Sunday, December 11, 2011

Three Gender Messages That Bother Me

One:  A couple of weeks ago I was climbing with some friends, and one made a heckling comment at the other along the lines of "well at least I'm not a girl."  All in good fun among old friends of course, but since I've started mentoring young girls with low self-confidence, I couldn't help but speak up in an equally friendly and heckling manner:  "It's not an insult to call someone a girl."

I do know it's just a good-natured and non-serious poke at someone's masculinity as occurs as a bonding mechanism between male friends, but it is also a message that is prevalent in our culture, that it's kind of an insult to be female, that being female is inherently kind of inferior.  That this is only true for men but that it's somehow not an insult for women to be women doesn't make it okay because that doesn't even make any sense.

The problem with this idea is that little girls see the message too, and they internalize it, and spend their childhood and adult lives with the subtle idea nagging at them that being as good as men is an important goal and one that isn't likely to occur on it's own without work.   That's in contrast to a goal of being good at something by hard work and practice, which is how men get to set goals in their lives, absent having to be so acutely aware that you're putting your whole sex on trial as inferior rather than just yourself if you fail, absent that your outlook on most things is that you probably won't do it as well as that guy will just because that's subtly how the world works.  That outlook is clearly wrong and clearly doesn't make any sense and my climbing friends are probably nothing but supportive to the women in their lives--they just have no idea that it's not something to so easily throw off when the people you look up to and hang out with are heckling each other by jokingly implying that they are like you and ha ha ha.

Two:  I was recently referred by an old friend to a news anchor for some cable news show who wanted to interview a woman who is comfortable without makeup, in reference to a study that came out finding that women who wear make up are found to be more successful in various aspects of life.  She promised to send me the study but never did, and that interview never went anywhere because I live too far from production studio to make it worth their while.

I was reminded of this when I saw a Revlon commercial on TV the other night, where a beautiful woman comes on TV and says "I love the natural look, but I'd never go out without my makeup. I still want to be beautiful, after all."  (So wear this makeup that supposedly imitates the look of not wearing makeup, as if that makes any sense!)

That gets at the real problem that I have with makeup.  I mentioned in an actually-science-related post how there's a fine line between getting mad at products tailored to traditional femininity and insulting women who really do like traditional femininity because that's what they like.   But where that line crosses from "to herself, her own" and into "this is morally reprehensible" is when you stop saying "isn't it fun to be beautiful" and start saying "if you aren't trying to be as beautiful as you can then there's something wrong with you."   I think makeup is a pointless waste of time for me, and I never wear it--it's not that I believe I'm beautiful even without it, it's that I don't particularly want to prioritize being beautiful because it's too much damn work and I have more important things to work on.   Some women think being beautiful is fun, and that's fine for them--but far too many women think being as beautiful as they can be is a prerequisite to functioning as a woman in society, and that is a seriously screwed-up social problem.

Three:  I'm bothered by news stories, like the ones coming out of all of the sectarian violence erupting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that make reference in particular to how many women and children were killed.  It's actually not some feminist rage that women are something being equated to children here that bothers me--I think the real problem here is that we don't find it quite as sad that some innocent men were also among the people killed.   But don't men often have hopes and dreams and value their lives just as much as women and children do?  Don't many men have loved ones who will mourn their loss just as deeply?  Yet we treat men in particular as expendable throwaways:  send them to war to be killed, put them in the most dangerous jobs and expect sacrifice of physical safety as part of proving masculinity.  If they die, it's sad, but not quite as sad or worthy of moral outrage than if a woman or a child is killed---except of course, to that man's family, to the man himself who may have really loved his life and wanted to do amazing things with it.

Little things, I know.  But there can be so many big things wrapped in in the little things, when you start to think about them.

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