Monday, June 16, 2014

Men, Women, and Androgyny

A belligerent behavior is considered manly; being conciliatory is believed to be feminine.  Man is strong, woman is weak, so we are told; man is direct, woman is devious, we are also told.  When women, in competition with men in their effort to achieve any position dominated by men, they are encouraged to be more assertive to succeed; but when they assert and show courage they are criticized as being aggressive, domineering, or worse.  Strong women are seen as harpies or termagants; conciliatory men are regarded weak and cowardly and called wimps.   But if women are encouraged to be more assertive, men might be taught, too, to be more yielding.  “Why can’t a woman be more like a man,” sings Dr. Higgins in My Fair Lady.  Well, well, “why can’t a man be more like a woman,” I say.  After all, gender is a continuum rather than categories, even if sex, biologically defined, may be more distinctly male or female.  There are manly men and effeminate men, and some women are mannish while others are more distinctly feminine.  In the middle of the scale we find androgyny.  The general populace, attuned to the dichotomy of sex,  perceives it as disquieting, weird, or even alarming; to the majority it is unnatural.  But to the contrary, it is natural if we accept gender as a continuum; it is the neutral gray in the spectrum between black and white.  Grays, however, encompasses a vast range from the darkest to the lightest; so, we can also say and must recognize that gender is a range of androgyny.  Men and women are all to some extent androgynous, some more masculine and others more feminine, some more conspicuously and others less. 

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