What is a Man? What is a Woman?
"The source of all life and knowledge is in man and woman, and the source of all living is in the interchange and the meeting and mingling of these two: man-life and woman-life, man-knowledge and woman-knowledge, man-being and woman-being."
D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
"There is no such thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual person. There are only h***- or heterosexual acts. Most people are a mixture of impulses if not practices."
Gore Vidal (1925-2012)
The first little theory I'm going to come up with is that sexuality doesn't descend upon one suddenly at puberty like some sudden crack of doom. From the time one is old enough to get about and speak; a child is being prepared for its approved role in society. Currently this is heterosexual love, marriage and procreation (Note, this is not inevitably true in human or animal society). Not only is the child unaware of this programming, I don't believe that the parent is aware of his/her role as propaganda-feed either. Even if they were, society takes over and exercises that role when the child goes to school. How else, for example can one explain the continuing, unthinking, seemingly immovable prejudice against 'the love that dare not speak its name'? Apparently intelligent and well-educated people still express prejudice about homosexuality. Please note that I have no personal axe to grind here, being currently heterosexual. This is just the result of my thoughts and experiences.
For example, I was about 5. I was in the flat in Southend-on-Sea with one of my girlfriends. We were mucking about and we ended up with her acting the role of temptress and me acting as the tempted. In our imaginations she was diaphanously dressed and dancing and I ended up chasing her around the flat pleading. We were both 5 for heaven's sake; whatever had prepared us for our post-pubic roles in life? I have no idea but something must have. But then boys and girls are dressed differently, given different toys to play with and watch all the approved the role-models (both 'good' and 'bad') on TV all day. That's apart from their parental imitation. It seems to me that is little a parent can do in consciously shaping their children's attitudes even if they were aware of a need here. I also used to know a woman who was a bit of an idealist and was quite insistent that no child of hers would ever have any war-toys. An admirable ideal no doubt but how could it be practical when the child plays with others? Even if they lived in an isolated community, the child would still have to go to school. One 'Power Ranger' fan is all it would take for sticks and rocks to become guns and bombs. My second little theory involves why I included that second quotation at the beginning. Basically, I couldn't agree with it more. It seems to me that ones sexual behaviour is not entirely determined by what happened to be between our legs when we were born. OK so what do I mean by sexual behaviour? Here goes. Whether one has a masculine or a feminine personality does not seem to me to be governed by our gender. I have met women with more masculine personalities than me and I have met men who more feminine than I am. This is not merely semantic word-play; I think it is a genuine problem. Consider the following dictionary definition.
"feminine (f?ﾹe-n?) adjective 1. Of or relating to women or girls; female. 2. Characterized by or possessing qualities generally attributed to a woman. 3. Effeminate; womanish. 4. Abbr. fem., f., F. Grammar.. Designating or belonging to the gender of words or grammatical forms that refer chiefly to females or to things classified as female."
Note the second definition. What are the qualities generally attributed to a woman? Well, I've scoured Microsoft Bookshelf (Encyclopaedia, Dictionary, Dictionary of Quotations, Atlas, etc. etc. on CD-ROM. American and crap but it's all I have) to try and find out what these qualities are and this what I've come up with by looking up 'woman', 'womanly' and 'womanish' and a few other synonyms.
feminine (f?ﾹe-n?) adjective
1. Of or relating to women or girls; female.
2. Characterized by or possessing qualities generally attributed to a woman.
3. Effeminate; womanish.
4. Abbr. fem., f., F.
Grammar.. Designating or belonging to the gender of words or grammatical forms that refer chiefly to females or to things classified as female. noun Abbr. fem., f., F. Grammar. 1. The feminine gender. 2. A word or form belonging to the feminine gender. [Middle English, from Old French, from Latin f?in?us, from f?ina, woman.] -
femininely adverb - feminineness noun Synonyms: feminine, female, womanly, womanish, effeminate, ladylike. These adjectives mean "of, relating to, characteristic of, or appropriate to women." Feminine as the opposite of masculine often refers to what is considered characteristic of women: feminine intuition. Female, like male, categorizes by gender or sex; the term is not limited in application to human beings: the female population; a female kitten; a female plant. Womanly describes qualities regarded as becoming to a woman: womanly virtue; womanly sympathy. Womanish applies to qualities associated with women and traditionally considered undesirable in men: womanish tears. Effeminate is largely restricted in reference to men and implies lack of manliness or strength: an effeminate walk. Ladylike is applicable to what befits women of good breeding: ladylike manners. . female (adjective) female, she, feminine, petticoat, girlish, womanly, ladylike, maidenly, matronly child-bearing, GENERATIVE feminist, feministic viraginous, Amazonian lesbian, lez (derog), dykey or dikey (derog) womanish, effeminate, unmanly, pansy (derog) feminized, gynandrous, androgynous. Emotion, religion and morality: Personal emotion: Cowardice cowardly (adjective) cowardly, coward, craven, poltroonish not so brave, pusillanimous, timid, timorous, fearful, niddering, afraid of one's own shadow, unable to say boo to a goose, of a nervous disposition, NERVOUS soft, womanish, babyish, unmanly, sissy, WEAK spiritless, spunkless, milksoppy, without grit, without guts, lacking chutzpah, with no backbone, weak-minded, fainthearted, chicken-hearted, chicken-livered, white-livered, yellow-livered, milk-livered, lily-livered, yellow-bellied, chicken sneaking, skulking, cowering, quailing dastardly, yellow, abject, base, vile, mean-spirited, currish, recreant, caitiff unsoldierly, unmilitary, unmartial, unwarlike, unaggressive cowed, lacking morale, with no fight left, SUBMITTING defeatist, HOPELESS unheroic, unvaliant, uncourageous, prudent, discreet, CAUTIOUS bashful, shy, coy, MODEST easily frightened, funky, panic-prone, shakable, unstable, unsteady, infirm of purpose, IRRESOLUTE womﾷanﾷish womﾷanﾷish (wﾢmﾹe-n?h) adjective 1. Of, characteristic of, or natural to a woman. See synonyms at FEMININE. 2. Resembling, imitative of, or suggestive of a woman. - womﾹanﾷishﾷly adverb - womﾹanﾷishﾷness noun Matter: Organic matter: Female female (noun) female, female sex, feminine gender, she, her, -ette, -ess femineity, feminality, muliebrity femininity, feminineness womanhood, ADULTNESS femaleness, womanliness, girlishness feminism, gynography, women's rights, Women's Lib or Liberation, Women's Movement Women's Studies matriarchy, gynarchy, gynocracy, regiment of women womanishness, effeminacy, gynandry, androgyny, WEAKNESS gynecology, gyniatrics obstetrics, PROPAGATION womﾷanﾷist womﾷanﾷist (wﾢmﾹen-?t) adjective Having or expressing a belief in or respect for women and their talents and abilities beyond the boundaries of race or class: "Womanist tradition assumes, because of our experiences during slavery, that black women already are capable" (Alice Walker). noun One whose beliefs or actions are informed by womanist ideals. - womﾹanﾴism noun
I'll apologise right now for the length of that lot but it was, for me, quite an illuminating information-search I did just there. An aside, feminism is a well understandable cause; any section of society deserves its due rewards. However, it is as Chauvinist as any male oppressor of the female gender could possibly be. Feminists have achieved a lot in their attempts to even the odds. But they have much, much more to do if this is what the current generation is given to learn from. A mere male, like myself, honestly feels angrily impotent in the face of such bare-faced prejudice. I honestly didn't expect to see such a tirade of abuse when all I wanted was a simple definition. In case you couldn't be bothered to read all of the above, and I can't say I'd blame you; in the midst of that barrage of opprobrium, we had the following.
* With the characteristic grace, strength, or purposefulness of a woman.
* Having or expressing a belief in or respect for women and their talents and abilities beyond the boundaries of race or class.
Yes, but that's what I wanted defined, I wanted explanations not similes. What book do I look in to find out what the 'qualities generally attributed to a woman' are? To whom are they displayed? This reminds me of when I was young and tried looking up 'rude' words in our dictionary at home. I looked up 'intercourse' and it said 'copulation'. I looked up 'copulation' and it said 'coition'. I looked up 'coition' and it said 'intercourse'. I'm not trying to look up 'rude' words any more. I just want to see what 'the qualities generally attributed to a woman' are down in black and white somewhere. There is no definition in the Dictionary or an Encyclopaedia. This is presumably this 'Human Nature' thing that not only cannot be changed, but as far the reference books are concerned, is a secret anyway. If I were paranoid, I'd suspect a major conspiracy here. I've done my best but I've been forced to consult other literature. How about this for a short summary of the 'qualities generally attributed to women'?
* Positive traits Patient; tenacious; imaginative; sensitive; a maternal nature; sympathetic; receptive; shrewd in business matters; a good memory.
* Negative traits Moody; clannish; changeable; weak reasoning power; unreliable; gullible; narrow-minded; reluctant to forgive.
Now, please re-read the above and write down somewhere whether you think that is a fair description of 'qualities generally attributed to women' before continuing. Well here's the bad news; the above was transcribed from the Planets section of 'The Compleat Astrologer' by Derek and Julia Parker as descriptions of the characteristics of the Moon. Oh what a pity! It was looking so promising for a while but we obviously have to throw it straight out of the window. Or do we? Let's try letting the words speak for themselves (and letting me off accusations of gratuitous sexism) by checking out the characteristics of the Sun.
* Positive traits - Creative; generous; big-hearted, showing great joie-de-vivre; organising ability; love of children; affectionate; magnanimous, dignified.
* Negative traits - Pompous, arrogant, domineering; gushing and extravagant; condescending, overbearing and bombastic; tends to throw his weight about; 'too big for his boots'.
That certainly sounds fairly 'masculine' to me. Look, I'm not going to cast your horoscope (whoever you are) and insist that you consult it every morning before getting out of bed. Why is it, however, that when I only want some simple, basic definitions of sets of characteristics: stuff that applies to just about every human being on planet Earth, I have to look in an Astrology book to find anything whatsoever? I shouldn't have to do that; I'm a scientist. Unfortunately I did it and look what I found. The 'masculine' vs 'feminine' contradiction even transcends animal species boundaries for heavens' sake. Has anyone noticed that male and female dogs and cats act consistently differently? Even more interesting is that pets seem to get on best with humans of the opposite sex . We're talking about 'dumb' animals here who seem to be no less sure and accomplished in their sexual differentiation than are humans. Despite their lack of such niceties as culture, language, writing, education etc. Has science as a religion taken such a firm hold on western consciousness that we can be busy studying gas clouds around the star beta Pictoris without knowing anything about what's in our own heads? It looks that way to me.
© Peter Harris 1999