Worried About Winning

March 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Via Shakes:

“I like it when girls can snowboard. But I don’t need some chick trying to shred better than me, take my job.” — Champion snowboarder Shaun White, in People magazine, on what he looks for in a woman.

I find this deeply upsetting, and also fascinating. Let me tell you a story about this.

I had the great privilege of traveling to Morocco last month on a volunteer trip. The wonderful program we went with has a “home-base” where you stay with up to 30 other volunteers. On our second day, I joined some of my new housemates in a round of the (highly addictive) game Bananagrams.

It was my first time playing the game, but after a couple of hands, I was doing pretty well. I used up all of my letter tiles before anyone else, winning the round — three or four times in a row. But I began to feel self-conscious about my success — I wanted very badly for these new acquaintances to like me, and I was worried that my repeated winning would exasperate them and ruin any chances for meaningful friendship. And so I censored myself; I waited just a few seconds longer before calling, “Bananagrams!” I allowed someone else to win the next round, though I was perfectly capable of winning it myself. I couldn’t help but think that a guy in the same situation would have made a joke of his success, upping the friendly competition and humorously challenging anyone to beat his streak. He would not have felt ashamed, because he would have been taught from birth to achieve at any cost.

This is what happens to women in patriarchy. We are taught to limit our success, to quell our achievements, because they are supposedly threatening to others, particularly men.

As I reflect on the incident, I am reminded of this lovely quote:

“Our biggest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson

Packing Delirium

August 6, 2009 § 9 Comments

Right now I am undergoing the laborious (and ridiculously exciting!!!) task of packing up my belongings to take to my first year of college. I’ve noticed that, like many young women my age, I have a lot of fucking clothing. Not just clothing. I just have a lot of stuff. When comparing packing notes with my future classmate who happens to be a guy, I learned that he is packing way less stuff than me.

While this opening could go in many directions, I’ll probably choose the least rational, least evocative and least coherent one because I am that tired of packing. Here goes:

I’m sure many of you feminists are familiar with the theory about the implications of female and male standards of beauty- females are encouraged to be thin, to disappear, while males are encouraged to take up as much space as possible. This is how society wants us. In my packing, I cannot help but wonder- is the reverse true for material goods? Are women supposed to take up as much space as possible with our belongings? Are we making up for society’s pull for us to be nothing by having as much stuff as possible?

My packing delirium leads me to believe that a lot of the reason women tend to have more clothes, accessories, etc. is a tie to domesticity. Perhaps society wants us to take up a lot of room, not with our bodies, but with our stuff at home. Maybe we are bound with more strength to our homes because of all of these belongings. Do our clothes mark our territory? Do men often ‘travel light’ because, according to our culture, they should not be tied down to one town, and certainly not to one household?

Obviously it would be a stretch to draw very many conclusions like these without researching properly, and even then it probably wouldn’t make much sense. I just thought I’d let you in to see my packing-induced crazy talk.

So You Think You Can Dance With Whomever You Want?

August 3, 2009 § 1 Comment

WRONG!

Miranda kindly sent me this Bust article via Facebook, which reminded me of something I was thinking about posting a while back.

Like the Bust blogger, I must explain my opinions of the show before I post. I LOVE SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. The show is pure entertainment. I love being exposed to great dances every week (albeit usually choreographed to less great music). I particularly love how the show doesn’t encourage unhealthy competition. The dancers all genuinely seem to enjoy being around each other, and are not manipulated in to saying nasty things about each other. With that being said, I had a BIG problem with one of the audition episodes earlier this season.

During the auditions back in June, So You Think You Can Dance saw its first ever male ballroom dancing partnership. Here is what happened, according to “TV Squad”:

Misha and Mitch are same-sex ballroom dancers. Mitch had a female partner, but it didn’t work out. Mitch is straight and Misha is gay. It’s like the odd couple, except with sequence. It’s funny because the two have strong lines and good legwork. Nigel just had this look on his face (we know how he feels about gays). In one move they messed up a lift and land on the floor. Nigel has no clue what to say and compares it to Blades of Glory. He thinks that they alienate audiences. He thought that they were strong. Mary was confused because they were both male and female in dances. The lead/follow was strong, but the technique needed help. Sonya sees a lot of female qualities but is confused with classical form. The two are sent off to choreography.

For a show that is supposedly all about embracing new ideas in the dance world, breaking down barriers and accepting people of all backgrounds, these judges were very narrow-minded when it came to gender roles. They managed to throw in some remarks about the dancers’ lines and general technique, but on the whole, could NOT get passed the guy on guy dance action. They all claimed to be thoroughly “confused” by it all, and felt that they could not judge the dancers properly because they strayed so much from conventional ballroom dancing. What a FUCKING STUPID excuse!!!! Alienating America? Like the media doesn’t alienate all the Americans who don’t fit into their cookie cutter gender roles every damn day.

I never really cared for Mary Murphy and her ridiculous pitch and volume, but I have certainly lost a huge amount of respect for the three judges that day, who could just not get over a man ballroom dancing with another man. As far as I’m concerned, dancing is about art. Art doesn’t have to abide by conventional gender roles, in fact, great art is often created by challenging those roles!

I still love SYTYCD, and I do approve of the kick ass lady routines created by Sonya (also, Nigel did mention the ridiculous treatment women get in most dances), but it broke my heart a little to hear these two poor men get shut down immediately because of who they chose to dance with!

Another movie I won’t be seeing

July 24, 2009 § 4 Comments

Get it? Because men don't have brains, and women don't like sex! It's all becoming clear.

Get it? Because men don't have brains, and women don't like sex! It's all becoming clear.

It’s summer, and though I’m busy working my tail patience off as a camp counselor, I also have quite a bit of downtime. I’ve seen a bunch of movies lately: some silly ones with my family (The Proposal and Year One) as well as films that I actually wanted to see (Away We Go and, last night, 500 Days of Summer — both excellent, the latter mostly because of my enormous crush on Zooey Deschanel). But one movie that I’m certain I won’t spend $12.50 on is The Ugly Truth, starring part-time feminist Katherine Heigl as a “romantically challenged morning show producer” and Gerard Butler as a professional douche. I’ve seen some previews that warned me of its knee-slappin’ “humor,” and then this morning I read the excellently scathing New York Times review by Manohla Dargis, fabulously titled Girl Meets Ape, and Complications Ensue.

When it comes to the old straight-boy-meets-straight-girl configuration with big-studio production values…the romantic comedy is nearly as dead as Meg Ryan’s career. In the best of these films, the women aren’t romantic foils, much less equals: they’re either (nice) sluts or (nicer) wives, and essentially as mysterious and unknowable as the dark side of the moon.

Which leads to “The Ugly Truth,” a cynical, clumsy, aptly titled attempt to cross the female-oriented romantic comedy with the male-oriented gross-out comedy that is interesting on several levels, none having to do with cinema. Katherine Heigl plays Abby, a producer for a ratings-challenged Sacramento morning television show, the kind that specializes in empty smiles, cooking tips and weather updates. She’s single and therefore, in the moral economy of modern Hollywood, unhappy. Her life goes into a tailspin when her boss hires a professional ape, Mike (Gerard Butler), who delivers loutish maxims on camera about the sexes that basically all boil down to this: Men have penises, and women should accommodate them any which way they can, preferably in push-up bras and remote-controlled vibrating panties.

…Ms. Heigl doesn’t do perky all that persuasively, but she does keep her smile and relative dignity even in scenes in which Abby is forced to play the fool, which is often, as when she’s hanging upside down from a tree in her skivvies. She even survives the scene that finds Abby writhing spasmodically during a dinner with her corporate masters, because, well, she’s wearing those pulsating panties, the boy at the next table has the remote, and there’s nothing funnier (or, really, scarier) than the spectacle of female pleasure.

I am SO. TIRED. of media that portrays women’s minds as murky, our bodies as property, and our desires as hilarious. A woman’s sexuality is not so damn difficult to understand — if you talk to and listen to her, which society is apparently loath to do.

And another thing: no one seems to get that these movies are as offensive to men as they are to women. Commenters on IMDB rave that it’s a “comedy for both sexes,” one you can “bring your boyfriend” to. Men should not be like Butler’s skeevy character; and what’s more, they aren’t. But movies like this convince the public that guys are practically children, and we shouldn’t expect to hold them accountable for atrocious sexist behavior.

“The Ugly Truth” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).
The language is consistently crude and includes the apparently now requisite antigay slurs.

Yeah. Because straight = manly, manly = asshole, and asshole = sexy.

Thoughts on taking up space

May 22, 2009 § 6 Comments

A family friend of mine is a professor at Barnard College, and was telling me about their fantastic graduation ceremony the other day. Hillary Clinton was the commencement speaker (jealousy!); a few students presented speeches as well.

Sarah Nager, the winner of a speaking competition, gave the “Academic Reflections” address, in which she drew parallels between the amount of space women are allowed to take up literally (on the subway) and figuratively (in leadership roles and in society at large). She praised Barnard as an institution that “does not limit the amount of space women take up.”

Nager’s speech directly addresses a double standard that I – and many other feminists – think about a lot. Quite simply, guys are encouraged to be there, to make their presence known. Male body ideals – tall, chiseled, formidable – teach men to value strength and self-reliance. They should stand up straight, look people in the eye, shake hands firmly. They should be able to defend themselves.

Women, on the other hand, always need a man to protect them. We fall back on the scientific “proof” that men are physically stronger than women (which is true. Men, on average, can bench press more weight – but then again, most women can grow a child using only their bodies. Interesting what society deems important, isn’t it?), but in actuality these roles are socially constructed and implemented. The activities that girls are most often encouraged to pursue, like dance and gymnastics, are of course physically demanding, but they are cloaked in an air of performance and superficiality. Girls should move their bodies not to become stronger or have fun, but because they’ll look pretty for an audience.

This idea goes farther than just physical activity. It extends to other spheres as well:

  • Body odor: Deodorant marketed to men often has a strong, “spicy” scent, while women’s deodorant is mild and meant to be concealed.
  • Body fluids: Semen is socially acknowledged and talked about casually. Vaginal fluids and menstrual blood, on the other hand, are supposed to be wiped up as fast as possible and kept hidden from the world.
  • Posture: In my experience, strikingly tall men carry themselves with pride and confidence, whereas similar women tend to slouch.

How can we show girls – and perhaps more importantly, show ourselves – that taking up space is not only okay, it is a vital part of maintaining our physical presence and autonomy? What do y’all do to assert your physical, and consequently intellectual, selves?

Women’s Work In The New Economy

March 31, 2009 § 5 Comments

Another guest post by Joel, cross-posted at Citizen Obie.

I’ve been thinking about the issue of women work trends since I saw an earlier post here a while back about how feminists were reacting to the stimulus package, and what they thought it offered to support industries with greater representation of women (social work, education, health.) My concern was not so much with the sectors the stimulus emphasized, I believe that fomenting green manufacturing, construction, transportation, and agriculture is going to be fundamental to getting ourselves out of this economic mess we’re in and moving us towards an era of sustainable prosperity and equity. But where do women fit in this agenda? Green-collar jobs, the premier jobs of the new economy, are in construction and manufacturing (and I pray also urban agriculture,) sectors with little female representation. I’m going to assume that construction and manufacturing will remain important and vibrant for years to come, in which case my concern is how do we promote gender equity in those fields? How do we make sure that women share in the vision of the new economy, how do we de-stratify the sectors with the greatest potential for growth?

I thought about it even more when the news got out that the White House vegetable garden is Michelle Obama’s initiative. I love Michelle Obama, I love organic vegetable gardens, and I love children’s health and nutrition, but I was intrigued by the historic association between first ladies and health (specifically children’s health) advocacy. I wouldn’t call it anything as strong as a major concern, but what does it mean for powerful, fiercely intelligent women (in Michelle Obama’s case, a lawyer) to be relegated to work with overtones of domesticity? On the other hand, maybe I ought to rethink my own gendered assumptions about what it means to work with children and health. Maybe it is my own male bias and set of assumptions that I imply above that children and health issues might be ‘beneath’ a fiercely intelligent woman. In this case, how will we encourage (assuming we want to) the disassociation of particular fields with the different genders? And if such associations remain tenacious, what opportunities are available to women in the revolutionary restructuring of the educational and health care systems, as called for in Barack Obama’s agenda? Energy, education, and health are the major focuses of Obama’s agenda. Is it okay for energy to be a primarily masculine field, with education and (to a lesser degree) health to be primarily feminine?

Finally, here are a few articles on the immediate effects of the recession on women’s economic lives. The first is on the likely increase of domestic disputes as a result of male unemployment. It suggests that recessions, with major job loss for male-bodied individuals, breeds resentment as males fail to fulfill their ‘breadwinner’ roles, compounding the other stresses of over-worked women struggling to fulfill their roles as double-time workers and mothers. The second is on women losing their jobs and moving into the sex entertainment industry. And here’s one on the unfortunate likelihood that pregnant women and new mothers may be more likely to face unemployment, despite the illegality of discriminating against mothers. Overall, it looks as though the recession and the vast restructuring of the economy (I hope) will have major effects on perceptions of domesticity and women’s work roles. I hope some of you are as interested in these broad trends as I am. I think they definitely point to a very particular landscape in the contemporary feminist movement.

Why is the masculine androgynous?

March 18, 2009 § 2 Comments

Warning: This post is a bit of a wordy stream-of-consciousness rant. Read at your own risk.

Pants are androgynous; they are worn by both women and men. Women, however, have the options of wearing pants, skirts, or dresses. According to a gendered society, men may wear only pants. Thus, pants are both masculine and androgynous. While a woman is socially permitted to wear pants in a setting that is inclusive of both genders, when she wears pants in a setting in which she is the only woman, she is ostracized, called “butch,” “revolutionary,” or even — goodness forbid — a feminist.

Hillary Clinton is famous for her pantsuits. A few years back, I saw the First Ladies exhibit at the New York Historical Society. There was a clear definitive statement made by juxtaposing Dolly Madison’s petticoats next to Hillary Clinton’s infamous pantsuit (the only one black fashion item featured in the exhibit, I might add). 

My mom works for a community center and she wears a pantsuit to work almost every day. I have not heard anyone comment on her clothing choice, let alone name her a member of “the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits.”

I realize that my mom works in a coeducational facility, when Hillary Clinton, a US senator and former presidential nominee works in an old boy’s club. The pantsuits, a symbol of both masculinity and androgyny (i.e. social and political power). Pantsuits are androgynous; they can be worn by both men and women on a regular basis yet there is an exception when women enter “men’s clubs.” These include patriarchal institutions such as government, the military (America’s eyes have not gotten used to seeing women in uniform), and Wall Street. In these “men’s clubs,” the androgynous becomes masculine because there cannot be androgyny when only one gender is represented in these institutions.

Then, when a woman finally discovers the password to one of these men’s clubs, the masculinity that can be construed as androgyny is so deeply rooted that anyone (like Hillary Clinton) who invades that men’s club as an non-accepted member becomes a source of shock. This shock factor does not stem from the fact that she dresses like men; it happens when she dresses in a way that men happen to dress in as well.

Men do not have an exclusive claim on pants. They have no claim over this piece of clothing just as they have no claim over the institutionally sexist occupations they may inhabit. 

The patriarchy sets up a society so that what men do/wear/customize is the standard. For women, this standard is fooled into being androgynous, though it is in fact a patriarchal setup to make women feel included. However, whenever women include themselves in this standard, they are considered impostors, the only ones in costumes at a sexist Halloween party.

Michael Kimmel, in “Masculinity As Homophobia,” writes “We think of manhood as innate, residing in the particular biological composition of the human male, the result of androgens or the possession of the penis.” 

Androgens are the hormones that control the development of masculine characteristics. The common root of this hormone and the term “androgynous” is not a coincidence. Androgens literally contain everything that, without society’s interference, biologically differentiates male from female. Androgynous, the embodiment of both male and female characteristics, is in its social reality the comparison of female characteristics to the standard of male ones. 

Is this comparison fair? Must masculine be the standard for women to live up to and then be ostracized by? Can’t all people be accepted for who they are and with the choice to be who they want to be?

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