Woman and Man, Those Horrid Labels

Woman with Short Hair: Reckoning with “Manliness”

Jo Jae | 기사입력 2020/08/29 [13:41]

Woman and Man, Those Horrid Labels

Woman with Short Hair: Reckoning with “Manliness”

Jo Jae | 입력 : 2020/08/29 [13:41]

I started going to the swimming pool in late August this year. Due to my fear of water, I had never thought that I would learn to swim, but I somehow enrolled in a class and still go to the pool to this day.


▲ Swimming Pool   ©Illustrator Jo Jae

Because I work at a cafe from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m., I had to sign up for a morning class. I looked through the class schedule and instructors. I wasn’t planning on signing up for the sunrise swim class, and it was full already anyway. So, my only option was the 10 a.m. beginner class. Understandably, there was no choice of instructors.


I started the class with hopes that the instructor would be a good person. However, for better or for worse, our instructor changed just after a week. For no reason other than that the new instructor was female, I was happy. It also turned out that she had taught my good friend two years before, and it seemed that this was her return to work from maternity leave. She was friendly and enjoyed talking to people. Sometimes, she would even playfully spray water at the students. During class, she was attentive in helping us with our form, which made going to the pool fun.


“Oh, that manly instructor?”

“Yeah, the one with the deep voice.”


As I got dressed after my shower, I could hear people talking in the changing room. It sounded like they were talking about my swimming instructor. What did they mean, the instructor who’s manly? I had no idea what it even meant to be “manly.” 


▲ Swimming   ©Illustrator Jo Jae

The “manliness” that people ascribe to me was a bit different from the “manliness” that was being ascribed to my teacher.  In my case, my short hair was enough to label me “manly” even if I didn’t do anything, whereas my instructor was considered “manly” because of her husky voice and friendly, playful personality.


Since my instructor and I are hardly similar, I realized that “manly” doesn’t mean that someone is like a man, but something else. Rather than “manly,” they probably mean “not womanly.” However, these two ideas seem to be used interchangeably. Since most people think there are only two genders, being “not womanly” ends up meaning “manly.”


It’s a tiresome dichotomy. They’re the oldest and worst labels of the “-ly”s and “-like”s that you end up using even if you don’t want to. From my birth to now, society’s judgements on what makes me me have generally been based on gender. When I exercise, I’m a woman who exercises; when I cut my hair short, I’m a woman who cuts her hair short; if I get a tattoo, I’m a woman gets tattoos. And since those aren’t womanly things, I’ve come to be seen as manly.


I wish that when people explained me, a human being, the consideration of gender would be an afterthought. Instead of saying I am manly for not being womanly, I wish that people would say that I’m just being myself. Because gender exists on a wide spectrum, it can never be divided into two; I hope to be able to freely traverse across that space.


By Jo Jae

Published December 19, 2016

Translated by Stella Chung


*Original Article: http://ildaro.com/7704

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