Complementarian views of gender are both wrong and destructive

Since I made a (minor, narrowly construed) concession to complementarian theories of marriage earlier today, I want to follow that up by wholeheartedly endorsing Amanda Marcotte’s commentary on this study:

What’s remarkable about all this is not that men and women have so much in common but that these commonalities persist despite relentless gender policing that usually involves quite a bit of shame. Men face ridicule if they’re perceived as having female-like levels of empathy and concern for their friends, and yet, according to the study, they overcome it. Women are routinely told there’s something wrong with them if they have “masculine” attitudes towards sex and men are emasculated if they aren’t horny all the time or if they desire intimacy alongside their sexual adventures, and yet both genders tend to have a mix of adventurousness and tenderness when it comes to sex. We’re constantly being put in gender silos, and yet, apparently, we keep escaping.

I can be pretty epically un-self aware at times, but one moment from my past that’s been on my mind recently, given all the guns/gun control chatter of recent months, was an incident when I was, I think, 11 years old. I was invited to spend a Saturday at a friend’s house for the first time. He lived out in the country a bit, and had several older brothers. Neither he nor I were developing particularly stereotypically “masculine” personalities at this point. He had a couple of older brothers, as well as a father, who exhibited far more stereotypically masculine personalities, and whose approval my friend (elusively) sought. At some point while I was visiting, the father and older brothers decided it was time for target shooting, apparently a regular activity for them, and invited my friend and I to join. (He did–and missed badly, and was taunted for it). I’d never handled or even physically seen a gun before, but I’d already developed a visceral distaste for them, so I politely declined my turn. At first I was given assurances–it was OK if I didn’t have experience, they’d teach me, nothing to be afraid of, etc etc. When I persisted with my Bartleby-esque refusal, they (including the father) shifted from assurance and encouragement to overtly gender-baiting taunting. Was I a wuss? A sissy? Afraid? Didn’t I want to be a man? and so on and so forth. I was pretty baffled by this; whatever gender policing I’d encountered up to that point in my life, I hadn’t been particularly aware of it, but this was so obvious, and so absurd (I’d never been exposed to the guns/masculinity connection before, as my family had nothing to do with guns) that it defied comprehension. The sheer illogic–the utter nonsense–of connecting shooting a gun to one’s masculinity was overwhelming to my 11 year old self. They clearly expected the gender-baiting to work, and weren’t prepared for my capacity to resist it, because they kept escalating until it was clear that they began to make themselves uncomfortable with the level of frustration my refusal was creating. (especially the father, who eventually seemed to remember he was supposed to be the grown up in this situation). Later, when no one else was around, the mother, who had hovered on the periphery of this bizarre scene, privately tried to reasssure me that it was just fine if I was ready to shoot a gun yet. The father and older brothers, boisterously welcoming when I’d first arrived, were visibly uncomfortable with my presence the rest of the afternoon.

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