Sometimes when we look for a rallying call to join us as humans around a common cause or to show us our equal vulnerability, we say these trite sayings like “ Common-sense says that all men put their pants on one leg at a time.” This is supposed to reassure us that we are all equal in the most “animalistic” of ways (because you know, animals wear pants).
Here is the problem and the reality though: I cannot buy jeans that are not skinny jeans… shocking. What does that mean for the one-leg mantra? Well… as a woman- and a woman living in a world that tells most women that they have to be attractive… I can’t actually help but buy skinny jeans. SO! How do I—as feminist, as subject, as object—put my pants on? Truth be told… I put them on TWO LEGS at a time.
Where does this pseudo rant come from? From watching the decline of subtle thinking about gender, sex, and equality. After witnessing the tweet storm from President Trump about the ban on transgender military service, I think it is equally high time that we encourage reflection on all of the ways in which we as a society privilege a particular way of thinking about what is “normal.” For as Foucault teaches us, what is “normal” is merely the norm of behavior that coerces us into acting according to someone else’s standards. We self-censure because we want to be acceptable to the rest of society. We coerce ourselves into being something that we are not, merely for the approval or the acceptance by the rest.
It is not merely women that face this same fate, but men as well. Sex and gender become ropes in which we bind ourselves. Thus when we start to insist that all men ought to X, and all women ought to Y, we force a particular world view on those whose lives sit at intersections. Intersectionality, heterogeneity, and diversity are actually what produces progress. Beyond the brute fact that this sort of diversity allows for physical evolution of a species, we should also acknowledge that it produces beauty. As Plato reminds us that democracy is the “most beautiful” of all constitutions, like a “many colored cloak” because it has the most diverse population of people, so too does diversity of roles, tastes, pursuits, and genders in our society. Gender is not binary, though we see it most clearly when we put them in opposition. Gender is a practice, a performance, and a social construct. To prohibit or to “ban” a gender from a job is not only a violation of one’s basic rights to freedom of expression and speech, but to undercut the basic values upon which this country was founded.
So the next time someone wants to say “men are from mars, women are from venus,” or that “we all put our pants on one leg at a time,” I hope that you reflect on the fact that these seemingly innocuous tropes shackle us. For it is not true that sex determines how one thinks or acts. It is not true that all humans put their pants on one leg at a time. Nope, I, as a woman who identifies with femininity, try to buy jeans that fit me in a feminine way. But due to some interesting choices by society, that is by men and women in the majority, some pants force us to sit down, and put our pants on two legs at a time.