Thursday, 26 May 2016

Male privilege and mansplaining for trans-women?

There are a few things on my mind. One of them is the idea of how women are perceived and how women perceive themselves. Pretty important to me, all in all.

And note: there is no complaint here, just observations and comments. I'd not swap my life for owt.

There are a whole bunch of studies that show that women who speak up, speak out, etc are considered bossy whilst similar action from a male is seen as ‘manly’ or at least acceptable. Women should be quiet. Women should not offer up ideas. Women should defer to men when it comes to explanations and decisions.  I’m pretty sure no one reading this blog shares such antiquated views – but it is out there. It has permeated society – even subconsciously. 

I have read statistics that show that whilst females achieve the same grades as males up to and including year one of an undergrad course, by year 3 they fall behind. It is a big discussion in STEM, why is this the case? The numbers don’t lie so something is going on. One discussion I was in circled to a paper suggesting that the issue is, primarily, communication. Not understanding by the female students, not in the writing of exam papers, but in the fear of asking questions during classes when something is not understood by that student. 

As undergrad courses progress, the ability to pass exams by simply repeating previous work and answers, i.e. studying past-papers, becomes a poor learning method and doomed to failure. For later stages of a degree, the student must understand the work. The way to do that, is to ask and question what it is you are taught. At this stage you must stand up and make your voice heard. And therein lies the problem. 

As discussed above, women are conditioned by society to think about what they say out loud. If you question something you are seen as bossy. And if you actually ask a question, you can be seen as less smart – even though a male doing the same thing is not considered a reflection of intellect. 

I chatted about this with a smart, very capable professor who happens to be female and she told me that whilst normally she will speak up, in some crowds she does double think and maybe keep quiet. When she does speak, she makes sure she knows what she is saying and can back it up. I was surprised by her, but she told me that whilst rare, she really notices when she does it. 

So is this why female students struggle to equal males as they progress through a degree? There does seem to be a solid case.

I have particular interest in this. I want to ‘pass’ as well as I can as a female. I want to be taken and accepted as a woman. So, does that mean I have to keep my mouth shut? Am I betraying myself when I voice an opinion? Even worse, when I do express an opinion over that of another female, and I thought to be mansplaining? Damn it, like I haven’t got enough to worry about without having to check what I say. And yet, the thought crosses my mind… a lot. And in some cases, I have kept quiet. At the very least, I always analyse what I said, how I said it and how it makes appear. It bothers me to think that I may be seen to be ‘speaking as a male’. How stupid is that? 

The thing is, I spout a lot of words. They spring forth from my mouth with very little control.
I have no intention of speaking over others – and I often find my mouth opening and then having to close it to wait for someone else to finish. Not because my views are more important than theirs. The reasons: I have a lot of ideas; I get over excited by those ideas; I know I will forget them if I do not share them often within 5 seconds. 

I do listen, I do give people their time to talk. I often find myself locked out of conversations because I fear talking over someone else – especially in big groups or those where I am less comfortable with the crowd. But I also have a habit of filling gaps with flippant comments or jokes – no matter how poor they are. So it does sound like I talk a lot I think, and I defiantly start to say something a lot. I know this gets noticed. 

But on the flip side, I am confident and happy for the first time in my life, so I feel I have something to add. 

So the question is, is it because of my own little mental ticks that I talk a lot or because of male conditioning? 

Worse, do I really have to monitor everything I say for fear of being accused of taking over the conversation? When you want to be accepted as your true gender, do you have to start fitting into female stereotypes? Because surely this is a kick to the balls of feminism? Ironically, if I do keep speaking up – will other women then accuse me of, ugh term, mansplaining? Do women judge what other women say just as much as men? Damnit, I want to fit in. I want to be accepted. But should I compromise in order to do so? If I don’t compromise, will I end up upsetting the same folks that would judge me for compromising? 

I read about male privilege and I know it to be true. I worked in engineering and I was privy to very sexist discussions. I had a hard enough time because I died my hair and was therefore ‘gay’. I never joined in with the spirit of these conversations, but I could not go against that either. In my private life, yes. I’ll speak up. But at work, where you are already on the back-foot (there were vicious rumours circulating that I liked to dress as a woman back then hahahaha!), then you need to keep your head down. 

Weak, no. Preservation. You cannot win every fight, and a smart person knows which ones to pick.
So yes, I heard these discussions. Does this mean I had male privilege? First up, as I say I was on the receiving end a lot so I’m not sure I ever really had male privilege. I had some – but what does that mean. Everyone I knew had no idea who I was. My entire life was a lie. Whenever I heard dumb sexist things, I felt my stomach clench but was powerless. Now, on the flip side I generally felt safe walking around town late at night. I never had guys grab my ass and assume that that was ok. 

Well, unless you count the times when I was in ‘drag’ (for lack of a much better word), in which case I felt very unsafe and men really did think groping was ok as I was not female, I was a ‘tranny’ – a disposable human. But let’s put that to one side. Over all, maybe I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have done. But, I did have some male privilege and there is no denying that. 

Would I swap that for a life where I was not miserable every day and felt suicidal? In a heartbeat. I don’t want to feel scared, or squashed. But don’t think male privilege made my life easy. It was one issue swapped for another. And no one should be saying that ‘my pain is bigger than your pain’. That is ridiculous. But know that just because someone had one thing easier, does not mean they don’t have other things harder. This really isn’t a contest.

So how do I proceed? Do I use the lessons I learnt as a male. Damn, I walk alone at night quite comfortably – but then I remember that I no longer have the same strength I had. And more, I am trans*. So male privilege has given me a false sense of security. 

Should I shut up instead of talking? Should I have no opinions? Well, no. Everyone’s views should be judged on merit, not on gender. Of course, I should be respectful of others, and I hope I am. But I really think fitting into a quiet, feminine role is just disrespectful of the great things feminism has achieved.

Too long have I hidden in shadows. And I didn’t just hide, I retreated and pulled those shadows around me. Shrouded myself within them. Now I walk a tight line. But I do so loudly and proudly. But I've never been good on slack-lines...