In 1976, at the age of 26 years, I saw a palm reader/clairvoyant in a market in London. One of my girl-friends at the time persuaded me to have a reading, and rather bemused by it all, I agreed to pay some money for him to read my palm. What he told me was surprising considering how I looked at the time and what I was wearing; a blue knee length denim skirt, a somewhat see through Hungarian white peasant blouse with blue embroidery and made of a very soft, flowing sheer cotton, a pair of strappy high heeled bone sandals and my hair washed and shoulder length, hanging gently around my head. So what did he tell me? That I had a strong masculine streak but to bring out the feminine more! I didn’t ask him anything about that comment; I went home and wrote it down in my diary and didn’t stop thinking about it for many years. What did he mean by masculine and feminine? In their simplest meaning, according to the Australian Macquarie Dictionary, they pertain to a man, male and woman, female respectively, but what follows is far more pertinent; masculine as vigorous, manly, virile and feminine weak and gentle. It horrifies me that so many, if not most, of our social attitudes, needless to say around the world, are indeed imbued and affected by these limited if not ignorant assumptions about male and female. When I hear and see polemical arguments about equality of the sexes, most of the feminist (as I’ll call them) arguments miss the point: it’s not about being equal as far as I’m concerned, but more significantly, about being human. The words masculine and feminine are so often, albeit sadly, used as opposite definitions; as if males and females are unequivocally opposite in just about everything. Of course, our sexuality/genitalia are indeed different; opposite though, I don’t think that’s the apposite word, either. How differently would I have thought if the palm reader had said it the other way round: there’s a strong feminine streak in you, bring out the masculine more, because that’s the way I looked. But he didn’t say it and it’s only now, at the age of 64, I’ve thought about that for the first time. What would he have been suggesting? I can only surmise about that, too. Moreover, so much of feminist debate is about female rights; the search/want for equality so-called, but what is it that we want to be equal about? Attitudes towards us as males and females? Our ambitions? Wants? Needs? The list is endless as to the basis of what underpins our call for equality, what we mean by the word and what’s embodied in it? Equality of opportunity should be the catchcry instead! And I still don’t know what the palm reader really meant; I’ve surmised about these words many times, and came to the conclusion he didn’t really know what he was talking about at all. I thought about what I think about these words instead.
I was telling my male gay friend about one of my theories about males and females a few days ago; namely, that there could be as many similarities between the sexes as their supposedly is within the sexes and likewise, so many differences within the sexes as there supposedly is between them. I first came to this understanding about the sexes in the late 1980s/early 90s, and my friend told me about an academic neuroscientist that had proven there were more similarities between the sexes than differences, too. Maybe I read about this perspective somewhere and plagiarised it albeit unconsciously. But it makes sense to me. How many times when I was just a mere adolescent reading novels, plays, etc that I related in some ways to male characters which I oft pondered; is it about being human or specifically male? Female? Of course, I related to female characters too in some ways, older characters, younger characters, people from different environs, social class, occupations; so many issues that went far beyond just being a male or a female. Novels, plays and films etc can be about so many complex and multi-dimensional issues, ideas, thoughts, feelings and beliefs that to limit our understanding along gender lines is to me to miss the message about being human. Yet, our society, at least the western world, so often compartmentalises our feelings, thoughts, behaviours, etc as being exclusively male or female, not human. And so we are treated, regarded, opined about very differently, limited by the all too often common and traditional stereotypes of being male and female. I know I proved this to myself with the novel I wrote about sex, violence and the media; I consciously reversed roles throughout it all and how was I regarded? And what of my recent horrifying time at St Vincent’s; so many of my blogs are about all of this. And what of feminism? For me, it limits our humanity; focusing on female rights as if the issue of being female is what it’s all about. I’ve never liked the word or the ideas so subsumed in its meaning for millions of people as do we call men masculinists? How absurd does that sound? And what does it mean? Or have men all the rights they need? I know only too well that in my late 20s when I had resolved many of my conflicts, by reading about women AND men, I felt strong, confident and capable, as well as looking really good too, and how was I regarded? That I had delusions of grandeur, that I was manic, psychotic etc as I’ve outlined in previous blogs. Not just by the psychiatrists, male and female, but my own female family members and so-called friends. If I was a male, I’d have been regarded as a success, to be respected, powerful and rich. The sad reality is that I’m still living in the shadow of this horrifying truth about how as females, we are all too often regarded as compared to men. Our humanness is simply unconsidered; we’re women first and foremost and as such, still weak, incapable, unconfident or more tragic, we’re living a lie; deluded of course for our innate and strong sense of self and belief.
A recent article in a quality Melbourne newspaper was talking about the first female editor of a Sunday newspaper. Apparently, she reported, that on becoming editor her husband remarked – “you are a man inside”. Thank God she was angry at him for saying that, but this is now 2014 and that was just a few years ago. And exactly what did her husband mean? And of course, many women have adopted so-called male behavioural traits and attitudes in order to be regarded as tough, strong etc when for many, it is but a purposeful effort not to be seen as weak etc. The women for me who have done this have adopted some of the most negative and destructive aspects of being male in order to escape the so-called limiting aspects of stereotypical female traits. For me, it must come naturally from within; not forcefully imposed in order to be considered tough etc. That’s just a pretence, a guise, a masquerade of masculine strength. It’s been interesting to read the email that Rupert Murdoch’s great female chief executive Rebekah Brooks wrote to her lover Andy Coulson: that without him, she feared she could not cope. Old familiar story, perhaps? And how many times in my 20s when I worked far too many hours did I exclaim- I need a wife!
It’s far too simplistic and erroneous to chant for equality when I believe as human beings we are NOT at all equal; on so many levels… what the cry should be about is equality of opportunity and many men who don’t necessarily conform to certain male stereotypes are often discriminated against much the same as women. It is not about male power or strength; but how we regard each other based on nothing more than our appearance very often. That’s been my really sad experience; and while of course I see males and females, I do try to look beyond the superficial; to see beyond the limiting stereotypes; to look beyond appearance and appreciate people whether they be male or female. I used to believe that because of my three main passionate interests, football, politics and sex, that I could more easily get on with males who shared these interests and I’ve detailed before about the reality that I never had many close female friends. They didn’t seem to like me or want to know me and vice-versa, too. Yet, it’s at times difficult to look beyond the superficial gender appearance because so much of what shapes us as human beings IS INDEED because we ARE male or female and to understand humanity we need to explore those issues, too. That’s what needs to change; we should be shaped by being human beings; not so much because of our gender. But this is the way it is for most of us. Can it be any different? Or is it our sexuality that determines it all? What then of homosexuality and lesbianism? Or transgender humans? I can’t answer these questions at all because I’ve come to an understanding at my age that so many things are simply inexplicable, and we’re lucky in life if we at least can understand ourselves, enough to enjoy life as we can. Sexuality is still such an important if not complex issue to unravel that I don’t want to spend time in unravelling it for anyone else but me. Each to their own. But I’m glad that I’ve had so many good conversational exchanges with people of both genders that had nothing to do with sex. The sexual attraction between people, of whatever gender, simply makes mockery of our supposed natural instincts between the sexes.
I believe that until we recognise our common and shared humanity nothing about gender issues will change and the more I read the newspapers, talk to young women and younger men, I still hear the same echoes of male and female difference. The cries of feminists for equality; when to me that’s not the issue at all. Despite being a victim of that stereotype as I’ve been, particularly recently at St Vincent’s, I walked away lamenting and pitying most of the so-called qualified staff supposedly caring for me. They didn’t and couldn’t care at all; their own insanity blinding them to my real self. My sister still can’t see or feel the real me. My novels however, are, she believes, the real me; close to the truth as Dr C the mad shrink told me. He’s not the only one.
It’s a big challenge for me to look beyond gender; but I’ve always seemed to get on with men more than women most of my life as I’ve written before. I haven’t missed so-called girl friends for more than 30 plus years and it’s only recently that I’ve learned to pull myself up on what I used to say; namely, that I don’t like women very much. The real truth is that I haven’t met many women to like; not women per se, just the ones I’ve met and I’ve now tried to stop myself from thinking that way, and instead focusing not on whether someone’s male or female but rather that I can feel some sort of conversational rapport with them. And it’s hard at times to feel that at all with so many people, male and/or female. I keep on trying but as I’ve also written before, we take a gamble with people we meet and we don’t always continue to like them after a few conversations. Male and female. What we need is to try and establish a new way of seeing gender; look beyond it and see what we can discover to enrich our lives. Hope you can try and do it, too!