This is about… well, a quote I came across today (from the Canadian band Propagandhi) is very apposite: “Ordinary people do fucked-up things when fucked-up things become ordinary.” This will be about The Middle Way (sort of) and gender stereotypes, and cultural pressure, and something I’m saving for later for dramatic effect.
Earlier today, a friend of mine posted on facebook about not being interested in shaving her legs. This caused a small avalanche of responses from women friends, explaining various ways in which it could be made easier to do.
I notice two things here. The first is that as a woman, not being interested in shaving your legs is sufficiently off-centre culturally speaking (in our particular culture, anyway) that it’s noteworthy enough to want to post about. The second (and more fascinating one for me) is that it’s very, very difficult for most women to hear another woman say “I’m not interested in shaving my legs” and take it at face value. Hence in their minds, they seem to translate what they’ve just heard directly into “Actually, as a woman of course I’d really like to be able to shave my legs, but I don’t know how/lack the confidence/lack the time to do it…” and take it from there.
Personal Disclosure: I shave my arms and legs, every few days. I do this because although I have been taking hormones for 2 years now, the body hair on my arms and legs still resembles male more than female body hair (somewhat black and wiry), and I don’t wish to look like a man ever again – I used to look like a very furry levantine bloke. This hair is slowly fading and getting finer, and on my torso has pretty much vanished now, but once my arms and legs have caught up with my torso, I won’t need to shave any more, because I won’t have hair that I don’t want to have. And then I won’t shave.
So I haven’t personally been on the receiving end of this kind of “education” from women regarding my body hair, but I have experienced a barrage of it, particularly from other trans women, for not being interested in make-up. We have a conversation, it eventually comes around to me saying “I’m a tomboy, and I don’t like make-up so I don’t wear it.” They often begin by saying how they understand, and how everyone is different and so on – but then inevitably they crack under some weird internal pressure and start telling me where I can go to get lessons in applying make-up, clearly under the impression that regardless of what I’ve just told them, the issue is really that I’m too scared to do what I obviously really long to do, which is to wear flawless make-up and be a Proper Woman™.
Here we are, then. In Buddhism, there’s a concept known as The Middle Way, which (massive oversimplification alert) points to the need to transcend extremes through transcending the dualisms that plague our minds in life – in this case, feminine/masculine. Women in this culture are drawn magnetically (nay, shoved) towards an extreme called “femininity” (as defined by whoever, but which at this particular point in history includes the wearing of make-up and the shaving of legs), and they are led to think of this as The Norm. From this cultural magnetic pole, not doing either of those things, if you’re a woman, is deemed Extreme.
This is interesting, isn’t it? (Oh, please say yes…)
This is a general principle in life: if enough people believe or do something, it’s Normal. No matter how extreme it is in the broader picture, at least within that culture (be it an entire society, a country, a region, a subculture like emo or football supporters or Christians or whatever) it’s Normal, and not doing it or believing it is Extreme. So much unnecessary strife is caused both in groups and individually by this tendency to think in polar, binary, dualistic ways about everything – it’s either this or it’s that, right/wrong, good/bad, in/out, saved/damned, female/male, to be or not to be, and so on.
So what’s this thing I’m saving for later for dramatic effect? It struck me, reading the responses to my friend’s comment on not being interested in shaving her legs, that so much of the gender-stereotyping behaviour in our culture is self-perpetuating, and that being a feminine woman (or a masculine man) is very much like a manifestation of the Stockholm Syndrome. This is the term for when people get kidnapped, and often (out of an unconscious sense of self-preservation, in order to stop the experience from being as horrific as it actually is) persuade themselves that they like their kidnapper and what they stand for, and side with them and excuse/justify their behaviour.
We women are pressured into doing stuff like shaving our legs. Then we normalise the experience for ourselves, and then we come up with justifications for doing it that allow us to pretend we’re making a choice. That’s the extreme, polar position, of course. Women are doing this to a greater or lesser extent. But this well nigh ubiquitous knee-jerk response to someone saying “I’m not interested in doing this optional leg shaving thing, thanks very much” is such a giveaway that these women seeking to enlighten us are not doing so from a position of personal choice.
So if you find yourself (and I’m saying this to myself, before I say it to you, gentle reader) strongly drawn to defend a belief or activity that someone else says they’re not fussed about… take a good look at yourself. Why do you care sufficiently to be evangelical? And seriously, about make-up or removing body hair, for fuck’s sake? Let go.
PS: Bloody hell’s bells. I started writing this blog-thing around 11 months ago, and made a point of not advertising it to anybody. I decided I was writing it primarily as a way of sorting some things out in my own mind to do with the subjects that preoccupied me – being a Buddhist trans woman going through transition, whilst also dealing with acute PTSD – and that if people found it, it would be because they were interested in the same things I am. Somewhere along the line, people have started finding this and reading it, and I now have 50 followers, whatever that actually means.
Well, what it really means is that some people have found this blog-thing because they’re interested in the same things. Some people have found it by googling other things randomly connected with things I’ve mentioned in this blog-thing in passing, and some of those have stayed to visit. And I know for certain that a few people have found this blog-thing through misspelling things in google, because I get to see some pretty funny “search results” listed as what brought people here. Admittedly, mostly it’s peacock feathers :). Anyway, I just wanted to say to the people out there who’ve let me know they are appreciating at least some of what I’m writing, thanks for letting me know. I hope what I’m writing is helpful to others, because I’d like it to be. It’s certainly helping me, writing this.