Orlando: The Penalties and Privileges of our Positions

As a woman, do you find that people will happily hold doors open for you? As a man, do you find yourself holding back tears for fear of judgement? As a non-binary person, do you find people struggling to view you outside of society’s historically binary view of gender?

Orlando experiences the penalties and privileges of presenting as both a man and a woman in our upcoming production, but we know this isn’t something experienced just by the characters onstage. Here’s what some members of the Villanova theatre community shared about their own experiences with gender.

Annalise Settefrati (she/her/hers)

Have you ever experienced an explicit penalty for presenting as a certain gender?

I spent many years leading a high school theatre group, working with several male directors. All of them viewed me as “lower” and “lesser” than them, due to the combination of my age and gender compared to their own.

One particular example, which falls more on the amusing side than the hurtful side, was while I was leading a student crew and teaching minor construction skills. I picked up a wooden table to move it out of the way, and when the director saw me, he began yelling at me to put it down, and forced two high school boys to carry it instead. The two boys together seemed to struggle under the weight I had easily carried. Just because I am a tiny lady doesn’t mean I can’t move my own furniture.

What do you find to be the privileges of presenting as your gender?

There are many benefits to presenting as female. To use a more positive interpretation of privilege, I enjoy the fact that it is more acceptable for women to play with clothing, compared to men, where it is viewed as odd. I can wear men’s clothes more easily than a man can wear women’s clothes. I wear high heels every day. I can dye my hair if I want to, paint my nails, and wear makeup without getting odd looks on the street. It is also more socially acceptable (in heterosexual pairings) for a woman to be smaller than a man — a benefit I greatly enjoy, as I’ve never met a man smaller than I am.

Matthew Reddin (he/him/his)

Have you ever experienced an explicit penalty for presenting as a certain gender?

Ever since doing it on a whim one Pride weekend, I’ve been painting my nails off and on for the past few years. I identify and present as male, generally, so I can usually pick up on the exact moment someone notices. Most of the time, there’s a momentary blip of confusion at worst and nothing else, but sometimes I find myself facing an impromptu, seemingly endless quiz on why I, a man, would ever paint my nails, even if the person I’m interacting with is a complete stranger.

It’s a small irritation, in the grand scheme of things. But it’s been a good example for me of the way more serious microaggressions — about gender and otherwise — can cause harm over time.

What do you find to be the privileges of presenting as your gender?

The biggest privilege of presenting as male is that it is easy to be heard — society expects men to speak (especially if they’re white men) and everyone else to listen, even if they’ve been interrupted. A big part of my own journey as a person has been to unlearn some of the behaviors I considered normal until I started learning about gender bias and recognizing some of those behaviors as contributing to the problem, not the solution. I’m still a work-in-progress, of course, but I’m now trying to use my privilege as a way to ensure others are heard, and recognize that my thoughts and opinions aren’t the most important in a room just because they’re mine.

Lost in Transition – Anonymous (she/her/hers)

Have you ever experienced an explicit penalty for presenting as a certain gender?

When I was a sophomore in undergraduate, I cut my hair really short in admiration of one of my favorite anime characters who boldly lived as both a male and female in the show (Haruhi Fujioka from Ouran High School Host Club). At the time, I worked as an intern at a local nursing home in the Alzheimer’s/Dementia department. I assisted the recreational activities manager in coming up with different activities to engage the residents in despite their various levels of ability. I also happen to dress very ‘masculine’ in the sense that I prefer to wear tucked in polo shirts with slacks and boater shoes.

One day, when I was helping serve drinks to residents during an event, a resident loudly exclaimed “What a nice young man!” I smiled and the resident went back to their room unawares as they were both visually and hearing impaired. My supervisor apologized to me profusely.

I think it was more her apology than what the resident said that made me feel — I’ll say, incorrect? I have no intention of becoming a trans man, getting a mastectomy or getting hormone shots. In fact, I love being able to go back and forth between my ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits. Sometimes I hate my boobs and my hips and hair and wish I could walk into the men’s section of a department store and just throw on any shirt, pants and cute shoes, gel my hair and call it a day. But other times I wanna be a sexy lady; I wanna embrace my curves and show off my large breasts. I want my hair to flow and be tossed over my shoulder.

I think we need to stop focusing on what divides us based on our body parts and start focusing on how similar we actually are. Men and women are not from different planets – we are all human beings – and the only ‘difference’ other than a few organs comes from behaviors WE have set up around each other. Ways we were raised ourselves. Even I hate myself for how I feel about my gender. I sometimes want to wear fancy jewelry and ribbons in my hair but then I feel like an imposter. How dare I try to be something ‘I am not’ even though, in fact, similar to Orlando, I am many things.

What do you find to be the privileges of presenting as your gender?

Chivalry. Men hold doors open for me, say things like, “Ladies first,” offer to help me with heavy loads I am carrying, and sometimes watch their language or behavior when I am in the room. This usually dissipates once I show them I am “one of them.”

Anonymous (he/him/his)

Have you ever experienced an explicit penalty for presenting as a certain gender?

As a guy, people expect me to shut up and take it when I’m being mocked. There are also times where some people think I’m doing something for attention or to look at a girl, and really I’m just doing it to be nice (holding a door open, for instance).

What do you find to be the privileges of presenting as your gender?

Being able to protect women is something men, including myself, can be good at, but sometimes we have to deal with people saying we’re putting women in a corner when we do so. As a man, having integrity is incredibly important, and so protecting people, whether that is physically or emotionally, is a huge benefit. It is also very cool when a man shows emotional openness and strength because it is so rare that is looked upon as a super power, where as I see it as a learned male trait.

Angela Longo (she/her/hers)

Have you ever experienced an explicit penalty for presenting as a certain gender?

One time I was visiting the Navy Museum in Connecticut, where my brother is a submariner. After exploring the museum, I was waiting outside of the restroom for my family to exit, when a tour guide suggested I check out the gift shop down the way where I could find some “really neat cookbooks.” I felt reduced to being someone who might be interested in cooking because of my gender. Fun Fact– I’m a pretty terrible cook.

What do you find to be the privileges of presenting as your gender?

I feel very empowered to present as a woman as I recognize the power in showing vulnerability. I believe that comes in many different shapes and sizes, but as a woman I feel that it’s acceptable or expected to feel things more deeply and openly. Having three older brothers, I can recall on several occasions hearing, “Real men don’t cry.”