I tend to think about gendered social expectations a lot. For one thing, I'm raising a couple of girls here, and for another thing, I tend not to conform to some of the expectations, and have gotten my share of shit from well-meaning friends and family as well as complete strangers. I used to be sort of bewildered by this. Why on earth would a complete stranger be so invested in how I perform gender? So I've written before on the topics of owning your physical space and changing your speech patterns in order to stop apologizing and verbally deferring to men so often. But over the last few weeks I've been thinking about another way in which women and men are socialized (and judged) differently.
I am not a naturally friendly person. I'm just not, and at this point in my life I think I can stop being in denial about it or subconsciously feeling guilty about it. Some people have a natural propensity to be friendly, and others don't. And not being naturally friendly doesn't reflect on your character or moral worth at all. There's no universal obligation to be friendly. And many men are unabashedly unfriendly and downright prickly, but people don't tend to judge them or guilt them about it. But women who aren't naturally friendly are frequently judged. Think about how many male authors there are who are notoriously reclusive, and abrasive and irritable when they do come into contact with others. This is generally thought to be a charming eccentricity. Now think about all the things that are said about Annie Proulx's personality. Why does she have an obligation to be warm and empathetic and put others at ease, when her male counterparts don't?
And it's not as if I'm rude or lacking in empathy or cold or anything like that. I just despise making small talk. And I often have a hard time discovering the things I might have in common with a stranger. I'm often lost in thought, or focused on my kid, or just want to read my book or magazine and listen to my music until the flight is over for crying out loud. And if I'm really honest, the effort involved in making a connection with a stranger I'll probably never see again and most likely don't have anything in common with often doesn't seem worth it to me. Does that mean I think the individual person is not worthwhile? Not at all. In general I tend to like people and expect good things out of them. Does it mean I think they're beneath me? Of course not. And I'm generally thought to be very friendly when I'm with people I already know, and I can make small talk and smooth over awkward situations if I have to. I just find it tedious and mind-numbing and tiresome to have to do it.
But this is something I've avoided admitting to myself for years, and I think this has a lot to do with gendered expectations. It's yet another way that I "fail" at femininity. And I'm fine with this "failure," since meeting the ridiculous expectations established by our cultural construction of the feminine is not a project I perceive of as being worthwhile. But still, it's just one more pressure that nags at the back of your mind, and one more way you know you're probably being judged, and one more thing that offers some friction as you move through the world. And I could do with a little less friction these days.