Róisín Ingle on . . . being a male/female

Sat, Jan 25, 2014, 01:00

The Being a Man festival is on next week in Southbank, London. “A ground-breaking weekend” with “extraordinary contributors and leaders” exploring “all facets of masculinity and male identity”. Sounds good, right? Well it does to me but presumably I’m not invited. Boo.

I’m not sure when the Being a Woman festival is on but I’m sure it must be imminent. Oh wait, there it is. It’s on in March. Being Woman: “Three luscious days of honouring and celebrating the Divine Feminine . . . are you feeling the call?” It’s happening in Australia. How annoying otherwise I’d have totally gone. In Ireland the annual Being A Woman festival happens in August but it goes by the name of The Rose of Tralee.

I heard about Being A Man, or BAM as it’s also known unfortunately and perhaps provocatively – everything is provocative these days, even my big toe – from the broadcaster Jon Snow, he of the colourful ties and razor sharp analysis. He wrote an article about the event and it struck a chord with me. In it he mentioned a psychiatrist friend who divides men and women into male and female portions. Take it away Jon:

“Some men are male/male; some are female/male or male/female – the dominant gender attribute coming first.” Snow’s psychiatrist friend and himself agreed they were each female/male. The psychiatrist reckoned his wife is male/female – she didn’t disagree.

Snow says that he knows some people will dismiss his friend’s theory as nonsense but you know when you read something and it just feels like the truth? I suppose it’s how certain people feel when they read the Old Testament. I read the article three times because I couldn’t understand how I had got to the ripe old age of 42 without realising I am a bit of a male/female. It explains everything. The good and the bad. My bossiness. My inability to wear high heels. My inability not to scoff at notions of divine femininity. Woman, I feel like a man sometimes as Sheryl Crowe didn’t put it.

There’s also plenty of what is characterised as “female” stuff in me all right. Like my fondness for lipstick and talking about feelings and David Beckham. But I’m one of those women – there are loads more of us than you might think – who did not grow up dreaming of walking down the aisle in a white dress. Which is why when us male/female types read articles that state as a matter of indisputable fact that “every woman dreams of wearing a white dress and walking down the aisle” steam comes out of our ears. I also have an aversion to housework. I rest my case.

It’s worth looking up Jon Snow’s article in The Guardian because in a very small space he does a brilliant job of skewering all those stereotypes we engage in when it comes to gender. Some of which I’m engaging in here. (Yes I know. I’m contrary. I’m a bit female.) His point is that it’s not black and white, it’s not as simple as here be women and there be men. Snow, for example, says his feminine side comes out in his choice of clothes, those colourful ties, and the fact that he finds football talk “unrewarding”.

Yes, he acknowledges that liking football chat isn’t necessarily a gender issue. In his workplace sport is talked about and participated in but “never to the exclusion of everything else . . . too many of us men seem to be too happy to go along with the herd and talk about predominantly male sport, instead of breaking out to discuss art, music, inequality, politics and the rest. Where, in my experience, women are happy to discuss feelings and emotions, many men will run a country mile to avoid such stuff. As a result, I seem to be prepared to confide in women more than I would in a man.”

You don’t have to agree with him but there’s no denying these kinds of conversations are useful. So thanks Jon Snow for reminding me that whether we are women or men is not only determined by what is between our legs. That it’s always been more complex and mysterious than that. And that generalising about gender while tempting, easy and sometimes unavoidable, is not really helpful.

Now to organise the Being A Male/Female festival: Three lusty days of not being afraid to take the credit for things, doing no housework, with a soupçon of drinking white wine and gossiping about the other festival goers thrown in for balance.

Are you feeling the call?
roisin@irishtimes.com

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