Ever Wanted To Be A Woman? What Men Say

Every quarter I ask my women students if any of them had been tomboys when they were little. Many hands enthusiastically shoot into the air. The women often have fond memories of their time climbing trees and digging in the dirt.

Then I ask men students if any of them had been sissies. The class bursts out laughing. One hand might sheepishly creep up.

One man claimed the question was unfair since the word “sissy” is stigmatized but “tomboy” is not.

Actually, there isn’t a non-stigmatizing word for a boy who acts like a girl. And there’s a reason for that. Any boy who acts like a girl takes himself down to a lower status. He becomes demeaned.

A girl who acts like a boy, on the other hand, doesn’t harm her social standing. At least not until she gets older and the behavior takes on lesbian overtones.

Another student thought I was exaggerating the problem. For his term paper he asked men and women on campus whether they had been tomboys or sissies, and whether they had ever thought about being the opposite sex.

When he asked women if they had ever wanted to be a man, or wondered what it would be like, many said they had. When he asked about being tomboys when they were little, they often reminisced on that happy time.

But when he asked men whether they had ever wanted to be a woman, or been curious about what it might be like, stunned reactions were the rule: “What!? Are you serious?” When he asked if they had been sissies when they were young, men turned an angry eye and asked, “Are you looking for trouble?”

He’s lucky to have finished his research and still be alive and in one piece.

This is just one of many examples of how we “gender rank” men above women in our society.

What difference does it make?

Ranking men above women affects many areas of life. It affects what men and women think they deserve – with men thinking they deserve more, and women feeling they deserve less. This isn’t necessarily conscious, but we can see the results: Women tend to give men more power in relationships and men tend to expect greater power; women are less likely to ask for a raise; men take up more space; the list goes on. It’s all about empowerment and disempowerment.

As we shall see, gender ranking also affects sexuality in various problematic ways, ranging from slut-shaming to sexual abuse.

Stay tuned.

Georgia Platts

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on September 28, 2010, in feminism, gender, men, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.

  1. I a man in a dress? A lot of men want to wear dresses and panties.

  2. In general, women who were tomboys when they were young easily admit their childhood. On the contrary, male who were sissies do not even want to mention about being a sissy. For example, my brother was a sissy when he was a child. My parents scold him and his friends made fun of him. At last, he felt ashamed of being a sissy and changed himself a lot. After he grew up, I often try to remind him about his childhood. However, he did not even want to admit his childhood. He always answered with a straight face, “No, I was not a sissy.”

    I also agree with the statement that this phenomenon has to do with gender ranking. The guys acting like a girl often become an object of laugh and ridicule. Acting like a girl also often used as material for comedy. For example, there was a ‘funny’ contest when I was in the middle school. The participants were limited to males, and they dressed as women. The boy who looked most like a girl got the prize. When some boys wore tight red dresses and walked with a ridiculous swing to their hips, everyone laughed loudly. This contest was only for fun, so I did not want to criticize this contest. But I thought if the contest was about dressing like boys, there would not any mockery or laugh during the contest.

  3. This isn’t necessarily related to the subject line of this article, but I do think that is relevant to your overall message and the time we live in: Yes, men dominate Fortune 500 companies and the US political stage, yet they also dominate the plumbing, construction, janitorial, and dying-for-your-country-at-the-hands-of-rifle-wielding-enemies (aka military) industries. Social ranking is by all means an existent phenomenon, and the fact that there is a gender disparity in the elite job world is a serious issue. In the “real world”, the droll domain of the everyperson, most people, male, female and everything in between, struggle to get by in one way or another. Sure there are struggles specific to womanhood, but that doesn’t mean men don’t have it bad either. In fact, an American man is statistically likely to be punished more severely in a court of law than a woman who has committed the same crime. There are class issues too, like girls who have to spend 8 hours per day away from home cleaning up vomit, plunging toilets and lifting cement blocks. Don’t forget about the increased number of females who die in military combat. When the hell did it become so great to have a job? I though people worked for the weekend. As a male I would choose to be a stay-at-home parent over a blue-collar breadwinner any day of the week.

    • Yes, men are often harmed too. And, ironically, I have never seen a guy point out a problem they face that wasn’t grounded in patriarchy.

      Yes, men are more likely to die in combat. Yet that is because the military has kept women out of combat — a role that many women have sought as they seek gender equality.

      Of course, there are biological sex differences. Because of testosterone, more of the calories that men eat make muscle, and I don’t think that standards should be lowered just to get women into combat, police work or fire fighting. But everyone should have equal opportunity to see if they can make the grade.

      And oftentimes women can do just as well, or even better at these jobs. No reason women can’t be combat fighter pilots, for instance. There is plenty women can do in the navy. And guns are a great equalizer. On the other hand, women are much less likely to become Navy Seals.

      Women are actually very helpful for police work, partly because of the way they’re socialized and perceived (and because social expectations create social patterns, the perceptions have some basis in truth). Women are less quick to use violence because of the way they’re socialized: Women are taught to be nicer, and they are perceived as being nicer, so they are much more effective when it comes to community police work. If men weren’t socialized to be tough and scary — and perceived to be more tough and scary — then men could do just as good of a job.

      And that’s the same reason that women are sometimes punished less severely for the same crime. They are seen as less tough, scary, violent.

      With crimes like statutory rape women are again less likely to be punished as harshly as men. But again, look to patriarchy. Men are taught that to be men they need to have a lot of sex, and they are encouraged to do so. That feeds into the idea that men are predators. In addition to perceiving men as tough and scary.

      But there are times when women are punished more harshly. In domestic violence women are more likely to use a weapon because they are on average smaller and physically weaker than their partners. Like one guy raped his girlfriend soon after she bore his child, ripping her stitches. She threw a bottle at his truck as he drove off. She got the worse sentence.

      I’ve written some on problems that men face, like these articles:

      It’s Not Easy Being A Man

      Real Men Competing With Porn Stars
      Men Don’t Feel Sexy–and It Sucks
      David Beckham’s Sex Sells

      It’s Ok To Be A Tomboy But Not A Sissy. Why?
      Doing Dumb Stuff to Prove Manhood

      These articles aren’t meant to promote cross-dressing. They are meant to show how men are so often wounded in our society:

      Men Who Wear Frocks
      Women Get All The Good Emotions, Says Cross-Dresser
      Cross-Dressing Pleasure and Pain

      And then you ask, “When the hell did it become so great to have a job?”

      Jobs aren’t always fun, but they are necessary to live. So women want equal opportunity, equal pay, equal promotion. And some jobs are actually fulfilling (like mine) and women want opportunities to have those kinds of jobs, too.

      And while it’s true that women are less likely to try to be plumbers, plumbing is a much more highly paid job then the types women are more likely to do: hairdresser, teacher, nurse, secretary. Men are more likely to go into plumbing because of socialization — it’s a man’s job. Women are more likely to go into hairdressing because of socialization — it’s a woman’s job. Part of the purpose of my blog is to encourage people to get outside of our mindless socialization and think outside the box.

      I’ve also written about class issues, but I don’t focus on gender with those. See these for instance:

      No Longer Blinded by the Right
      American Hunger Games
      Vote to Help the Rich, Hurt Yourself

  4. Your article makes an interesting read.

    You’re right, there isn’t a nice name for a sissy, the best you might achieve is cross dresser or lady boy or shemale. Taking the female equivalent, tomboy, maybe we should start calling them mollygirls.

    Unfortunately, whatever they’re called, it’s the way in which the word is used that makes the difference. Attitudes have to change first. Again, unfortunately most vocal sissies don’t do their more introvert counterparts any favours, we all get tarred with the same brush.

  5. sandra ruelas

    I was a tomboy growing up and that wasn’t a concern to anyone. I wasn’t made fun at at school but the sissys were. I think since fathers push their sons to act like men and be men this hurts a man’s ego being asked if they were once sissys. This student has son balls to walk around asking men questions like these.

  6. Gerald C. Jones

    If I do not act competent self assured and capable there is one thing for a fact: I will get ground up like hamburger. This does not mean I have to be a superior acting jerk or any of that. When I relax and be at ease out there in the world of work or social dealings away from my home I can be sure of one thing: some predatory critter be it male or female will get me for a varying size chunk of me. That is a real time picture of my modern life. I am grateful that so far my home has been safe. I have been a lucky man.
    My perspective on gender eqality is this: as we advance in human civilization gender equality comes about by way of the social advancements that about half of the U.S. are fighting against. I will benefit from those advancements as well but I am mostly worried that I am behind the pack that bought up all the assault rifles and now I do not have one. At least one.

  7. Absolutely i-)
    Back to the original question – ever wanted to be a woman. I would love to be as happy as these mothers in these photos on a video I was asked
    to contribute to. “mother shapes humanity” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6P85xxzDv9g. You see my credit for my photo at the end. cheers

  8. The example I gave of some women ‘acting’ like men was an example of women carrying out gender ranking, not myself, so ranking is not invisible to me. I was limiting example of male acting only to the traditionally male dominated world of business management etc.

    My first reply incuded “men’s ways” and “women’s ways” that are conditioned into us as children that your other blog covers. To add more to that – make up only for women, no “war paint” for western men as per native Americans, Africa and Papua etc, allowing to show affection, only kissing or patting in sport for men apart from latin countries, and style of clothes, gowns for priests, kilts in Scotland or sarongs in Asia but “cross dresser” if western. etc. All nonsence due to religion and homophobia it causes.

    All men are well aware that to get a good woman you have to obtain status in their eyes (or for some men lie about it). Our good looks, or otherwise, do not seem as important a factor for a proper relationship to happen. They force us to be competitive with other men to get status. We rank ourselves against other men. We know getting status gives us some choice in the women we wish to impress. It give us confidence and everyone likes that. Women are always the ones who decide what is good enough for them in a partner so gender ranking seems to be much more important to women. I have never ranked a woman on her job/status, who she is as person is the most important thing.

    With women now wanting and getting that status for themselves men are unsure what their ranking is now, the ones that have noticed that gender ranking has started to change that is. Are women going to apply the same type of gender/status ranking as before or will they accept a man of lesser status, everything else being equal, like men traditionally did it the past when the same status was not available to women?

  9. Firstly I absolutely agree with equal worth comment.

    I can see I made a mess of my above point with the ranking, so will try to untangle what I was trying to say. Some of this is more about the other side to the question – do women what to be a man.

    The blog is centred around the perception that current society from a female viewpoint still ranks males higher and how this affects women and what they think about themselves. I was trying to make a related point, not what the blog says, but expanding on it, that acting stereotypically like men when older (not in a tomboy way), which some women now seem to doing, as a method to target careers in high status/well paid jobs, or government positions does them no good. It maintains the current way of working. Partly this is down to way business still ignores modern family life and works to a 19th century culture, and wants 24 hour dedication to the job to get to the top (assuming it is not an “old boys network” who decides), and also down to the personal charactistics of people who what these types of jobs, male or female.

    I see many young independent women who go out and try to drink as much as men and get dangerously drunk, swear and shout, grope random men, even punch their boyfriends in the face in public on a whim(not in respond to their boyfriends’ behaviour), and basically copy the worse stereotypical behaviour of some men. I find them just as unpleasant as the men that act like this and such a waste of their hard won freedoms in the last few decades.

    Personally I do not see men ranked above women. I have two sisters and they always came before me in assistance from my parents so maybe I have jaundiced view. My father, when he was alive, was probably of a generation that viewed women as people to look after, and men to be strong and self reliant. That would match the type of gender ranking the blog feels is around us but I feel is from 30 years ago. Thinks have move on alot, in europe any way, and I think the young men now will start to be the first generation to start to consider their personal worth has to be earned and not a an automatic ‘ranking’.

  10. Many countries have now had a woman as head of state and in cabinet office positions. The reason why more women do not get to the top of businesses yet is it takes time for people, usually men, to retire, so that the opportunities to progress become available to the best people again, male or female. The ideal of a 50/50 gender split in any job or industry is nonsense, that is without considering physicial strength as an advantage or manual dexterity. Only equal opportunity is want is needed. There are no calls for quotas for more men to be medical nurses or more men to be primary/nursery school teachers but every woman who becomes a train or van driver, police woman or plumber on merit is tradiationally displacing a man. Where do these men look for a career? I myself was discrimated against for an office job when I left school because the rest of the office were women, I was told so at the interview after passing the aptitude test. A male would upset the womens’ social interaction. Opportunities for any job is ultimately tied into child rearing for both genders. Many women want the independence they think men have via career and a high status job. Some women wanting themselves to be “man like” or better men then men as a gender ranking, as suggested by the blog, to get ahead in a “mans world”. Why would you want to do that? Just be more successful women. To let this happen the law has to let men have more flexible careers as well as women, more chance to see his children and be a more fulfilled father. Men were in the past the bread winner at the sacrifice of his time with his children. He had not option to otherwise. Most women will not want to make this sacrifice but still want access to the top jobs. Campaign for equal rights for fathers, and women will get that chance at a career not marred by taking time out as mothers. The issue will be decided by cost. Child care costs business money which why things change very slowly has nothing to do with being a mans world. We live in a capitalist world of profit comes first and people second. Nothing wrong with profit as long as there is a fair society to benefit from it.

    • re: Some women wanting themselves to be “man like” or better men then men as a gender ranking, as suggested by the blog, to get ahead in a “mans world”. Why would you want to do that?

      That sentence doesn’t make sense to me, so how could I be advocating it?

      I believe women and men should be considered of equal worth and have equal opporutnities.

  11. Mike

    I find it very interesting that the tomboy and sissy debate is considered around social ranking. Personally I have never thought being male was in any way better. As I have got older I feel society has moved to consider men to be almost obsolete now and inferior, more about this below. The word sissy is loaded with being gay, and boys/men are told that is the worst thing to be considered by their male peers. That way leads to a path of no male friends and loneliness. I liked sports at school and represented the school as athletics and soccer, but was also part of the art club and sung for the choir before I puberty wreck my voice and singing career. I did suffer at school from a different form of abuse, because I was an “A” marks student I was not seen manly enough. It was not seen as cool to be a good student as a boy. Girls who study hard are seen differently. This meant that by most boys my sportiness was not known or overlooled and did not get me the usual status.

    Here in th UK in my lifetime (now in my 40s) the traditional male manufacturing jobs have gone. The economy is mainly the service sector. Personally this lead me into an IT career to use my abilities but for the many men it has caused problems. Traditionall,y people and language skills are seen as female skills and these are now more valued, girls find it easier to get work (pay rates being a different issue), and in many familes the women can now out earn the men or be the only paid worker. This has not fed back into boys and their father’s attitude to education. In fact boys are actually suffering in UK in the way subjects are now taught and any natural male behaviour is seen as disruptive and bad. Sissy is good to the teachers and schools.

    As for thinking about being a woman that is now something I do think about because of the fall in male opportunities and general standing due to current society standards that I notice. Women have more emotional freedom with friends and children, men are seen as a risk to children. Women can experiment sexually and talk about it openly, such as bi-sexuality, with no social stigma. I am hetero myself but do see why men cannot be afforded the same options. Women can wear more varied clothes and enhance your appearance with makeup, do the same as a man and you are “gay” , which it is in no way the case, and should not matter if it was. Some men are seen as cross-dressers but women can wear ‘male clothes’ cut for womens’ shapes and not be see as such. Women have more chance then the average male of getting work. The courts seem to prefer mothers to fathers in divorce cases when it comes to children. Women get sympathy from everyone if a relationship fails, men get nothing but the blame! I could go on. Yes being a woman does seem to be a very attractive option. Lets hope society, men and women, let men be as free as women and we will all get along even better than before.

    • Part of the way that you see gender ranking is that it’s easier to be female in that women lack pressure to prove their womanhood. So they have a lot more leeway in how they behave.

      Maybe things are better for women in the UK, but in the US we’ve had no women presidents, few members of congress, few religious leaders, few CEOs.. In a lot of ways it’s still a mans world here, across the pond.

  12. As a woman, I love this article because it speaks of the very nature that women consciously and unconciously put up with daily. As the mother of a young girl this article scares me because of what it reminds me of. We all hope that society is eveolving for the better towards equality for all but society still has a loong way to go. I am also the mother of a young boy and I feel that it is my duty to teach both my children gender neutrality. I am the mom that gets weird stares (and more than a few lectures) because my son has nail polish on or because my daughter is wearing a spiderman costume and I’m told that they will regret it when they are older. I believe that to change society we must not only start form the very young up but also stand up to those who question our beliefs.

  13. This article is certainly an amusing topic since I can relate to being a tomboy as a little kid. Societal norms instruct little girls to play with dolls and for boys to play with trucks. When a little boy plays with dolls, society regards them as having an abnormal behavior for a boy. I think society needs to be more open-minded with what they teach children. We grow up being taught that everyone should be treated equal but there are still some traces of where that is not true. Men who are more sentimental or have a sense of fashion are thought of as being gay because they show feminine qualities. But I think men can be just as expressive with their emotions as women without being considered gay. This example even shows how society rank woman as being lower than men because their behavior is more expressive with their emotions. There is also a conflict with gender equality for women. For example, men are still getting paid more than women like in the recent case of Wal-Mart employees who are suing the store for paying men more than their women employees. We hear women are breaking the glass ceiling but it’s still a struggle. Men and women shouldn’t have to worry about being treated equal. Society and pop culture today should be striving for gender equality next.

  14. As a boy back in the sixties, I got loud and clear the message “don’t be a sissy” long before my behavior actually got to something that people now would consider sissyish. All you had to do to get attacked for it was not try hard enough to learn and follow the gender rules.

    Being uninterested in sports and violence was enough – you didn’t have to actually DO anything feminine to get the message – “you WILL participate in violence. The only question is which side you will be on”

    It doesn’t seem to be all that different, sadly.

  15. Asking boys to act like girls is kind of like asking someone to switch teams when the other team’s a bunch of losers—or at least, I tell you they’re a bunch of losers. And some other guy tells you too so, at the end of the day what’s the difference…

    I think the article makes an interesting point about the behavioral effects of stereotypes. If stereotypes are judgments on behavior and judgments communicate the way to acceptance—then sometimes quick, adaptive learning will be compliance. Instead of trying out girl-domain behaviors, the boys are cheating. They’re doing what they’re told, and what’s informing them are our stereotypes. The problem is that when the goal is acceptance, it’s more efficient to conform to a belief than to try out a behavior and make a decision for yourself because that decision may be unacceptable. So if I tell you a team’s a bunch of losers that’s probably all you need to know.

  16. It is indeed true that the society views males as dominating females, but does it mean that we have to assimilate into this stereotype? Men tend to disparage women to prevent them from intruding or prevailing their social standing due to their insecurity about preserving their power as a male. Yes, males could dominate on physical strength. But women are not slaves, they are not born to be complied under the power of men. In addition, gender roles should be deemed objectively, rather than subjectively.

  17. I found this article very fascinating but also discouraging. I feel like men set the standards in society, for they have more power and influence. As a result they not only set the standards for women (what is considered acceptable behavior such as young girls acting as boys) but also for other males. Males put so much pressure on other males to be overly masculine using phrases like “no homo”. These standards are not only unachievable, but also illogical. The unspoken rules that linger amongst males, limit men in their ability to grow as human beings (emotionally, psychologically, etc.) Once men realize this, perhaps they will start breaking their own boundaries and only then can we achieve equality.

  18. I think it is very telling that many of the women polled had no problem say thing were tomboys but the men had an issue with claiming to be anything like a woman. To me that speaks loudly to what society continues to say via media, workplace, and family structure: men are better then women. But this is a two-fold problem, in my opinion. Not only are women being put down but also the idea the men can’t, or are unwilling , take on typically female attributes: compassion, nurturing, “emotional”. Would accquiring these atrributes make men any less male? I don’t think so. When men said they didn’t ever think about being women was it because they had those attributes in mind?If anything, it puts male in a difficult spot that reinforces of lot of what they hear growing up: “Be tough.”, “Real men don’t cry.”, “Don’t let them see you sweat.”
    What does it say that even asking a male if he had ever thought about being a female promted anger from the male polled? Is the idea of being a woman that bad to most men?

    • I agree with you, Laura. And even more puzzling and disturbing is the way this dichotomy fuels (and is fueled by) the lack of value some in the Right Wing Christian community place on qualities such as cooperation and compassion — which are denigrated as “weak” and “feminine”. I recently read this commentary on the firefighters in TN who allowed a family’s house to burn down over the lack of payment of a $75 fee:


      The quote that stood out most to me was:
      “In this case, critics of the fire department are confused both about right and wrong and about Christianity. And it is because they have fallen prey to a weakened, feminized version of Christianity that is only about softer virtues such as compassion and not in any part about the muscular Christian virtues of individual responsibility and accountability.”

  19. That’s really true men are always ranking above women in the reality. Although nowadays everyone are advocating sexual equality, it’s still hard to take away a deep-rooted concept from people’s mind.

    I’m not negaing sexual equality, but the truth is men are usually innately stronger than women, since human had been created. Physically, men are usually have greater strength than women. Mentally, men are usually more aggressive than women, and more self-respecting.

    Men don’t want to be a women isn’t because they look down on women, but their natural character.

    • Just because males are ranked above females doesn’t mean they deserve to be ranked higher. Noting that they are ranked higher is a critique of our society – saying things need to be changed.

      And while males have more muscle mass, they still aren’t physically superior. Females survive better, for example. And they have more endurance. Males and females have different types of biological superiorities.

  20. Why was the word “sissy” used? It seems that to make the questionnaire fair, words with equally negative/positive connotations should be used. It’s hard to find a positive word to replace “sissy” that equates to “tomboy”… Perhaps that is another point you are making?

  21. Oh God, I got relief that the student who did his research is now in one piece:)

    Is to be a woman so bad and shame? I am proud that I am a woman. I would like to be born as a woman if I can reborn.

    Well, our physical differences between men and women made physically rank since men and women had been created in old days. However, it should not be spiritually (mentally) rank. People nowadays are confused this point.
    Who decided “strong” “masculine” is better than “weak””feminine”?
    It is now popular that women work outside and men take care of housework and children in some cultures. They are willing to take that roles.

    I am still happy to be a woman though….

    • I guess you’ll be surprised that I agree with you — including happiness that my student ended up in one piece after his research.

      I’m also proud to be a woman.

      But our culture ranks men above women, and that doesn’t need to be the case.

      It leads to all sorts of problems. And nothing changes unless you bring light to the problem.

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