On Grand Designs (S13E03), a very linear architect and a very curvy art director teamed up to build a house in York for their family.
He knows to build big smart sheds for commercial use and her brain is trained in ways to maximize emotion and function.
His big structure of glulam wood beams and steel fixings was lovely, full of considered details.
Her interior design was much more resonant with me. She planned colours around an abstract painting of the moors she would want to be walking, made her kitchen the hub of the house — the “mothership” she called it — designed to keep everyone connected and to maximize the efficiency of what she needs to do.
“This is a one leg kitchen,” she announced, banning the guys from her work zone. “I can stand here and make 22 bacon buttys while keeping one leg in the same place. Sink, hob, dishwasher, implements, all right at hand.”
There are two sides to functional design. One is imposed structure, designs that maximize the system and demand that humans adapt to that structure, and the other is organic structure, where you understand how humans work and then adapt the structure to that human behaviour.
This split is not a binary, of course. Every good design has to have both sides, efficiently designed structures that consider materials and mechanics, and considered spaces that consider humans needs and emotions.
The architect husband admitted that when his designer wife was explaining how the interiors would be, he had trouble understanding, but once he saw them, he knew they were brilliant in creating a space to grow and nurture a family. They had plenty of tension between them, but always with respect and grace.
This fabulous balance, created by merging the masculine and feminine, the yin and yang, not in one person, but in one couple, is a very important idea in human nature. Great human creations, be they buildings or families, are never the result of one person, but the creation of teams, groups, tribes, families.
It’s this vital organic tension that makes me get a bit suspicious of the idea of androgyny or genderqueer roles.
The idea that the idea should be people who are whole, complete and balanced inside of themselves, not needing partners or networks to balance with, seems a bit imposed and structural to me, a masculine notion, rather than being organic and feminine.
I have seen a China all dressed in Mao suits and the 1980s where businesswomen all tried to wear power suits that were masculine with a touch of flair, and those models of androgyny sure didn’t seem to me like they honoured the feminine.
People have told me that androgyny is edgy, but to me, it feels like androgyny cuts off the edges. I sense that on the feminine side, where the pull to less intense and stylized femininity tends to dismiss women who find their expression in the very feminine, but it is also true on the masculine side, where men are often found to be wrong for too masculine behaviour.
As a woman, I know that the masculine likes to aggressively claim spaces, and it’s my sense that is happening with androgyny. The masculine is more valued than the feminine, since the masculine is more rational, argumentative and structured. Tempered masculinity is not the same as femininity, because femininity is real, not just the absence of masculinity.
It is my experience that anyone who says that there is no real difference between women and men is a man. Women have to be trained to know and value difference, differences between children, between power and so on, but men don’t have to do that as much, often imposing their own structures over everything. What doesn’t fit for them just gets erased, a little feminine noise to be ignored.
Any movement that seeks to diminish gender, to venerate individual androgyny rather than the tension of mixed and diverse relationships, seems to me to dismiss the whole whole of human community building. We have built great things by being in relationship, not by being great individuals.
I want to see people be powerfully and uniquely themselves, with their own special knowledge and vision, then come together in respectful and dynamic relationships to build great things. I have no interest in liberating people from gender, only from compulsory gender that demands your biology is more important than your heart, because to me gender freedom is the freedom to proudly be gendered, not the freedom from gender.
The notion of gender as part of the balancing act of human communities is exciting to me. I want to be back and involved in that tension, speaking with my own unique style and substance to affect the direction and destiny of our shared world.
I don’t need permission to be more androgynous. I have that down, own that, even if some don’t believe it when they see my choice towards the feminine. They may assume that choice comes from a lack of exploration and enlightenment, but that assumption is just as oppressive as the observer-biased assumptions others hold about their expressions.
I need to come more from my feminine side, my own womanhood. Women are the mothers in the world, empowering expression and understanding, and that is my role, too.
The way for me to become more centred is not to keep cutting off my own edges, my own edginess, rather it is for me to trust those edges and go towards them, knowing my voice will add to the balance and tension that moves our human culture forward.
Sometimes, to be edgy, you have to go to the edges rather than learning how to be more neutral and balanced.
And I hope my communities support me in that.