Maleness is the human default

Tuesday July 29, 2008 @ 08:01 AM (UTC)

This may cover an idea very familiar to some readers, but I want to refer to it in an upcoming post, so I here we are.

This is one of the unspoken assumptions of our civilization, and one on which a lot of sexism is founded. It’s so fundamental you might say we inhale it with our first breath, or at least learn it with language. I was brought up by strident anti-sexists, but I learned this principle anyway: men are ‘normal’. Women are ‘other’. I even, as a child, assigned a certain logic to it: Adam first. Eve out of Adam.

So what’s my point here? My point is that there isn’t actually any logic to this societal assumption (in the absence of religious belief). Men and women are just two human possibilities, neither more natural or ‘regular’ than the other. But it permeates our culture: I’ve heard of medical receptionists whose software is hardwired to always say ‘M’ under patient gender unless they manually enter ‘F’ (in ob-gyn’s offices, this is apparently the cause of much grousing). Men’s products are just “The Amazing Foo!” whereas women get “The Foo for Her”. Men play fooball, women play women’s fooball. T-shirt sizes are assumed to be men’s unless stated to be women’s. Babies are assumed to be male unless frilled and bowed. Most video games feature male protagonists, and protagonists (and characters in general) in movies and TV are overwhelmingly male.

This is a hard slant for many men to notice, I assume because most of us would guess we’re biased to consider ourselves ‘normal’. Just as a white person might take a long time to pick up on the overwhelming white normalcy in advertising and media, it’s hard to notice as odd what seems natural from your viewpoint. But women, often subconsciously, adjust to the world which has been written, made and tailored for men. There’s a whole arm of literary theory about the way women identify specifically with male characters after they’ve been trained by years of literature and media to do so. I think Virginia Woolf’s portrait of this dual consciousness in A Room of One’s Own captures it beautifully:

Again if one is a woman one is often surprised by a sudden splitting off of consciousness, say in walking down Whitehall [stately heart of London], when from being the natural inheritor of that civilisation, she becomes, on the contrary, outside of it, alien and critical.

I am not an expert in literary theory, or in gender studies, but I think this simple idea about the world is an important one to consider…and, as I said, a necessary prelude to a future (geekier) blog post.


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