it before. I’m guilty of telling a woman she “looks tired” on the day she decided not to wear make up, not because I want people to wear make up, but because that was the first thought to enter my mind. Additionally, I have been shocked to see men cry, even though I know every gender cries. This is solely because we are taught crying in men is a weakness and men are not supposed to be seen as weak outside of their close circles (if at all). Because of this, when I see a man cry in public I assume something very terrible has happened to not let him contain the feelings long enough to be alone.
The above is not directly related to the thoughts entering my mind lately, but more a foundation that’s being built upon.
Working a 9 to 5 has entered me into the world of business casual appearance and business attire is incredibly gendered. I’ve gone from wearing leggings, skirts, flowy longline shirts, floral patterns, pretty scarves, purses, and nail polish to chinos and collared shirts every day. I definitely feel much more comfortable wearing chinos and collared shirts in a work environment, but part of me still feels hushed because of it. I think this would be different if I had more free time to dress in casual clothes I enjoy.
I asked the HR person if I would be allowed to wear nail polish since there is a dress code, and I was unsure if women were allowed to wear it. She told me it would be perfectly fine as long as it was not chipped, and she seemed sincerely supportive. However, I feel like it would cause a greater impact than I would like to have with the dozens of other people I come in contact with daily and I don’t feel like it’s worth it.
I guess I’m at a point where I can feel myself compromising on things I would like to do under the ‘guise of professionalism and chalk it up to be ‘not a big deal’ because it’s only mild disappointment rather than distress for me to compromise.
The same way gender thoughts push into my mind, they also pull themselves out, making gender feel foreign and confusing.
I have found myself confused many times over the years, but more specifically the past year, about things I was supposed to know about people based on their gender. I have asked questions of coworkers and the brands we work with that apparently have obvious answers based on the gender of my coworker or the larger gender share of the brands’ audience – this excites me. I’m happy to see myself no longer immediately making assumptions based on gender, but it has also led me into some weird conversations where people are offended by me not making those assumptions. I’m not completely sure what to take away from those awkward moments, but I’m going to focus on my internal growth going in a direction I like.