Thursday, August 28, 2008

Women Are Hybrids

My whole life I've felt kind of like a combination between a woman and a man. I'm not sure what I mean by that exactly, except that I like traditional guy things, like math, and also traditional girl things, like shopping for shoes and kittens.

I'm a hybrid. I've always wanted a serious career, and I've always wanted to have matching sets of towels at home. I like being a wise-guy, but I'm also empathetic.

I feel it at my job. I teach philosophy, and most of my colleagues are guys, and we have a kind of rough-and-tumble style where we argue a lot, and for the most part I think that's great. On the other hand, when I'm with my female colleagues, or my female graduate students, I enjoy chatting about clothes, and family members, and our lives, in ways I find hard to do with guys.

At first I thought I was unusual in being a hybrid. But then I realized that even though there are varying degrees, all women these days are hybrids. Women work outside the home, manage money, do all the traditional guy things, and also mother, nurture, make dinner, do all the traditional woman things.

The number of comic strips about women being "conflicted" about their family roles and their public roles shows that it really is more like being a hybrid than a new coherent entity. It's putting two things together that no one's really sure how to make them fit.

My next realization, though, was that not only are all women hybrids now, they've always been hybrids. No one has ever been the feminine ideal as it's been constructed through western history. You can see it going all the way back: women trying to live the passive life they're told is feminine, while also wanting the more active life they're told is masculine.

When you put it that way, it seems there's no way for a woman not to be a hybrid. The things we associate with humanity -- like autonomy -- are things we associate with masculinity. So to be a female person is to combine feminine virtues with masculine ones.

So it's not just me.

What should we do? Junk the ideals of femininity in hopes of forging a new coherent self? Be happy being conflicted?

Personally I think conflicted is just fine: there's enough hours in a day to teach class at 1 and shop for shoes at 4:30.

The whole unity of virtues thing - it's kind of a guy idea anyway.

So I say: let's stay hybrids, and take fly the banner of ambivalence with pride.


APS said...

Do you believe males to be hybrids as well? If you do does it not imply that there is no masculine and feminine spheres just the human sphere? If all women are hybrids in the sense that they operate in the masculine sphere and the feminine sphere with men limited to the masculine sphere, then is it not fair to say that there is no masculine sphere,since it is shared by men and women, but rather, just the feminine one?

Noko Marie said...

Hi aps, that's interesting. Sure I'm happy to have men as hybrids too. And yeah, ultimately I *hope* there's just the human sphere.

Growing up with feminism, it always surprises me how distant this state of affairs seems. The idea of women as passive, nurturing, and empathetic, in a way different from men, dies hard for some reason.

It does seem to me these virtues are different from the traditionally "male" virtues, and that having the male virtues allows you to be a complete person, while having only the female virtues makes you a kind of subordinate.

So, yeah, men-as-hybrids would be great. But women as hybrids seems somehow unavoidable.