Gender in the I (of the storm)
I was just skyping with my ex girlfriend and I was bemoaning the latest gender fiasco that I experienced during my flight back from Toronto. A young francophone mum (with hair cropped as short as mine) was travelling with her young daughter, who was about three years old. We had just pulled up to the accordion gate and people began turning on their cellphones, etc, retrieving items from the overhead bins. The little girl was banging her little suitcase back and forth, the extended handle coming rather close to my face.
Don’t do that, the young mother said, in French. Why not? the girl asked. Because you might hit the garcon, the mother replied.
Garcon? Garcon?! How old is a garcon? Is that a young man? A boy? Wasn’t man, “l’homme”? I wondered. At what point is a boy a man? I was so caught up with the finer points of the translative and the decoding of age that I by-passed gender. At least, I fumed, let me be my age, woman!
Garcon, because my hair is cropped, I don’t wear makeup, and I was wearing a blue shirt? It’s also our height, I said to my ex girlfriend, who is also my height, and sometimes mistaken for a boy. When our height is inserted into this equation, it’s been sealed. ( But, I’d like to point out, I have grey hair at the temples…. And, I see numerous shorter Italian Canadian men at the Italian market!) So, race is a factor too.
Maybe she didn’t really look at you, my sister suggested. Maybe her eyes skimmed over the “shape” of me…. Does this matter? I’m not sure. It speaks of the young mother’s worldview– not mine. I wonder if there will come a day when no one will make assumptions of gender based upon appearance, and that will be the normative practice. How marvellous that would be! To be free from the limitations and prescriptive narratives that have been married to the notions of “woman” and “man”. Clearly I’m not there, yet, because it bothers me to be called a “man” or “boy” (or garcon) and I’m identifying the mum as a woman and her child as a little girl based upon the normative cues she is using to decode me…. Confounding! The difference might be that I’m aware of the filter and can peel it away, whereas I have a sense that she does not know that a filter even exists….
But it’s not at just the level of gender– it also swirls with race, height, age. The perfect storm, I said to my ex girlfriend.
Why not just say, “person”? <crooked grin>
I’ve been bemused and hopeful about the gender thing, however, because my teen-aged daughter and several of her friends are enamoured of a Japanese rock star called Miyavi. He has the prettiest and most beautiful face I’ve seen in a very long time…. He is married to a beautiful young woman, and they have a new baby and he can totally “pass as a young woman” (see! I’m still trapped by that code!!!!). I ask my daughter questions: are all his fans female? No, he has male fans too, my daughter informs me. Gay or straight? Both, she says. He’s eye candy, she says. Interestinger and interestinger.
He’s really good on the guitar!
He’s a lovely gender role model for the 21rst century.