3 Ways I’ve Othered Women

Women are 50% of the world. Half. And yet so often, they are othered, which means that women are treated as outsiders, as the deviation from the norm (the norm being men in this case). This sounds like a terrible thing, and one we’d all like to believe we don’t do. But othering women is so prevalent, so omnipresent, sometimes I don’t even notice it’s happening. In fact, sometimes I’m the one who does it. Here are three ways I’ve only recently realized women are othered that I am just as guilty of doing.

1. Animals are never girls.

From The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle

There was a story recently on This American Life about a duck and a girl duck.

Did you catch that? A duck and a girl duck. You know, like a human and a girl human. I am totally guilty of thinking this subconsciously, too: animals are male until proven female. When faced with an animal which has no visible signs (at least to my untrained eye) of its sex—like, say, a mouse—I refer to it as male.

“The mouse went that way! Get him!”

This goes for real animals as well as stories about animals, like the one with the duck. The problem with calling them “the duck and the girl duck” is that it sounds like 90% of the ducks of the world are male, and 10% are female, which isn’t true (I think. Technically I didn’t look this fact up). Especially in stories about animals, the main character is usually (dare I say nearly always?) a male unless the plot has a reason for it to be a female.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: male

The Ant and the Grasshopper: male, male

The Poky Little Puppy: male

Yertle The Turtle: male

The only exception I can think of is Stellaluna, a female bat. Does anyone know of any others?

Why are men the norm, and women the proven? Is it just because we need more lady authors and illustrators (like the one who wrote Stellaluna)? This is probably true, and maybe this has already happened and newer children’s stories feature more female animals. But I think it runs deeper than that. I think it’s because we all still think of male as standard, me included. But women are 50%, and it’s wrong for us to do that. I don’t know how to stop it, but I bet recognizing this fact is the first step.

I think I may look further into this. I see a trip to the library, a pie chart, and an interview with my sister (a 1st grade teacher) in my future.

2. Unisex = Men’s fit.

A “unisex” (aka men’s) size chart

Working in the tech industry, I’m often given unisex-sized shirts. Which is awesome. Free t-shirts are awesome, and it gives me some pain to complain about them. But let’s break down what “unisex” means:

Despite the definition of unisex meaning “designed to be suitable for both men and women”, shirts in a unisex cut are actually fitted the same as men’s, just with a larger size range, going all the way down to XXS. So then what differentiates women’s fit? With women’s fit, the shirt will likely be longer, with shorter sleeves, a wider neck line, and fit for someone with curves.

But women are 50% of the population. And only recently I’ve realized that it makes just as much sense to make unisex shirts fitted for women instead, and then describe men’s cut as a special shirt with longer sleeves, smaller neckline, and fit for someone without curves.

“But we can’t force men to wear women’s shirts! They’d look ridiculous!” Really, that’s another post for another time. (Or a conversation that’s already been had?) But what’s the difference between making 50% of the population cross-dress with shirts where their boobs and hips don’t fit the clothes, instead of making the other 50% cross-dress, wearing a shirt with a little extra fabric in the chest and hip area?

If we can’t (read: won’t) change the gender that gets to fit into unisex clothes, at the very least can we recognize that we consider men’s shirts as the standard, and women’s shirts as a special fit? Let’s stop pretending women are being graced with a compromise by offering unisex sizes. Women don’t wear a special type of shirt, we wear 50% of the shirts (consumerism arguments aside).

3. Women are always cold.

Are women colder? Or are men warmer?

I have always accepted and reiterated the common mantra that “women are always cold.” (Learn the quick science why here.) But women are 50% of the population. So maybe I’m not always cold, but men are always warm. Why do men get to be the “standard” internal temperature to which I am compared against? In fact, when you google “men are always warmer,” most of the results that pop up still flip the conversation back at you: “Why Do Women Often Feel Colder Than Men?” says the first result.

Whether I’m cold or men are warm, the argument that comes after, which I have also always accepted, is that we have to keep the temperature lower because: “You can always put on more clothing, but you can’t take it off.” Yes and HOW FUN it is for me to bring an extra scarf (literally–I bring two scarves) to drape on myself on the frigid bus, to wear a blanket on my lap looking like Whistler’s Mother, to wear the same jacket around work every day because, guess what? Cold weather clothing is expensive and I don’t own that many jackets.

Joe is always surprised to touch my nose and realize how cold it is. Yes, when I am cold, every piece of me is cold. Including my nose. I suppose you can always put on a ski mask, but you can’t take one off.

I would like to suggest that we turn up the heat to a comfortable 72 degrees and instead of forcing me to wear a hoodie in the summer, men can come to work in the winter with a pair of shorts to change into. That’s not professional? Neither is wearing gloves to meetings, but that’s what you suggest I do by saying I can always add more clothes.

Let me put it another way: if “you can always add more clothes” was a valid argument for keeping the temperature lower, you wouldn’t constantly hear women complain about being cold, because they would add more clothes as suggested and be done with it. And yet rational, intelligent women sit with their arms wrapped around themselves, their teeth chattering.

I understand that turning the temperature way up would make some men (and women) sweat profusely, which is also not the best solution (yikes). But why can’t we turn up the temperature just a LITTLE bit and we can ALL wear layers? Or you can buy a little desk fan and meet me in the middle.

Women are 50%. Fifty. How many times have I said it now, eight? I’m repeating myself because I think it’s such an easy thing to forget. Women have every right to the things they want as men do. Don’t forget it, and don’t be afraid to flip an argument on its head to see its inherent bias.

A note about this post: you’re going to hear some feminist-y things on Dear Me, discussions I’d like to have with both men and women. After all, as Jackson Katz says, “gender issues” is a topic for all of us. But this blog won’t center on feminism, per se, mostly because there are other blogs doing a great job of it already. If you’re looking for said blogs, I’d check out Feministing, Jezebel, Role Reboot, and Rosie Says to start. I’ll be throwing in a few things from time to time, and hopefully you’ll follow along with me and contribute smart, kind thoughts to the conversation. You don’t have to agree with me, but I do ask that your comments stay civil.

4 thoughts on “3 Ways I’ve Othered Women

  1. Boy ducks are called drakes. My high school mascot was a duck. The boys teams were the Havana Ducks. The girls teams were the Havana Lady Ducks. When I pointed out that all ducks were ladies, and maybe the boys teams should be called the Drakes, the class president accused me of having no school spirit.

  2. Mog the forgetful cat is female. It’s not important to the plot; and I don’t think it’s explicitly stated (“She’s a girl cat”) but feminine pronouns are used to describe her. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mog_(Judith_Kerr)

    Similarly, in Julia Donaldson’s book “The Gruffalo’s Child”, the child in question is the Gruffalo’s daughter. The titular character in another Julia Donaldson book, “What The Ladybird Heard” is also female. In both cases, this is only revealed through pronouns.

    The dog (who is the one being copied) in Mark Birchall’s “Copy Cat” is female.

    You mentioned Eric Carle’s book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. In his follow-up, “The Very Busy Spider”, the spider is female.

    You’re probably right that the majority of animals in children’s books are portrayed as male, but there isn’t a massive lack of female ones.

    As far as real animals are concerned, I think it depends somewhat on the type of animal. If you talk about chickens, people will naturally picture hens rather than cockerels. Visitors to our house frequently assume that our cats are girls, but they’re not. However, if we had dogs, I think many people might make the opposite assumption.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s