How a common grammar error can call so much into question.
Since I started an online dating profile almost four months ago, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve received a message that said only, “Your so beautiful.”
Now, besides the obvious questions like: “My beautiful what? My so is beautiful? What’s a so? Did you know that all sentences have to have a verb, even if they don’t have a stated subject?”
Beyond the dismal grammar failings, I was disappointed by the compliment itself; but I couldn’t really explain why, that is until I received a rather lengthy message accusing me of fraud and something in me snapped.
Jack, as he will be referred to in this story, began his email claiming that I must get lots of comments and compliments on my looks, but that he and a friend had placed a bet on whether or not my profile was written by a man.
I don’t know what I was expecting to read, but it certainly wasn’t that. Initially, I was shocked that I was so upset by his email. So he thinks you’re a man, so what? I like gender non-conformity, and I enjoy transgressing lines of heteronormativity and resisting cultural hegemony, so in some ways it was an amusing idea, but as I thought about it more over the next few days I began to find it less amusing.
He didn’t think I was a man; he thought a man wrote my profile.
In this light, the implications of his accusation became more far reaching and all the more enraging. They also retroactively explained my discomfort with all the previous attention and emphasis on my physical attractiveness by other prospective online dates and the lack of attention to any other aspect of my being.
Technically, he complimented my profile, saying that it was well-written, organized, articulate and concise, and for all of these reasons—clearly written by a man.
Women, apparently, are not capable of being articulate, though to be honest I can recall numerous times in my life when I have received praise for being that very thing: articulate. I can also remember a time period (i.e. most of my life) where I did not receive praise for my physical appearance.
Being sexy was for someone else; being a kind, caring and intelligent person and being taken seriously was always far more important to me than being pretty.
It’s taken me at least a couple of decades to realize and accept I am pretty, but ultimately this is not the focus of my life, and most of the time it still catches me off guard when someone genuinely compliments my appearance. My first response silently to myself is still, Really? But after the initial shock, I am usually able to manage a smile and a thank you.
The more I thought about Jack’s message, the more I realized it was not bending gender roles at all, but rather outlining them with a thick tipped black sharpie of binaries.
According to his rule I was allowed to be an attractive, obligatorily, heterosexual woman. My profile pictures were evidence enough of this, and therefore if I belonged to this group of luscious and alluring ovary totters, I was not allowed to belong to the group of intellectuals capable of writing eloquent and engaging descriptions of themselves.
It made perfect sense then that I, being the seductive and feeble-minded mammary gland that I am in this world of unrelenting binaries, would when faced with such an overwhelming task as the confusing and complicated labyrinth of the written language, defer to the unquestionably superior testicle-wielding hominid to do the task for me.
It reminds me of a story about a middle school all girls basketball team, who upon winning the game, instead of receiving the recognition and honor they deserved for a game well played, had their femaleness called into question and were required to prove that they were all biologically equipped with female reproductive parts.
That was in the 90s.
Certainly, if that happened in a school setting today there would be a mountain of lawsuits—but the unsettling reality is that while it is highly unlikely our middle school children would ever be subjected to such overt sexism. They, and we, I might add, are still hearing the same message that to be female means you can be good, but not as good as a man. More over, if you are attractive you cannot possibly be smart.
But here’s the thing: they’re wrong.
In fact, the very notion that someone can or can’t be as good as someone else based on their gender (or race or sexual orientation, for that matter) is completely absurd.
This is not the moment when I call for a reversal of roles. I will not insist on maintaining the patriarchy with women leaders nor make a well-argued claim that women are better than men.
Instead, I’d rather like to make a request for a paradigm shift, a move away from the power-over structure in which everyone ultimately loses, to one of egalitarian tendencies.
We are not the same, but we are equal.
The grammar error that inspired this monologue embodies in metaphor and with great simplicity the overarching issue of the power-over structure of our society. We are focused on possession, your, instead of allowing space for someone to be, you’re.
No wonder it is so commonly misspelled.
Stephanie Norman currently works as a literacy assistant in a dual language elementary school and loves every second of it. She is an aspiring salsa dancer, writer and mother of one incredible four-year-old boy. She writes about her adventures in mothering and dating as a single mom on her blog.
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