The things we love most about gender are often also the things we hate most about gender.
We love, for example, how men protect us and keep us safe, but we hate it when they are overprotective and stop us from doing what we need to do.
We love sparkling women, who bring their own unique and shimmering personality to the world, but we hate it when they won’t settle down and be logical & practical, which usually means when they won’t just agree with us.
The most powerfully attractive bits of gender are usually the most extreme and stylized bits. The mellow, centred, easygoing, neutral people just don’t have the zing to attract and excite us.
“There are only two kinds of men in the world,” Adela Rogers St John wrote, “those who are easy to live with and those who are impossible to love with. Sadly, only the latter are worth the effort.”
Challenging can be tough, but boring is just boring. It is the sizzle that gives life energy.
This is a key reason why gender balance will never be any kind of sensible beige androgyny. It is the friction, the tension, the dance that keeps us humming.
It’s hard to acknowledge this truth, that the best parts of others are the flip side of their most aggravating parts. “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” we ask, not acknowledging that would take away the moment when we see her at the top of the stairs and she takes our breath away.
Gender balance is an active, living process, much like riding a surfboard. We take the shape we need to take in the moment, adapting our performance to the situation and audience at hand. It’s not the tasks we need to do that are gender specific, it is how we do them. Even a mom can toss a ball around with a son, even a dad can attend an imaginary tea party.
Trying to do gender performance on your own can be essentially unsatisfying. A woman can survive on a desert island on her own, but her femininity will just be background truth unless and until it is contrasted with someone who takes a different approach. To always have to be ready to be sensible and balanced, knowing that what other people see as your gender can shift in a moment tends to force one into stolid, plodding neutrality.
We love gender and we hate gender, because if gender didn’t engender such strong emotions it wouldn’t create such strong passions either. “Men may be pigs,” as the old saying goes, “but we love bacon!”
I suspect that any attempt to disempower gender is likely to fail, that a post gender culture has never and will never exist. Rather, we may move to a culture that honours the gender of the heart rather than having only two gender roles that are compulsorily separated by dint of reproductive sex. Gay liberation has started this process; at least now, we acknowledge four gender roles — straight man, gay man, straight woman, gay woman — but there are still many illusory opposites to fall.
Love and hate have always been two sides of the same coin. It’s bland indifference or obstinate ignorance that the the opposite of love. If we want to continue to be thrilled by what we love, we will continue to be aggravated by what we hate.
And gender has long been at the heart of that sizzle.