Why is it that people with beliefs that I respect so often don’t actually practice those beliefs? I am time and again frustrated and upset by people that express a core belief structure that really resonates with me…something with which I really connect…time and again I find myself disillusioned by those same people.
Yesterday, an author and female that I respect as something of a self-professed feminist posted this picture with the associated text as follows: “This is the single manliest image evar. @justbeast’s dad at age 18”.
If you don’t immediately see the problem, don’t fret—it took me several minutes to recognize what the nagging in the back of my mind was trying to make apparent. Ultimately, what did it for me was to switch up the genders a bit, as I did in a follow-up tweet: “THIS is the portrait of femininity… http://twitpic.com/vo9q6…” with a link to picture of my wife in a classic ‘female’ gender role situation…holding a laundry basket.
You see, regardless of which genders’ stereotypes you are upholding, it sucks. It doesn’t just suck for that gender, either. I have a number of close friends with any of a number of gender identity disorders ranging from merely enjoying wearing clothes outside of those assigned to their gender to full on dysphoria, and when you draw gender lines like that—intense gaze, furrowed brow, cigarette gripped before face equals masculinity—it reinforces something hurtful to those people. Just as important, you can’t reinforce only one boundary on the gender-identity continuum; it doesn’t work that way. No, when you reinforce that masculinity is the milieu for a hawk-like stare into the distance while enjoying a cigarette, you reinforce that femininity isnot associated with that. When you say that picture is manly, you imply that women who look this way or do these things are somehow being manly. You also imply that men who do not are not manly.
And really, if we are all about breaking down the gender stereotypes, don’t we really owe it to ourselves to shatter them in both directions? Especially if we acknowledge that breaking them down in one direction really solves nothing? I mean, I think we can all agree that ridding ourselves of the notion that pink is ‘girlie’ does us little good if we retain the notions that pink is not manly, but blue is. What good is making ‘women should be cooks and maids’ a thing of the past if we cling to ‘men should be firemen and police officers’? What good is saying that it is wrong to say that real women do this if we are running around saying that real men do this?
So I pointed this out to the feminist in question, assuming that she merely hadn’t thought it through…and it was dismissed in a way that was amusingly…well, I would have to say the best description for how it was dismissed was in true masculine fashion: “for contemporary definitions of such, it is. Now, add that the man in the picture spent his spare time in Kazakhstan knitting. Still manly.” I refer to this as a masculine evasion because I see the same responses belittled on feminist forums constantly when men are called on their sexist terminology for saying things like “man up”, “don’t be a pussy”, or “grow some balls” and respond with things like “it’s just an expression, it doesn’t actually mean that men are braver or bolder than women”. It sounds thin and transparent when we do it, and it’s equally transparent when it’s done by women. It was with this poor rationale in mind that I included my disclaimer in my example tweet above; instead of just saying that my wife with a laundry basket was truly feminine, I added this caveat: “(Don’t worry ladies, it’s not misogynist…she reads Bitch magazine!!)”
So those are the rules of the game—rules which will now be my go-to anti-sexism spray. Whenever I am about to say something overtly sexist and gender-stereotype-reinforcing, I will be sure to point out that I’m only doing so from the perspective of ‘contemporary definitions’ and that it doesn’t matter, because in some untargeted aspect of my subject they break gender roles.
This is why, although I consider a great many feminist goals and ideologies important, I do not identify as a feminist anymore. I identify as a humanist (at least from a gender and racial standpoint). I feel like the goal of third-wave feminism has shifted from breaking down gender stereotypes and barriers that prevent equality to some agenda that I neither believe in nor entirely understand. Sadly, that seems to be the feeling of a lot of would-be feminists that find themselves unable to stomach the current politics of the movement; or the current evasions.
Edited to Add:
I recognize that this is almost assuredly going to be perceived as a personal attack. Things like this always are. There is nothing I can do about that. I considered for several hours how I could write this without directly addressing the photos in question and ultimately decided that without the context of the actual situation, the discussion loses a great deal of impact; too much impact for my liking. So, what you have is this; potential for hurt feelings and all. I will have to live with that. I would only ask that readers do two things for me before getting too terribly butt-hurt on the author’s behalf:
- Recognize that I stripped personally identifying information from the situation to every degree possible while still maintaining the context of the situation. I like the author a great deal, consider her a friend, and genuinely wish that this had been written by someone else so that I could be my aggressive self about it.
- Consider the merits of the argument posed before you complain that this is an attack. Perhaps, just maybe, I have something legitimate to complain about. Just sayin’