A few years ago, in response to the Susan G. Komen foundation pulling its support of Planned Parenthood, I tweeted in disgust, “Politicizing women’s health makes me sick.” This tweet then led to an interview with a writer for the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women for an article considering whether we were facing a “war on women.”
As part of that interview I called myself a “very reluctant feminist.” I’ve always thought that gender shouldn’t matter. People are people, and we all are just trying to do the best we can.
I suppose I’ve always known this in some way, and after publishing my contribution to the #YesAllWomen tweetstream today I decided to repost something I blogged in law school considering this very issue. Continue reading below the jump.
#YesAllWomen because I've been told I'm too independent to ever attract a man.
— Cathy Gellis (@CathyGellis) May 25, 2014
I have a friend at school whom I met slightly before the semester began. He was living in California and we’d gotten in touch initially to see if it made sense to join forces for the move out to Boston. (Turns out it didn’t). It ended up that he was in my section (and therefore all my classes) and we have similar academic interests so we spend a lot of time together. Of course, I also spend a lot of time with his roommate who was in all my classes AND my writing seminar. In fact the group of us spend a lot of time together in general, sometimes with another (female) friend.
It’s all very above board, our friendship, like all the other friendships I have with people who just happen to be male. Which is why the rumor of our dating is so perplexing. Apparently the rumor is fairly widely held among my classmates. At first I was amused by it, because it wasn’t true and I smirked at people’s ignorance. But where I once smirked now I’m irked because at its core the whole thing is insulting. Why is it that a male and a female can’t socialize without a romantic agenda always being inferred?
I’ve since discussed this with two friends, the one in question and another woman. They disagreed with me when I said it was a remarkably chauvinist automatic assumption. They said no, it was just as unfair for my male friend that he had to labor under the supposition that he was dating his female friend as it was for me to be presumed to be dating my male one. I agree with the mutuality of that unfairness but I still maintain that there is a chauvinist subtext underlying the whole matter.
It used to be that only men were the law students, the businessmen, the people who got to be self-actualized in a non-familial context. Women’s traditional roles were familial, so if that’s all women were expected to be capable of or interested in, it was more reasonable to believe that any interactions between men and women were part of some mating dance, even if they originated in some seemingly unromantic context (like school). Those biases towards women have been widely discredited as women take their place as equals in what had previously been a male-dominated world, or so I thought. I mean, I came to law school to be a lawyer, to focus on succeeding in this practice. My goal was not to find a husband. So why would people see me interacting with a man and presume, with no evidence other than the fact that I spend time with him (e.g., no holding hands, no saccharine flirting language), my focus was the latter? Women need to be able to interact with men as men would have interacted with each other, in a context devoid of romantic politics. My friend doesn’t have a problem with the gender neutrality of our relationship, but it seems like many of my peers do.
There’s something very second grade about the whole attitude. Put a man and a woman together and oooooooo…. I can practically hear the singsong jeer: “Cathy and [friend], sittin’ in a tree…” But worse, these are grown-ups. These are men and women who seem content to view the world as entirely a matter of male-female maneuvering. There’s no aspiration for something better, of having men and women being equals in non-romantic contexts and resigning sexual politics to a separate, more private sphere.
Originally published April 18, 2004.