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Lord of the Rings, Football, and other Girly Things: Breaking Gender Expectations
Where did the hetero-normative standards in the 21st century originate?
And ALL gender stereotypes, for that matter? Why is pink a girly color? Why are video games a boy thing? Women wear heels, men wear sneakers, right? Women wear dresses, men wear tuxedos, right? Men like football, Women like tennis, right? Women marry Men, Men marry Woman, Right? Right? RIGHT? Nay, I say! As I sat through the entire Lord of the Rings series this weekend, eyes glued to the screen as Frodo and Sam bromanced their way to Mordor and Aragorn came back from the dead eight million times, I asked myself why we have boxed ourselves into neat little cubes of political correctness and social acceptability. I can't say this with any kind of authority, but I think it's because we're all afraid of what happens when we break free of our social constraints and be whoever the heck we want to be. I will be posing a lot of questions to the universe in this hub because I feel like somebody's got to know the answer. Maybe you, dear reader?
I am the older of two children by 5.83 years so I was the girl AND the boy growing up. I don't mean to say that my parents nurtured me this way, but I was into things that were considered girl things AND boyish things. I loved Barbie’s and Hot Wheels cars, I took dance class and played competitive sports, I was raised by musical theatre and Nintendo 64, I mean... I wasn't settling for the female cookie-cutter that preschool encouraged in me! I demanded a wardrobe of only twirly skirts and leggings, but come on; who hasn't experienced the thrill of turning in a million circles with a swingy skirt? There is nothing better. If you haven't done it, I suggest you try it because you're missing out.
I still ripped holes in my knees on the playground gravel, hung by the monkey bars by my ankles (not my idea, but I did it), and jumped off high platforms when dared. I played endless hours of Mario Kart and smothered myself in mud. This is when you say to yourself "Oh, you were just a tomboy!" Nay! I reject your categorical labels! I was a KID. A normal kid, curious about everything the world had to offer me. Did my mother force me to buy clothing that had ruffles or sequins or bows? Of course not! Since the age of four, I dressed myself however I liked, thank you very much. I had Star Wars shirts and grimy sneakers and baseball caps and I didn't care. Nobody told me to act like a lady or stop being boyish. My parents just wanted me to be whoever I wanted to be, and boy did I have big dreams of the day I could open my veterinary practice slash ballet studio slash architectural firm slash classroom slash motocross stadium. I didn't stick to any of that, but the point is, my parents never sat me down and told me that girls didn't do those things. My parents gave me a high five for creativity and that was that.
This is not about women's lib or feminism,
though you're probably thinking just the opposite. I am truly curious how this world has developed these polarizing distinctions between what is feminine and what is masculine. Women are weak, right? Nay! There are 18 female world leaders (presidents or prime ministers) at this moment and 16 of them were elected to that office. Six women reign over their country as either Queen or a royal governor. 17 countries have had more than one woman in charge in their history and Ireland had two in a row! Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir of Iceland is the current president, a lesbian, and has married her partner. Clearly, it is not a question about the inferiority of women, and yet the US has had 44 consecutive Male presidents. No woman has gotten close to running the Oval Office, not even as Vice President, so what's the problem? I first voted in 2008 when Sarah Palin was nominated for VP on the Republican ticket with John McCain, but I didn't vote for her. Now you're asking yourself this: "Why are you complaining about the lack of US female leaders when you could have voted for one?" Simple. I didn't think that John McCain was the best choice of all the people running for President. It isn't a matter of voting for a woman because she's a woman; we've got to have a female candidate worth investing in. Have we had that yet? Well, our presidential history shows that we have not. No female candidate has ever been sworn into the US Presidency. Why is that?
Surprisingly (in my opinion), there are only two major leaders in the entire world who are homosexual. Both countries (Belgium and Iceland) have made gay marriage lawful in the past ten years. Iceland's economy isn't stellar and a woman runs it, but it's not what we would consider a developing nation or third world country. It isn't correct to suppose that the gender of a country's leader dictates its success just because Belgium has the 23rd highest GDP (according to the CIA World Fact book) and a man runs it. Women run four of the ten top grossing countries in the world, all of whom were elected to that office. Men can be great leaders, and history has proven this to be true; I'm not suggesting that men are incorrectly elected to roles of leadership, I'm merely wondering why the percentage of men to women world leaders has been so skewed over the course of human history.
Do gender norms go back to the snake's temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden?
Was Eve doomed to distinction because of her curiosity? Certainly she doom the rest of hu(wo)manity to endure the pain of childbirth and that is one line I won't even attempt to blur between men and women. I've been told that nothing compares to the pain of childbirth and yet some women have had upwards of twenty children and lived to tell the tale and cook them dinner. That brings me to another thing. A woman's "place" is in the home, specifically the kitchen; we've all heard that one before. What is the origin of this phrase? Did cavewomen slave over hot coals while the men kicked their feet up on a comfortable rock and watched cave paintings? I'm truly curious where this idea came from, and I'm afraid I don't really have a solid answer after consulting the amighty Google. I know plenty of men who can cook to beat the band; you've got Emeril, Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, I mean, cooking is clearly not a "feminine" office. We all have to eat to survive, no matter who's sweating over the spaghetti.
According to phrases.org.uk, the first person to put women in their place was Aeschylus. No surprise there, as Greeks viewed women as creatures to be controlled. In 467 B.C., Aeschylus wrote in Seven Against Thebes: "Let women stay at home and hold their peace." Where did the tradition of carrying the bride across the threshold originate? Why, it's Greek of course! Traditionally, the wedding guests would escort the newlyweds to the groom’s house. Upon their arrival, the groom would pretend to abduct the bride and pick her up, carrying her across the threshold. Not quite so romantic, am I right?
Aeschylus wasn't the only one to banish woman to the house.
Thomas Fuller states in his Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs, 1732: "A Woman is to be from her House three times: when she is Christened, Married and Buried." This is a reverse way of saying "a woman should be in her house at all times except for three circumstances." In 1732, women still had babies at home, without the comfort of hospital beds, daytime television, and beeping heart monitors. This may even suggest that a woman was not to attend any kind of religious ceremony outside her home or shop for things for the household. As a woman, I think I can claim for my sex that this probably wasn't followed to the letter; you tell me not to leave my house and I'm halfway down the driveway with my sunglasses on. I'm sure that exceptions were made for women of the lower classes, servants, and rebellious women who just refused to sit idly by, but that doesn't change the expectation that women would remain at home while their husbands did the dirty work. Yet another quote from 1832's The New Sporting Magazine, Volume 3 says enough to leave me steaming:"A woman's place is her own home, and not her husband's counting house."
The "women at home" gender expectation is one of the most prevalent issues cited by Feminists through the ages. What would Aeschylus have thought about stay-at-home Dads? This is not uncommon in the 21st century, especially with (nearly) equal job opportunities available to women. In families with same-sex parents, single parents even, this role reversal of the homebody father is commonplace. It's not as if men take this position because they are being put down by women; why can't a man enjoy working at home, being a house husband and stay-at-home dad? No reason at all. He can do what he likes.
None of the top ten Forbes Billionaires
are women at this present moment, but what does that really say? Not much, considering that Christy Walton is number 11, having inherited her husband John's $15.7 million after his death. John was one of the children of Wal-Mart’s founder, Sam Walton. J.K. Rowling was recently dropped from the Forbes list because she has given so much of her Harry Potter royalties to charity, but as of 2008 she was still ranked the twelfth richest woman in the United Kingdom. Rowling was the 13th highest grossing authors in the 2011 world calculations by TheRichest.com, behind James Patterson, Danielle Steel, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, Stephenie Meyer, Rick Riordan, Dean Koontz, John Grisham, Nicholas Sparks, Ken Follett, and Suzanne Collins' smash hit Hunger Games series. As far as literature is concerned, it has less to do with gender, and more to do with content! The fact that J.K. Rowling was still on that list in 2011 (fifteen years after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published) is a testament to not only the success of the books' film counterparts, but the lasting themes. Nothing to do with the fact that she is a woman!
We constantly see gender expectations shattered in the arts;
J.K. Rowling is no exception! Writers are pretty equally split with such famous revolutionaries as Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Dickinson, and on and on. How many male fashion designers are out there? Tons! Many of the most influential designers in women's fashion are men. The Tailor was originally an office held primarily by men. Sewing is a masculine activity? Heck yes! Actors? Pretty equal in number! Though I have to say, there are infinite gender restrictions put on actors, in spite of the fact that it's not specifically a masculine or feminine activity (even though it was men only until Nell Gwynn in the 1600s). These restrictions are, however, a reflection of the society that surrounds it.
Athletics are another equal opportunity situation - to a degree. Woman can play any professional sport they want, so long as it's on an all-woman team against other women. Men can't play on a professional baseball team with women, nor can they play against them. Why is this, exactly? I know girls who could out run, out swim, out throw any boy you put them up against because of their sheer athletic prowess, but American colleges never (or rarely) scout girls for football. When they are, they're kickers; never on the field long enough to be tackled. The fact of the matter is gender expectations have affected how our bodies have adapted. Western men tend to be stronger, taller with a higher center of gravity than women. This isn't true for ALL men, but I haven't met many men I can beat at arm wrestling.
Let's think about this like an anthropologist. Because women have been expected to bear and care for children and endure domestic responsibilities, they have evolved for these tasks. Matriarchal cultures with women who have worked in the fields for generations show a distinct physical difference between women in Patriarchal societies who have not had to do hard labor. Likewise, men in Matriarchal systems are smaller, wiry figures because the culture has not demanded much of their muscular strength. We tend to see this shift in gender body norms in developing tribal nations who do not have the distractions of modern technology. A man who drives to work in an office building in a big city will look markedly different from a man who has walked barefoot his whole life, hunting for his family in the wild. An American man with a Bowflex workout system will look much different from a spiritual yogi in Bali. The gender norms of the society you live in shape how your body has evolved and the hardship that it can endure. Some African tribes wear little to no clothing without so much as a thought; women bear their breasts with pride, while female nudity is considered a faux pas in the western cultures. No matter where you live in the world, the female body is meant for reproduction and the successful gestation of a baby to a full term, so some female gender expectations are actually merely an evolutionary fact.
Nobody told me I am not allowed
to enjoy Lord of the Rings because it's only for boys; first of all, it isn't just for boys, but secondly, I may like whatever I choose. That doesn't change the fact that I have come up against gender norms plenty of times that tried to prevent me (and plenty of other people) from enjoying or engaging in things that are considered strictly masculine or strictly feminine. I would hypothesize that much of the homophobic ways of thinking are propelled by gender expectations (argue all you want that they are religious, but many people just don't understand it from a purely social point of view). It is wrong to dictate what someone may or may not do based on their gender. I always think about the mother who blogged about allowing her young son to dress as Daphne from the Scooby Doo franchise. Her son grew up around women, hung out with girls, and absolutely adored Scooby Doo - Who was she to stop him from being what he wanted to be for Halloween? (for the awesome blog, see the citation below entitled 'My Son is Gay') Why can't a boy dress up like a girl for Halloween? I was Harry Potter for a few Halloweens in a row and nobody told me I wasn't allowed to because he is a boy. I got laughed at for being such a geek, but that has nothing to do with my gender. Who decided the gender expectations that our society follows without even thinking? I shall ponder this question the rest of my life, I think.
"Female World Leaders Currently in Power." Filibuster Cartoons. Filibustercartoons.com, 2 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <http://www.filibustercartoons.com/charts_rest_female-leaders.php>.
Graham, Casey. "Ancient Athenian Women." Ancient Athenian Women. Angelfire.com. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <http://www.angelfire.com/ca3/ancientchix/>.
Martin, Gary. "A Woman's Place Is in the Home." Women's Place Is in the Home. Phrases.org.uk, 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/womans-place-is-in-the-home.html>.
Sarah. "My Son Is Gay." BlogHer. BlogHer.com, 6 Nov. 2010. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <http://www.blogher.com/my-son-gay?page=0,1>.
Sunday Times Rich List - Joanne Rowling; Women's Rich List. The Sunday Times. 27 April 2008.
"Top-Earning Authors 2011 â Best-Selling Authors â¹ The Richest People In The World 2012." Top-Earning Authors 2011 â Best-Selling Authors â¹ The Richest People In The World 2012. TheRichest.org, 19 Aug. 2011. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <http://www.therichest.org/business/forbes-top-earning-authors/>.
"The World's Billionaires." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, Mar. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/list/>.