I am about to make a shameful admission. I secretly wish I was a man.
It isn`t because I have penis envy or despise being a woman. I actually love being female. I like wearing skirts and having breasts, and knowing that I`ll be able to push out a kid someday. I even like having doors opened for me, and getting flowers now and again. But I envy men.
My secret desire to be a man is a little disheartening because I have always considered myself a staunch feminist. As such, I have always believed that the primary behavioral differences between men and women are culturally constructed. Be that as it may, I`m beginning to think that there is something inherent in our perception and exhibition of gender that cannot be explained by pure biological function, and cannot be attributed to cultural influence. Like a well trodden path, our processes of inter-gender relations have been repeated and retread so many times, that we have irreversibly paved the way.
The problem is rooted in the formation of relationships. I`ve noticed that every time I`ve been involved with a man that peaks my interest I start molding myself to him. By that I mean I exaggerate the interests that we share in order to be more like him. I`ve heard myself alter my inflection and change my body language-- like some form of chameleon mating ritual. In essence, it`s a need to secure a bond by establishing a joint identity with the guy. And I`m not alone--- every woman I know has been guilty of this shapeshifting malarkey. We can`t stop ourselves.
I virtually never see men do this. Yes, of course there are exceptional men who have decided to be identity chameleons too. But these guys are the proverbial "nice guys" that always get stuck in the (shudder!) "friend zone". Women like confident men. If a man is unquestionably clear and confident in who he is, we are free to be less clear and less confident in ourselves. He is the pole, and we are the pole dancers. We can justify our wishy washy approach to identity by blaming it on a need to be flexible and sensitive. Someone needs to be the tie that binds. However, women`s complaints about men`s fear of commitment rings a little hollow when it is abundantly clear that most women haven`t even committed to themselves.
About a month ago, I met this guy. He`s average attractive-- mousy, slightly out of shape, but with enough good features to get his foot in the door. He thinks of himself as an artist of sorts. He plans to write someday, but for now, he`s busy squirelling away tragedies and drunken interludes to write about. Even if he never writes down a word of it, he has become stunningly successful with women as a result of his observations and considerations. He has distilled his method to something resembling perfection.
It actually helps that he is neither shockingly good looking nor blindingly ugly. Average appearance allows him to approach under the radar. Women don`t see him coming until it`s too late. He`ll start by asking basic questions-- small talk. But he quickly taps into whatever a woman is slightly shy about, and encourages her in it. For example, if a woman appears to be slightly embarrassed about her appearance, he`ll find a way to concieve of her imperfections as fascinating idiosyncracies that define and separate her from the malaise inducing masses. He wont waste much time talking about himself although he will not evade questions. However he quickly finds a way to return the spotlight to his woman. She is the center of attention, interesting, unique, fascinating, innovative, refreshing, and usually, both shocked and invigorated by the attention.
But his attentions are not selfless. I don`t believe he calculates and manipulates in order to add another notch to his headboard. But he takes pleasure in winning-- it is his way of staying out of anything truly intimate. The conquering hero need never be conjoined with his enemy.
I`ve watched women fall prey to his technique. One minute, the woman is a sassed out reflective self, and the next, she`s explaining her childhood traumas and how she became the woman she is. She falls in love with his interest in her mechanics. She may as well just take off her clothes right there in the bar.
So what happens when the chameleon stuff that usually happens doesn`t really need to happen? Without a need to start remodeling, all I can do is look around and contemplate the scenery. But that kind of navel gazing is an exercise in isolation. There`s no rough spot on the cliff to grip. How can I be who I am, with my own interests, and my own identity, and still have any relationship? The only conclusion is that relationships are built on a game of identity tug of war. So, if there is no question of identity, then there is no relationship. Whole people are isolated people who have no need of interaction-- interaction is purely voluntary and therefore fleeting.
What is it then that men experience when a relationship is in formation? I`ve dated one man who did the whole chameleon thing, and it frankly annoyed the crap out of me. He couldn`t make a decision without my approval, couldn`t make a plan for a simple evening out...and only expressed interest in things that I had mentioned during some previous conversation we had had. In other words, he was the guy at the potluck that shows up empty handed.
Considering how irritated I was with that guy, I have to consider whether men experience this kind of irritation repeatedly with every woman they meet. Virtually every woman I know has been guilty of the chameleon thing. Virtually every man I know has expressed annoyance with clingy women. But maybe the problem is bigger than that. Maybe women don`t know how to relate to men without losing a part of themselves in the process. I`m thoroughly rattled by this thought.
As I`ve said, I`m a feminist. So the idea that something in my gendered psyche requires me to become a clingy bitch is just plain mortifying. Not to mention unacceptable. But I`ve racked my brain, and I don`t know one woman who hasn't been guilty of being a chameleon. The one woman I thought might have reserved herself recently admitted to me that she had a threesome with her current man-- and she hates going down on women. This wasn`t compromise-- I guarantee her boyfriend would never have had sex with another man to please her. This was your prototypical feminine kow-tow, with extra lube and another set of boobs.
So far then, I can`t find a female role model to prove me wrong and give me something to strive to be. Whether it`s nature or nurture that has created this state of affairs, I haven`t the faintest idea how to begin to overcome it. Moreover, even if I can successfully dance the identity tango, I suspect that I wont have many male (or female) dance partners. Men may complain about women who cling, but if there is no magnetic draw between us, why and how can we ever get together for more than a few hours?
So this all leads me to believe that women`s inability to commit to our own identities in the context of a relationship is essential to the continuity of the human race. Drastic, perhaps-- but it could be true. Assuming it is true, only men ever get to be truly themselves-- women will always be chameleonic. And that`s why I`ve accepted this secret yearning to be a man.