Recently I read that Emperor Joseph II of the Austrian empire abolished serfdom `by royal decision’ in 1781.
Serfdom; I thought, what is that exactly? In Dutch it is called lijfeigenschap,in German Leibeigenschaft,in Spanish servidumbre and in French bondage servage. It means according to Wikipedia: `the situation that someone’s body is considered as the property of the ruler in a certain geographical area’. In England it became obsolete in the 15th till 16th century, claimes Wikipedia.
Oh really? How many husbands, boyfriends and those who consider themselves boyfriends find it normal or `their right’ to touch you everywhere without asking you whether you like it. As if your body was theirs, their property to serve them. How many of them consider themselves implicitly as being the rulers in the geographical area: your bed, your house or anywhere near them. (The same applies of course to women touching men.)
Yet as I told my son since he was 3 years old,` your body is your body and yours only. If someone, it does not matter who, touches you and you don’t like it, tell them. Say with an earnest face and with your hand upwards: Stop/No, I don’t like it. That is all. No explanations needed’.
So it does not matter whether we are married or had incredible sex yesterday. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. Full stop. Of course you must not have put your feelings away. Otherwise you will ignore the warning signs of your body. And then you lose the control over your life. You only have one life and one body, so remember…
I see gender more as a combination of two aspects: masculinity and femininity. I might have a particular percentage of masculinity and a particular percentage of femininity within me, even though I am biologically spoken a woman and thus female.Back to the basics I: SexBack to the basics II: Gender Still, here in my blogs I will use particular meanings of masculinity and femininity. These are character-traits attributed in the west for centuries to masculinity and femininity Whether this is correct or not and whether you agree with this or not, at least you know then, what I am talking about, when I am using these terms.
Masculinity I perceive here as:
directed towards results
short-cut and short-term thinking
power of acting
Why we call this masculinity is that this capacity in its fullest percentages is mostly seen in biological men.
Femininity I perceive here as:
directed towards consensus
taking the perceptions of others into account, empathic
trying to take care of future generations
trying to take care of the interests of children
power of receptivity
Our brains and development of traits
So far what we here femininity is in its highest percentages mostly seen in biological women and masculinity in the highest percentages mainly in men. Yet, there are also many people in the middle, biological men and women with quite an equal percentage of masculinity and femininity. (see recent brain research; read for instance Martine Delfos, Een vreemde wereld en Autisme vanuit een ontwikkelingsperspectief).
Yet, it is probably also something that you can work on or develop further, as my friend Ingrid says. She argues that femininity was something that she ignored for a great part of her life. Now that she pays attention to it, it seems to grow.
The problem lies in the one-sided character traits within decision-making bodies
To be sure: masculinity and femininity are in principal positive capacities and to build an ideal world, we need both capacities. Thank goodness, that we are all different and have different percentages of masculinity and femininity within us!
It only goes wrong if we have a group of people ruling the world for a very long time that have a very high percentage of masculinity of femininity. Unfortunately, that has been the case for a long time. The result has been a one-sided world.
Especially in decision-making bodies the rulers were people who scored very high on masculinity and very low on femininity. This has had major impact on the world with as consequences many wars, the reaping of the earth, little consideration for the interests of future generations and of women. High time to make more use of the capacity of femininity, by women and by men!
While sex is your biological make-up (female, intersex, male), gender refers to the social meanings and consequences of that in a particular society and time. Gender is somewhat fluid, changeable and different in various societies and times. So, in some African countries women are expected to carry ceramic vases with water for miles. By contrast, in many western countries women are seen as fysiologically weaker and completely justified in asking their husband or boyfriend to put the carbage bin outside.
Divergent gender expressions and identities require character
There are traditional gender roles and gender expressions in a specific society and it requires character to go against them in your gender expression. But hey, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Prince have given us wonderful examples.
Gender identity is the meaning you yourself attribute to you biological sex. The current movies and documentaties about transgenders clearly show that you may be biologically a man, but feel yourself a woman. They also show that for some transgenders it is easier or more pleasant to alter their biological sex at some point.To be clear here, that requires character too! It is for them often too much of a hastle, if society keeps treating you (imposing traditional gender expectations) on the basis of what you biologically look like. Apparantly, society hates confusion.
Conchita Wurst, Winner of European Songfestival 2014
In the short run
While the meaning of gender is changeable, it is not so in the short run. So a girl and her boyfriend may have decided to have a child and to share all tasks. Then suddenly, after the child has been born everyone acts as if it is her job only to look after the child or to arrange child-care. Or the young man may be confronted with colleagues, friends and family warning him that he must think about his career.
Gender is a spectrum, but it requires hard work to go against the current traditional gender expressions. It is also takes courage to find, define and express your own gender identity, every period of your life anew. Respect!
N.B. Interesting: today a Dutch Judge ruled that the 57-years old Leonne Zeegers from Breda is allowed to get X in her passport instead of F (female) or M (male). She just wanted to be seen as human. It took a year and she had to prove that there had been doubt about her sex when she was born. Yet now, eventually, the judge ruled that one’s biological sex is not the main thing and “that the time is ripe for a third gender”. Change can happen sometimes very fast!
This is probably a good moment to explain some terms I use in this blog.
No, not what you are thinking about right now, yes I know. No I am referring to the sex-gender distinction and thus seks as your biological make-up. It sums up whether you are a man or a woman or…? I am adding ‘or’ here since many studies have pointed out that even sex is not so clear-cut and dichotomous. Annemarie Mol showed for instance in her classical article “Who knows what a woman is” that a woman is defined by many academic disciplines in different ways, e.g. by having a vagina, breasts, a womb, being able to bear children or a relatively high percentage of oestrogene. Besides, not each of these characteristics is present in every woman (“Wie weet wat een vrouw is. Over de verschillen en de verhoudingen tussen wetenschappen”, Tijdschrift voor Vrouwenstudies, 1985).
Of course you already knew that. We does not know cases of babies born, where it is not clear yet whether it is a boy or a girl, because the testicles have not yet descended? Some men have more pronounced nipples than women. Some men even have breasts. And you also know, after haven been kissed by several aunts, that some women have a mustache, others even a beard. You may change parts of your biological make-up, by surgery and/or medicines.
Sex and the young
You also know that young girls and boys do not differ very much in their oestrogene and testoron percentages, but this changes a lot in their puberty. Then these and other sex differences become more promiment. Even if you tried to deny your sexso far, at the moment when you start menstruating and getting breasts or when you start getting wet dreams, a beard and a voice that has suddenly dropped, it becomes markedly difficult to hide that you are female or male. Besides, other people increasingly claim then that you should or should not be doing certain things, because you are a woman or because you are a man.
Sex and the elderly
You are also aware that sex differences tend to become less prominent when people get over seventy. That is one reason I guess why in hetero couples the man and the woman then start to look like the other. One other reason for that I think is that if you have been in a relationship for fifty years or so, you have also been ‘busy-bodies’ about the other and so your thoughts and your way of clothing have become influenced by the other. And another reason is that they do not need to attract anymore a new partner, so they tend to wear (also in their hair cut) what is comfortable.
Sex and sex/gender identity in your passport
So in other words, your sex is your biological make-up but it differs somewhat in time and it is not exactly the same for all men and all women. What’s more, you maybe a woman and sing with Shania Twain “Man, I feel like a Woman’ . Yet a man who is in his biological make-up clearly be male, but may feel the same and have a sex or gender identity as female. That is why some people plead for a third option: for instance ‘other or genderqueer’. Do you think that we need to change passports for that third biological category?
I have just found out that it is World Girls’Day today. In fact, I did not know that it existed, but it is a good thing to ask attention to the situation of girls all over the world.
Barbies as feminist tools
I also read today that Barbies (indeed the dolls) are going to be used as a feminist instrument for World Girls’ Day. Who would have thought that twenty years ago? Barbie as a feminist tool Yett, when I read the reasoning behind it, it did make sense to me. Girls need phantasy or imagination to be able to dream that they can be anything and anyone they want to be. Playing with Barbies, today in different styles and colours, helps with this.
The power of phantasy
Phantasy and imagination are indeed powerful tools for girls all over the world. But you do not need to resort yourself to Barbies. Books may do just as well. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbours and friends: please give a girl you know a book about girls (or women) who do imaginative, powerfull, courageouss, naughty, special and wonderfull things. Humour always helps in these books.
Astrid Lindgren’s books about Pippi Longstockings and Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter Roald Dahl’s Mathilda, Joke van Leeuwen Iep (the bird girl), Annie M.G. Schmidt Otje and also Minoes (a cat girl), Guus Kuyer’s Madelief series are all good examples. Also, books on powerfull princesses, fairy tale- girls or the popular young witches books help. The latter ones also help to change our medievall images about witches.
When I was young, I loved Pippi Longstockings. My mother was against her. “Pippi is a bad girl”, she claimed. I could not follow my mother’s argument when I was young. How could there be anything wrong or bad about Pippi, my great heroine? Now, I can follow my mother’s reasoning . Pippi was putting ‘bad’ ideas in the heads of us, young girls, and gave us a ‘bad’ example. She made us girls think that we could do anything we liked, even if adults thought this impossible, crazy or stupid.
Anything is possible or can be fun
Catching thiefs and put them above our heads, pouring limonade from a tree, magically getting thousands of candies for all the children of the village, travelling to Africa, living alone in a big house with a horse on the balcony and a monkey on your shoulder became through Pippi the most normal things in the wold. And when in Pippi’s life household tasks needed to be done, she made a game or party out of them. Like cleaning the floor by throwing soap water on the floor and roller-skating on it with brushes bound to her feet.
A girl as the main character
There are not so many children’s books with a powerful girl as the main character.(I am writing an historical youth novel about a young girl myself, but I will tell you about that another time). Many writers and publishers choose for a boy as the main character, because girls are willing to identify with boys in a book, but boys are not so willing to identify with a girl who is the main character in a book. Yet, those books with a girl as the chief character exist and many more have been published during recnt years.
What if the girl whom you know stubbornly refuses to read books? Don’t worry, don’t argue, but calmly give her a video as a present: Roald Dahl’s Mathilda again for example, or PippiLongstockingss, or Mary Poppins, The Whale Rider,Pocahontass or The Little Mermaid.
Use any occasion (birthdays, name days, Christmas, or today World Girls Day to give that special girl you know that book or video! It does not have to be new, it can just be second-hand. It does not have to be an expensive present. More important is that it is a meaningful phantasy-stretching present.
and a request to you
I realize that I have here given mostly examples from my own culture: from Western Literature and many from The Netherlands. Please readers tell me and other readers what were the wonderful books or movies, with a strong girl as the main character, which inspired you when you were young? Please put them in the comment space underneath and maybe tell us from which country the author or director is.
We seem to be heading towards a feminine society, some spiritualists claim. I am looking forwards to it and am building on it myself, stone by stone. But what happens in the meantime with masculinity?
“About masculinity….”, I said to my 23-years old son.
“We were not talking about masculinity”, he replied alertly.
I smiled and continued.
“You know, you just have to be proud about your masculinity. A lot of men completely ignore their masculinity or stand defendly towards it. But you just have to be proud of it. If you then later get a relationship with a woman, she can stand strong in her femininity, and you will get something beautiful together. And if you get a relationship with a man, you will share something beautiful and powerful.
He looks at me, while he throws his bagpack over his shoulders and says:
“Gender is a spectrum”.
“Wow”, I am saying enthousiastically, “an A-plus and a kiss from your mother”.
“You can leave the latter behind”, he says.
23-years old, a boy, a young man, and he allready realizes that gender is not a binary opposition, man – woman, but that is a spectrum, a gradual line.
This is my first feminist blog. I have spent the first 15 years of my feminism in the big fight against ‘patriarchy’. Yet I have become awfully tired of it. Not there is nothing left to complain about. On the contrary, after more than two millenia of male rule in politics, military, religion, industry, education and health care, the world is by far not yet organized in the interests of women. But it took so much energy out of me and I did not become a very friendly person for my nearest and dearest.
So, I realized what was needed was a positive feminism. Positive in tune. Positive, because it is not directed towards what is bad in the world, but to what is needed. Positive, because if offers deadly-needed inspiration for other feminists as fuel to keep going. Positive, because it contains humor. And finally positive, because it hopes to touch something in you, in your dealings with the world around you and which you can positively change by doing things a little differently or feeling a little differently.
You will find blogs about events in my life, about other feminists (female and male), about philosophers writing about women’s affairs, about dancing, books and more. So let’s go!