On being non-gendered

Ruth Hartley Storytelling, Feminism, Installations2 Comments

I read this wonderful piece in the marvellous The Marginalian compiled by Maria Popova and thought with delight that it may explain me and perhaps other women of my generation.

 Ursula Le Guin writes:

“I am a man. Now you may think I’ve made some kind of silly mistake about gender, or maybe that I’m trying to fool you, because my first name ends in a, and I own three bras, and I’ve been pregnant five times, and other things like that that you might have noticed – little details. that don’t matter… I pre-date the invention of women by decades. Well, if you insist on pedantic accuracy, women have been invented several times in widely varying localities, but the inventors just didn’t know how to sell the product. Their distribution techniques were rudimentary, and their market research was nil, and so of course the concept just didn’t get off the ground. Even with a genius behind it an invention must find its market, and it seemed like for a long time the idea of women just didn’t make it to the bottom line. Models like the Austen and the Brontë were too complicated, and people just laughed at the Suffragette, and the Woolf was way too far ahead of its time.”

The invention of women

8 drawings are arranged on the gallery wall they show a woman with 5 arms, 5 breasts each containing a drawing of a child. She has wings but is rooted to the earth. Her head is that of Medusa and she holds scissors, a gun, a thread and a lead attached to a dog who is biting her thigh.
Charcoal and mixed media drawings on cotton rag paper titled The ‘true’ History of my Body by Ruth Hartley

Who invents women and why might women require to be invented. A woman is a human female animal whose role, status, and human rights are prescribed by the society that she belongs to while that society is constantly changing. We could ask how much input a woman has in the creation of the role she is permitted to play. There are people who think a woman’s role is ordained by God or religion and is therefore fixed for eternity. The evidence that we witness in societies all around the world suggests that’s nonsense. Are women created by themselves, by what they wear, how they display ourselves, what they do, or by the fact that women can give birth to babies. Are all women subject to biology and if so, surely all men are subject to biology. What do Drag Queens act out about women? Is that even what Drag Queens do? What are transwomen choosing to be? Are they all choosing the same way of being a woman or are they each transitioning to different ways of being a woman. As they can’t become female animals what does that mean for women who are female animals. Can it all be reduced to the choice of a pronoun? Who invented misogyny? What does it mean for human female animals if women are invented by misogynists.

Role models for girls

As for me and my generation, we had role models in the books we read as children, but few were female and those too often, were good wives and lady missionaries or nurses. Of course, we had no doubt we were human and we expected to be successful heroes. If there was any character in a book that we related to, it was rebellious Jo in Little Women. Personally, I wanted to a be a Zane Grey cowboy and ride the ranges all alone on horseback. I was quite sure I didn’t want to be a boy. I knew a few and they were entirely unsatisfactory creatures who were allowed to run wild and do what they liked. They were also unreasonably bossy and not that intelligent. They didn’t even read books. I envied some boys because they were taught to shoot – an essential skill for a cowboy – but the one time I tried to play football with some local boys, my father made me stop. That was partly because they were African kids and of course only African boys were free to play. African girls worked as soon as they could carry a baby. One of my ‘problems’ was that I lived an isolated life on a farm without a peer group of any gender and then went to a girls-only boarding school. This may explain why I seldom wear a skirt and it never bothered me that I wasn’t pretty though it did bother me later when I found that my breasts attracted more attention than my face.

The invention of myself

In 1999 I was awarded an MA in Women’s Studies. It was a challenging and exciting course. It no longer exists. Is is good or bad that now there are gender studies instead? Briefly put, I raised questions about the boundaries of Feminist identity for me as Non-Black, Non-Jewish, Non-Lesbian and Non-Working Class artist. We are all creatures of partial perspectives who are connected by changing and fluid elements throughout our lives but perhaps we start off knowing that we are human and if men are human and women are defined as “other” by misogyny then, like Ursula Le Guin, I am a man and I might have added to my MA title that I an a Non-Woman, Non-Black, Non-Jewish, Non-Lesbian and Non-Working Class artist.

The reinvention of myself

I’ve reinvented myself through my art in Spiderwoman and The “true” History of my Body but that isn’t about gender or identity. It is about the way we interact with the worlds, both physical and metaphysical, that we inhabit. My art is about being a Being who is human and sometimes my creatures are sexless nebbishes.

As I remember, I became confused in late adolescence by the way gender was changing and manifesting itself socially. I found I couldn’t be me if I was to stay safe while also being acceptable to others. All of this seems even stranger now as I’ve learned that some people feel they need to change their gender identity even though the essential sex we are born with remains fixed. Nobody is just ‘their sex’ or their sexuality, we are fluid creatures who are reshaping ourselves as we think. I have written a short story about Tom who does make a sex-change. Now I know how many different Barbie dolls there are! I didn’t know much about Barbie’s till I saw the wonderful and witty film Barbie in which Barbie is reinvented many times. I think gender is, ironically, ‘immaterial’ and Ursula le Guin’s witty and light-handed statement about ‘being a man’ is closer to my experience. If all humans are human then are human male animals more or less human that human female animals?

I have just read an interesting article in The Conversation that says that science finds that feminists are not men-haters. It confirms my experience that they never were and I’m not.

2 Comments on “On being non-gendered”

    1. Ruth Hartley

      In the end we are what we are and it’s better to be happy with that than not! We all need to be respected for the person we each are and to respect people who are different. I guess we are all different – and the same!

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