Tag Archives: gender roles

Secondary Sex Characteristics

Enrico just came back from his US trip with a copy of Playboy magazine. Not something he normally buys, but this issue features Charisma Carpenter, a long-time favorite from Buffy and “Angel,” more or less in the altogether.

The last time I saw the inside of a Playboy was over 20 years ago – back in the days when women had pubic hair. My dad used to have Playboy and Penthouse around the house, and let me look at them. I read them for the articles – doesn’t everybody? <grin> Actually, I mostly read them for the jokes and cartoons, but of course I couldn’t help noticing the naked women.

My early exposure to nekkid pictures never did me any harm that I could tell, but I did conclude that I would never be shown naked in one of those magazines. Not because I had strong feelings against it, but because I didn’t have enough hair (on my head). All those women had thick, shiny manes, wavy or curly, heavy and rich. My own hair is thin, fine, straight, and limp. No matter my figure, I’d never be a Playmate.

Life Without Buffy

We’re suffering Buffy withdrawal. Angel, the show which spun off from Buffy four years ago, is good, but it’s pretty much guy-centered. I have no complaints about watching all the good-looking men on “Angel,” but I miss the presence of powerful women, and the role model that Buffy provided for my daughter.

Ross started watching Buffy when she was 10, and at age 14 said that she would have grown up a different person without the show.

Hurt, I responded: “You weren’t exactly lacking for a strong female role model at home.”

“Yes, but Buffy made it cool.”

Which is a very good point. Being a strong, self-confident female is not easy at any age; strength is a characteristic not appreciated in women by most cultures or individuals (male or female). It wasn’t easy for me to grow into my strength (compounded, as it is, with geekiness), and I certainly wasn’t comfortable with it as a teenager, if I even had it then. And I spent most of my adolescence in the nurturing environment of Woodstock School, more accepting than most schools of student diversity. So I wouldn’t know how to advise Ross how to feel comfortable in her own skin at this age and place, if it weren’t for Buffy.

But don’t take my word for it. “[Father John] Pungente used Buffy as a role model for conveying solid values for teens. ‘She is smart, willing to learn about herself and live with who she is, even if she happens to be a vampire slayer. She is independent, reliable, maybe too much a Type-A personality, but still an entirely credible 1990s teenager. Other shows deal with teenage problems – love, sex, peer pressure, school work, family problems, body image, dreams, insecurity, self-esteem – but Buffy adapts a literary and film genre for television. The vampire myth and the sexuality it evokes speak powerfully to today’s teenagers.'” (MARTIN O’MALLEY: Orange County blues, CBC News Viewpoint | November 14, 2003)

A point often overlooked by writers about “Buffy” is the role of Xander, Buffy’s average guy friend who, unlike her other friends, has no special powers (magical or intellectual) to help him fight the forces of darkness, both interior and exterior. “You know, Xander is as important a role model as Buffy and people will never really get that, I think, most of ’em. But, the fact of the matter is that I had a two-fold intent, which was to create a role model in the idea of a girl who’s a genuine leader and the role model in a man who is not only comfortable, but turned on by that.” Joss Whedon, MSN Interview

Hear, hear. The world needs not only more women like Buffy, but more men like Xander. Unfortunately for Ross, I don’t think she’ll find many such in Italy, and even fewer in her age range.

Gender Identity Crises: Can’t They Tell I’m a Woman?

Back in August I wrote about the difficulties of being named Deirdré, which no one can spell or pronounce. An additional problem arose when I began dealing with large numbers of people online: many people don’t know whether it’s a male or female name. The default assumption was that I was male, perhaps because people “met” me in the context of technology, and assumed that a technically-capable person had to be male (that’s a rant for another time).

So I got used to being addressed in email as “Mr. Straughan;” it’s far better than some things I’ve been called online. My friend and colleague Adrian, meanwhile, had to contend with the fact that, in America, Adrian is assumed to be a female name (thanks to the “Rocky” movies). This Adrian is British, and male. On one memorable occasion, a member of a focus group of Roxio software users began (without prompting) to sing the praises of those wonderful online reps the company had, Deirdré and Adrian. Which was very nice, except that he thought that I was a man and Adrian a woman!

At least people meeting me in person usually figure out that I’m female, what with my two big attributes sticking out in front. But, when I was in Benares in 1985-86, even this certainty deserted me. I had very short hair at the time, and was a lot thinner than I am now. For most of the year, I wore salwar-kameez (traditional Indian women’s clothing, which is loose around the thighs but tight-fitting up top) and there was no question as to my sex. But in winter, to stay warm, I wore western clothing: baggy canvas trousers and a bulky sweater.

While travelling back from Kulu-Manali by bus, I was delayed in a small town where university students had blocked the road to protest something or other. I was standing outside the bus, waiting for something to happen, when a young man came bustling up, probably intent on telling me all about the noble cause, whatever it was. “Hello, Sir!” he shouted. Then, as he got a little closer, his face suddenly fell. “Oh, excuse me, Madam,” he muttered, and slunk away.

Soon afterwards, I was back in Benares, buying something in a shop. A little old Muslim man with thick glasses engaged me in conversation (in Hindi). I don’t remember what it was about, but we had been chatting for about ten minutes when he suddenly peered at me intently through his glasses. “Oh, excuse me,” he said. “If I had realized you were a woman, I would never have spoken to you.”