So The Independent decided to run a quiz, called “are you gender typical?” The questions are ludicrous, and although the quiz gets a thumbs up for generally acknowledging that not only women express behaviours traditionally labelled as feminine and not only men express behaviours traditionally labelled as masculine, there are some serious problems here.
Let’s start with the name of the quiz: which puts the whole exercise in the context of judging readers against a ‘typical’ man or woman.
Sometimes men like Sex in the City, which definitely doesn’t make them “camp” or “girlie”, the newspaper informs us. Sometimes women can dispose of their own dead mice. But that doesn’t mean you’re a “tomboy”, just that you “plough your own furrow” and “dare to be different”.
Check out the scoring system chosen by the newspaper – a literal binary!
Scores associated with femininity are given a 1, those with masculinity a 0. So the Independent has come part of the way – it’s not all manly men and feminine women – but still can’t shake the idea that behaviours, television watching habits, personality traits, and whatever else, fit into two – and no more – neat boxes that can be categorised ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’.
Some of the questions are particularly galling:
18. A. I can find my keys in in less than five seconds
B. I have to hunt around to ind my keys
Guess which answer gets a 0 and which gets a 1? Yep, that’s right.
If the questions weren’t so annoying as to make it a moot point, I would mostly want to answer “neither” or “both” to these questions (there’s no space for anyone who can’t stand Top Gear or Sex and the City; or reads the foreign news section and the colour supplements with equal interest. And, yes, the Independent newspaper believes unironically that its foreign news is coded masculine, supplements feminine).
Then we have the lead-in to the questionairre:
Of course the differences between the sexes are interesting (and sexy). But think for a moment about a beautiful Bangkok ladyboy compared to a 19-stone rugby prop forward. Or contrast a female shot-putter with that skeletal girl on the catwalk. The differences within each sex are equally interesting.
“Ladyboy?!!!” But I guess that at least the heterocentricity of the first line introduces a theme which runs through the whole quiz!
As well as reassuring high-scoring men that they are not “camp” or “girlie” (what could be worse?!) men and women who score in the ‘middle range’ are told:
You’re in the middle ground of the gender spectrum so you can appreciate both masculine and feminine pursuits without getting hung up on what seems gender “appropriate” or whether your sexuality is being impugned.
Does the Independent really believe that calling someone gay is a slur? And that only straight people are reading this?
OK, the value judgements have shifted since How Masculine Are You? from 1954 (interestingly the Independent gives the most “positive” description to men and women who score in the middle range, whereas the newspaper is a bit negative about “manly men” and “sugar and spice” women, who are told to watch out for “dolls’ house syndrome”, whatever that is), but there are also some striking similarities.
The Independent’s version certain provides more room to manoeuvre, but the central idea that the world can be split down the middle with the feminine on one side and the masculine on the other remains; even if it is acknowledged that femininity and masculinity are not necessarily co-ordinated with women and men. And, noteably, tired and fundamentally negative stereotypes about femininity remain – femininity means reading the light section of the newspaper; preferring ‘human interest’ to history documentaries (isn’t history a human interest?!); shopping to washing your car; taking ages to get ready.