Category Archives: Gender Archetype
A caricature, an archetype, a certain type of man or woman as they relate to the opposite sex.
I’ve noticed a pattern in the last few men I’ve dated, echoed also in some of my male friends of similar age. They open with WORK FIRST. They’re managers, they’re artists, they’re performers, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re chefs and architects and engineers. They’re all about how what they’re doing is priority, how it’s super important and how it will always justify standing you up, keeping you in limbo and more.
Don’t get me wrong. I like ambition and drive. I enjoy focus. And these are not bad men. I can see they genuinely believe what they’re saying. They also all come with transformation stories of how they used to be XYZ and how they’re trying to be better men.
It’s just that I’ve lived this life more than a decade ago. And even back then, I didn’t have the option of prioritising one over the other. I had to be good at work. I had to fit beauty, grooming and hygiene standards. I had to be a dutiful daughter, niece, granddaughter. I had to be the razor-sharp brain, the fire-in-belly corporate shark. I had to be marriageable material. And I had to be the fun, sexy date and eventually the prize girlfriend who listened and challenged but never competed. I’ve had three major careers and several boyfriends. I couldn’t have done all that without ambition or focus.
I realised yesterday that 20-something men are commitment-phobic for different reasons from 30-something men. Men in their 20s saw women and dating as fun. It was theirs for the taking, they were out of the strictures of college and their targets were being pressured to please men (with a view of landing a husband). They saw women as a buffet. Why settle on just one when there were so many up for the grabs and when they could walk away leaving behind what they didn’t feel like continuing on their plates?
30-something men in contrast, have usually gone through a few relationships, maybe even a marriage or live-in or two. They’ve been called to account to pay bills, to answer to bosses and investors and clients. And more recently feminism has them worrying about #MeToo, about alimony payments, about pregnancy scares. It’s suddenly hit them that relationships are work, that women won’t stay mute objects and that inconvenient things will happen if they just stumble around in the blind pursuit of fun. Work in contrast is single-minded. It’s easier to chase the tangibility of career goals than live in the amorphous, ego-defeating world of human relating. So it is Work First, Fun Later.
They still think they get to pick one thing to do at a time and the world waits patiently till they’ve figured out whether they want to do it and how to do it. And they’re refusing to acknowledge that relationships, sex and dating were always going to involve work, hard work. The work of undoing years of brutish callousness, the work of learning to listen and care about the wishes of another person, the work of remembering that they are not the center of the universe and living with the reality that nobody, absolutely nobody has to care about them.
I can see some of them realise this in flashes and then it’s like the realisation is too big and scary to cope with. So back they go to Work First, not from pure passion but because it feels like a safer refuge than a world that demands a lot and promises nothing.
I’m trying but I’m finding it very hard to feel empathy for this man. After all ‘demands a lot and promises nothing’ has described this very man my entire life. My generation of women, we’ve lived this life for more than a decade and are reaching a point of asking whether men are worth it. We’ve also survived divorces, live-ins. And we’ve done it while juggling bully in-laws, the glass ceiling and the violent face of the male ego. So umm, yawn.
Yes, there is the fact that younger women are turning adults. And the slightly sharp 30-something man realises that all he has to do is turn his sights towards the younger woman. While the younger women today are woke-r and slightly better equipped to question patriarchy, the fact is, it’s still going to take years for them to develop the kind of resilience and strength to challenge exploitation. So on to another decade of today’s 30-something men finding a different base of prey while telling themselves they’re ‘adulting’ with their careers.
None of this has much to do with ambition or focus. And it’s got everything to do with avoiding responsibilities, a trait that isn’t particularly conducive to either ambition or focus. It’s anybody’s guess what kind of work this breed of man turns out while managing to blunder through another decade of women.
No, I’m not referencing my generation’s equivalent of Justin Bieber (times 5). I’m speaking of a very specific phenomenon that happens between men and women.
Say you’re a single woman who is friendly and lives in a place that affords plenty of interaction with both sexes. Most men’s first interaction with you tends to be at least a little flirtatious. You learn not to take it too seriously. After all, you don’t want to be one of those girls — the ones that imagine wedding bells ringing whenever a guy smiles at them. So, no, whatever, really, you thought I was going to go soppy on you, no dude, we are splitting the bill equally. You know you’ve had a close shave when the guys bitch and snark about those girls. You’re a Cool Girl.
It happens so suddenly you never see it coming. A burp here, a torn/food-stained teeshirt there. It’s okay, he’s human. Oh never mind that you NEVER do any of that around him.
Then he keeps you waiting for an hour and when he shows up, he says he got caught. Fine, you fume a bit but you get late sometimes too. Then he starts telling you about what a horrible week he’s had and how his job sucks. Well, you listen. I mean what else can you do? And he leaves before you get a chance to tell him you’ve been working 14 hour days straight. But well, okay, maybe next time. You’re We’re-Close Girl.
It’s all cool for awhile except he’s really busy. Then when you meet and you’re aching for some nice company, he’s distracted. He shows up on time but he’s constantly whipping out his phone. You go silent. He doesn’t even notice. Then he looks around (never at you) and says this place isn’t that great, how about leaving? You realise he is just not that into you. You thank your stars you didn’t fall in love. You eat some chocolate, drink some wine, talk a little too long to a girlfriend and then it’s okay. You’ve got a couple of other people calling and asking you out anyway. You’re Independent Girl.
Two weeks later he calls when you’re in a meeting. You can’t take his call and when you’re finished with work, you just want to go home and get to sleep. He calls again the next day and you can’t take the call just then, your head hurts because your period is due and you don’t really feel much like talking. Then your Whatsapp starts pinging like crazy so you have to look at it. He wants to know why you haven’t been responding and what’s wrong and are you feeling okay? You smile at the phone and think that’s sweet and tell him you’re not feeling too well so taking a day off. You have a pretty nice conversation on Whatsapp, which you don’t ask to take to a phone call. It is your day to yourself after all. You hang up after an hour feeling proud of your independence and your willpower, feeling good about the world. Even the period cramps don’t hurt so much.
The next day you call him. He doesn’t answer. Two days later you call him again. He answers with a curt, whispered “Hellocan’ttalkrightnowI’llcallyouback”. There is a phone call a day later which you don’t want to think about who initiated. There’s only this much willpower a girl can have right after her period. It’s been a crazy time he tells you. Same here, you say loudly, determined that this time you get to talk about your work woes too. You spend ten minutes mutual bitching and you decide to ‘do that event’ that evening. There are plenty of your common friends around so you barely have a full conversation. But it’s nice to see him. Your back is still aching so you leave early. He doesn’t offer to drop you home and if he did, you’d scoff. Pffff, are you mad, it’s only 8 o’clock, stay, have fun, I’m alright, just want to get to bed early. You’re No Fuss Girl.
A couple of more weeks pass. You had a couple of Tinder dates. All of them wanted instant sex. None of them even wanted a conversation. You didn’t want any of them. You are in touch. On Whatsapp. A joke, an emoji, a photo of his new Kindle, more emoji, a random sentence that you can’t decipher followed by “Sry ignire plz”. You shrug. You won’t be GrammarNazi Girl.
One time you call to tell him about this music event you’re going to and will you hang together? He says no, he’s working really hard. You go back to being Solo Date Girl.
It’s over a month before you hear from him. It’s a phone call and you tell your Independence to shut up lecturing you for feeling good about seeing his name flash across your screen. He’s calling to ask what was the name of that restaurant you went to once where you had to leave early because you didn’t like it? No, it wasn’t me you insist, he’s the one who had itchy pants that evening. He laughs at that and challenges you to a drink-off at that very place and you’ll see who has itchy pants.
You meet him three days later for the drink-off. It’s a Sunday afternoon but you might want to go home to your teddy bear after one Cosmopolitan he says. You give him a LOOK and order your usual rum-and-coke. You’ve always been A Girl Who Can Hold Her Drink. You finish before him and wait for him to catch up (sniggering, pointing out his half-full glass). He gets a call. You’re made to give directions, cafe suggestions, accompanied by elaborate indecipherable facial expressions from him. When he hangs up, he chugs his drink and calls for the bill. What, you start to ask. He tells you he has to go, he doesn’t want to keep her waiting and will it take longer to get there by road or should he take the train? Chuck it, he says, he doesn’t want to get smelly in the train. He grabs the first cab that comes along. You get a text from him ten minutes later saying “Sry babe, hope u dint mind.” You’re starting to get a sense of what Girl he sees you as and it’s not any kind of girl. Boys treat other boys this way.
He calls a week later and this time you’re out with a new guy, your first date in ages and ages (well maybe it is, but you’re not going to be the first one to call it that). You mute the call, resolving to call him back the next day. But Whatsapp starts ringing and you have to unlock your phone to mute it. And now he’s calling again. If you don’t answer it, you’ll have to tell your not-date why not. So you answer meaning to say you’re busy and can you call back. Before you can even say hello, there’s a barrage of words flooding through the phone in his voice. You look up at the guy sitting in front of you. You listen to the guy talking to you. Which one of them is likely to stick around longer in your life? You take a deep breath. You are an independent woman and you don’t have to let a new guy dictate your life. Your friend needs you. You get up and take your phone outside. He’s ranting about the shitty restaurant and can he come over right now? Not now, you manage to tell him, you’re outside. But you’ll meet him over the week. When you return, the bill has arrived. Your not-date is not a date anymore.
Rinse and repeat, Boyzoned Girl.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
A fortnight ago, a friend and I parted ways. He came to me, looking for comforting, for sympathy. I gave him instead, honesty. Words were exchanged and the friendship is now a thing of the past. The thing is, I never offered comfort or sympathy, only outright, unvarnished honesty. We’ve spoken of it. He’s pointed it out as my character trait; I haven’t denied it. Yet, he expected it of me. Because I’m a woman.
Last week another friend and I had an argument, one that’s been brewing like dark clouds for awhile. The storm finally broke when he said,
“Women are more considerate than men.”
“No, they are not.”
He insisted. It made me as angry as if he had told me my place was in the kitchen. I argued that he wasn’t a woman, I was. He replied with that perfect blend of dismissive condescension and polite acid,
“You…are a different specimen.”
I was angry then, but I am not, now. Both these men have been raised to believe that men are bad people and women and kind, gentle, long-suffering victims. They’ve each tried, very hard, to not be that personification of their gender. They are polite, courteous and nice – to women who are gentle, kind and nice. They play a part and they play it well, especially around women who play their parts in the same play. How are they to react to a woman who refuses to say her lines on cue?
*Image (without text) via stockimages on FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Being a woman is a job, it would seem. It requires conformity to certain customs, delivery of some expected things and a certain kind of etiquette. It is not enough to have a uterus that bleeds every month. That’s only the graduate degree. To truly be a woman, one must perform in relationships, outward presentation and inside one’s head. I’m quite terrible at it and I get told so, often. I’m too flashy (modesty befits a lady), too opinionated (women are supposed to be peacemakers, not troublemakers), too outspoken (yes, this is a thing, haven’t you heard of diplomacy? Learn some.)
D minus on the job of being a woman.
I’ve grown up hearing versions of this my whole life. I was a tomboy through school and college, a fact that people who know me now find hard to believe. My style and my vanity are recent acquisitions, like grown-up shoes that I started wearing well into my 20s. Life has just been easier for me, that way. But these, like apparel, are superficial and come off easily. Who I am under that, hasn’t changed. I don’t want to be treated a certain way, because I am a woman. Because, the price to be paid is that I have to behave a certain way for being a woman. What’s wrong, I’ve been asked, in being nice or considerate? Nothing at all. Except, I’d like to do it because I’m me, rather than because I’m a woman. And by the same token, I would like people to be nice or considerate to me, because I’m me, rather than because I’m a woman. And I would like to reserve the right to sympathy for those I believe deserve it, rather than having to distribute it for free ‘because I’m a woman‘.
Men like the two I’ve spoken of, come back with the refrain of not being nice or considerate to women like me, because as I lay it out, ‘they don’t want to be’. Fair enough, I say. Except, is their consideration and their politeness subject to a cold formula of adherence to a certain behaviour? If you are only nice to people who follow rules that you uphold, then you’re not really being nice, you’re being transactional. People pay you with their conformity for your good treatment of them. How is that different from a bribe or protection money?
I would like to be respected for my actions and my ideas, not for my body plumbing. As commonsensical as this thought sounds to me, it comes across as rebellious, disrespectful and needlessly selfish (all names I’ve been called). And because there is more of people who think this than there is me (I’m only one), I find myself having to compromise. I don a pretty outfit, I smile at my camera and post the picture online and I dimple my thanks when people show me how much they Like me, for that smile. I’m learning to be a Professional Woman.
The men I know, are not likely to murder their unborn babies in the womb for being female. They will probably not set their wives on fire for not bringing in dowry. They won’t insist on their women climbing into the funeral pyre after them when they die. They’ve never actually said anything like ‘Women are inferior’ (which by the way, my grandfather said to me, so please don’t say that nobody says such things). They also have no intention of raping or murdering their female colleagues, friends and neighbours.
I can understand why this kind of man feels victimised by the more aggressive feminism. “But I’m not that guy!”, I hear him protest,
“I’m not a bad person. I admire strong women. I believe women have their rights too. Why then, do you club me in with the rapists, the acid-throwers, the foeticide practitioners and the dowry thugs?”
It’s because doing and being the things I mentioned in the first paragraph, do not preclude one from chauvinism. The fact is that we live in a world that ranges from subtly chauvinistic to brutally hostile to women. Normal life is painted in shades of poor treatment of women; it’s just the degrees that vary by geography and socioeconomic class. So unless one actively goes against the grain, taking a stand for fair treatment of the sexes, one falls into chauvinism, by default.
Let’s meet the aforementioned man again. He is not a bad person. He is a law-abiding citizen, thorough professional and a responsible family man. But he doesn’t actually believe that women have worse lives than he does; even the women in his life. He has little patience or sympathy for the realities of women’s problems. And when forced to confront it, he usually responds with control issues – the sister’s social life to be monitored, the mother to be ‘shielded’ from all manner of reality, the partner’s clothes to be censored. No, he doesn’t even understand why that is a problem. He sees these as solutions to the problem, refusing to acknowledge that he may be a part of the problem.
I often get branded a feminist, almost always by men and never in an objective or factual manner. All manner of male chauvinists hang this label on me. The MCPs are easily spotted with their foaming-at-the-mouth tendencies. But the Bystander Chauvinist, he is the one whose words are accompanied by a rueful tone or a sneering glance. I won’t go so far to call it an insult. But it is meant to be a mild put-down, a slight diminutive.
This incidentally is also the man who proudly proclaims that he will never raise his hand on a woman, assuming that that is the very essence of feminism. He is accordingly judgemental of men who lose their tempers or are violent. When pushed (and only when pushed), he is likely to blurt out an unhappy, impatient, “But why should she be all helpless?”. There it comes – the deep-seated hint of resentment against women being able to claim sympathy for offences that he sees meted out to him as well. These offences look the same to him, so why, he reasons in his mind, does a woman have to get special treatment over a man? Only because he’s a nice guy.
The undertone is one of ‘It’s because I care’. I believe that he does genuinely care. But these actions do not support women, neither abolish the problem nor take a stand against it. And because of that, they undermine the confidence of women and their right to assert themselves. This is why this attitude is an offence.
The thing is, I do not have a personal vendetta against men, this kind or the rabid chauvinists. I only want my rights (respect, privacy, freedom). And I want justice when these rights are denied. It’s not fair to punish the man who has not actively denied me my rights. He just…hasn’t done anything to help me get them. He has been a passive bystander, which even the law understands as party to the crime. What’s most troubling is that I am not angry with this man. He is the best of his sex that is available to me. He does not mean me harm. He is a friend, a lover, a brother, a partner. I care about him too. And this makes it much harder for me to tell him that his behaviour is unacceptable.
I tread an equally uncomfortable, narrow path as this man. I’m the Passive Feminist, the counterpart to the Bystander Chauvinist. Like him, I don’t take a stand unless pushed. And then, like him, I react with misplaced anger and resentment. But perhaps in these uncomfortable exchanges, there is a little bit we teach each other – how to be gentle and firm at the same time, how to stand for ourselves and for each other both in one.
I live in hope. So does he. That’s why it exists.
*Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.