A couple of years back, I visited one of my oldest friends at her home in the South. That’s the southeast US, and it gets capitalized to evoke the hot, sticky weather, mint-julep atmosphere and their slow-drawling ways. My friend and I were sorority sisters in college and have maintained one of those easy friendships over the years, where we don’t always talk often, but we can immediately pick up where we left off when we do.
She has three sons, all teens when I visited. They were very interested in me, as a friend of their mother’s who wasn’t part of their lives, too. The middle son, in particular, took advantage of the opportunity to ask me questions about girls. We had wide-ranging discussions about superhero movies, Hugh Jackman and whether I thought he could, with dedicated work at the gym, attain a Wolverine-esque physique – and if the girls would like that.
He was introspective and earnest and utterly charming.
No, I did not cougar my friend’s son. Stop that.
He had one specific girl he was pining for and asked for my input on wooing her. At point, he wanted to play me a song on the piano. He said, “As a woman, you’ll appreciate this song.”
And I told him to just Stop Right There.
I said, “If you want to treat the people in your life well, just strike that phrase from your vocabulary. Anything you have to say that follows ‘as a woman, you’ doesn’t need to be heard.”
He was all hurt and confused – because, after all, he was just trying to be empathetic with the female species, right? – and it took me a while to explain it to him.
I’m still not sure he ever got my point.
That moment has been coming back to me at various times over the last couple of weeks. With all the discussions within and outside of SFWA about what’s appropriate vs. what’s sexual harassment vs. censorship, and all the shadings of meaning, I think this is what it comes down to. If you’re telling someone else what their experience will be based on their gender (or anything else, then you’re misstepping.
To clarify, I don’t experience things as a woman. I experience them as a person.
It’s that simple.
I’m not sure where those ideas come in, that members of the opposite sex – or later in life, of other sexual inclinations – are somehow alien in nature. I remember being on the playground and boys yelling that girls have cooties. I had no idea how this could be. Or even what it was!
Turns out they didn’t know, either.
So, to me, this is a simple place to start. No ‘As an X, you’ sentence constructions.
As my loyal blog-gobblers, you understand, I’m sure. 😉