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fun with (gender) stereotypes
So, the other day some friends and I were talking about some gender stereotypes, such as:
- Logical, emotionless, ruthless, decision makers. Make decisions based on facts, not emotion.
- Detached, unemotional, trustworthy, reliable.
- Highly sexual, passionate creatures who struggle with their sex drive
- Illogical, passionate, empathetic, unable to stick with a decision. Make decisions based on emotion, not facts.
- Wildly emotional, hypersensitive, untrustworthy, unreliable.
- Cold fish, ice queen, no sex drive.
Obviously, these gender stereotypes aren't a) the only ones out there b) accurate or c) news. I just think these specific stereotypes:
Are particularly fascinating because they're essentially the same, but flipped. Men (supposedly) are logical, but not in control of their sexual urges. Women (supposedly) are illogical, but completely in control of their sexual urges.
Yet though the perception of men as passionate has no bearing on the perception of them as logical, rational beings, it's the opposite for women. Feminine passion is equated to being irrational, out of control. Men's passion is often equated to "biological imperative" and used to excuse actions like breast ogling, street harassment, and rape; while women's passion is seen as the default state of personality and used to explain basically anything she does, says, or thinks that society finds annoying or disagreeable.
I find the contradiction endlessly amusing (in a laugh or cry sort of way), and have for years. I've often wondered how genuinely sexist people -- the type of people who honestly believe all women know instinctively how to be compassionate, caring, loving mothers; the type who think men should not be caregivers/ stay at home dads; the type who believe rape and sexual assault victims earned it by provoking biological imperative; the type who genuinely think women cannot be effective or trustworthy rulers, ie:
"I'd vote for Hillary, but I'm afraid of what will happen when she gets PMS!"
-- ha, ha, get it? Because you can't trust a woman on the rag near a nuclear bomb! You trust rational, clear-headed men with weapons, not the ladyfolks and their uteruses!
You know, those type of people -- sexism-deniers, or outright misogynists. I've always wondered how they justify this kind of thinking. Because they do -- they perpetuate a culture of sexism through conversation, language, etc. For instance, sexist "jokes." Seem harmless, right? I mean, it's "just a joke!". Gotta have a sense of humor! See how women are being over-sensitive and all passionate about a stupid issue again!
I've confronted someone who denied sexism before, and changed his mind. It was my husband, actually. He grew up in a home where sexism, racism, and homophobia were casually and regularly expressed, and even though he personally was not sexist, racist, or homophobic, the "joking" language was part of his vocabulary. In our first apartment, when I realized we didn't have a dishwasher, I expressed shock and outrage:
"What? We don't have a dishwasher? What kind of place doesn't have a dishwasher in this day and age?"
At first, my husband shrugged it off and didn't really respond -- this was a lower income apartment, thems the breaks kind of deal. But then my new father-in-law stopped by for a visit, and upon hearing my complaint he responded, "He has a dishwasher," and stared pointedly at me with a little smirk floating around his lips, waiting for me to "get it."
I didn't get it. I mean, I did eventually -- my husband explained it to me -- but when the "joke" was initially told to me I seriously didn't get it. Although I was raised in what many consider to be a very sexist religious tradition, I was raised in a pretty pro-gender-equality household. My dad helped with all the chores, and the general expectation was that men and women share and share alike in household and income earning duties.
In other words, I didn't think of dishes as "something women do," because men do them, too. It's a gender-neutral chore. So I honestly didn't realize that my father-in-law was jokingly equating me to an unanimated, replaceable machine designed to complete a boring daily chore. Once I realized it, I was pretty pissed off.
Perhaps it would have been funnier if his actions and language in other situations didn't make it clear it was less of a 'joke' and more of a deeply held attitude toward all women, including his wife and daughter. After dear old father in law left, my husband started occasionally cracking the joke, and laughing when I got genuinely upset -- I just didn't have a sense of humor, see? Because it's funny to equate a human being with depth, emotion, and variety to a one-trick replaceable machine!
Eventually, I was able to explain to my husband why this was unfair and sucky. I managed it by drawing parallels such as:
Would be appropriate to joke about a black person being equivalent to a piece of machinery? A Hispanic person? What if I made that joke about him? What if I said my husband was my personal chauffeur, or called him my credit card?
When put like that, my husband realized that such language and terms strip all the important and personal parts of who he is and make him into a commodity, a joke. They make him and everything he works for something irrelevant.
Since that conversation 10+ years ago, he's begun paying attention to this sort of media and cultural indoctrination of gender stereotyping, and we often discuss the various forms of othering. Because he's so good at noticing and drawing parallels between sexism, homophobia, racism, and various other forms of bigotry, I have a tendency to assume that all people do this -- have one conversation explaining why yes, sexism exists today, and then forever after notice occurrences of sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. in the workplace, classroom, or media.
Apparently I was mistaken, because I'm running into more sexism and sexism denial than I ever thought could exist. Something called "Men's Rights Activism" -- a movement apparently grounded in the firm belief that not only have women achieved equal rights, but they have somehow overcome and are subjugating men left and right -- is swelling up in an ugly backlash against women who want equal pay, healthcare rights, and the right to have an education, job, and family without negative repercussions on any aspect of those choices because of gender.
I guess it's been on my mind lately, because of sentiments like "5 Ways Modern Men are Trained to Hate Women," with the whole biological imperative argument (I can't help looking, it's in my genes!) are popping up in a variety of forums and blogs. The biological imperative argument always baffles me, because it seems to assume that women have no sexual drive or desire -- that we can't possibly understand attraction or how it feels to be inappropriately and overwhelmingly attracted to someone in a social/ business situation. Let me share a real quick story:
When I was 28, I went back to college as a late-start student. While pursuing my degree, I took a class with a handsome professor. Although he was in his 50's, he looked like a young Peter O'Toole -- full lips, a tight curling cap of snowy white hair, and brilliant blue eyes. The only indicator of his age was his hair color. He was intelligent, sexy, and challenging. The subject he was teaching meant we often had student-teacher meetings in his office, where we would go over my assignments. I was deeply attracted to him, but I never indicated it in any way. Why? Because my reason and intelligence are stronger than my biological imperative, and the risks of showing any hint of the deep attraction I felt for him were simply not worth the potential and very temporary rewards. I am happily married. I have a family I care about. I was his student. Beyond those personal reasons, even if I'd been single and unattached, I still wouldn't have hit on him.He was happily married. He had a family. He had a career to think about.
See, biological imperative isn't an excuse. I've been there, I've sat across from some insanely sexy and intelligent men and not heard a word they said because I've spent the entire conversation wondering to myself what their junk looks like and how they are in the sack -- but I don't say anything or indicate my thoughts because they're inappropriate. They benefit no-one. There's no reason to share them. Which is why I think the biological imperative argument is stupid. Sure, there's biological imperative -- but women have it too. We (women) have just been socially conditioned not to show it.
But that's obviously not the only backlash against the social movement of feminism/ humanism/ equality happening. Other examples are why a woman showing interest in her date equates to crazy, or the post "An Open Letter to a Guy Who Called me Crazy," (Hubpages considers the link to be adult content, so I can't direct-link it.), about a woman who took offense at a rude date's insulting her. She wrote about her experience, only to be called out by men's rights activists for unfairly "creep-shaming" her date. Creep-shaming is apparently making a guy feel ashamed because he acted creepy. When you read this articles like this, or this ha-ha funny Men vs. the Female Worldwide Takeover "bit," you can't help getting this sinking sensation that not only do some people not "get it," they don't want to "get it". They want things to stay the same, even if it means their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives, and daughters are denied certain inalienable human rights.
I realize that anytime a massive social movement occurs, there's a backlash from that segment of society who is afraid of or challenged by progress. We've seen this happen in history time after time. I realize this is the nature of social progress. I guess my surprise and disappointment is because I thought this was a done deal. I thought we all agreed sexism exists and needs to be addressed. I thought we were debating the question of "how to implement the changes to address said sexism" -- I didn't realize we were still at, "So, does sexism exist, yes or no? Men, raise your hands to vote -- ladies, bake some pies."