Posted by: Allyson | July 21, 2008

I’m such a guy . . . except when I’m not . . .

Frau Sally Benz of Jump Off the Bridge has a great post entitled “You’re SUCH a Guy!” It resonated with me because I do get called a “guy” on a fairly regular basis.  I’ve been getting called a “guy” since I was 19, for the following reasons:

  1. I “eat” like a guy (meaning I don’t hold back if I want food, I can eat a lot in one sitting, I don’t restrict myself or diet)
  2. I don’t try to hide my burps when I’m around friends
  3. I’m not “territorial” about my relationships (being in an open marriage somehow makes me more of a guy)
  4. I don’t shave my legs, nor do I wear makeup on a regular basis
  5. I don’t want to have children
  6. I like whiskey

There are a couple of other reasons why I’m a “guy,” but these six are the most frequent I hear.

Frau Sally Benz says she used to take it as a compliment when someone called her a “guy.”  In my experience, it never seemed that anyone was complimenting me when they said that.  When directed at me, it was sort of in a tone of surprise: “Wow, you’re such a guy,” as if it’s impossible that any female could ever appropriate “masculine” characteristics.  Or, there would be an almost mocking tone to it: “oh, you’re such a guy,” as if I should know better.  Once, I had someone ask me: “Do you think you have more testosterone than usual?  Because you act like a guy.”  I doubt anyone did it to hurt my feelings overtly, but I never felt that I was being praised for acting like a guy, so I never thought to take it as a compliment.

But I also never saw it as a negative thing, the way Frau Sally Benz does.  Not that I disagree with her.  The practice of labeling people like that is harmful in the long run; she’s definitely right about that.  But I alwys took a more netural stance on it.  It made me realize how the littlest things, such as eating habits, can be seen as gender transgressions.  And every time someone saw me eat a huge burger, or heard me burp, or heard me list the reasons why I don’t want children, on some level the were recognizing that not all women act feminine all the time.  And maybe they mocked or teased me, but that never made me stop “acting like a guy.”  So over time, I like to think I was reinforcing the notion that gender is not finite and mutable, and nor can “transgressions” be “corrected” through shaming.  In a way, I liked when people paid attention to it, not because I saw it as a compliment, because it shows people that not all women want babies or feel the need to shave or enjoy putting on makeup every morning.

My “gender transgressions” are not anything major.  But the fact that it bothers people that I don’t wear mascara and that I enjoy eating or having a shot of whiskey is an interesting statement about gender in and of itself.  And all in all, I think it’s good that even such small instances of gender rebellion can draw attention and make people think.  No, these things I do don’t really mean anything to me.  I don’t do them overtly; I just like to burp if I know I won’t offend people.  It’s who I am.  And I think it’s good for people to see that who I am is someone who doesn’t try to embody every single stereotype that comes her way.  When people tell me I act like a guy, I don’t take it as a compliment, but I do like the fact that even simple things like the lunch I pack can cause people to think.  And maybe they don’t all really think about it deeply, and maybe I don’t inspire them to change their behavior, but at least for a few moments my gendered behaviors (or lack thereof) caught their attention.

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Responses

  1. Agreed!

    I’ve been there myself several times, and I also believe it’s useful to induce people to question, or at least doubt, their gender stereotypes, if only for a moment.

  2. Wowsers, thanks for the link! Great response!

    I definitely agree that when people say that, it turns on that little lightbulb in their heads that reminds them “hey, not all women follow the definition (schema) of femininity.” But, I also know after my eye-opening social cognition class that unless you make it a point to have people examine what they just said, it can potentially do more harm than good.

    That, of course, is a lot of time and energy to keep up with, so I think I’ll remind myself when it happens that I’m doing some good anyway. =)

  3. I guess I’ve always seen statements like this as a type of gender-policing. The implication seems to be that I shouldn’t act a certain way because it is somehow unnatural for a woman to do something we’ve defined as male. Don’t want kids? You’re less of a woman. Don’t like pumps and purses… you man! You laughed at a silly comedy… you lose your place among the ladies! Like you two, I’ve generally shrugged this type of statement off, or argued (also not lady-like of me, according to some). But the intention always stuck me as clear – shaming people into gender submission.

  4. i’ve always viewed this differently. never really viewed this as gender-policing as much as a way to push for gender solidarity. similar to race, we make these faullacious (admittedly so) and relatively arbitrary lines to feel like we are a part of something.

    but it is always harder to see the glass as half full. good post.

  5. Apri and Frau Sally Benz-

    You’re right; it would do me good to think more about reminding people to question what they’re saying when they call me a “guy,” and make them take responsibility for what they’re saying. I think if it bothered me more, I’d be more conscious of doing so.

  6. Habladora-

    The thing is, they may be attempting to shame me by calling me less of a woman, but it just doesn’t work for me. I feel secure enough in my personal identity that someone telling me I’m not feminine enough just doesn’t bother me. I guess it’s so easy to shrug off because I’ve never felt the need to defend my gender identity.

  7. Brandon–

    That’s an interesting take, the idea of trying to create “solidarity” rather than “policing.” For me, though, solidarity doesn’t really exist on gender lines. I don’t have solidarity with all women, especially anti-feminist women. Instead, I have solidarity to people. But it’s interesting to think about trying to create gender solidarity. It definitely wouldn’t work for me, though.

  8. gawd, how many times have I heard “you act like a GUY”……Let’s see, I do or have the following and that are NOT characteristic or socially accepted for women: a large 4×4 truck, very short spiky hair, cargo shorts, I drink beer, own my own tools, I work on my vehicle when I can, I am direct when speaking and speak my mind, I live alone and like it…and the list goes on. I’ve been asked if I’m a lesbian (the previously listed items must be a prerequisite lol), if I have more testosterone than other women, and I’ve been ogled by other women. I do these things because they are ME but occasionally I will wear a skirt and shake things up for the neighborhood. Gotta keep ’em guessing ya know.

  9. Wendy, you’ve reminded me of the one I get the most these days: being able to “drink people under the table” seems to really strike people as particularly masculine.

  10. I too have many behaviors that make me not a “girly girl”, though except for me previously shaved head, not usually attribute to me “guy” status.

    But I have to agree with habladora. Being told “you’re just like a guy” isn’t a compliment to me when the guy behaviors are the ones that are valued and therefore make me a cool and valuable person. When those behaviors csn’t be reconciled with my femininity, it’s also not a compliment. I think it’s problematic that any behaviors be read as “like a guy” or “like a girl” (or course, never a woman!).

    Gender transgressions=yay!

    But having to rewrite them back into the appropriate gender labels (ie “guy”)=not no much.

  11. People get confused when I say “I like masculine women.”

    Gender transgressions=yay!

    Having to talk about identity politics every time love comes up in conversation=tiresome


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