From “The Least Masculine Girl” You Know

(Sorry, you guys– I’m kind of in the mood for a rant, but I’ll be as circumspect as possible…)

The author, as a young tomboy

I don’t know how this came up, but last night (granted, after several drinks), a group of friends decided that I was “the least masculine girl ever,” and I was thrown into a state of really uncomfortable confusion. What the hell did they mean? Was this a compliment? An insult? What was their sample size? What was their evidence?

Actually, their evidence was that I read romances— so, nothing that I a) could, or b) wanted to combat– and, more than that, that I wrote about them academically. Romances=feminine. Again, nothing to argue there– but I wanted to. I racked my brain for stereotypes, trying to think of things about myself that weren’t girly. But I can’t change a tire (or, my oil for that matter); I own pink clothes, and dresses; I only watch women’s sports; I don’t play video games; I know more about wine than beer. Fail.

When I got home, I realized that my other major research was on technological history and using the Victorian steam engine as a formal allegory for the nineteenth-century realist novel, and I kicked myself for not remembering to bring up this, more “boyish” interest.

Here’s the other thing: I know that masculinity and femininity are, at their hearts, both artificial and neutral constructs. As a feminist, I know I’m not supposed to privilege one over the other– that it is not objectively BETTER to be a man than a woman. I know that its societal prejudices against the feminine screw all of us up–for God’s sake, I teach this to my undergrads, and almost tear my hair out when they don’t understand the depth of their complicitness in this system.

I have it easy– or at least, no worse than most other cisgender, heterosexual American women. If feminine is what I am, then I generally like it. Being the “least masculine girl” in the Department of English was probably a compliment: if I hadn’t taken it up, it might have segued to a compliment on my purse, or teasing someone else about his poetry. Really, I’m not arguing that I’m being punished for my gender performance. But last night, at the bar, it was that label of not being MASCULINE that got me.

Because being not masculine means that it’s normal that I don’t get invited to go fishing or to play basketball. It means that everyone’s surprised when they find out I could skateboard, or volunteer to help them move house, because furniture is heavy, man. It means that when I’m angry, it’s not threatening, it’s cute, or easy to ignore; that I am to be coddled; that I should sit still and “be sweet”; that, regardless of what’s pissing me off, I’ll be polite. It’s why I learned to play kickball so I could be with the boys at recess, because the other girls playing four-square were weak, and lame. It’s why I didn’t read romance novels in public for ten years. It’s why, last week, before my Master’s exam defense, my advisor had to sit me down and tell me that there was nothing wrong with being attractive, or attempting to be charming, or wearing clothes I liked, or studying what I studied–that no one on my committee would think I didn’t deserve my spot in graduate school because of that– regardless of what a male professor had told me.

But regardless of all this: I knew, in the midst of my surprise, that if I had heard another girl being called “the least masculine girl” we knew, I would have pitied her.

Not that this isn’t Women’s Studies 101-level stuff, but the depths of fucked up that this is blow me away.

I finally got a chance for rebuttal when one of these friends belched, and I remembered that I can burp the alphabet. I’m not sure they were convinced.

2 thoughts on “From “The Least Masculine Girl” You Know

  1. Lovely. Your anger makes me think about how even if we know those things are constructed, they still have soooo much weight – like being a man labeled as not masculine enough because I don’t do athletic things and want to be caring (both of which were leveled as “problems” by a co-worker recently, albeit in somewhat coded language, and which our boss reinscribed as us having “different skill sets”).

    This also makes me think of gay dating/hookup sites where men seek other “masculine” men – the hegemonic version of masculinity gets to be the ONLY version of masculinity. Ewww.

    Apparently, your rant brought on my own 🙂

  2. Generally, everything’s constructed and thus “real,” and I, too, enjoyed your anger. It was warranted because a comment like that is usually a coded insult of some kind (your anger at “not being masculine”). Masculinity (strength) is usually seen as more positive than femininity (weakness) on a broad, broad spectrum. Being “the least masculine” seems to me a way of saying you’re too nice and not something-enough to succeed (of obtaining powerful positions in society)–because, “objectively” speaking, what’s “manly” about being a professor?

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