In evolutionary theory, the usual principle is that you look for the simplest explanation of what might have happened. That, as I might have mentioned at a conference on psychiatry at which I spoke last week, is why whatever else, psychiatrists might be, they certainly are NOT scientists.
F’rinstance, Freud, on encountering a young boy scared of horses went soaring off into reams and reams of discourse about how the horse represented his dad’s penis and the boy feared the horse because he thought his dad might chop his own off, or some such stupidity. When, in fact, the boy had on at least one previous occasion been badly scared by horses and had witnessed a horse collapse and die in front of him.
But hey! If you’re a psychiatrist, you’re sex obsessed anyway, and its hard to imagine the rest of the world is ANY different.
But back to the everyday. Once upon a time, like many (?), some (?), a few (?) blokes I wondered about being female. I’d focus on how women were and sometimes wonder why they did certain things the way they did. Some habits, around eating, around deportment, around a host of other activities struck me as effete: as display an almost studied feminine difference.
Men being women – the likes of “I’m a lady” David Walliams, and indeed, any other comic who has ever dragged up – would imitate and exaggerate those little nuances, introducing a degree of comedy along the way. Like what? We-ell, there’s the apparent excess delicacy that takes place when a woman cries: its out with the handkerchief, and a careful dabbing around the eyes. No such prissiness for blokes, who just grab the nearest tea towel and mop!
Too, back in the days when individuals carried handkerchiefs around, women seem to go in for much smaller items.
Then there’s delicate eating. Delicate drinking. And so on.
(And no: of course I’d never ascribe this behaviour to ALL women. Just it’s a sort of behaviour that women tend to display rather more than their male counterparts).
Not that long ago, though, I discovered the secret to, the reason for, the dabbing. It’s the mascara, stoopid! As a friend kindly suggested, when I became tearful: just dab gently underneath your eyes. Oh. Obvious when you think about it. Because the best you’ll achieve by rubbing a tissue across your eyes is going to be make-up removal and a bit of smearing: but most likely, the result will be an ugly black smudge.
Ditto eating. I enjoy my clothes and hate it when something new suddenly acquires grease spots, or worse: when a splash of Bolognese or chilli sauce adds red polka dots to an otherwise pristine white blouse. So I’m carefuller about how I eat. Much. Smaller bites. Far less lunging at food. Even, carting food around on a plate, I find myself being that much more, er, delicate. (And that’s all before you even start to factor in my new oestrogen-laden world, which makes me paranoid about my weight and very very careful about what I ingest).
So what’s the point? Well, as some actors and actresses would no doubt tell you: its all about the motivation, dear. I am neither praising nor ridiculing the behaviours themselves. Nor am I calling them definitional: you can be, it is your right to be, a woman and eat in any manner you see fit.
Rather, what I found far more interesting as I started to unpick this stuff, is that things that (male) society at large seems to see as affectation actually have some very rational explanations. At the same time, those who would caricature femininity need to understand the motivation better: to dig below the surface and sort out the primary stuff from the secondary.
Primary feminine stuff is in the decision to wear make-up (or not). Dabbing at your eyes with a tissue is not optional extra or pretentious mannerism: it’s a secondary, a logical consequence of wearing make-up and caring about how you look. If you don’t get that, as I begin to suspect many female impersonators don’t, then its no wonder that various attempts to imitate women come over all camp.
Because they’ve observed the mannerism – but haven’t for a moment understood why its there.