Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Envying what's taken for granted?

(by Marlena Dahlstrom)

In "My Husband Betty" Helen Boyd makes an asute observation that cross-dressers often are envious of things genetic women take for granted: "They envy the easy friendship between women, the casual way women touch each other when they talk. Imagine a man gently brushing another man's hair out of his eyes while they're chatting! But women do that kind of thing all the time, even ones who aren't especially feminine."

I've always envied the way one my best friends can easily strike up a conversation with another woman she's just met. Obviously, this isn't dependent on gender. My friend is gregarious while I've always been social awkward around strangers. (Yes, despite being raised in California, I'm one of Garrison Keillor's people.) But it does seem like there's a big difference to the way two newly-introduced women interact compared to two guys.

The reverse is also true. I know many genetic women who envy men's freedom to move in safety — something I didn't truly understand until going out en femme.

Maybe this is one reason it's difficult for genetic women to understand why we do it. Partly, I think we're not always able to clearly articulate some of these things precisely because they're so "ordinary." Partly, it's when we do, genetic women have a hard time seeing why these sorts of things might be special to us — I've often heard genetic women express puzzlement about our attraction to make-up. Of course, there's also a big difference wanting to do something — like wearing skirts or make-up — and feeling obligated to do it.

Of course, like any other "grass is greener" feeling, it's envying something that sometimes is illusionary, in part or in whole. My friend can be far cattier about other women — including those she just chatted merrily away with — than I would ever be. Likewise as any guy knows, thugs and bullies will happily beat up on a "weak" guy. And if they really want to prove they're tough, they'll start a fight with the biggest, baddest dude around. Transman Raven Kaldera relates how a fellow transman learned this the hard way. As a butch lesbian, she could get in guys' faces and they'd back off because she was a woman. As a man she got decked immediately.

BTW, I intentionally used the word "envy," which is a complex emotion. It's both a grudging admiration and a painful desire for another's advantages mixed with a simultaneous discontent and resentment at their advantages. In relationships it often involves love/hate. Love for your partner and hate for the power they have over you.

Years ago Nancy Friday wrote in her book "Jealousy" (which really focuses on envy and power relationships): "Today, many women don't need men, either for their money or for their sperm, given society's tolerance of women having children on their own. Men's envy of our new found power may lessen as they get into women's traditional areas of strength, namely beauty and the rearing of the children, but it hasn't happened yet....We don't yet have that new social structure. Returning to Patriarchy is out of the question, but as a new power structure emerges to replace it, we must understand more than ever the furies our dismantling of Patriarchy have released. Our fury at powerlessness — our envy — is stronger than ever, stronger than any feelings of love. The truth is that we cannot love until we understand envy and its relationship to jealousy."

In that light, we crossdressers are at least open about our envies while in other men it often festers beneath the surface unacknowledged, even to themselves. We take those things we envy and make them our own — at least sort of our own, since we're doing them en femme rather than en homme.

Sometimes it's not pretty. As Kaldera says: "Sometimes when you drag out an opposite-sex persona - so to speak - you find that it's been stashed in the same mental closet as all the things that you don't like about the opposite gender, and they've become stuck all over it like barnacles, or growths. They won't flake off until that persona has been exposed to the air for a while, and gotten a chance to rub up against real people and real circumstances. This may mean plowing through years of humiliating stereotypical behavior until that part of you evolves and grows into a fuller human being. I've seen it again and again, especially in people who are just starting to cross-dress or whose CD persona only gets out once in a while. Stereotypes abound: the trashy whore, the catty and manipulative upper-class bitch, the irresponsible little girl, the supported housewife who never has to work or deal with the outside world, the delicately passive - and utterly useless - ornament, and, of course, Mom. In the bedroom, the sexual stereotypes can be even more cartoon-like, from Sweet Gwen the Victim to the Dragon Lady, but is most commonly the passive, receptive do-me-queen that men don't usually get to be. Sometimes their personas are clearly signposts pointing to the issues that they are bravely working through."

"Women are often horrified and offended when men deliberately imitate women, whether it's a female impersonator in a drag performance or a fetishistic cross-dresser in ratty nylons and a bad wig. They feel that these performances of female gender are a bad caricature, and don't actually resemble the real experience of women. While it's true that a performance, or even a persona, is by definition shallower than a person, there's still a grain (or a sackful) of truth to these performances. For every one of these stereotypes being performed by men, I've met the same ones being performed by women, and in larger numbers. I've met the biologically female version of every one of these caricatures, and I'm sure that the women who complain about the guys in dresses probably have, too."

The one silver lining of envy is that by pointing out where we feel inadequate we can choose to address those perceived inadequacies. Instead of coveting the characteristics we wish we had, we can develop them for ourselves. Likewise, we can move from begrudged admiration to respectful appreciation when we see those qualities in others.

So what things taken for granted by the opposite sex do you envy?

4 comments:

Shannon said...

I love this article! You are a terrific writer. Good to see ya chiming in.

To answer your (somewhat rhetorical) question, for me the object of envy has always been women's sexual power. I believe sexuality is something that is deeply rooted and transcends conscious thought and culture. Or as Joe Jackson so aptly crooned, "Don't talk to me about women's liberation; they already got the right just where it hurts!" Hahaha.

I love to watch the way beautiful women can wrap men around their finger, especially when it's done with style, intelligence, and craft. To attract men while at the same time holding them at arm's length, that is a true talent. I've been very fortunate to have worked with some real model types, and I often find myself imitating them without even trying. Perhaps one day I'll get the opportunity to go back and share that with them.

Anyway, thanks again for a terrific article!

-Shannon

annette said...

One thing I envy about women is their natural ability to get information or direction, much more so than men. I remember when I was in college working on a computer program at the lab. I asked the teacher's assistant a question and he told me, "just do this and this and this ..." and he left me alone, the assumption (to my mind) being -you're a guy ... you can figure it out.- Later, a young lady asked a similar question and he went out of his way to show her what routines she would have to write to get her program to print out the correct output. He was much more attentive to her question. The "knight in shining armor" syndrome or perhaps, "women lack confidence and need more help than men"?

A couple weeks ago I saw the movie, "A Beautiful Mind". During one scene it was a stifling hot day and the air conditioning didn't work. The students opened the window but the street repair crew was making an awful racket making it impossible to hear the professor. The young lady in the class politely asked the street guys if they could find something else to to for the next 45 minutes as the moise they were making made it impossible to hear the lecture. They gladly complied. I remember thinking that if a guy had said the same thing the response might have been different.

There's a stereotype that when driving in a strange area, men will never stop to ask for directions except as a last resort while it's the opposite with women. I always thought it would be interesting to conduct an experiment with both the guy and the gal asking for directions at random spots in town. My guess is that the gal would get better and more helpful answers than the guy.

Just a thought,
Annette

Rhenaiya said...

Very well written Darla! Your question at the end caused me to think about my own envies and one of the things that came to mind is tenderness. I marvel at the way a mother can hold her child or embrace a friend. It often seems so natural, not obligatory. The soft look in the eyes of a woman who isn't concerned with hiding compassion or love. Men have such a hard time showing these kinds of emotions without being ridiculed by other men. Masculine mentality confuses tenderness with weakness but I think the unrestricted display of true emotion is rather powerful.

Michele Angelique said...

Thank you Darla for lending your considerable writing skills to our project. You open up an excellent, thought-provoking topic, which could be considered "envy" or in another light could be considered "admiration". What do you "admire" about women? This is a topic that begs to be addressed, and I hope many more in our group will share their perspectives in this regard.

Since I'm already a woman, I can't answer your general question. Interestingly though, I can answer your question in reverse. What do I admire/envy about men? There are quite a few things actually. While I would never give up my status as female, there would be certain merits to being a man in this world.

For one, it seems that no matter how smart/educated/skilled a woman is, people will generally defer to the man present in a situation. I could recount dozens of business situations whereby people automatically assumed I was the "assistant" to my male collegue, whereas the opposite were actually true. This has also applied whenever I take a male with me to buy a car, negotiate a bank loan, shop for computer equipment, etc... anything that requires technical ability or business acumen. I have spent my life "correcting" this mistaken assumption, and now generally avoid inviting a man into any such situation (with the exception of the business world). So one of the things I envy about men is their birthright of assumed dominance over all things technical.

Another thing I envy about men is their natural birthright to have a "wife". With stereotypical gender roles, having a wife is a pretty sweet deal. My male business collegues have an edge on someone like me. If I were to have a family, it would (stereotypically) hurt my career because I would take maternity leave. I've seen women drop out of the race at relatively low career statures, time and time again. In the case of a man who has a wife that cares for the children and tends to home and hearth, having a family is easy and does not hurt his career. Running a household is not an easy task with so many details to look after. For the man who has a wife to take care of such things, he can have a warm cozy home and family, without hurting his career. So, I envy men's ability to contend actively in the business world while still balancing home and family.

I will also add in that although I have no desire to be man, I am a woman who suffers from "penis envy" in the bedroom. I suppose the bedroom is the only place I actively cross-dress, and as such I have fantasized and dreamed that my strap-on were a real penis. The ability to be inside of someone else is something I envy dearly. I suppose if it were the "perfect" world, I would be a woman with a penis! Ha, I guess if I could have my way, I'd be a Tgirl.

So that's my story...

Love yas,
Michele