I have one rule about this discussion: there is no suffering Olympics here, I don’t want this to devolve into a discussion of who has it worse. We are ALL suffering under the same systems of racism, sexism, classism, and hetereonormativity. Please share your experience but please avoid comparing it and weighing it against others. I don’t think playing that game in this discussion is helpful for anyone. I will also try to weave this all together and address the intersectionalities of the issues. I am focusing here, exclusively on me as a case study, because it is really the only story I have the business or the authority to tell in an illustrative way. I wish I could include more about sexuality in here, so I apologize for that omission, it is not because it is not important and I would love to hear other people’s viewpoints, it just isn’t fair for me to speak to it because I am straight and benefit from the heteronormative system.
I am a ghettoized and urbanized suburban working class white woman, who is a Stanford alumna, an educator, an activist, a child abuse survivor, a workaholic who is smart is traditionally masculine ways, with an outgoing and intense personality and a physical disability who has PTSD, is straight and grew up in Northern California. Did you get all of that? That is all of my identities that come into play when I have to date people. Each one takes a long time to explain, but basically I subvert racial, class, and gender norms in a variety of ways. You are probably wondering about the first one, the “ghettoized and urbanized” and why that is relevant. You see, I grew up in a community with all the normal problems of urban ghettos, except it is physically suburban which in practice means that I am culturally urban but we didn’t have any resources, it also means I grew up in a more ethnically diverse community than if I were rural. That this is true and I am also white makes me a bit of an oddity. I’ve never seen myself in any social science literature anywhere, but even if I had I am made even more of an oddity by the fact that I graduated from Stanford. So I am a working class kid who went to Stanford, each class is about 15-20 percent with that percentage alone, so just by those two facts, I am subverting class norms. The fact that I am also white puts me at another tiny percentage (I’ve heard estimates as low as 3% of the each classes total). So I am subverting racial and class norms there to. But the fact that I went to a bad high school in a suburban ghetto and was also abused as a child? I am the literally the only one I have ever met, and I may have been one of the most visible activists for first generation/low income students at Stanford. So, as you can see, I am regularly subverting racial and class norms just by existing. What that means is that my mere existence is a challenge to other people’s world view. If you think most people find that charming, you would be wrong. But if you want to help me out with that department please come and sit in the countless meetings I get pulled into to have discussions about how I am making people uncomfortable with my talking about my backgound. It is good fun! We can grab beers afterwards, or whatever and eat pizza.
Let’s talk about how I subvert gender norms. I happen to be a charismatic teacher in the classroom, which is traditionally associated with male teachers. I am loud and I speak out, and I tend to perform like male students and do well in things we stereotype and socialized to be male domains. The way I talk, the way I work, and the way I carry myself in public is what we would call “masculine,” I know because I have other male friends who do it and everyone thinks it is just adorable and competent and I’ve been called all kinds of lovely names and told to change fundamental aspects of my personality so as not to be grating to men and women alike who don’t appreciate my subversion of gender. Socially, I am a pretty dominant force at a party because, well, my background basically requires that one must have wit and be intense and insane like I am. Intense and insane people are fun, and they like to talk a lot. I have been known to make people comics to educate them on why their dating lives are stupid. Really the fact that anyone finds that charming at all is sort of miraculous and reminds me that I am lucky to have so many friends who are charitable and have to put up with my antics. I also have been told more that once, by more than one male that women can’t be smart and beautiful. Which means that we associate my intelligence with men, which I can confirm by the way smart men get treated (like they are gods) and the way I get treated (like I am nuisance who should not exist).
However, I am unusually curvy and feminine looking. True fact, German women were highly sought after for European royalty, supposedly because of their reported fertility because my people are curvy, although their fertility probably had more to do with the fact that hadn’t engaged in incest for as long an amount of time. I also dress in dresses pretty much at all times, mostly because I like pretty things but also because I am boycotting pants until they stop being designed for twelve year olds who have no hips. I have long brown hair and a completely silly number of shoes. Oh, and I bake. And I am really absurdly good with children. So basically, I am here, as a women, to confuse everyone. Guys normally think, because they meet me out in public, that I am going to be kind of domineering, which is wrong because I am basically the world’s biggest sap and also, pretty things are pretty and cute things are cute.
Some guys are into that, some are not, the majority are not and are assuming I will be that way. I don’t want to dominate in the relationship, ever. I just don’t want to do it, so my outward persona can sometimes attract men who I am not interested in because I want things to be equal. I am not really sure what is happening with the men on my level, but I assume that like me they refuse to participate in the stupidity that is our system of dating and therefore we never ask each other out. I have had ex-boyfriends tell me that my passion, the way I argue, my firm beliefs, and my workaholism, all associated with men, were irritating and “grating.” I dumped them and they were stupid, but it has happened. I also have some fairly “masculine” commitment issues, in that marriage scares me because I don’t want to have to give up freedom or my career and also, you know, I had a pretty rough childhood so I am not really gunning to make impulsive life decisions. So basically, I don’t do anything in the expected way and it makes my attempts to find men to date difficult. The fact that I also am so radical that I refuse to reinforce the manipulative silliness we call dating, makes it all the worse because I don’t/rarely do what is expected from me because I’ve decided it is all silly and I refuse to manipulate my intimate partners. That subverts gender norms.
Think about how we talk about women (MEN ARE EQUALLY GUILT OF ALL OF THE FOLLOWING STUPIDITY). There is a show on T.V. called Bridezillas and it is the most extreme form of this, but the fact that we treat going crazy and caring about shiny things as the norm for women is horrifying. The women on this show use all kinds of manipulative and cruel tactics to get what they want, and mostly no one says anything about it because it is just what women are supposed to do according to popular culture. Women are expected to use “tricks” to get guys. Tricks can include, but are not limited to, flirting with other men to make them jealous, giving the silent treatment when they want something, refusing sex they otherwise want for gains, “playing hard to get”, and tricking men into believing ideas that are their own have become the men’s, or other forms of “relationship training”. Now, I am not ok with this and I choose not to do it, but just so we are clear, women who do adopt these habits have had to in order to have access to power (political wives for example) or because they were socialized that they can’t have any demands because men won’t like them if they do or if they are, you know, an actual human being men won’t like them then either. Which means that the behaviors men engage in, such as shutting down, feigning interest but not communicating, flirting with other girls, using money to manipulate, having selective hearing, telling girls what they think they want to hear (SO LYING) to get laid, etc. etc are highly problematic.
But guys ALSO get screwed by this system. Men who want to be good men and don’t want to have to trick women and want to communicate and be honest and have genuine interest are told they are not manly enough, or they encounter women who are so used to the gender norms that they read communicating, being honest, and genuine interest as something weird. So basically we have a group of women that want to do the right thing and a group of men who also want to do the right thing, in that they would like to have equal partnerships built on respect, love and trust, who are punished for engaging in the behaviors that logically follow from those beliefs. But because we don’t follow dating rules we fail to recognize and communicate these beliefs to other like-minded folks. When you have a system like this, just like in the classroom, any system really, is there to control all of the people who feel more comfortable about the system, which means that there will be a group who will be marginalized and therefore not ABLE to care about the system if it is designed poorly (see racism, sexism and classism) because it doesn’t include them, or they just don’t like systems in general and have come to an educated opinion that they choose not to participate in them (I am both pending on the situation). This means that there is a smaller number of suitable people for me to date, because there is a smaller number that both holds my values and respects my background, which as I would like to remind you, is ridiculously rare (which is also why I am a teacher).
So, how do I deal with this? Well, for one thing, I try really hard to do my best to communicate my beliefs to find people with like-minded beliefs. I also have a strong sense of who I am in an unapologetic way so that people can spot me. I always maintain a sometimes foolish hope that people will understand or will at least be willing to learn and then I weed out the others. My dating life is still difficult, even with those precautions, just like it is for every other non-normative person I know. But the alternative is far, far worse. The alternative is being trapped in a loveless relationship where I gradually grow to hate myself and the other person and will I can never truly conform and I lose much of my strength and confidence and competency as a teacher, and I also feel like a giant hypocrite since I run around advocating for marginalized people like it is my job (and really, it is my job). You can’t ever be happy in the alternative, so after figuring that out I don’t worry about it anymore. I already have a lot of love in my life between all of my friends and family and my students, so for me, the intimate partner relationship is just bonus points, which means that I can be as picky as I want. I would also just rather be alone. Alone and happy is better than with someone and miserable. Plus I am always optimistic about people. I have learned by being the loud and controversial person in the room that lots of people feel the same way I do but don’t always know how to articulate it or don’t feel like they can say it. They usually find me and then we all become best of friends. Then we go and get pizza and beer and laugh at all the silly people who don’t do what we do because we know they will never get to see aspects of humanity that are profoundly beautiful .
P.S. I find it really interesting that the dictionary on my computer says classism isn’t a word.