So, I'll admit up front that I spent a good chunk of my childhood reading books that were maybe a little old for me. I just read everything there was to be read, so once I had read all the kids books I started in on the non-kid books too. I mean, we went to the library at least once a week, but sometimes you just need to grab a book off the shelf and read it. And I grew up in Seattle where it rains a lot, so you read. And my dad was an English prof at the time, so we had lots and lots of books available, overflowing the shelves and stacked on the floor and in boxes around the house. So I was reading Austen and Hemingway and Dickens and Steinbeck and Hawthorne and the Brontes and Salinger by the age of 9 or 10. There was a lot of stuff in these books that I didn't get, but I understood enough of it to keep me interested, and my dad refused to restrict our reading, although my mom worried about it a bit. Although when I think about it now I realize that certain books (Lolita, for example) were never really in plain view until we got much older, so I suspect there was a little more filtering and censoring going on than met the eye. But I digress.
So I read all these "adult" authors and was exposed to all kinds of different cultural concepts as well as language that was foreign to me. And it was really really good for me I think. But I often came across phrases that puzzled me, and I carried them around in my head and intermittently puzzled on them whenever I was stuck doing something really boring, like sitting in church. And one of these phrases was "of the female persuasion" or "of the feminine persuasion."
First of all, I couldn't make much sense of characterizing gender as a persuasion - as if it were a mental frame of mind, or a chosen stance. Ironically, this makes much more sense to me now, and I think it's probably a great metaphor for the process of becoming one gender or the other. After all, one must be persuaded that one is a woman in order to properly internalize all the social constructions surrounding womaninity, right? Of course, I don't assume that this necessarily has anything to do with the origin of the phrase, particularly since people who would be likely to use the phrase undoubtedly had a much more essentialist view of gender than that.
But what was even more puzzling to me was the fact that you never hear the phrases "of the male persuasion" and "of the masculine persuasion." At this point in my life I would explain this as an indication that "person" implicitly means "male person," just as it means "cis person" and "straight person" and "white person." It's the old norming and othering phenomenon in which male is always the default sort of human while female is the other. But this norming/othering interpretation doesn't quite jive with the social construction view in which both genders are socially constructed and socialization is a process of properly ensconcing individuals into one or the other of the boxes. In other words, in the social construction view, both men and women have to be "persuaded" of their masculinity or femininity, while in the default/other view, men are just people and women are "of the feminine persuasion," in which case "persuasion" here has nothing to do with the process of being socialized into the proper gender. So maybe the phrase reflects both of these aspects of gender in our culture, or neither. I'm thinking we'd have to know the origin of the phrase to know, and I'd be interested to hear about it.