More on Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine

For my 21st birthday my brother gave me a cat. No amount of saying I didn’t want a baby – cat or otherwise – helped. He himself had a cat and he was darned if I wasn’t going to have one too. Being a non-baby sort of person, I popped it into the kitchen that night and ignored all its piteous attempts to get out and join the humans in bed. Same for a couple more nights before I caved in. From then on my little girl kitten went everywhere conceivable with me. The toilet, the shower, the bed, we were inseparable. Unlike my brother’s boy cat, which was intrepid in that thoughtless male way, climbing up things before it realised it couldn’t, scratching things it REALLY shouldn’t have – that sort of thing – my little girl cat was cowardly, prim, delicate and docile. Told once not to do something, it was never countenanced again. Pumpkin (not named by me) had a perfectly pink brain.

We used to play a lot together. One of our games consistently went thus: Pumpkin would wrap herself around my arm and wrestle, biting my hand as hard as I could endure. One day she fell off, flat on her back and ARRGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH. There, plain as day, it was. AN ERECTION!!!! Pumpkin was a BOY. Pumpkin was a sweet, docile cowardly BOY. Not. Clearly not any of those things. Pumpkin had been trying to hump my arm for months. Pumpkin had been ruthlessly stalking me, the shower, the toilet, there was nowhere I could escape his predatory male hunting behaviour.

There is a lot of discussion in the book and elsewhere, of course, on the difficulties females face from the time they are born in being assigned certain presumptions based on their gender – as Pumpkin and I discovered. But that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it. Fight if you need to!

I spent most of my secondary school years at Methodist Ladies College in Adelaide. Ladies and, of course, would be mothers. To be fair to the staff, there were few kids who weren’t planning on a life revolving around getting married and having children. Nonetheless, I was horrified when in third year, so I guess I was 14 or 15, we were forced to do something called Mother Craft. I jest not. I tried refusing, but that didn’t work. Forced into doing this subject that I found utterly repugnant both in practice and in the theory, I sabotaged it, made fun of it, and did my best to show up this uncivilised practice for what it was. My mother, who taught there, reminded me that my chosen project for this subject was to make a toy that fell apart when played with and was dangerous to small children.

And it worked. From the next year students no longer had to do Mother Craft. YAY. My point is that if I could do that, anybody can do that. Really.

We go through life in some ways existing in the prism of other people’s prejudice, expectations and so on. Pumpkin did. Undoubtedly you and I do too. Sexism hasn’t really got anything to do with it. Even in a society that was free of it, there would always be some way each person is judged and assessed by others. In our society there are lots of ways this happens other than sexism. But why give a rat’s arse? In my last year of primary school I was given a present by the librarian, a book in which she had written ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’. Do that, and I don’t suppose I should say the rest is easy, but knowing what the right thing to do and be, is. And that is a jolly good start.

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