Category Archives: Gender Archetype
A caricature, an archetype, a certain type of man or woman as they relate to the opposite sex.
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.
So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the pattern of my relationships, the kind of men I attract and so on. All my associations with men, the minor flirtations and the serious relationships alike follow a pattern. They’re drawn to my quirkiness, my ‘oh my God, did she just say that?’ boldness. It’s fascination with the hitherto unmet, packaged in a visually-pleasing non-threatening form of a woman.
But it doesn’t last. The same things that drew them, intrigued them, seem to bother them shortly after. In my early twenties, this would be the time they’d start trying to control me, direct my behavior to be more conventional, my thinking more acceptable. And in the ensuing outcry, break-ups would happen. Later, as I grew, so did they and their reactions became subtler and crueler. I believe that’s where the lying, the cheating and the sudden about-faces began.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m the Novelty Girl. Men are drawn to me because I’m different from what they’re used to, a curiosity object. And since curiosity is a kind of interest, they confuse that with attraction. As the novelty wears off, so does the curiosity, ergo the attraction.
Now where does that leave me? Never mind the ‘just be yourself’ attitudes. I have to be myself, who else can I be? But I’ve realized, adulthood is about playing a role in other people’s stories on the condition that they play a role in yours. This is the basis of all the successful relationships I’ve seen (including the non-romantic ones). I am me but the question is who should I be to you?
Novelty Girl was a great role to play in my early adulthood. It was fun, got me a lot of attention and that’s all was needed. But now, I’m finding myself tired and dissatisfied with the results it gets me. I’d rather have two people who like me okay for the rest of our lives, than the awe and admiration of a roomful of people, that lasts about an hour.
Now what kind of person gets that? And more importantly, how does one stop being Novelty Girl? I don’t seem to remember how to be equable.
I have had a startling revelation that will revolutionize the way we look at relationships and well, men!
Everyone knows Bad Boys are bad news. Meh, that’s last century’s news. And yet – or possibly exactly for that reason – we are drawn to them and spend a considerable bit of our prime chasing illusions of acquaintanceship with them. But of course the Bad Boy breaks our heart. That’s what he’s supposed to do. Then we sigh and move on….to another Bad Boy.
The cycle, seemingly fatalistic has one way out – or so we are told. As maturity (or possibly too much heartache) sets in, we shed our illusions of wild, fast, furious, exciting love and pledge our troth to another kind of man altogether. Enter the Good Boy.
From a love-lifetime of having experienced Bad Boys, we automatically conclude that we know his exact opposite completely. NOT TRUE!
The Good Boy is not necessarily Prince Charming, either. He doesn’t get romance and tenderness any more instinctively than the Bad Boy. The Good Boy‘s connection to mama will be elevated to monumental proportions (in that there will be a shrine to mama) while in the case of the Bad Boy, it was only an excuse for his bad behavior.
What’s worse, I’m discovering, there is a price to be paid, a fee if you will, for life’s lessons. So after going through the Bad Boys, you come to the Good Boy expecting to be healed and kissed and made alright.
Instead you come up against a formidable presence that requires your clearing up your messes before you step onto his carpet, so to speak. There’s no sympathy forthcoming (and I’m about to believe this is the version of sulking that Good Boys prefer). It’s time to play hardball (again!) and negotiate.
These aren’t ruthless. Of course not, these are Good Boys after all. But there is negotiation nevertheless. And there’s the overwhelming sense of guilt and foolishness hanging over your own head for your past mistakes. Obviously you’re coming to the table with a weak hand.
I’m thinking the whole thing is a set-up. The Bad Boy is nothing more than marketing spiel to get our defenses dulled and weakened in time for the Good Boy to close in and finalize a deal that’s sweet to him.
GAH!!! Good or bad, a man may never be what he seems.
There’s a strange character out on the loose. He calls himself the Modern Man. I am not sure that I like him very much. For one thing, he’s really hard to find. He pops up, in a sudden self-reference and then vanishes under questioning. Then he resurfaces during what should have been a good moment, to ruin it with a self-promoting boast. I understand that he’s still trying to find himself. While about it, here’s what I’d like to say to him. So listen up, Mr.Modern Man!
Doing a couple of household chores does not qualify you for a medal. Get to doing 50% of the housework, without being reminded, and as well as I can, and you can have the right to advocate equality of the sexes.
Not dictating what your lady wears, who she speaks to, and what she wears does NOT make you a great guy. It just means that you’re not being a control-freak.
Fail in these and your stand of ‘Independent women can take care of themselves’ just seems like a cheap attempt to shrug off even the minimal responsibility that a male chauvinist’s role carries.
What is the meaning of an identity that is defined solely by the evils that one does not practice? A weak one, that’s what. Who are you, Mr.Modern Man? Is there more to you than the fact that you’re not a rapist/control freak/jealous monster? Identity is what you are, not what you are not.
I get how difficult it can be to break free of conditioning and resist archaic social constructs. I do that all the time, myself. But it doesn’t stop there, for me. You go against the grain and you break what exists down, so you can build something new in its place. Try being more than what your erstwhile counterparts were not. Define yourself for your values rather than what you don’t do or how well you meet my expectations. Most of all, get some balls of your own. I don’t recall asking for those to be chopped off when I let go of Neanderthal Man.
You don’t get to be great by default. And if you want to be the equal counterpart to the Modern Woman, you know you’ve got a high standard to match. I’m not saying the Modern Woman is without flaws or even that she knows exactly who is she. But at least, she’s got some sense of identity beyond what you or your brethren want to make of her. And the one thing she won’t stand for is vague, empty words.
Come back to me when you’re a real person, not just a fanciful notion in pop literature. I’ll be delighted to get to know you.
*Image via Idea go on FreeDigitalPhotos.
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I did write this poem. But that was years ago. Even if it is still true (and dare I think, relevant), it doesn’t end there. Let’s look at the Modern Woman again, shall we?
Is she a bitch? Is she a leader? Is she a feminist? Is she a better friend? Is she an equal in bed? Is she the hot new consumer segment? Is she the bread-winner? Is she an Earth Mother? Is she a slut? Is she the new Man? Perhaps she is all of these. Maybe she’s the opposite and more. All of those are stereotypes of gender and other things. But the Modern Woman isn’t a certain ‘type’ of woman. She is the rejection of typecasting. She’s every kind of woman that it is possible to be. She’s the freedom of being able to be whoever she wants.
The Modern Woman is a work in progress. She’s what’s here, after resisting archaic social structures. She’s the unlearning of old ways of being and formulating new responses. She’s the creation of new situations after scrubbing every old practice to retain what’s still valuable and adding some new stuff on it. That’s not confusion, that’s just evolution.
No doubt, it can seem confusing that there are as many definition of what constitutes a Modern Woman as there are women. But why not? One of the most oppressive social artefacts was that womanhood had to sit neatly in one (or more) set constructs. I should be free to define womanhood in my own way and live by that. Every woman should be able to do that.
Personally, I think being a woman is just a matter of body plumbing. And, okay, a Modern Woman is being able to be a real person, despite the social pressure to fit oppressive stereotypes. To me, that translates to not needing to hide my intelligence, ambition, ruthlessness and practicality. Equally, it’s also not having to hide my vulnerability, my softness and my emotions. Being a Modern Woman, for me, is so much about being honest and not ashamed of it. But that’s my definition and it need not, should not have to, apply to any other woman on the planet, unless she chooses.
After all, what makes a real man? There are still some who’d think that has to do with controlling women. And there are those who think it’s the exact opposite. And there are yet others who believe it’s got nothing to do with either. I want the freedom to make that choice about my gender, too.
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