I appreciate living in this time and place. I know I've sometimes said that I think I was born in the wrong century, but in truth I'm glad to be in the era where we have antibiotics, smoke-free plane flights, and respect for women. That said, I'm shaking my head more and more at our modern American culture (and I'm not sure Europe is any better).

Born in the early 1950's; laboring through most of my education under dress codes that required me to wear a dress or a skirt to school every single day; learning from my voluminous childhood reading that boys are smart, strong, and have adventures, while girls are intellectually inferior, weak, and interested only in clothes and romance; having been the "first and only girl" in my Boy Scout Explorer troop, high school stage band, physics classes, and who knows what all else—I've witnessed quite a bit of change, much of it for the better, when it comes to how our society views men and women.

But now I think we've taken a few steps backward. A walk through the toy department in any major store reveals that children's toys are nearly as sex-stereotyped as they were when I was a child, and much more so than when our own children were young.

Even worse, if you deviate in interests, abilities, or goals from the norm for your sex, you're not just a bit odd—you risk being labelled "transgender" or at best "confused about your sexual identity."

Why can't we acknowledge, and celebrate, the fact that interests, abilities, and goals are broadly spread among males and females, without snipping that spectrum up into labels and diagnoses so that almost no one feels normal? The issue of making differences into diagnoses is much bigger than sex stereotyping, but the gender dimension happens to be especially big these days.

For example.

Here's an article about a Viking warrior's grave, assumed for more than a century to be that of a man; it was discovered in 2017 that the body is female.

When researchers announced in 2017 that the warrior was actually female, they received a lot of pushback—surely the archaeologists had made some mistake? Perhaps they tested the wrong body?

Now that's an attitude that could have been from the 1950's. A strong leader? Must have been male.

The following, however, is clearly from 2019:

The ensuing conversation raised questions about the role of women in Viking culture—as well as how Vikings understood gender identity. Unlike other Viking women buried with weapons, this person wasn’t wearing typical women’s clothing or jewelry.

“In this grave there is nothing that we archaeologically would interpret as female,” says [Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, who co-authored the 2017 paper about the discovery].... “It’s not a typically male costume either probably because it’s very high status…but there is nothing indicating a woman, there are no typical finds that we link to women.”

There is speculation, then, that the woman must have been "transgender," an issue the author addresses in a more recent paper.

As for the warrior’s gender identity, Hedenstierna-Jonson and her colleagues write, “There are many other possibilities across a wide gender spectrum, some perhaps unknown to us, but familiar to the people of the time.

“We do not discount any of them.”

So. In the 21st century we have moved on from the archaic idea that only men can be strong leaders, not women. But what have we moved on to? The idea that women still can't be strong leaders, because if you are a strong leader, you must be someone who isn't really female, but something closer to male on the spectrum.

Is that progress?  Not for women.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 9, 2019 at 6:27 am | Edit
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Alas, I have to agree with you. One only has to look at today's headlines to see how slowly attitudes change. And not just male attitudes, which is even sadder.

Posted by Grace Kone on Sunday, March 10, 2019 at 9:26 am

Do you remember the aptitude test we took at summer orientation at UR? In addition to telling us what our interests were, it also rated us on a scale of masculinity/femininity. So those of us in the sciences were "masculine." My hallmate who wanted to be a forest ranger was also "masculine."

Posted by Kathy Lewis on Sunday, March 10, 2019 at 7:29 pm

I had forgotten that part of the assessment, Kathy. I don't remember what it said about me, but I can imagine what it did with the idea that I was a physics major. Even back then we were being put into boxes, albeit not of so many different shades.

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, March 10, 2019 at 9:30 pm

I remember this article when it came out. I have a friend studying Viking archaeology, and it bothered her for the same reasons. She said that this grave has been examined for a number of years, and a theory was put forward that the body was female some time back. This was put down, because "everyone knows that there were no female warriors among the Vikings--that's just mythology."

This completely baffles me, because there *ARE* historical records that indicate "gender roles" don't define A) who does what, or B) what it is to be masculine/feminine. When did we become a culture that can't read? That cannot research our own field of study? That can only see people, places, and things through the lens of our narrow ignorance?

I want off the merry-go-round.

Posted by Brenda on Monday, March 11, 2019 at 8:10 am

Of note, regarding aptitude tests, I liked that the ASVAB test would assess knowledge and aptitude for a variety of fields, and then indicate how that aptitude compared to both genders. (I scored low on mechanical knowledge but high on aptitude, for example. The knowledge part put me about average with other girls, and well below boys. But the aptitude part ranked me very high amongst other girls and slightly above average boys.)

Posted by Brenda on Monday, March 11, 2019 at 8:14 am

Sometimes I think the merry-go-round is accelerating so fast I'll be thrown off whether I want to or not.

Only able to see through the lens of our own narrow ignorance? Too often I think that pretty much defines life today. Or worse, actually. How often are we really seeing, not through our own experience, but through media hype and the prejudices of our peer groups?

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, March 11, 2019 at 8:36 am

It amazes me how many perfectly sensible people I know who have become these strange, raging balls of hate over utter nonsense.

As such, I share the following with you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IABRgZH12YA

I apologize for the language, but it seemed apropos.

Posted by Brenda on Monday, March 11, 2019 at 9:43 am

Forget the language; if you want to apologize for something, apologize for the song. I know; I'm the only one in the world who thinks Bohemian Rhapsody sounds like fingernails on a blackboard.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, March 11, 2019 at 1:53 pm
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