When I was a child I thought Piglet in Winnie the Pooh was a girl. I thought the rabbit in the (Swedish) Bamse magazine was a girl as well. There are some more that I remember, and there must have been plenty of others in plenty of stories that I've forgotten, that I thought were girls, but it turned out with time, character by character, that I was wrong. None of them were girls. If on the other hand I thought they were boys, then I’d be right. Every time.
When I learned that Piglet was a he, I didn’t like it at first, and I decided to ignore it and let her stay a she in my world. Partly of course since she already was a she to me and it would be hard and a bit of a shame to have to rethink and change everything. Partly because I thought it was more suitable for a small, pink figure to be a she. But partly because I thought that if Piglet was also a boy, then they would all be boys! Piglet, Pooh, Eeyore, Tiggr, well everyone, except Christoffer Robin’s faceless mother! And in the opinion of my little child brain, that wouldn’t be as interesting…
But of course I had to give in pretty soon, when I learned to read myself.
My friend and first love Simon from England was just here for a visit. It turned out that Simon would call everyone and everything “he”. The driver of the car way over there, and of course “the rich man” or “the politician” in the examples, but also the sea gulls, the worms, even the pieces in the checker game.
“How do you know it’s a he?”, I asked a few times, and of course he didn't. Then we agreed that just for fun we would start calling everyone “she” in stead, as soon as we didn’t know, or it didn’t really matter. Simon was quite bad at it in the beginning, but he got better with time.
It was on the final day of his stay that we played checkers. None of us had played it much before so we were happily discussing the tactics, for the mutual learning. I called the pieces “this one” or “that one”, he called them “he”, and so we decided that they must be shes; short, violent little girls fighting to extinguish one another. It didn’t help. When the excitement gripped us I would still say “this one” and he would say “he”. I corrected him time after time, and eventually he interrupted the tactics talk and looked up with surprise…
“Why is it so hard?!”, I asked. “I know you’re trying, so why is it still so impossible to see genderless pieces as ‘she’ when it works perfectly fine to see them as ‘he’?”
“…But I guess I don’t really have a reason to want to change”, said he. “I have to take offence myself, and feel that it's wrong to hear myself call them ‘he’, and I don’t really, quite the contrary! Because in fact, if all the important ones are always hes, then it means that I'm important. It tells me that I am better than you! And that makes me feel goood! Weheeey!”
He rose a fist towards the sky.
After that analysis, all the pieces really where shes, and nobody got it wrong anymore. Suddenly Simon burst out:
“Now all of a sudden it feels unfair that they are all shes!!! Why are they ALL shes, it doesn’t feel good at all, I’m actually a bit pissed off by that!”
We smiled, and then he said with a softer voice:
“And that's scary, because then I realise that this is how you must be feeling all the time…”
Yeah. I suppose it is.
And had the world gone from an equal representation to this tremendous unbalance over-night, had someone suggested: ‘Hey, I know! Let’s make all examples into only one of the genders! For simplicity! (Except parents, some low salary professionals etc, that we'll call the opposite gender!)’, it would never have happened. People would not see the point! People would have objected! And been angry, pissed off! But I was just a child when I slowly learned to realize that I was not to be regarded, never present among the examples. I never got pissed off. Only surprised. Perplexed. Disappointed. Humbled, pushed aside and stepped upon…
Later, there are some who get angry. We have a name for those. We call them 'rabid man haters' and claim contemptfully that they get all worked up over nothing. That they act counterproductively to the struggle for gender equality, which is a totally different thing.