Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Causal Sexism

A teeny little thing happened recently and has been niggling away at me ever since. It's not even a thing that happened really. It's just something someone said. A single word in fact. A throwaway single syllable that has left me in a state of… I don’t know what ever since. See what you make of this.

I've been trying out a new garage recently. Or should that be motor mechanics? Garage is a weird one for Brits; it's the little room where you put your car, it's the place where oily people in overalls make your car better and it may even be a place where petrol and/or diesel for your car is obtained. And even some sort of music, I am given to understand.

Anyway, this is beside the point. I took my car to a new garage for to get it serviced and MOT'd. MOTted. Motted. Signed off as roadworthy. The main person there, we'll call him John, was friendly, did a good job on the vehicle and didn't charge me a fortune. So far so good. But he did also call me love.

Now, whoa there. Easy. Before you jump ahead, this isn't your common or garden casual sexism article here. Though it may well include casual sexism, and probably does, that's not the whole of the story. So let's return to our tale.

Yes, so he called me love a few times. Just casually in that sort of way he almost certainly says mate to other sorts of people, naming no names and gendering no genders. It was delivered, I have no doubt, with absolutely no thought of perpetuating the patriarchy, keeping the sisters down and or even a doomed attempt to flirt with the customer. The Ocelot is not at home to Dame Flirt in any case. It was just a throwaway term that he probably uses on lots, if not all, female humans.

Now, standard practice would be for the recipient of the aforementioned love, in these days of zero tolerance to casual sexism, to dwell upon John's love as the tool of oppression it is, and rightly so Maybe have a word with him about what century this is. Maybe quietly seethe about it to friends later. Maybe write an overly long self-regarding blog, I don't know. But your friendly neighbourhood Ocelot was momentarily pleased, for the Ocelot is differently gendered from the vast majority, and thus constantly frets about being accepted as female in day-to-day transactions, and not chased across the moors by outraged citizens wielding torches and pitchforks. And for someone who is regularly 'sirred' on the phone (usually by overseas call centre operators) it was thus a strangely validating incident, and yet one that was also, of course, a bit sexist.

So I am, much like Natalie Imbrugliuglia, torn. I should be irked and annoyed and peeved at John's sexosity, but I am also a bit grateful that at least one stranger that day accepted me for my apparent gender. Of course, one cannot possibly know how others see oneself in terms of gender identity, not without engaging the services of a first-year psychology student with a clipboard and a questionnaire who constantly follows one around at a discrete distance and asks anyone that one has encountered on the street or in a shop what they made of one, genderwise. Incidentally, I have no idea why I have started using one all of a sudden. It may be in an attempt to use a gender neutral term that avoids the foulness of it, the plurality of they and bonkersness of zhe.

Many among the differently gendered strive for total transition. 100% confirmation of the gender to which they identify. Sometimes this is called passing or going stealth or simply fitting in. Some folks achieve this goal with great success, either through luck of genetics and physical features, transitioning at a young age (something increasingly common, though perhaps a bittersweet pill for older folks who switched sides later in life after the ravages of puberty had left their mark), or simply through massive amounts of practice, therapy, medication, surgery and ongoing cosmetic treatments. Some others are happy to exist somewhere in between the monolithic poles of M and F, and this self-identification as gender non-binary is an increasingly acceptable option in recent years, and rightly so.

But for a lot of the differently gendered, an occasional confirmation that society accepts who one (there I go again) wants to be is a welcome pellet of encouragement. In a life where one may be constantly fretting about walking funny, talking funny, looking funny, it's nice every now and again to get a bit of a thumbs-up from someone, though they know it not, who says yes, you're fitting in. Even if it is a bit of casually sexist chitchat from an oily fossil who's just been fiddling with your sparkplugs.

It's a weird situation. I am literally holding two opposing opinions of the incident at the same time. Which might make me some sort of philosopher. Or nut. Or vacillating wuss. It's like Schrödinger's Casual Sexism. Or maybe Causal Sexism. It both is and is not insulting. Both is and is not validating of different states of being. Or transition. Or identity. Argh.

I do know it's bloody confusing though.



Actually, now I come to think of it, he may have called me sweetheart. Is that better or worse?



5 comments:

Jay Tee said...

Obviously a different situation but I rather like getting 'love'd', normally from older ladies (an increasingly small number of women now that I'm the wrong side of 40) but it's much better than 'mate' (especially as people who 'mate' me (ooer) are generally people I suspect I would not actually wish to be mates with). Occasionally in t'north chaps get 'love'd' by chaps but I suspect this is increasingly rare and will eventually die out

Jack said...

It might be John is unaware that the word love has any negative connotations and in his own way he was probably aiming for nice and friendly.
It may be that John was raised in a pub full of other John's and extreme right wing John types and spent all his time absorbing John culture. He may be attempting to improve a little bit all the time and desperately hopes he's doing a little better but may still screw up.
Maybe John sometimes projects himself into blog comments and is a sorry John.

The Chocolate Ocelot said...

Poor John. I feel bad now.

Les Fulbrook said...

Even if it is a bit of casually sexist chitchat from an oily fossil who's just been fiddling with your sparkplugs?

That may be the best bit of prose I've read in years. Casual sexism is weird. The mechanic probably didn't even think about it. In many households up and down the land 'love' and 'mate' are used as terms referencing someone. Doesn't change Society's aversion to the terms but means it's ingrained into some people's psyche from an early age. On a similar vein, I loathe being called 'mate' by someone who I've never met... it appears I'm rambling and strayed somewhat from the blog's actual conyent. I guess I'm both happy for you and also mortified on your behalf? [Note to all: I was going to attempt some real low brow humour but decided against it... I'm such a sweetie like that]

The Chocolate Ocelot said...

As you can see from the line you quoted, I find it very hard myself to resist low-brow humour and 1970s stand-up comedian double entendres :)