Rand and I had the opportunity to jump onto the dance floor at a family wedding last weekend. I was doing my usual mix of moves: stuff I saw other people doing, the Lawnmover and other corny dance moves, and everything Jane Fonda taught me in her 1982 VHS tape, Jane Fonda’s Workout.
In high school, one of my friends commented I danced as if I were on drugs, which is pretty accurate to this day, so I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t dance well, but I dance with passion. I do it because it feels good and if I encounter someone who is super offended by it, then maybe they are in the wrong place, not me.
I also got a chance to dust off my line dancing skills from frequenting the Caravan Cattle Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when I had lived in the area. My fumbling performance earned me a compliment from my sister on my Cha Cha, which I took with a grain of salt, considering a white person was telling another white person they Cha Cha’d well to a non-Latin song.
After dancing until sweat was running into my eyes and my dogs were barking, one of our family friends gave me a non-ironic fist bump for my dancing. All this sounds well and good and wholesome and supportive and fun, so what’s my point?
Before I transitioned (that’s slightly over thirty years of being identified as a woman) no one had ever complimented my dance moves. Not even someone who wanted to get into my pants… in fact, I think a few people took it upon themselves to try to teach me to dance well before they tried to get into my pants.
What does this mean?
The conclusion I’ve been running with for a while, and probably isn’t surprising to a lot of you, is that people don’t expect as much from men as they do from women.
I could (theoretically) wear the exact same outfit to parties many times in a row before anyone would think or say anything. In fact, men are encouraged to wear the same black tie outfit to certain occasions–the same one.
When I was being pressured into presenting as a woman, there was no way I would wear the same outfit to two parties in a row. And if, for whatever reason, I did decide to do this, my friends would have something to say about it. They could phrase it nicely, as in, “Would you like some help picking out an outfit?” or, “I think I have something, or so-and-so may have something, that will fit you.” But their message would be clear.
Thank goodness your gal friends have your back! Or do they? My gal friends at work were the ones who convinced me to put on makeup for the first time. After I did, I got promoted, twice. They were also the ones who convinced me to wear eye cream, because heaven forbid I look old when I’m… well, old. It seems to me that some of this helpfulness was just another way to get me to conform to societal norms. Sure, it benefited me in some ways, but it also damaged me in others.
Sadly, these social norms extend to far more areas of life than clothing and appearances. While touring the holiday lights in our childhood neighborhood, a friend and I were discussing the greater expectations of women over those of men in social situations, particularly with introversion.
It is generally more socially acceptable for men to be introverted and a wallflower at parties than it is for women to be those things. Also, if a man is introverted, his wishes are usually more respected–people won’t assume what he does or does not want just because he’s quiet. However, women are expected to walk this fine line between not talking too much, because that takes the spotlight away from someone else, and not talking enough, because they are expected to facilitate social interactions, especially among socially awkward men. Also, people will make more assumptions about what a woman wants if she is quiet. It’s not uncommon for someone to hand a woman a drink, without asking first, for example.
My favorite comedy sketch about the differing expectations of men, is by DeAnn Smith, a lesbian who dated a woman who had only dated men before she had dated DeAnn: click HERE.
Looking at it from a sociocultural evolutionary perspective, it’s actually quite clever for men to set the bar low. In our species, women should generally have the pick of their partner. For example, nearly every able bodied cis woman who wants a child with her genes will have one by the time she dies, but for able bodied cis men the numbers aren’t even close.
Hence, the level of competitiveness seen primarily in men, which is theorized to lead to male violence. Based on this set up alone, I’d expect to see some manner of peacockery from men. In other words, the same colorful displays we see in male birds, but in human male clothing, but we don’t. Women dress up nice for men, not the other way around. In Rome, it isn’t uncommon for women to wear pumps and dresses, while their male partners wear saggy jeans, a T-shirt, and sometimes a baseball cap.
I imagine men create their own hierarchy, enforced since boyhood, which keeps other men in compliance with this structure, but I don’t know. I didn’t grow up as a cis boy dating girls. As a girl-appearing trans boy dating girls, I was mostly ignored–by everyone–but that is a discussion for another time.
Breaking through this social system we’ve been building for hundreds of thousands of years is going to take some intentional thought and a lot of work, but I think it’s worth it. There are several things I call out in social situations, in an attempt to even up gender expectations, but my most frivolous advice? Dance as if no one is watching and buy all the ties.