Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why I'm a Reluctant Feminist and Other Gendered Issues

Before I start writing this post, I'd like to mention that I am using a new keyboard, so I apologize if I make a lot of typos.

The other day I was painting my nails red. Target Red. This is funny because I bought the offending nail polish on sale at Target, which is currently liquidating after a failed attempt to integrate into the Canadian market.I had bought the red nail polish because I have been meaning to get some solid coloured polish for awhile, to put under my black and white sparkle polish. I had avoided it for about 9 months successfully, because I'm not really very into makeup. I was sitting on the bed and listening to music. I painted one hand, then let it dry before painting the other. Once both hands were dry I applied the sparkle coat on the first hand, then when it dried I moved to the other hand. This gave me ample time to think, about nail polish. Nail polish is most clearly a convention created to make women incapable of doing anything else! I probably sat on that bed almost an hour waiting for my nails to dry, unable to touch anything or do anything other than listen to my music. As it was, I managed to ruin one hand before it dried completely. Not before I felt myself seething with silent rage about female beauty standards and their stupidity. At that point I could've written an entire blog post on how horrible nail polish was and how it was used to make women incapable of functioning equally to men. I could've, but it would've insured I further ruined my nails. Besides, my partner was using the computer.

The irony is not lost on me, but I have always been a reluctant feminist. Yes, I believe in equality between the sexes, and yes I believe women should get equal pay for the same work. Despite realizing more and more each day that I am a major feminist, I still find myself shying away from such a label. It's not feminism that interests me, it is equality... for everybody. I hear the word feminist dropped in conversation and I get an image in my head of 1960s bra-burnings. The word is outdated and behind the times. Gender is not about dualities anymore. We have come to recognize a complex spectrum of possibilities for gender and sexual orientation. We have moved beyond the sex we are assigned at birth, and are embracing sex, and gender as occupying a spiritual space. This is the place of self and personality and identity. All of this is warm and fuzzy, but also a necessary step of progress in creating a world that is equal for everyone.

That is all well and good, but we have a long way to go. It also has very little to do with my own sense of self. I was assigned female at birth and have always identified as such (although, often thinking wistfully how much easier my life would be, had I been born a boy.) My partner is male, so I am decidedly boring. Still, gender-fluidity is an important factor in the other gender-related issue that has been bothering me lately. The truth is that the word "feminist" is not the only word that is severely outdated in the discussion of gender and of sexual orientation. We need more words to describe the different types of relationships on the scale of normal these days.

How do we describe our relationships with our partner(s)? A married couple might use words like "husband," or "wife," or the gender-neutral "spouse." Dating couples might use words like "boyfriend," "girlfriend," or the gender-neutral partner. These are all well and good but when it comes down to it the variety of possible relationships in the realm of normal leads to confusion when faced with such limited vocabulary. Assuming a heterosexual relationship, we must consider that people often cohabitate for years before getting married. At what point do you switch from using descriptors like "boyfriend/girlfriend" and start using "husband/wife?" If you identify as common-law, perhaps you use "husband/wife." More likely, you have opted for the more vague term "spouse." But what if you don't identify as common-law? My partner and I have been dating since 2011, and living together, on and off since 2013. This is not due to any falling outs within the relationship, just the modern realities of job instabilities and having to go where the work is. As such we are not considered common-law. I have opted for the term "partner" to describe our relationship to other people, husband is inaccurate, and significant other seems too cold. On numerous occasions my word choice has lead to some interesting assumptions by my audience. To me "partner" seems less wishy-washy than "boyfriend." It displays a slightly higher level of commitment. Apparently to other people is flags me as being in a homosexual relationship. The word "partner" is beginning to take on a new meaning, that might not have been perceived 1 decade or 2 decades ago. This is a mark of progress, but also a cause of much annoyance for me.

I appreciate that language changes over time, in fact, I embrace it. For me it seems that language is not changing fast enough. We need more words. We need new words. We need words to describe things that previous generations would never have even dreamed of describing!

"Partner" is being correctly used as gender-neutral. It is a safe word for remaining vague at job interviews or with people you've just met. You want to divulge some information about yourself, but not too much. We need a similar word to use as marriage-neutral. We need a word to describe commitment, without engagement or marriage being a factor. People get married later. People cohabitate before marriage. These trends are here to stay; it is time for language to catch up!