The Sexist

A Very Androgynous Christmas

First, my English major mea culpa: I hadn't been exposed to Thomas Pynchon until this winter, when I finally took the time to read the Crying of Lot 49—all 150 pages of it. I found myself completely consumed by Oedipa, Pynchon's adulterous estate executor turned clandestine postal service detective protagonist. After a little bit of research on the character, I discovered one reason I was so taken by Oedipa: In the Winter 1977 issue of Contemporary Literature, Cathy N. Davidson argues that Oedipa is an androgen:

Androgyny, the perfect union in one person of characteristics conventionally designated as either male or female, can never, in a sexist society, be perfect. Moreover, because our culture has traditionally insisted that women are less capable than men and that their lives are more determined by biology, the female hero must find the road to any approximation of androgyny more difficult and more distant than does her male counterpart.

There, my life's pursuit rolled out in front of me, like a red carpet on the road to any approximation of androgyny: Androgynous female heroism shall be mine.

So, how am I doing? Let's rate my androgynous success through the time-tested method of discerning personality: through the gifts others give you for Christmas.

* Money (power)—Masculine.
* Black O.J. Gloves (leather)—Masculine.
* Bike Lights (no-tool mounting)—Androgynous
* Electric Blanket
(for the exceptionally cold)—Feminine.
* e.e. cummings collection (paperback)—lowercase.
* Advice from aging male relative on how if I become a lawyer I will gain sympathy because I am a pretty girl who will stumble when I speak in front of a crowd and everyone will feel so sorry for me that they'll drop all the charges against my client, or something (unsolicited)—Feminine.

Looks like I have a ways to go.

Photo via No Trams To Lime Street.

  • mdesus

    my gifts

    *candle in middle of sand (mounted in flower holder bottom) with like some leaves and shit to make it pretty
    *tshirt with ghostbusters slogan
    *trip to a friends wedding where I'll be in the party
    *Bottle of red wine
    *an immersion blender
    *oral sex gift certificates that will never, ever be redeemed (thanks andre-anne!!!!)

  • Amanda Hess

    feminine, except for the candle in the middle of sand, which falls on the egregiously phallic end of the manly spectrum.

  • Sady

    Holy crap! Why did I not realize this legal strategy existed? If I'm ever put on trial, I'm going to be represented by a baby deer. Who would put me in the slammer if it meant hurting Bambi's feelings?

  • rawkcuf

    I always thought the road to androgyny was closer for women. (Already wear pants... easier to cut and grease hair than grow it out...etc.) Equal rights for women brought women closer to 'androgynality'. Nothing seems to have occurred in society toward furthering the acceptance of androgyny in men. Androgyny in men tends to be sequestered to the 'gay', while androgyny in women is considered requisite for the times (otherwise one risks being 'old fashioned...')
    ...or did I miss something.

  • Amanda Hess

    You know, that's a very good point, and one that I hadn't considered because I had just been thinking of this from Oedipa's (and my own) perspective. Perhaps the argument makes more sense in the specific context of literary protagonists.

    This is what was so refreshing to me about the book (written, yes, 40 years ago): gender is barely noticeable as an aspect of Oedipa's character. None of her actions evoke the explanation "because she is a woman." And while she has relationships and sex and all that jazz, she comes off as just human, not female. The fact that this was so clear and surprising and refreshing in the Crying of Lot 49 made me realize how oppressively gender can shape the characters of other works.

    Perhaps it's not the case that men can more easily assume feminine characteristics. Maybe what's really going on here is that we find masculine characteristics less conspicuous, so men can more easily operate as "humans" instead of specifically "men" because we simply don't notice their gender as much. Maybe men can more easily pass as "androgynous" not because they incorporate feminine characteristics, but because we don't always think of their masculine attributes as gender-specific, but rather specific to humans---or, in this case, protagonists of novels.