Monday, 28 June 2010

On femininity: S Williams v Sharapova

Some observations on femininity.

I have struggled to write anything after the last post. It was deeply personal and received a good response so I felt as if the next one ought to be similarly profound.

But it isn't!

But it is related. I mentioned in my last post the kick I get out of being strong. I really like muscles on women and there are plenty of them about on the telly at the moment in the form of tennis players.

I watched the match today between Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. These two women exhibit aggression, competitiveness and above all power while both being extremely beautiful and feminine. Sharapova's long elegant limbs and delicate facial features stood in contrast to Williams' voluptuous curves and strong face. They both had touches of girly adornments - Sharapova her jewellery and Williams her nails and both were wearing pretty dresses.

In both cases, the fact that they are extremely powerful women, who can serve at over 100mph and who hit the ball so hard it makes them shriek, does nothing to detract from their femininity. In fact, especially in Williams' case, I think her muscles heighten her femininity, much as Eddie Izzard looks sexier and more masculine in stillettos and makeup than he does without.

I love this image of women and womanliness that can incorporate physical power. I love watching women's tennis apart from one thing: I reckon they should play 5 sets in Grand Slams just as the men do.

Monday, 14 June 2010

It's time to come out

I think the time has come to talk about my own gender. I have talked about being a woman in a man's world. I have talked about masculinity in the workplace, both mine and that of my male colleagues but I have never actually made a concerted effort to write my own gender, to narrate, if you will, my own gender identity.

So here goes.

I'm scared.

I have always had a pretty strong masculine side. It was always something I both revelled in and was ashamed of, aggressively ramming it down people's throats to cover my own shame. All the time I secretly thought it would be something I would grow out of, once I'd sorted my head out, and grown up, that kind of thing.

But the fact is, I am in my mid-30s, pretty happy and sorted in life but it's still there. I stopped doing a manual job a couple of months ago and since then my upper body has got weaker, I am losing my muscles. I started to think, maybe that's ok, maybe I don't need them any more, maybe that phase is over. But I decided at the end of last week that no, it's not ok. I swam a mile on Saturday, kayaked for 2.5 hours on Sunday and am planning a session on a rowing machine for Wednesday. I want my muscles. I get a kick out of being strong.

I also get a kick out of having long curly hair and hour glass curves.

I could go into the psychoanalysis but I'm not going to. It doesn't matter how I came to be here, this is where I am and that's fine. It's not about fighting men. I like men, I fancy them and when I'm in a relationship, I like to feel like I'm the girl. Very few people have ever suggested that I am a lesbian. It's not about sexual orientation.

It's just that the gender binary doesn't work for me. I don't like my behaviour and my choices about how I earn my living or spend my time to be defined by society's perception of what I should do because I have certain body parts. I don't like the conflation of femininity with incompetence in spatial tasks. Spatial awareness is a skill that can be learned like any other. Professional male cricketers can't catch as well when they first start at school as they can after years of training. Builders don't put up shelves as well when they are apprentices as they do after 20 years on the job. Truckers of either sex are generally rubbish at parking when they first start. So you learn.

I recognise that the male and female minds and bodies are different to a certain extent for evolutionary reasons but they are nowhere near as different as society deems them to be. They are nowhere near as different as society wants and needs them to be. The binary is convenient for society, it's that old line in the sand thing. You're one of those, I'm one of these so we need to act like this.

It may be convenient for society but it isn't very convenient for me. I'm me, I do me things and I act in a me kind of a way.

I don't really attach a label to my gender identity. I don't really know what labels are out there, I'm quite new to this whole debate (I was going to grow out of it remember!). I tend to just think that I am a strong woman, both in body and character, who is in touch with both the femininity and masculinity within her.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Women in construction and the construction of women

I have been working in the construction industry for the last 3 years but I have started doing other stuff so I thought I'd tell you a little story about what may be one of my last experiences in the industry.

Picture the scene: I was driving my truck down into Weymouth from the Wareham coast road side. In front of me I could see the colourful tower on the esplanade with the hill of Portland behind and the sea, flat calm and glittering in the sunshine to the left. The lane I wanted was blocked due to road works so I pulled out into the right hand lane and moved slowly past the roadworks along with all the other traffic. In the roadworks a tarmac tipper lorry was parked up with its back tipped and perched above a hole in the road but still closed. As I drove past at a snail's pace I noticed that the driver was a woman. I stopped my truck, she turned to me and we shared a smile. Then I drove off and we both continued with our day.

It may be that she thought that the quickest way to get rid of me was to smile at me. It may be that she smiles at everybody. However, I have always found that women working in the construction industry have made a conscious choice to go against the grain, to do something all day every day that it is not expected for them to do. I think that a recognition of that shared experience was in that smile.

I have discussed my own reasons for doing the job in a previous post and I didn't speak to this woman to ask her why she does it. However, a lot of people looking from the outside think that women working in construction and other masculine roles are themselves masculine which is why they feel more at home there but in some ways the opposite is true. If you, as a woman, are surrounded all day by men doing manly things like lifting and digging and building things, you actually feel more like a woman. Your gender identity is less challenged - it is obvious that you are a woman, because all the others are blokes.