i've been given the opportunity in the last few days to think about my grandmother and ruminate on my impressions of her. being a quick-witted, smart-mouthed type, i often wonder what she would have become if she had been born in another era, or in another geographical location. born in her own time, but in a large city instead of a small town, i can easily picture her donning a suit and sneaking out to drink and smoke cigars with the guys. since she did live in a small town and likely felt the pressure of expectations, she became a wife and mother, perhaps a little more uneasily than others.
for what she might have turned out like in the modern era, i need only look in the mirror. i consider myself fortunate that i'm free to do bar shots, make off-colour jokes, stay out past my bed time and generally behave as badly as anyone, without fear of ostracism from either family or community.
however, there are sometimes signs i get that things aren't quite as smooth between the genders as we'd like to believe. a particularly good example happened some years back, when i was involved in a conversation and one of the people made the comment that he "wouldn't say this if there were women in the room". even i missed the implication for a beat.
now, i'm not indicating that this person was so obtuse as to have failed to realise that i was (and remain) female, but the comment does indicate that he didn't think of me as being the female in the same way as, say, his girlfriend was. somehow, from associating with men and establishing a comfort level, i'd also managed to establish myself as a member of a third gender.
gender dimorphism is not something that has been unquestioned. castrati, castrated males prized for their singing from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, enjoyed a social place outside the confines of gender (examined melodramatically in the film farinelli). hijras in south asia are intergendered and play a role that is neither male nor female within the society (don't take my word for it.) these examples are both very separate from questions of sexual orientation, which is a whole other issue.
an excellent resource on this is the intersex society of north america (which deals primarily with issues facing those born without a clear gender) or gilbert herdt's excellent historical and sociological study third sex, third gender.
the battle of the sexes is beginning to look a little more complex than most people would imagine.