In my last post, I took issue with Wolfshead use of certain gendered terms to describe issues of risk and ultimately, courage. This begins with the word “emasculate” and continues with the use of the phrase, “the ability to [take a] risk separates the men from the boys”. We’re definitely talking about courage here.
I have two problems with this use of language, as common as it is. The first is that it’s cliched. If a writer can’t express a thought in something other than timeworn cliches, I’m not going to be very interested in reading him or her, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with those ideas.
The second is the crudeness of the assertion that courage is somehow masculine. In my non-redheaded mundane existence, I teach martial arts. And courage is on the syllabus. Big time.
Typically, though not always, the males that come through the door are less timid, more courageous. But that’s far from universal. But here’s the thing. Courage is something that is learned and developed through practice. Typically women come in to our dojo and begin to study precisely because they want to be more courageous. And they succeed, provided they stick with it. Men will, at some point, confront their fears also, though not always right away.
I think that this is because of differences in the way boys and girls play with each other. There might even be a hormonal reason, I don’t really know, but the point remains. Courage is learned, and anyone can learn it. Kim Campbell, for instance. That’s some pretty righteous stuff she has.
Courage needs to be placed in a context as well. There are many soldiers who are brave on the battlefield, but who are filled with dread by the words, “Honey, we need to talk!”. It is quite common for men, during an intense domestic discussion to shut down completely, exhibiting the “battlefield freeze”. This isn’t cowardice exactly, but it sure ain’t courage.
So then, gender is not destiny, so quit talking like it is. It’s inaccurate. If, to pull numbers out of thin air, an average man is more courageous than 60% of women, is it then a valuable insight to say “men are braver than women”? That general statement, applied to a specific situation, is only accurate 60 percent of the time. If your spell only hit the target 60 percent of the time, wouldn’t you be looking for a way to improve it? And which do you think is easier to change, the world, or your use of language?
Finally, when we identify an admirable quality with a gender, we demean people and deny the plain evidence. For example, I’m good with children. Some women, well-meaning though they are, have called me a “good mom”. I’m not a mom. I’m a man, and I would post pictures proving it, but I’d like to keep this blog safe for work.
I know many, many men who have at least one character trait, hobby, or behavior that isn’t “masculine”. Are we to make them not men because of this, or to simply appreciate the diversity of our gender? And likewise for women. The important question is not “what are men/women like?” but “What are YOU like?”
This, however, takes more work. Speaking for myself, that work is richly rewarding. Humans have endless variations, each one different, in experience, in character, and in habits. To boil down the world into two genders is to say that there is only two people in the world, and that’s pretty boring.