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X Marks The Spot

Felicity King asks, what's in a chromosone anyway?

I remember first coming across the book ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.’ I cried I was so confused. I was in year six at the time and had spent the last few weeks studying space, thank you very much, and Mrs Masters had told us all, very distinctly, that no life forms could exist on either Mars or Venus, so just you remember that, children, because it might just come up in your exam. I knew boys were different to me and all:  they couldn’t plait hair, always pinched me in assembly and had Power Rangers, instead of Polly Pockets on their lunch boxes, but they weren’t aliens, surely? So what was this book talking about? It couldn’t be lying. I was eleven years old for god’s sake, as far as I was aware the only person that ever lied was me. Confused and upset I returned home from school. My entire belief in the concept of humanity shattered. It wasn’t until a few years later, when we studied metaphors, that I finally understood the book’s title. Until I was about thirteen I just lived with a secret terror that we were, in fact, aliens from other planets and my brother wasn’t even my brother at all but a Martian who’d stolen my surname and always put soap on my toothbrush.

The next question I faced, then, was whether this whole ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ thing was true. We are certainly brought up to believe it. From the moment we’re born  girls are given a pair of rose coloured spectacles and boys are given a pair of blue, football shaped spectacles and it’s through these we’re told to forever view the world. Men are from Mars, we’re told, and Mars is a planet filled with beer, goal posts, video games and a thousand centuries’ worth of washing up. Meanwhile, across the universe, is Venus, and on Venus women float around in pink clouds riding unicorns, eating Activia yogurts, having pillow fights, plaiting their pony’s hair and trying on shoes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think me and this Venus place would get on very well, actually, I’ve always fancied riding a unicorn. However, I’m just one woman. The book isn’t called ‘Men are from Mars and Felicity is from Venus’. It’s generalising all men and women and it’s about time we realised how restrictive and even harmful these stereotypes are.

These versions of masculinity and femininity really do belong on different planets because there isn’t any room for them here on Earth. Earth isn’t full of men and women, it’s full of human beings who cover a huge personality spectrum and cannot be generalised or summed up by the equipment they’ve got going on downstairs. It seems silly that we deprive ourselves and our children of 50% of the world’s pleasures, gifts and enjoyments just because we insist on gendering everything. Why must it be football or ballet? Why can’t it be both? All that twirling around on your tip toes in big puffy dresses, I mean, it can only help on the pitch.

I’m going to be controversial here, I’m afraid. Sorry, John Gray, but you’re wrong. This whole, ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ thing? Yeah, it’s a lie. Hard as it may be to comprehend, men and women are not on different planets. We’re all down here, on Earth, together. My dad’s in the kitchen right now getting dinner for god’s sake. He’s humming the soundtrack to ‘The Animals of Farthing Wood’ and I would definitely not be able to hear him if he was on Mars. I mean, I’ve never been that good at Physics but I’m pretty sure it’s a given that once you’re on a different planet you’re basically out of ear shot. Whatever people say I’m telling you now that your gender never needs to define what you like or what you choose to do. It’s totally fine if you’re a girl who loves fashion. It’s totally fine if you’re a boy who loves fashion. Anybody can love football (though I personally can’t understand why anybody would) and there is definitely no law that means women can’t play video games. It certainly isn’t innate inside that second X chromosome of ours, and while we’re on that neither is not being able to park cars or always crying at ‘The Notebook’.

A recent report in the Huffington Post only proves my point (in a far more effective way and using actual scientific research, so really, to be honest, stop reading this and go and read that instead.) No one can dispute the real physical differences between men and women, however, what we can dispute is just how much we can gender characteristics, traits or interests. According to this recent psychological study it is almost always impossible to discern whether somebody is male or female simply by looking at their character traits. We might like to assume men are more assertive or women more compassionate, but simply looking at the characteristics of an individual gives us no accurate indication of their gender.  We are all of us, many things. Why must we define ourselves so completely based on whether or not we stand up when we pee? If it really came down to it, I mean, I even tried it once, at a festival, I could stand up to pee as well. If you don’t believe me, I will prove it and trust me it isn’t something you want to witness.

Men and women aren’t different species they’re two ends of the same spectrum. Gender shouldn’t be polarised, it’s not a multiple choice question with only two answers it’s a gradual scale, with male on one end and female on the other. There aren’t light-years of space and stars, scary comets or aliens with seventeen eyeballs floating around in-between them. Gender is a line, we all fall somewhere on that line and wherever we are on it is absolutely fine and absolutely normal. The truth is ‘Men are from Earth and, oh wait, Women are from Earth too, that’s a bit awkward’. However, I do appreciate that doesn’t make for quite such a good book title.

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