Thursday, February 15, 2007

Do I even know what is out there? Rambing thoughts on gender, perception, feminism, and idealism

I've recently come to realize I live in an idealized world when it comes to gender. It all should have been clear to me before, and when I look back, of course it was there all along, but still, i've got a new realization.

I have an idealized view: I tend to think of men and women equally, think concepts like "battle of the sexes" have been abandoned decades ago, and assume most of society thinks the same way. Now, looking back, how I thought the rest of society was thinking this way is a mystery to me.

Perhaps as an English student with a B.S. and and M.A., the concept of feminism has been so internalized in my mind that I accept its premises without thinking. I accept that differences between men and women are largely socially constructed (not that there aren't biologically inherent differences, of course, but that how we understand roles for men and women, and acceptable behavior and appearance for men and women, is entirely socially constructed). I work in a field with a generally progressive atmosphere and the strong presense of women in leadership positions. I am married to a strong feminist and we don't act like some jobs are for me and some jobs are for her, except to the extent that we actually apportion out jobs. Not that we don't act different, and not that we aren't influenced by both our biology and our existence in a society with particular roles, portrayals, and perceptions for 26 years, but that we don't fully accept them. We're aware, we analyze. And most of my friends and acquaintances, men and women, are progressive people who are conscious and aware of gender stereotypes and don't usually engage in them.

Equality for men and women is one of my strong and accepted values. The avoidance of stereotyping men or women is another. The freedom to be what one desires, not what one is told by society is acceptable for a specific gender role, is another. I feel fairly comfortable calling myself a feminist.

At the same time, I have recognized that the world doesn't work entirely this way. Every standup comedian falls back on his/her "men and women are so different" schticks with the same jokes about toilet seats. I know a guy that doesn't want to be seen holding his wife's purse (I wonder what he thinks will happen. Will people see that and forget he's a man? Will they think he's gay? What on earth is possibly the concern?). I knew a person who thought there was something inherently different between men and women that prevented women from really understanding football (seriously). But...I thought this was an old-fashioned idea. I thought the majority had moved past it. I thought most progressive people shunned such barbarian concepts as "battle of the sexes" or traditional gender roles. But how could that be? I'm AWARE that most people in society have these backward views that I specifically measure myself against...and at the same time I thought that most people in society had moved past these views.

So what are people out there thinking? When I hear cliched arguments, comments, discussions, or conversations about what movies men/women like or don't like, I'm bored by the predictability and assume the speakers need to move on. But this isn't the case. I laugh at sitcoms and their conventional gender roles and stereotypes (I often talk about how in sitcom marriages, the husband gets to act like an irresponsible adolescent while the wife needs to be responsible, so that the relationship is more of a son to mother relationship than a husband to wife peer relationship), but yet I thought most people didn't think this way? These sitcoms work because the majority accepts these stereotypes. I watch them with self-aware and critical perception, not accepting the premises even as I might laugh at the show. But most people ARE accepting the premise. I talk about how in commercials there are the strictest of the strict traditional, conventional roles. I criticize how advertisements portray the traditional and accepted roles of men and women. And I talk about how these portrayals and representations influence us as we grow up.

So, I see now I've been living somewhat blindly in an idealized world, even while aware that I wasn't, and even while being self-aware, critical, and conscious of just what was going on and how it was affecting me and others.

So there: I promised rambling, and I gave you rambling.

1 comment:

  1. the stereotypical roles-- nagging wife, idiot husband etc-- partly come out of biological differences. as a bumbling husband who is basically an overgrown child to his wife i accept these truths even while i attempt, in vain, to define myself against them.