The ruined fantasy of a serene and quiet period

I’m in a new relationship with a man and to me he seems quite squeamish. It doesn’t upset me really, I know I’m a very un-squeamish person and remember that not everybody feels as matter of fact as I do.

However, my new beau seems to really dislike it when women talk or joke about bodily fluids and the like. I find that women are often better with dark humour based on the functions, or dysfunctions rather of the human body, than men are. Perhaps because we have to endure a lot more of the crap (pun intended) in life. He often complains about overhearing women talk about bodies, especially their own, and when they’re anything less than perfectly ticking over. I laugh it off, but am inwardly curious nonetheless at how bothered he is by women being, as I see it, themselves.

One day, I talked about being in pain when on my period. ‘Lots of women have period pains’ he said patronisingly. He has said this quite a few times before and this time it irked me more than usual. I thought, I shall describe as best I can the pain I and many other women feel every month, maybe then I won’t be told to be quiet and get on with it.

‘Imagine leg cramp, right? Comes on suddenly and makes you want to cry out and you can’t move properly. Well put that pain in that triangley bit just above your bits where the fat doesn’t grow as much. Okay? That comes every five minutes for 30 seconds when it’s bad. Then imagine a throbbing achy pain in your balls that goes on all the time. Also every now and then you get like a reverse punch, as if there is a hand behind your innards that grabs and suddenly pulls inwards.’

He’s already pulling faces, as I finish with; ‘and blood trickles out of your penis all day at different speeds and you can feel it making your pants soggy.’ I left out the bit about blood clots, I felt that would be overkill. To my surprise he was angry at me for describing my pain so vividly. He wasn’t empathetic or concerned, he was actually irritated that I’d shared that experience with him. He asked why I’d had to tell him like that, that is was so gruesome. His biggest issue wasn’t even the penis blood, it was the description of the pain.

His friends have sent him pictures of gashes and cuts and injuries that I would say ‘gruesome’ was too soft a word to describe them. He has watched fail videos laughing and wincing merrily as expected. Neither of these situations make him angry though, he’s never angry at the friends for the pictures, or the creators for the videos. He’s never annoyed that they put those vivid images in his head.

I have slowly come to the conclusion that his anger seems to come from me and other women ruining his image of perfection. He really likes women, he likes that they are serene, graceful, strong and hold it together in the face of adversity. He doesn’t like the idea that they might be soggy, frazzled, loud, expressive or writhing uncontrollably in agony. That conclusion makes me sad, and I hope to one day be proven wrong, but from what I’ve seen and heard I can’t think of any other reason.

Memory – First time I clocked sexism

Early autumn and the first day of a new school term, also the first day in a new school for me. My father had recently passed away and my mother felt it was a good idea to change schools to avoid gossip. I was about seven, going on eight. A confident kid, feeling excited about meeting new friends and ditching my school uniform.

The start of the day was great, nothing embarrassing had happened, I wasn’t overwhelmed, kids were friendly and teachers pleasant. Lunchtime rolled round and I was eager to try a new menu. As I held my tray and looked around a boy, seeing I was new, offered me the seat next to him. We chatted and laughed, realised we had lots in common. ‘Girls don’t usually like football’ he said to me. ‘I do!’ I reply brightly, and we both grin as we carry on munching on our food.

Then some other boys approach, his friends it seems. They tease and mock him, because he’s talking to a girl. He looks to them and then looks back to me, his expression changed; cold, rigid, almost disgusted. He picked up his tray and left with them, making excuses for talking to me as their voices fade into the rabble of bustling pupils. I sit looking at my tray and the seat that is now empty, that had just a moment ago contained a kindred spirit.

After that, the boy never said a kind word to me ever again. He would taunt me, make fun of me, call me names. All that we had in common seemed lost and forgotten. I felt that I had made up that lunchtime connection. I felt unsure of myself, I wondered what I had done wrong. How could we get on so well and that count for nothing?

That’s the first time I realised that being a girl could make life feel crappy. Now as I’m older I realise that the difference in our genders might have made the boys life feel crappy too. Maybe he also felt upset that he had to lose a new friend because of strict gender roles imposed by society. Even though he wasn’t very nice to me afterwards, I don’t blame him, I knew even then that he had little choice but to fall in line, because of his young age. I don’t even blame his friends. I blame the world that tells school children that they should self-segregate to fit in.

Socialisation ≠ socialising in gender debates

I get really excited when I see gender critical theory being discussed in mainstream spaces. For example, today I watched a video by Laci Green in which she discussed the differences between radical and liberal feminists. ‘This is great,’ I thought as she explained the etymology of radical feminist ‘the wider world finally gets to hear what radical feminism is actually about!’

I prepared myself for the fact that it probably wouldn’t be perfect and there are some errors that, personally, I find easy to let go. However, something that winds me right up each and every time is the lack of emphasis given to socialisation when gender critical theory is discussed. I get so frustrated because it underpins the whole reason, in my opinion, why radical feminists don’t believe one can transition between ‘genders’.

Often it is parroted that ‘gender is a social construct’, so far so good. You can’t stop there though, my friend, please don’t stop there. If you stop there, people tend to then think that gender is mutable and up to the individual and how they socialise. That’s wrong. A social construct is created and maintained by society.

Money is a social construct, it enables us to believe that pieces of paper and discs of metal are worth anything. We are socialised from an incredibly young age to believe that certain paper has financial value and are taught how to trade it. We are taught that if you have more of it life will be good. If society had not told you that the $5 in your back pocket was worth anything you would not see worth in it. It’s not like you woke up one day and identified as a person with $5 in your back pocket. If you have $5 but wish you had $10 you can’t draw over it and then buy something worth $10. This is not because notes and coins are inherently worth anything but because society tells you whether they are or aren’t.

So, gender is a social construct because society tells us it is. From the moment your sex is found out society begins socialising you. It’s not something you can opt out of or change because it is entirely up to society. It’s not just what your parents tell you, it’s not what your teachers tell you, or friends, lovers, colleagues and so on. It is what the whole world is telling you every moment of every day of your life. It happens through every interaction you’ll ever have. Gender, as a social construct, depends entirely on society and very little of what you do as an individual can change that. You can’t identify as any gender other than the one society identifies you as because society creates and maintains social constructs like gender.

Once this key point is established and understood – let the debate rage on. The liberal feminist’s next point might be that let’s get society to socialise people as whichever gender they choose. My rebuttal would be; one, let’s abolish gender socialisation and let people have whatever personality (because that’s all gender seems to boil down to at the end of the day) they wish. Two, further socialisation does not erase previous socialisation. That is to say, once socialised as one ‘gender’, even when being socialised afterwards as a different gender that previous socialisation remains within those that are socialised.

*steps down from soapbox*