I wrote a really long and elaborate response to Lance Mannion’s post on the chocolate Jesus and now it’s gone. (Lauren, do you have any idea what happened? Can I get it back? It was the Middlemarch of blog posts.*)
In other news, you should just go read Little Light’s blog . Check for updates every day.
The point of retelling this encounter, however, isn’t that a stranger said good morning to me. It’s that he correctly assessed my gender, and it made me happy.
I’ve had this experience a fair amount, and afterward I always feel a little odd. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I have a significant amount of gender anxiety. That is, it stresses me out when I meet new people and don’t know if they’re reading me correctly, and I’m nervous when I think I might have to defend my presentation. So I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that I feel a little (or a lot) relieved when someone recognizes my gender without any prompting.
What’s interesting is that while I generally experience the most gender anxiety in all-female settings (bathrooms, mostly), I experience the most gender relief–if I can coin a new phrase–when correct recognition comes from a man.
I don’t know if my responses–at least in terms of “gender relief,” which I think is a very apt neologism–are alike. I do know that I have always felt the most “gender anxiety” in all-female settings, precisely because women have been much more likely to scrutinize me. There are several reasons for this, as mk goes on to detail. I’d like to point out, however, that at least some of the vocal scrutiny I’ve experienced seems motivated by disgust rather than actual fear of assault.
I know that I’ve been more likely to challenge men who categorized me against my preference, and I’m not sure why that is. It could be because they’re more likely to apologize if I seem annoyed. It could be because I would feel like a bully were I to snap back at a woman–particularly if she’s already made it clear that she thinks of me as male in some way, or if she seems frightened. It could be because in at least some cases involving men, it was really important that their categories be disputed. If, for example, a guy thinks you’re a dude about to enter the women’s room, and tells you you’re in the wrong place, it’s vital that you establish your right to pee with the other ladies.
It could also be a gendered response to the speaker. It’s normal for me to assert myself a little bit when responding to strange men who are speaking to me for whatever reason, to establish a clear boundary. I don’t respond to women the same way. This could very well be part of my attempt to establish my gender–a facet of performing womanhood in order to prove womanhood.
It could also be because men (and this is only my own life; I know other people have had very different experiences) are less likely to challenge me in order to ridicule me. Honest confusion is something I can turn into a shared joke. A transparent attempt to make me feel horrible makes me shrink.
On the other hand, it could be related to some of the issues mk brings up: it’s possible that the opinion of men means something other than the opinion of women. And like mk, I’m not exactly sure why that is, or why there’s such a disparity between gender anxiety and gender relief.
*Except more scatalogical.