Early on in Nancy Chodorow’s essay “The Sexual Sociology of Adult Life” I was bothered by the following passage:
…because children are first around women, women’s family roles and being feminine are more available and often more intelligible to growing children than masculine roles and being masculine. Hence, male development is more complicated than female because of the difficult shift of identification which a boy must make to attain his expected gender identification and gender role assumption. (265)
Though I agreed with Chodorow’s logic, I did not like the determination that femininity is “more available” while masculinity is “more complicated”. The presumption that females assumed a role that was simple and accessible bothered me. But what confused me more is that males somehow got to have a deeper understanding of gender. If males had to make this transition, then they somehow were more mature in their understanding of their gender. This right of passage made being male more mature and more advanced than the female; this process produced an automatically infantilized women.
I do not like to think of being feminine as being immature, especially since though being feminine is not a role I think is perfect, it is role that I think has its benefits. This got me thinking, especially as Chodorow elaborated on the masculine persona being the public and more economically productive persona. Would I have to become “male” to be a true, independent, productive, member of the larger society? And more importantly, if I determined this was necessary, would masculinity be a true possibility for me as a woman?
First, I do think that it is somewhat necessary for women to develop a certain “fluency” in masculinity to participate to the fullest in a public domain. Based on Chodorow’s explanation of masculinity being attained through assertion of otherness, independence, and superiority, masculinity does seem to be a precedent for success in capitalist society. Since I would like to also be successful in society, it does seem that becoming masculine would be a benefit.
Based on the idea that being masculine would provide a mindset that would breed social success, the question becomes if a woman can actually adopt the masculine persona for the work world. My previous answer to this question has always been that there is a certain extent to which women can adopt the masculine persona, but there is a limit, because of the conflicts of home obligations and feminine identification. But Chodorow’s descriptions of masculinity as repressive, based on an absentee father’s model, and elusive and stereotypical, it seems that masculinity is even more of a performance than femininity. If masculinity’s power emerges from a feminine gender identity, and masculinity is a largely fabricated concept, it seems that women would have no problem being masculine. Actually, since women have the foundation of having truly integrated their femininity through personal relationships, and have a true model of performing gender, their gender performance is more natural, mastered and second nature. Though women might be more attached to femininity, they would be a better population to identify the opposite of their gender and reject it. They have more comfort and practice acting their gender. Women, it seems, would be better at being masculine than many men might be.
That being said, this lack of a nuanced, real, human models for masculinity for men struck me an very sad. Women have models of oppressed and limited women, but they have complete models to watch, while men have a fictitious concept to base their gender on. It brings into question how much both genders are problematic and oppressive, but based on the fact that I have come to completely paradoxical conclusions in this post, it seems like an area worth further exploration.