What Are We Afraid Of?

There’s a great article up over at Pandagon right now about why some people find women’s sexuality scary, and it really hit home for me because it focused on the fact that many people who look to limit women’s sexual choices have a strong emphasis on how absolutely different men and women are. I’ve actually been in the process of writing a distinction paper about the religious extreme of this position, gender complementarianism, which says that God made men and women inherently different, and that each one needs to act according to his/her position or the whole world will fall apart (including our relationship with God).

So what is it with this obsession for saying that men and women HAVE to be different and that chaos will follow if they aren’t? I think one of the reasons that difference is so important to a lot of people is because it helps to tell you what you are: as a man, it’s easy to tell that you are powerful and wise and strong if you are NOT like a woman (which is one of the reasons “sissy” and similar terms are used to police male boundaries so frequently). Saussure suggested that we only gain meaning for terms by defining them negatively against each other…we don’t know what black is until we’ve said it’s not white. And for something as important as gender, something society tells us is an integral way to define ourselves, the first split made in us versus them, it becomes very very important to know who you are. It also seems as though a lot of these people are afraid of the idea that they might have to define themselves as individuals: that they can’t pick a pre-created character as it were, but they have to make an original. I think we can all understand that fear. Figuring out who we are is a rather daunting task, and it may make it easier for us to have some empathy towards people who push strong gender roles if we realize that they’re afraid we will take away their identities by creating our own. I also think it’s possible that understanding where the fear and anger is coming from might be able to help us reassure those who are afraid of liberation.

Any thoughts?

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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