Why do people assume that I am a woman? – An interesting phenomena of being Pseudonymous

Last night, a friend and I went to see Professor Myisha Cherry (@myishacherry) give a brilliant talk entitled “Acting ‘Mean’: Queering Hegemonic Masculinity through a Cultivation of Human Virtues” for the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Public Philosophers series. Professor Cherry and I have followed each other on twitter for years now without ever meeting and have had an extensive history of discussing things back and forth through @-replies. I was excited to finally meet her in person and hear her work more directly and told her ahead of time that I would be there.

The room in the library where these talks are held, I found that there was no cell reception. After my friend and I found our seats, I quite shamefully stepped out to send a couple tweets.

In this time, Professor Cherry spotted and introduced herself to my friend, a woman, apparently thinking that she was me. After the talk, My friend and I came up to her to congratulate her and so that I could introduce myself. She and Professor Cherry picked up a conversation for a while while I stood off to the side, awkwardly. My friend then introduced me and I told Professor Cherry that I was Cranky.

Professor Cherry then took a step back in shock. Doubling back, she said “I always thought that you were a woman.” She did not know why she had always thought that, but had nevertheless. Given that her talk itself was about masculinity and its cultural perceptions, this made for a very interesting discussion that I want to now open up to a larger audience.

She’s not alone in this assumption. Over the years that I have maintained a psuedonymous account, first as @crankystudent and now as @crankyethicist, I have had several people who readily/openly assumed that I am a woman.

This has come from a handful of interactions. I have been called ‘sister’ by several feminists, or in several cases as well, I’ve introduced myself to people and have had a weird reaction from them in which they have disclosed that they also thought I was a woman. A handful have apologized for the misattribution, which assumes that I am offended by people thinking that I am a woman. I am not. Given the traditional views of masculinity, I am far from offended that people do not readily assume that I am male. I’m thankfully privileged enough to be comfortable with who I am despite cultural hegemonic demands on what can pass for masculine. I actively try to not be hostile, domineering in conversations, cruel, or patronizing, all of which seem to be “masculine” traits.

The belief that I am a woman through the lens of my pseudonymous twitter account is interesting. This is by no means a universal belief, a handful have guessed correctly that I am male, but those who have thought that I am a woman seem deeply-entrenched in that assumption. That is, deeply-entrenched enough to comment on it when I reveal myself as a male.

But what is it that makes people assume that I am a woman? What is it about the Cranky persona that brings up this confusion again and again? What does this say about masculinity?

I have a handful of theories, but I would love to hear from others as well.

In the beginning of actively using the @crankystudent handle, I developed it as a gender-neutral parody account of being a graduate student in philosophy. My initial thought behind this was that I didn’t want to exclude anyone outright. There are enough white males in philosophy. I did my best to cover my tracks and avoided gendered language or much in the way of autobiographical information. Over time, I lost interest in being a parody account and instead focused on developing my own voice as a thinker. My alter-ego absorbed me, as many do. I became a parody of myself alone. I remain pseudonymous, but have often introduced myself as myself either in person or online to those who I have had some extended interaction with and have deemed I can trust.

As time and my degree progressed, I started to fill in some personal information here and there, including that I live in New York City and that I am married. For a long time, I referred to the Iron Frau as simply ‘significant other’ which I then dropped to ‘spouse’ to shave off some characters for tweets. The intentional use of vaguely-nongendered language to describe my wife seems to be part of the source of some confusion/obfuscation, on top of my previous holding out on my own cismale-gendered existence.

When the Iron Frau then created her own pseudonymous twitter account to complement my own, I dropped any worries of gender ambiguity. However, it seems that those who followed me during my parody days still readily assume that I am female.

My hypothesis:

I do not actively tweet while identifying myself as a male, nor do I try to stoop myself into hypermasculine fights online. I try to stay out of pissing matches as much as I can. I am not ashamed of my nonconformity with culturally-heteronormative ‘masculine’ traits. I often tweet on feminist issues and retweet many women who write on feminist issues. I do not actively posture masculinity because I have nothing to prove to anyone on that front online.

Additionally, I tweet extensively on emotions and feelings. I often talk about struggling with depression and an anxiety disorder. The cultural ideal of masculinity is that males must suppress their feelings. I instead write extensively on the importance of emotions as motivating factors. This undercuts a position of masculinity.

It would appear, then, that the absence of masculine-posturing is culturally-perceived as feminine. Masculinity is such an insecure position of hegemonic domination that any refrain from proving one’s ‘manhood’ in a pseudonymous position suggests some form of negation of that manhood. I didn’t maintain gender-neutrality in being anonymous; people still use a placeholder-pronoun and form an idea of who I am from my tweets. My online persona fills out a person in the minds of others. There is something about the persona that drives people away from thinking that I am a male. It seems that my saying nothing about my gender has made it hard to believe that Cranky could be male.

The western societal view of masculinity is that it must constantly prove its worth as being masculine through stoic yet aggressive posturing. If one does not posture/disclose masculinity, one is perceived as feminine. My reluctance to engage in gender performativity leads to confusion over my identity from others.

This is at least my theory, and I do want to hear from others on this.


Philosophy’s moral panic?

Feminist Philosophers

It’s been suggested, recently, that a ‘lynch mob culture’ has developed in professional philosophy, and especially in on-line discussions among philosophers. The thought, I suppose, is that philosophers are in such a moral panic about climate issues within the discipline that they are willing to condemn without trial anyone who doesn’t toe the party line.

It’s worth reminding ourselves what lynch mobs really were. Groups of white people became so afraid of encroachments against white supremacy – and so terrified of the black male bodies they had formerly been able to own – that they would ‘take matters into their own hands’ and brutalize black men. Sometimes in lieu of due process. Sometimes just to set an example. Lynch mobs were ways in which those with power (white people) reinforced the status quo (white supremacy). To call some opprobrium and ruffled feathers on blogs and social media a ‘lynch mob…

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The Failed Interlocutor: those who will never get it

The title of this post is a bit ambiguous, which I suppose is appropriate. I tried to churn this out about a week ago but I cut my hand and had trouble typing. Here it is now.

Dialogue is great. It’s the best way to learn sometimes. One of the best things I’ve done for understanding more and becoming a better thinker and listener was delving into twitter. There’s something so beneficial to the character limitations that allow for easier communication and getting to one’s point quicker.

However, many times dialogue is mired by a person’s refusal to learn (cit ref, just about all of Plato). This persists disgustingly. There are several thematic archetypal examples of people who are terrible at having an open discussion, but I’m going to focus primarily on one trend I’ve recently noticed when it comes to online and in person discussions. This is the person who just doesn’t get it. I’m going to discuss not a particular person, but a series of people who I or friends of mine have dealt with recently.

The archetype, the failed interlocutor:

This failed interlocutor wants to understand. This person often times will try to get private attention from someone asking “I don’t understand what you mean by X, educate me” (this question itself is heavily problematic and for another time).

The failed interlocutor is trying. In fact, it hurts this person that there is a communications break down. However, this person additionally is the very cause of the communication breakdown due to holding on to a few harmful “principles”(willful ignorance). These principles are hard-fought or deeply entrenched within the ideological framework of this person’s life. Often, it seems that these principles are the cause of a very painful cognitive dissonance within the person’s worldview. Since they are so deeply entrenched these principles are often what is holding them back from being able to learn anything new from harmful experiences. For example, I’ve known countless women (including many within my family) who have been abjectly screwed over by misogynist cases of abuse, yet nevertheless conform and pressure others into the very same heteronormative patriarchal structures that have ruined them.

This is perhaps the worst part of those who cannot understand from dialogue; they are tirelessly hurt by the same thing that a mental paradigm shift from discussion would solve. The cognitive dissonance is so great, that often times they are unable to recognize a new position as anything but a cognitive dissonance itself. Paradoxes compound upon paradoxes. Despite trying, despite wanting to understand the alternate position, the failed interlocutor only gets confused and frustrated and the conversation ends with the failed interlocutor feeling guilty or inadequate and the other feels just as frustrated and pitying.

This is cyclical. The failed interlocutor continues in trying to understand. The other takes pity on the failed interlocutor and is led straight back to frustration and pity.

For the other person, the failed interlocutor would be able to understand them if only the failed interlocutor relaxed some blinding principles for a moment and understood more openly and empathetically. But the failed interlocutor is stuck in the mud.

The solution in dealing with the failed interlocutor:

Nothing. There is no solution or remedy. That is, there is nothing that another person can do for the failed interlocutor; the only solution is from the failed interlocutor.

The other cannot win over the failed interlocutor through pity or through violence or through better diagrams. The failed interlocutor must change one’s approach in order to understand.

This nonsolution is hard but one can only stay firm, otherwise gets emotionally mired in the failures of the failed interlocutor as one’s own.